Blast on bridge to Crimea hurts Russian supply lines, pride
KYIV, Ukraine — An explosion Saturday caused the partial collapse of a bridge linking the Crimean Peninsula with Russia, damaging an important supply artery for the Kremlin’s faltering war effort in southern Ukraine and hitting a towering symbol of Russian power in the region.
Three people were killed in the blast that occurred on Saturday. The speaker of the Russian-backed regional legislature in Crimea accused Ukraine, but Moscow did not assign blame. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened the bridge’s destruction, while others praised its destruction on Saturday. However, Kyiv did not claim responsibility.
The Russian authorities claimed that the explosion was caused by a truck-bomb bomb. This triggered a sharp escalation of Russia’s eight month-old war. Some Russian lawmakers called for President Vladimir Putin, a “counterterrorism operation,” to eliminate the term “special army operation” which had reduced the scope of fighting to ordinary Russians.
Putin signed a Saturday decree tightening security for the Bridge and for Energy Infrastructure between Russia and Crimea. The FSB, Russia’s federal security agency, was now in charge of the effort.
Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that Gen. Sergei Surovkin, the air force chief, would now be in charge of all Russian troops in Ukraine. Surovikin, who was this summer appointed to the charge of troops in south Ukraine, was previously in charge of Russian forces in Syria. He was accused of leading a bombardment that decimated much of Aleppo.
Moscow continues to suffer from battlefield losses. On Saturday, a Kremlin-backed official from Ukraine’s Kherson area announced that a partial evacuation was being made of civilians in the southern province, which was one of four illegally annexed last week by Moscow. Kirill Stremousov told Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti agency that young children and the elderly could be relocated because Kherson was getting “ready for a difficult period.”
The 19-kilometer (12-mile) Kerch Bridge, on a strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, is a symbol of Moscow’s claims on Crimea and an essential link to the peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. This bridge, which is the longest in Europe, costs $3.6 billion and is essential for Russia’s military operations against southern Ukraine. The bridge’s opening was presided over by Putin in 2018.
The attack on it “will have another sapping effort against Russia morale, (and), will give an additional boost to Ukraine’s,” said James Nixey, Chatham House, a think-tank in London. Although it is possible that the Russians could rebuild it, they cannot defend it while fighting a war. “
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a video address, indirectly acknowledged the bridge attack but did not address its cause.
“Today wasn’t a bad day, and it was mostly sunny on our territory,” he stated. It was also cloudy in Crimea. Although it was also warm.”
Zelenskyy said Ukraine wants a future “without occupiers. Throughout our territory, in particular in Crimea.”
Zelenskyy also said Ukrainian forces advanced or held the line in the east and south, but acknowledged “very, very difficult, very tough fighting” around the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russian forces have claimed recent gains.
Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said a truck bomb caused seven railway cars carrying fuel to catch fire, resulting in the “partial collapse of two sections of the bridge.” A couple riding in a vehicle on the bridge were killed, Russia’s Investigative Committee said. It didn’t identify the third victim.
All vehicles crossing the bridge should be subject to state-of-the art explosives testing. According to the Investigative Committee, the truck that exploded was owned and operated by a resident from the Krasnodar region of southern Russia. Experts were also looking at the truck’s route.
Train traffic and automobile traffic over bridge were temporarily suspended. Sergey Aksyonov, a Russia-backed leader in Crimea, stated that automobile traffic resumed on Saturday afternoon on one the two remaining links. The flow alternated in each direction.
Rail traffic was slowly resuming. Two passenger trains left the Crimean cities Sevastopol, Simferopol, and headed towards the bridge Saturday evening. Sunday saw the relaunch of passenger ferry links between Crimea, Russia and the Russian mainland.
While Russia took areas north of Crimea in its invasion of Ukraine early and built a land route to it along the Sea of Azuv, Ukraine is launching a counteroffensive. The Russian Defense Ministry stated that its troops in the South were receiving supplies via that corridor and by ship.
Russian war blogger reacted furiously to the attack on the bridge and urged Moscow to strike at civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. Putin ordered the establishment of a government panel to address the emergency. Gennady Ziuganov, head the Russian Communist Party, stated that the “terror attack” should be a wake-up call. He declared that the special operation must be transformed into a counterterrorist operations.
Leonid slutsky, head the foreign affairs committee of the Russian parliament’s lower chamber, stated that “consequences would be imminent” if Ukraine is responsible. Sergei Mironov of the Just Russia faction said that Russia should attack key Ukrainian infrastructure.
Such statements could signal that Putin will declare a counterterrorism operation. The Zelenskyy party’s parliamentary leader attributed the explosion to Moscow’s takeover in Crimea.
“Russian illegal construction is starting to fall apart and catch fire. The reason is simple: If something explosive is built, it will explode sooner or later,” stated David Arakhamia of the Servant of the People party.
The Ukrainian postal service announced that it would issue stamps to commemorate the blast, just as it did after the sinking and rescue of the Moskva, the Russian flagship cruiser.
The secretary to Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov tweeted a video showing the Kerch Bridge lit on fire and Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday Mr. president”. On Friday, Putin made 70.
In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said “the reaction of the Kyiv regime to the destruction of civilian infrastructure shows its terrorist nature.”
The Crimean Peninsula is a popular destination for Russian tourists and home to a Russian naval base. A Russian tourist association estimated that 50,000 tourists were in Crimea on Saturday.
Elsewhere, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has lost its last remaining external power source as a result of renewed shelling and is now relying on emergency diesel generators.
Ukrainian authorities were also just beginning to sift through the wreckage of the devastated city of Lyman in eastern Ukraine, assessing the humanitarian toll and possible war crimes after a months-long Russian occupation.
“Some victims died in their homes, while others died in the streets. The bodies are being sent to experts for analysis,” Mark Tkachenko, Kramatorsk district officer, said.
Explosions also rocked the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv early Saturday, sending plumes of smoke into the sky and triggering secondary explosions. Russian officials were accused by Ukrainian officials of using surface to air missiles in two residential areas.
Kharkiv resident Tetiana Samoilenko’s apartment was set on fire by the attack. The blast sent glass flying and she was in the kitchen at the time.
“Now, I don’t have a roof over my head. Now I don’t know what to do next,” the 80-year-old said.
Stepanenko reported from Kharkiv, Ukraine. Francisco Seco contributed from Kharkiv, Ukraine and Justin Spike from Lyman (Ukraine).
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