A key bridge connecting the Crimean peninsula with mainland Russia was partially destroyed in a truck explosion, Russian media reported, endangering a key supply route for Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
The speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, called it an “act of war” as the country’s investigative committee said on Saturday it had “launched a criminal case in connection with the incident on the Crimean bridge”, adding that “a truck exploded”.
“According to preliminary information, this morning on the automobile part of the Crimean bridge on the side of the Taman peninsula, a truck exploded, which caused the fire of seven fuel tanks in a train heading towards the peninsula of Crimea,” the committee said. .
“As a result, two lanes partially collapsed.”
Three people were found dead following the explosion of a truck, announced the Russian investigation commission.
“They are said to be passengers in a car that was near the truck that exploded. The bodies of two victims, a man and a woman, have already been recovered from the water and their identity is being established” , the committee said in a statement.
Investigators also established the coordinates of the truck and its owner, registered in the Krasnodar region in southern Russia, and began searching his whereabouts, he added.
Officials said Russian President Vladimir Putin was briefed on the blast and ordered a government panel to be set up to deal with the emergency.
In a decree issued hours after the blast, Putin said the Federal Security Service (FSB) would be responsible for strengthening the bridge’s security, as well as the infrastructure supplying electricity and natural gas to the city. peninsula, according to the Interfax news agency.
Ukrainian officials celebrated the incident but did not claim responsibility, with the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, posting a video of the burning bridge on social media alongside a video of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”. , a reference to Putin’s 70th birthday on Friday.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, meanwhile, hinted Saturday night that Moscow was involved in the blast.
“It should be noted that the truck that exploded, by all indications, entered the bridge from the Russian side. The answers must therefore be sought in Russia,” he said in comments released by the presidency.
“A blow” for the Russians
Meanwhile, Alexandre Vautravers, editor-in-chief of the Swiss Military Review, questioned whether a truck was indeed solely responsible for the blast, saying a vehicle carrying explosives “is unlikely to cause as much damage. damage” without other explosives placed on it. the bridge.
“I think we have to take with a grain of salt the story being told to us about how this truck got there and suddenly caused all this damage,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The most realistic are two explanations: one would be a laser-guided bomb of at least 125 kilos and the other possibility would be sabotage by special forces or partisans and I think that’s something to explore. “
Al Jazeera’s Mohamad Vall, reporting from Moscow, said the blast was a “deep blow” to Russians.
“The Russians are still trying to make sense of what happened,” Vall said, adding that the bridge is a key supply route between mainland Russia and Crimea.
Reporting from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands said there was “jubilation” in Ukraine after the incident.
“It undermines the prestige of Vladimir Putin. This clashes with Vladimir Putin’s controlling image. And I think under Ukraine’s bravado right now, there might be some nervousness about their response to that,” he added.
“It also gives the Russians a very big headache when it comes to supplying their southern front in Ukraine because the [Russian] the army … at the moment is largely supplied by the railway networks and this main railway network for the southern front went through the Crimea via the Kerch bridge,” Challands said.
He said that now the only other railway runs through the northern shore of the Sea of Azov and it is currently about 30-40 kilometers from the front lines.
Footage shared on social media claimed to show fire and damage to the span.
The Tass news agency also reported on the fire. Ukrainian media reported an explosion at the road and rail bridge around 6 a.m. (0300 GMT).
Putin unveiled the vital road and rail bridge in 2018 after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in violation of international law in 2014.
Officials in Moscow vowed to find the culprits, but refrained from immediately blaming Kyiv – although an official in Russia-installed Crimea pointed the finger at “Ukrainian vandals”.
The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said Russian troops in southern Ukraine were receiving needed supplies through the land corridor along the Sea of Azov and by sea. The Russian Energy Ministry said Crimea had enough fuel for 15 days.
The Russian transport industry said on Saturday evening that rail traffic had been allowed to resume on the Kerch Bridge.
The incidents in Crimea came hours after explosions rocked the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv early on Saturday, sending towering plumes of smoke into the sky and triggering a series of secondary explosions.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Telegram that the morning explosions were the result of missile strikes in the center of the city.
He said the explosions started fires in one of the city’s medical facilities and in a non-residential building. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
In September, Russia announced the annexation of the provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia after holding referendums that Kyiv and the West call sham exercises held at gunpoint.
In recent weeks, the Ukrainian military has pushed back Russian forces across front lines in the south and east, including parts of Donetsk. Western weaponry has helped the Ukrainian military reclaim more territory in the past month than Russian forces have taken in five months.
On Saturday, Putin announced that Air Force General Sergei Surovikin would take charge of the entire invasion of Ukraine, marking the first time a military leader has been appointed to oversee the the whole effort, which Moscow called a “special military operation”.