Explosion damages Crimean bridge at heart of Russia’s war effort
KYIV, Oct 8 (Reuters) – A powerful explosion severely damaged Russia’s road and rail bridge to Crimea on Saturday, striking a prestige symbol of Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula and the main supply route for Russian forces fighting to retain captured territory in southern Ukraine.
The explosion at the bridge over the Kerch Strait, for which Russia did not immediately blame, drew cheery messages from Ukrainian officials, but no outright claims of responsibility.
Russian officials said three people were killed, likely the occupants of a car driving near a truck that exploded.
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Despite the damage, limited road traffic resumed around 10 hours after the blast, and the Department for Transport said it expected rail traffic to resume later in the day.
Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the 19 km (12 mile) Crimean Bridge connecting it to the Russian transport network was opened to much fanfare four years later by President Vladimir Putin.
It now represents a major artery for Russian forces who have taken over most of the Kherson region of southern Ukraine, and for the naval port of Sevastopol, whose governor told residents: ” Stay calm. Don’t panic.”
It was not yet clear if the explosion was a deliberate attack, but the damage to such high-profile infrastructure came at a time when Russia has suffered several battlefield defeats and could still cloud messages of reassurance from the Kremlin to his audience that the conflict continues. to plan.
It also took place a day after Putin’s 70th birthday and coincided with the appointment of Air Force General Sergei Surovikin, Russia’s third senior military official in the space of a week, to take charge of charges the entire invasion effort.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. PRESIDENT”
The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, posted a video of the burning bridge on social media alongside a video of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President”.
Since the start of the invasion on February 24, Ukrainian officials have regularly hinted at their desire to destroy the bridge, which is considered in Ukraine as a symbol of the Russian occupation of Crimea. Ukraine’s postal service said on Saturday it would print a special stamp to commemorate the explosion.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that its forces in southern Ukraine could be “fully supplied” by existing land and sea routes.
The Ministry of Transport said road traffic of light vehicles and buses had resumed alternately on the intact half of the roadway. Freight vehicles were directed to a ferry service.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Kyiv’s reaction to the destruction of civilian infrastructure “testifies to its terrorist nature”.
Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said a freight truck exploded on the bridge’s carriageway at 06:07 (0307 GMT), setting fire to seven fuel tank cars on a train heading for the peninsula on the upper level of the bridge.
He said two spans of the road bridge had partially collapsed, but the arch spanning the channel through which ships travel between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov was undamaged.
Images released by the Russian investigative commission showed half of the pavement washed away and the other half still attached. Other shots from a distance showed heavy smoke billowing from part of the bridge.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy posted a message on Twitter saying the incident was “just the beginning”, but refrained from saying that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the explosion.
“Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled,” wrote Mykhailo Podolyak.
Moscow has touted the largely Russian-speaking Crimea as a historical and cherished part of Russia and, especially this year, a part where its citizens could vacation in large numbers, supposedly safe from war.
Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed deputy administrator in the Kherson region, said the bridge incident “won’t affect army supplies much.”
“But there will be logistical problems for Crimea,” he added in a social media post.
Mykola Bieliekov of the Ukrainian Institute for Strategic Studies, which advises the presidency in Kyiv, said the bridge was irreplaceable for invading Russian forces.
Although Russian troops seized part of the Ukrainian coast connecting the Kherson region and Crimea with Russia, Bieliekov said transport links there were poor and Russia preferred to send reinforcements to Kherson along the more circuitous route from the bridge to the Crimea.
James Nixey, a Russian expert with UK think tank Chatham House, said: ‘The bridge was always going to be a target, whether from covert operations or longer range artillery systems supplied by the states. -United.”
“It is conceivable that the Russians could rebuild it, but they cannot defend it by losing a war,” he added.
In a video message, Sergei Aksyonov, Russia’s governor of Crimea, said he wanted “to assure the Crimeans that the Republic of Crimea is fully supplied with fuel and food. We have more than a month of fuel and more than two months”. value of food”.
The Russian governor of Sevastopol, which has a separate territorial status in Crimea as the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, also sought to reassure residents.
“We are not cut off from the continent! Mikhail Razvozzhayev posted on Telegram. “Keep calm. Don’t panic.”
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Reuters Editing reporting by Kevin Liffey, Frances Kerry and Nick Macfie
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