A massive explosion on Saturday morning severely damaged the only bridge connecting annexed Crimea to the Russian mainland, causing parts of it to collapse.
The attack, which disrupted important transport links between mainland Russia and the annexed peninsula, not only deals a blow to the Russian military effort in Ukraine, but is also a psychological blow for Moscow and a major propaganda victory for Kyiv.
The exact cause of the explosion remains unclear. Russian officials said a tanker exploded, but two spans of the road crossing towards Crimea appear to have collapsed. A subsequent fire engulfed a train of tankers on a separate part of the bridge.
Footage of the Kerch Bridge posted on social media appears to show that part of the roadway from the vehicle and the railway bridge had fallen into the waters below. Flames could be seen burning from the wagons above.
Why is the bridge so important?
Russia began building the massive 19-kilometre (about 12-mile) bridge over the Kerch Strait, spending an estimated $3.7 billion, after Moscow illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. It was the physical expression of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal to take over. Ukraine and will forever bind it to Russia. On the day of its opening, he led a triumphant convoy across the bridge, driving a truck festooned with flags.
The bridge spans the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, on which the main Ukrainian ports, including Mariupol, are located. For Russia, the bridge symbolizes the physical “reunification” of Crimea with the Russian mainland. The bridge carries much of Crimea’s needs – such as fuel and supplies – and has been regularly used to supply arms and fuel to Russian forces.
What did Ukraine say?
Ukrainian officials began responding to the fire without directly acknowledging that Ukraine was responsible for the explosion, with many triumphant responses.
The attack took place the day after Russian President Vladimir Putin turned 70 and Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov released a video of the burning bridge, with a huge section of causeway collapsing into water, alongside parallel video. of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mister President”. Others online compared the attack on the bridge to Ukraine’s April sinking of the Russian Navy’s warship, the Moskva.
In a brief post on its official Twitter account, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense reacted to the explosion saying: “The Moskva missile cruiser and the Kerch bridge — two notorious symbols of Russian power in Ukrainian Crimea – – collapsed. the next in line, the Russians? »
Among the responses, the Navy of the Ukrainian Armed Forces posted on Facebook: “Air Defense of the Russian Federation, are you sleeping?” alongside video showing a section of the bridge road that had been completely destroyed.
What is Russia’s response?
Putin’s government was quick to insist that the damage was under control and would be repaired quickly. State news agency TASS avoided the word ‘attack’, reporting that a team of 380 responders, along with 90 pieces of equipment, were dispatched to ‘eliminate the consequences of the emergency’ on the bridge . Russia’s Transport Ministry said the rail section of the bridge, vital for delivering troops and equipment for the war effort, would be restored by Saturday evening.
Putin immediately ordered a “government commission” to examine the “urgency” of the Kerch Bridge in Crimea, Russian state media TASS reported, adding that the heads of Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry and Transport Ministry are now at the scene of the incident.
Russian officials suggest the blast was caused by a truck exploding on the highway bridge.
Spokeswoman for the Russian investigative commission, Svetlana Petrenko, said the commission “has opened a criminal investigation into the Crimean bridge incident. According to preliminary information, this morning a truck exploded on the part automobile of the Crimean bridge from the Taman Peninsula [the westbound lanes of the bridge]which caused the ignition of seven fuel tanks of a train heading towards the Crimean peninsula.
“As a result, two traffic lanes of the bridge partially collapsed.”
The committee also expanded on its earlier statement that a truck on the bridge had exploded.
According to the Russian Investigative Committee, the owner of the truck resides in Krasnodar Krai and investigative actions have been launched at his place of residence. The vehicle’s travel route and relevant documentation are under review, the committee added.
CNN is unable to verify the Russian explanation for the explosion.
What does this mean for infrastructure?
Main transport links between mainland Russia and the annexed Crimean peninsula – including buses and trains – have been suspended.
Meanwhile, weather conditions in the Kerch Strait are hampering Russia’s plans to use ferries to reach Crimea from Krasnodar, according to Russian state media, and Russian troops in southern Ukraine will be now resupplied by sea and land, the country’s defense ministry said.
Automobile traffic on the undamaged part of the Crimean Bridge has resumed, Crimea’s Russian-appointed leader Sergey Aksenov said in a statement on his Telegram channel on Saturday.
“At the moment, traffic is open for cars and buses with a full inspection procedure. We ask truckers to plan their route using the Kerch ferry crossing. The Kerch-2 ferry will start crossing the strait in two hours,” Aksenov said.
Social media video reviewed by CNN indicates that the westbound lanes of the highway bridge have been cut, but the eastbound lanes appear to be intact.
According to Aksenov, rail communications on the Crimean Bridge had to be renewed by the end of Saturday.
How does this affect Russia’s strategy?
The Russian military has used the bridge extensively to resupply its forces in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, and it’s unclear how the blast will affect its supply chains. Kyiv continues its successful campaign to retake parts of southern and eastern Ukraine that Russia captured in the early weeks of the war.
The Ukrainian military has recaptured 2,400 square kilometers of territory in the southern Kherson region “since the start of full-scale warfare”, a senior Ukrainian official said on Friday.
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