An explosion caused the partial collapse of a bridge linking the Crimean Peninsula with Russia on Saturday, damaging a key supply artery for the Kremlin’s faltering war effort in southern Ukraine. Russian authorities said a truck bomb caused the blast and that three people were killed.
The speaker of Crimea’s Kremlin-backed regional parliament immediately accused Ukraine of being behind the explosion, though Moscow didn’t apportion blame. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened to strike the bridge and some lauded the destruction. Kyiv stopped short of claiming responsibility, though officials heavily hinted they were behind the attack.
Train and automobile traffic over the bridge was temporarily suspended. Automobile traffic resumed Saturday afternoon on one of the two links that remained intact from the blast, with the flow alternating in each direction, Crimea’s Russia-backed regional leader, Sergey Aksyonov, wrote on Telegram.
Rail traffic was resuming slowly. Two passenger trains departed from the Crimean cities of Sevastopol and Simferopol and headed toward the bridge Saturday evening. Passenger ferry links between Crimea and the Russian mainland were being relaunched Sunday.
The bombing came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin turned 70, dealing him a humiliating blow that could lead him to up the ante in his war on Ukraine. Hours after the explosion, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that the air force chief, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, would be the commander of all Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.
In another potential setback for Putin, a Kremlin-backed official in Kherson, one of four Russia-annexed regions in Ukraine, announced a partial evacuation of civilians.
Russian lawmakers called for Putin to declare a “counterterrorism operation” in response to the bridge bombing. Such a move could be used by the Kremlin to further broaden the powers of security agencies, ban rallies, tighten censorship, introduce restrictions on travel and expand a partial mobilization that Putin ordered last month.
Slowed down video released by Russian military blogger could show a truck bomb, a car bomb, something exploding under the water. Or something else entirely. pic.twitter.com/mjH7oCn0Ml
— Oliver Carroll (@olliecarroll) October 8, 2022
Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said that a truck bomb caused seven railway cars carrying fuel to catch fire, resulting in a “partial collapse of two sections of the bridge.” A man and a woman who were riding in a vehicle across the bridge were killed by the explosion and their bodies were recovered, Russia’s Investigative Committee said. It didn’t provide details on the third victim or on what happened to the truck driver.
Dramatic social media footage showed the bridge on fire with parts plunging into the sea.
“Today at 6:07 a.m. (0307 GMT) on the road traffic side of the Crimean bridge … a car bomb exploded, setting fire to seven oil tankers being carried by rail to Crimea,” Russian news agencies cited the national anti-terrorism committee as saying.
The Kerch Bridge, personally inaugurated by Putin in 2018, is a vital transport link for carrying military equipment to Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
Moscow had maintained the bridge crossing was safe despite the fighting.
A Kremlin spokesman said Putin had ordered a commission to be set up to look into the blast, Russian news agencies reported.
Russia’s powerful investigative committee opened a criminal probe into the explosion and sent detectives to the scene.
It said a truck exploded “on the automobile part of the Crimean bridge from the side of the Taman Peninsula.”
This “caused seven fuel tanks to ignite on a train heading towards the Crimea Peninsula. As a result, two lanes partially collapsed.”
Russia’s Energy Ministry said Crimea has enough fuel for 15 days, adding that it was working on ways to replenish stock.
While officials in Moscow stopped short of blaming Kyiv, an official in Russian-installed Crimea pointed the finger at “Ukrainian vandals.”
The speaker of Crimea’s Kremlin-backed regional parliament blamed Ukraine for the explosion, but downplayed the severity of the damage and said the bridge would be promptly repaired.
“Now they have something to be proud of: over 23 years of their management, they didn’t manage to build anything worthy of attention in Crimea, but they’ve managed to damage the surface of the Russian bridge,” Vladimir Konstantinov, chairman of the State Council of the Republic, wrote on Telegram.
‘Crimea… the beginning’
Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of Ukraine’s presidency, took to Twitter posting a picture of a long section of the bridge half-submerged in the waters.
“Crimea, the bridge, the beginning,” he wrote.
“Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled.”
Crimea, the bridge, the beginning. Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled. pic.twitter.com/yUiSwOLlDP
— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) October 8, 2022
The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, posted a video on Twitter with the Kerch Bridge on fire on the left side and video with Marilyn Monroe singing her famous “Happy Birthday Mr. President” on the right (Putin celebrated his 70th birthday on Friday).
Russia’s foreign ministry said Ukraine’s reaction to the blast showed Kyiv’s “terrorist nature.”
“The reaction of the Kyiv regime to the destruction of civilian infrastructure shows its terrorist nature,” the ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram.
There have been several explosions at Russian military installations in the Crimean peninsula and if it is established that Ukraine was behind the latest blast, alarm bells may sound with the bridge so far from the front line.
The blasts come after Ukraine’s recent lightning territorial gains in the east and south that have undermined the Kremlin’s claim that it annexed Donetsk, neighboring Lugansk and the southern regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
However, Russian forces said Friday they had captured ground in Donetsk in east Ukraine, their first claim of new gains since a Kyiv counter-offensive rattled Moscow’s war effort.