Saturday’s blast partially collapsed a bridge linking the Crimean peninsula to Russia, damaging a key supply artery for the Kremlin’s war effort in southern Ukraine and a symbol of Russian power in the region.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, which killed three people. The speaker of the Russian-backed regional parliament in Crimea blamed Ukraine, but Moscow did not share the blame. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened to attack the bridge, and some praised the destruction on Saturday, but Kiev has refused to claim responsibility.
Russian officials said the explosion was caused by a truck bomb, threatening a sharp escalation in Russia’s eight-month-old war, with some Russian lawmakers calling on President Vladimir Putin to declare an “anti-terrorist operation” in retaliation – dropping the term “special military operation” that has The Russians had reduced the scope of the fighting.
Putin signed a decree late Saturday to tighten security for the bridge and energy infrastructure in Crimea and Russia, and he put Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, in charge of the effort.
Hours after the explosion, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that the head of the Air Force, General Sergei Surovikin, would lead all Russian forces in Ukraine. Surovikin, who was put in charge of forces in southern Ukraine over the summer, led Russian forces in Syria and was accused of overseeing a brutal bombardment that destroyed much of the city of Aleppo.
However, Moscow is losing on the battlefield.
On Saturday, a Kremlin-backed official in Ukraine’s Kherson region announced a partial evacuation of citizens from the southern province, one of four illegally annexed by Moscow last week. Kirill Stremosov told Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti agency that children and their parents, as well as the elderly, could be evacuated to two southern Russian regions as Kherson prepares for “difficult times”.
The 19-kilometer Kerch Bridge over the strait connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov is a symbol of Moscow’s claims to Crimea and an essential link to the peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. $3.6-billion U.S. The bridge, the longest in Europe, is critical to sustaining Russia’s military operations in southern Ukraine. In 2018, Putin himself presided over the inauguration of the bridge.
An attack on it would “further boost Russian morale [and] will give Ukraine an extra boost,” said James Nixey of think-tank Chatham House in London. “The Russians can rebuild it, but they can’t defend it while losing the war.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky indirectly acknowledged the attack on the bridge in a video address but did not say why. “Today was a fine and mostly sunny day over our region of the state,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is cloudy in Crimea. Although it is also warm.”
Zelensky said Ukraine “wants a future without occupiers. In our entire region, especially in Crimea.”
He also said Ukrainian forces had advanced or held lines in the east and south, but acknowledged “very, very tough, very tough fighting” around the town of Bakhmut in eastern Donetsk region, where Russian forces have claimed recent gains.
Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said the truck bomb set seven train cars carrying fuel on fire, resulting in “the partial collapse of two parts of the bridge.”
The Russian Investigative Committee reported that a couple who were sitting in a vehicle on the bridge died. It did not say who the third victim was.
All vehicles crossing the bridge are required to undergo sophisticated explosives screening. The truck that exploded was owned by a resident of the Krasnodar region in southern Russia. Russian officials said the man’s home had been searched and experts were tracking the truck’s route.
Train and vehicular traffic on the bridge was temporarily stopped. The Russia-backed regional leader of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said that automobile traffic had resumed on Saturday afternoon on one of the two links that remained intact after the flow was reversed in each direction.
The train traffic was moving slowly. Two passenger trains headed for the bridge from the Crimean cities of Sevastopol and Simferopol on Saturday evening. Passenger ferry links between Crimea and the Russian mainland were reopened on Sunday.
Russia seized northern Crimea early in its invasion of Ukraine and built a land corridor along the Sea of Azov, while Ukraine is retaliating to reclaim those lands.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces in the south were getting essential supplies through that corridor and by sea.
War bloggers demand reparations
Russian war bloggers responded angrily to the bridge attack, urging Moscow to retaliate by attacking Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. Putin ordered the creation of a government panel to deal with the emergency.
Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Russian Communist Party, said the “terrorist attack” should serve as a wake-up call. “The long overdue measures are yet to be taken, the special operation should be converted into an anti-terrorist operation,” he said.
Leonid Slutsky, head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, said “consequences will be imminent” if Ukraine is responsible. And Sergei Mironov, leader of the Just Russia group, said Russia should respond by attacking key Ukrainian infrastructure.
Due to such statements, Putin decided to announce an anti-terrorist operation.
The parliamentary leader of Zelensky’s party attributed the explosion to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
“Russian illegal construction is starting to crumble and catch fire. The reason is simple: if you build something explosive, sooner or later it will explode,” said David Arkhamia of the Servant of the People party.
The Ukrainian postal service announced that it would issue stamps commemorating the explosion, as it did after a Ukrainian attack sank the Russian flagship cruiser Moskva.
Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov posted a video on Twitter of the Kerch Bridge on fire and Marilyn Monroe singing her famous song. Mr. President, Happy Birthday Song Putin turned 70 on Friday.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the “Kyiv regime’s reaction to the destruction of civilian infrastructure reflects its terrorist nature.”
The Crimean Peninsula is a popular destination for Russian tourists and is home to a naval base. A Russian tourist association estimated that 50,000 tourists were in Crimea on Saturday.
Elsewhere, the United Nations nuclear watchdog said Ukraine’s Zaporizhia nuclear power plant had lost its last remaining external power source due to renewed flare-ups and was now relying on emergency diesel generators.
Ukrainian officials were also just beginning to emerge from the ruins of the devastated city of Lyman in eastern Ukraine, assessing the humanitarian toll and the potential for war crimes after a month of Russian occupation.
“Some people died in their homes, some people died on the street, and the bodies are now being sent to experts for examination,” said Mark Tkachenko of the Kramatorsk district police.
Explosions also rocked the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv early Saturday, sending plumes of smoke into the sky and triggering secondary explosions. Ukrainian officials accused Russia of moving surface-to-air missiles over Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, into two largely residential areas.