LONDON – An explosion at the strategic road-rail bridge linking Russia to the Crimean peninsula brought down sections of track in one direction on Saturday, damaging a crucial supply route for the Russian military in Ukraine.
The explosion on the Kerch bridge, for which Russia did not immediately hold anyone responsible, was followed by cheerful messages from Ukrainian officials, but no direct claims of the fact.
Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the 12-mile bridge, linking it to Russia’s transportation network, was inaugurated with great fanfare four years later by President Vladimir Putin himself.
It now represents an important supply route for the Russian military, which has taken control of most of the Kherson region of southern Ukraine, and for the naval port of Sevastopol, whose governor told locals: “Keep the Calm, do not panic”.
It was not yet clear whether the blast was a deliberate attack or an accident, but the damage to such high-level infrastructure comes as Russia has suffered several military defeats and could further cloud messages from the Kremlin that the conflict is unfolding as it should. expected, with which it seeks to reassure public opinion.
The explosion also occurs a day after Putin’s 70th birthday.
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 beginning of the invasion on February 24, Ukrainian officials have regularly alluded to their desire to destroy the Kerch Bridge, seen in Ukraine as a symbol of Russia’s occupation of Crimea.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said kyiv’s reaction to the destruction of civilian infrastructure “testifies to its terrorist nature.”
The Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee said a cargo truck had exploded on the bridge roadway at 6:07 a.m. (0307 GMT), setting fire to seven fuel tank cars on a train bound for the peninsula in the upper level of the bridge.
Ukraine’s government said two spans of the bridge had partially collapsed, but the arch spanning the Kerch Strait, the waterway that ships travel between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, was undamaged.
Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian governor of Crimea, said on social media that the road bridge was still intact in one direction, although traffic was suspended while damage was assessed.
Images posted on social media showed half of the roadway blown away, the other half still attached but cracked, while a train on the upper bridge was engulfed in flames. The images could not be immediately verified.
Others, taken from a distance, showed thick smoke rising from part of the bridge.
An aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a message on Twitter saying the incident was just “the beginning” but stopped short of saying Ukrainian forces were responsible for the blast.
“Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled,” wrote Mikhailo Podolyak.