Crimean bridge explosion: 3 dead, Russian supply route damaged

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened to storm the bridge, and some praised the attack, but Kyiv has come close to claiming responsibility.

KHARKIV, Kharkiv Oblast — An explosion on Saturday caused the partial collapse of a bridge linking the Crimean Peninsula to Russia, damaged a vital supply artery for the Kremlin’s stalled war effort in southern Ukraine and struck an unmistakable symbol of Russian power in the region.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion, which killed three people. The speaker of the Russian-backed Crimean regional parliament blamed Ukraine, but Moscow did not assign blame. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened to storm the bridge and some praised Saturday’s destruction, but Kyiv stayed close to claiming responsibility.

The blast, which Russian authorities said was caused by a truck bomb, risked a sharp escalation in Russia’s eight-month war, with some Russian lawmakers urging President Vladimir Putin to declare a “counter-terrorism operation” in retaliation and to use the term “special military.” “Abolish Operation” which had downplayed the scale of fighting against ordinary Russians.

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The Kremlin could use such a move to expand security agencies’ powers to ban rallies, tighten censorship, impose travel restrictions and expand a partial military mobilization that Putin ordered last month.

Hours after the blast, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that Air Force Chief General Sergei Surovikin would now command all Russian troops in Ukraine. Surovikin, who was put in charge of troops in southern Ukraine over the summer, had led Russian forces in Syria and was accused of overseeing a brutal bombardment that destroyed much of Aleppo.

However, Moscow continues to suffer battlefield losses.

On Saturday, a Kremlin-backed official in Ukraine’s Kherson region announced a partial evacuation of civilians from the southern province, one of four illegally annexed by Moscow last week. Kirill Stremousov told Russia’s state agency RIA Novosti that young children, their parents and the elderly could be relocated to two southern Russian regions because Kherson was “preparing for a difficult time”.

The 12-mile Kerch Bridge, on a strait connecting the Black Sea and Sea of ​​Azov, is a tangible symbol of Moscow’s claims to Crimea and an essential link to the peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The $3.6 billion bridge, the longest in Europe, is critical to maintaining Russian military operations in southern Ukraine. Putin himself presided over the opening of the bridge in 2018.

The attack on it “will further weaken Russian morale and give Ukraine an extra boost,” said James Nixey of Chatham House, a London-based think tank. “Conceivable the Russians can rebuild it, but they can’t defend it while losing a war.”

Russia’s National Counter-Terrorism Committee said a truck bomb caused seven fuel-loaded railroad cars to catch fire, leading to the “partial collapse of two sections of the bridge”. A man and a woman riding in a vehicle on the bridge were killed, the Russian investigative committee said. It was not said who the third victim was.

All vehicles crossing the bridge are to be subjected to state-of-the-art explosives controls. The truck that exploded belonged to a resident of Krasnodar Territory in southern Russia. Russian authorities said the man’s home had been searched and experts were investigating the truck’s route.

Train and car traffic across the bridge has been temporarily suspended. Car traffic resumed on Saturday afternoon on one of the two links that remained intact from the blast, with the flow alternating in each direction, Russia-backed Crimea regional leader Sergey Aksyonov wrote on Telegram.

Rail traffic was slowly resumed. Two passenger trains left the Crimean cities of Sevastopol and Simferopol towards the bridge on Saturday evening. Passenger ferry services between Crimea and mainland Russia resumed on Sunday.

While Russia early in its invasion of Ukraine captured areas north of Crimea and built a land corridor there along the Sea of ​​Azov, Ukraine is pushing for a counteroffensive to retake that territory.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its troops in the south would receive necessary supplies through this corridor and by sea. Russia’s Energy Ministry said Crimea has enough fuel for 15 days.

Russian war bloggers reacted with anger to the bridge attack, urging Moscow to retaliate with attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. Putin ordered the establishment of a government body to deal with the emergency.

Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Russian Communist Party, said the “terrorist attack” should serve as a wake-up call. “The special operation must be transformed into a counter-terrorism operation,” he said.

Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, said “the consequences will be imminent” if Ukraine is to blame. And Sergei Mironov, leader of the Fair Russia faction, said Russia should respond by attacking key Ukrainian infrastructure, including power plants, bridges and railways.

Such statements could herald a decision by Putin to launch a counter-terrorism operation.

The parliamentary leader of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s party remained silent on the claim that Kyiv was responsible, but cited the bridge blast as a result of Moscow’s takeover of Crimea.

“Russian illegal constructions are starting to fall apart and catch fire. The reason is simple: if you build something explosive, sooner or later it will explode,” said David Arakhamia of the Servant of the People party.

The Ukrainian Post Office announced that it would issue postage stamps commemorating the blast, as it did after a Ukrainian strike caused the Moskva River, a Russian flagship, to sink.

Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov tweeted a video showing the Kerch Bridge burning and Marilyn Monroe singing her song “Happy Birthday Mr. President.” Putin turned 70 on Friday.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in Moscow: “The reaction of the Kiev regime to the destruction of civilian infrastructure shows its terrorist character.”

Local authorities in Crimea made conflicting statements about what the damaged bridge would mean for residents. The peninsula is a popular destination for Russian tourists and is home to a Russian naval base. A Russian tourism association estimated that 50,000 tourists were vacationing in Crimea on Saturday.

Elsewhere, the UN nuclear guard said of Ukraine Zaporizhia nuclear power plant has lost its last external energy source due to renewed fire and now relies on emergency diesel generators.

The Ukrainian authorities have only just begun to review it the rubble of the destroyed city of Lyman in eastern Ukraine, assessing humanitarian losses and the possibility of war crimes after months of Russian occupation.

“Some people died in their homes, others died on the streets, and the bodies are now being sent to experts for examination,” said Mark Tkachenko of the Kramatorsk district police.

The blast on the bridge came hours after explosions rocked the bridge eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv early Saturday, which shot towering plumes of smoke into the sky and set off secondary explosions. Ukrainian officials accused Russia of using surface-to-air missiles to strike Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, in two residential areas.

The apartment of Kharkiv resident Tetiana Samoilenko caught fire in the attack. She was in the kitchen when the explosion hit and glass blew around.

“Now I don’t have a roof over my head. Now I don’t know what to do next,” said the 80-year-old. Crimean bridge explosion: 3 dead, Russian supply route damaged

Laura Coffey

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