Kerch bridge linking Russia and Crimea on fire after explosion

KYIV, Ukraine – A giant explosion ripped through the Crimean Bridge, a strategic link between mainland Russia and Crimea, in what appeared to be an early Saturday morning blow to a symbol of President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to control Ukraine .

Damage to the bridge, which provided a road and rail link between Russia and the Ukrainian peninsula which the Kremlin illegally annexed in 2014, is a setback for Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, disrupting a crucial supply route.

While limited vehicular traffic resumed hours after the blast, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged the government had no timetable to restore the 12-mile bridge to a fully operational state.

The Russian Investigative Committee, one of the main law enforcement bodies, said a truck explosion had ignited tankers as a freight train crossed the bridge. The cause of the truck explosion was not immediately clear. After the explosion, thick plumes of smoke and flames were visible from afar.

Putin in 2018 personally inaugurated the $4 billion bridge, also known as the Kerch Bridge, as it spans the Kerch Strait between the Black and Azov seas. The commissioning of the bridge was intended to symbolize the appropriation of Crimea by Russia.

Russia’s 2014 invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea proved to be a precursor to Putin’s invasion this year, in which the peninsula was used as a major base of operations for forces Russians. Russia claimed to have annexed four other Ukrainian regions.

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The explosion was celebrated in Kyiv, where government officials greeted it and posted images on social media of collapsed concrete spans from the bridge and pictures of the apparent timing of the explosion, showing vehicles crossing the bridge seconds before a giant fireball devours the area.

Mykhailo Podoloyak, senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, called it “the beginning”. “Anything illegal must be destroyed” Podolyak added on Twitter. The Ukrainian government provided no immediate official statement on the cause of the explosion. But in a taunt, the government’s official Twitter account job: “sick burn”.

A Ukrainian government official told The Washington Post on Saturday that Ukrainian special services were behind the attack on the bridge. The Ukrainska Pravda news site first flagged the alleged government role, citing an unidentified law enforcement official who said Ukraine’s security service, the SBU, was involved.

Ukraine has already launched bold attacks deep into Russian-held territory, including against an air base in Crimea and against military targets across the border in Russia’s Belgorod region. But if the bridge blast is confirmed to have been planned, it would be the most stunning strike yet by Ukraine, which has been overrun since late February by the much larger and better equipped Russian military.

Russian authorities said the blast happened around 6 a.m. local time. A video published by the government newspaper Izvestia appeared to show it at 06:03. Initial reports suggest three people were killed, including the driver of the truck which appeared to explode and two people whose bodies were recovered from the water, the inquiry said.

The investigative committee said the truck driver had been identified as a resident of the Krasnodar region in Russia. “The investigation began at his home,” he said. “The truck route and relevant documentation are under review.”

Russian officials have long warned of serious retaliation for strikes on Russian territory.

The explosion injects a new element of tension into the war at a time when Putin and his entourage have repeatedly warned that Russia could use nuclear weapons. President Biden warned this week of a possible nuclear “Armageddon,” reflecting heightened concern in the United States, which has the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal after Russia’s.

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Ukrainian Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, tweeted a photo of the damaged bridge and said: “@Crimea, long without seeing” with a heart emoji. And the head of the Ukrainian postal service said the agency would issue a new stamp showing a damaged bridge reading: “Crimean Bridge – Completed”.

Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, spoke of the wave of memes and mocking social media posts originating from Ukraine. “The Kyiv regime’s reaction to the destruction of civilian infrastructure demonstrates its terrorist nature,” Zakharova said on Telegram. Throughout the war, Russia repeatedly bombed Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, including railway stations, residential buildings, hospitals, schools and theaters.

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Leonid Slutsky, a Russian Duma lawmaker, said retaliation was “inevitable” if Ukrainian responsibility was confirmed. “The response has to be tough, but not necessarily frontal,” he said. “Russia has vast experience in the fight against terrorists, and those who use their methods should also understand this very well.”

Peskov said Putin was briefed by ministers and government officials on the ‘urgency’ on the bridge and ordered the establishment of a commission of inquiry including Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, officials in Crimea and the FSB , the Russian security service.

The commission was instructed “to find out the reasons for the accident and eliminate the consequences as soon as possible,” Peskov said, according to Interfax, the Russian news agency.

The Investigative Committee said it had opened a criminal investigation into the incident and sent forensic experts to the scene.

The bridge is the only direct road and rail connection to Crimea from mainland Russia. The paralysis of such a key artery could affect Russia’s ability to reinforce and resupply its troops as Ukraine launches a counteroffensive to reclaim occupied territory in the southern Kherson region.

In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have accelerated their advance into towns and villages seized by Russiain the northeast region of Kharkiv, and Donetsk in the east, and in Kherson in the south.

Oleh Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military expert, said the Russian military relied on the bridge he called “Putin’s pearl” to bring in troops, weapons, ammunition and fuel to power its operations in southern Ukraine.

Zhdanov said it would not be easy to secure equivalent routes to supply Russian-held areas, including Zaporizhzhia, Melitopol and the city of Kherson, a major target of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

This could add to the challenges that culminated in the Kremlin’s decision to fire or sideline at least eight generals since the Feb. 24 invasion. US intelligence agencies have concluded that Putin has been facing unusual internal backlash in recent weeks over his handling of the war.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Russian forces would receive “continuous support” in areas north of Crimea. “The Russian group of troops involved in the special military operation in the Nikolaev-Kryvorozhsk and Zaporozhsk operational directorates is continuously supplied in full by the land corridor and partially by sea transport,” the ministry said, according to Ria Novosti, a newspaper controlled by the state. agency.

The extent of the damage to the bridge was not immediately clear. Peskov told Ria Novosti that there were “no forecasts on the timetable for reconstruction” of the affected areas.

But on Saturday afternoon, Russian authorities were reporting that traffic of cars and buses had resumed on the two functional lanes of the bridge, while the trucks were directed to the ferries. The Department for Transportation later said train service was to resume on Saturday evening.

Russian officials immediately sought to dispel fears the blast could cause shortages of fuel, food and other essentials in Crimea, noting that Russia’s military occupation had created the ‘land bridge’ so sought after by Putin. to Crimea.

“A land corridor through the new regions has been established,” said Oleg Kryuchkov, adviser to the head of Crimea.

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Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev first cited a rush to buy gasoline and announced a limit on grocery purchases of three kilograms, or three packets of produce per person, but later said the restrictions had been lifted.

Sergey Aksyonov, who heads the Crimea region, said reconstruction of the bridge would begin as soon as the investigation was completed. “There is no risk in this respect, nor any reason to panic,” he said, according to Tass. “By our joint efforts, we will overcome everything. There’s no doubt about it.”

Ryan and Khudov reported from Kyiv. Abbakumova reported from Riga, Latvia. Isabelle Khurshudyan and Kamila Hrabchuk in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, and Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima in Washington contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed decrees to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following referendums held that have been widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The answer: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and their family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday that Ukraine was seeking an “accelerated ascent” into NATO, in apparent response to annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on September 21 to call up up to 300,000 reservists in a dramatic attempt to reverse the setbacks of his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of over 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and further protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: Ukraine launched a successful counter-offensive that forced a large Russian retreat into the northeast Kharkiv region in early September as troops fled towns and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large quantities of military equipment.

Pictures: Washington Post photographers have been in the field since the start of the war. Here are some of their most powerful works.

How you can help: Here’s how those in the United States can support the people of Ukraine as well as what people around the world have donated.

Read our full coverage of the Russia–Ukraine War. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

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