A truck bomb Saturday caused a fire and the collapse of a section of a bridge linking Russia-annexed Crimea with Russia, Russian officials said, damaging a key supply artery for Moscow's faltering war effort in southern Ukraine.
The speaker of Crimea's Kremlin-backed regional parliament immediately accused Ukraine, though the Kremlin didn't apportion blame. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened to strike the bridge and some lauded the attack, but Kyiv stopped short of claiming responsibility.
Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee said that the truck bomb caused seven railway cars carrying fuel to catch fire, resulting in a “partial collapse of two sections of the bridge.”
The 19-kilometer bridge across the Kerch Strait linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov opened in 2018 and is the longest in Europe. The $3.6 billion project is a tangible symbol of Moscow's claims on Crimea and has provided an essential link to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The Peninsula holds symbolic value for Russia and is key to sustaining its military operations in the south of Ukraine. If the bridge were made inoperable, it would make it significantly more challenging to ferry supplies to the peninsula. While Russia seized the areas north of Crimea early during the invasion and built a land corridor to it along the Sea of Azov, Ukraine is pressing a counteroffensive to reclaim them.
The bridge has train and automobile sections. Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee specified that the explosion and fire led to the collapse of the two sections of one of the two links of the automobile bridge, while another link was intact.
Russia's Energy Ministry said Crimea has enough fuel for 15 days, adding that it was working on ways to replenish stock.
Authorities suspended passenger train traffic across the bridge until further notice. Putin was informed about the explosion and he ordered the creation of a government panel to deal with the emergency.
“Russian illegal construction is starting to fall apart and catch fire. The reason is simple: if you build something explosive, then sooner or later it will explode,” David Arakhamia, the leader of the Servant of the People party, wrote on Telegram.
“And this is just the beginning. Of all things, reliable construction is not something Russia is particularly famous for,” he said.
Other Ukrainian officials were more celebratory while still stopping short of claiming responsibility.
An advisor to Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, tweeted: “Crimea, the bridge, the beginning. Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled:”
In August, Russia suffered a series of explosions at an airbase and munitions depot in Crimea, which underlined its vulnerability.
Local authorities in Crimea made conflicting statements about what the damaged bridge would mean for residents on the peninsula, a popular destination for Russian tourists year-round that is home to Sevastopol, a key city and a naval base.
The Association of Russia's tourist agencies estimated that about 50,000 tourists were in Crimea on vacation at the time of the blast. The head of Russia's top tourism body, Ilya Umansky, told the Interfax agency that ferry links had been relaunched Saturday between the peninsula and the mainland but admitted that those seeking to enter Crimea in the coming days were set to experience “some discomfort.”
The blast on the bridge occurred hours after explosions rocked the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv early Saturday, sending towering plumes of smoke into the sky and triggering a series of secondary explosions.
Ukrainian authorities in the northern Sumy region, also reported on Saturday that five towns and villages had been hit overnight.
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