- A vital bridge to supply Russian troops in southern Ukraine
- No immediate liability claims
- Kerch Bridge blast comes amid Russia’s battlefield defeats
- Putin orders to strengthen bridge security and investigates
KYIV, Oct 9 (Reuters) – Russian divers will examine the damage caused by a powerful explosion on a road and rail bridge to Crimea on Sunday, a prestigious symbol of Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula and a key supply route for forces. fighting in southern Ukraine.
Saturday’s explosion at the bridge over the Kerch Strait drew cheery messages from Ukrainian officials, but no claims of responsibility. Russia did not immediately blame.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said the divers would start work at 06:00 (0300 GMT), with a more detailed survey above the waterline expected to be completed by the end of the day. national news agencies reported.
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“The situation is manageable – it’s unpleasant, but not fatal,” Russian Crimean Governor Sergei Aksyonov told reporters. “Of course emotions were triggered and there is a healthy desire for revenge.”
The peninsula had a month’s worth of fuel and more than two months’ worth of food, he said. The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces in southern Ukraine could be “fully supplied” by existing land and sea routes.
Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the 19 km (12 mile) Crimean Bridge connecting the region to its transport network was opened to much fanfare four years later by President Vladimir Putin.
Kyiv is demanding that Russian forces leave the Black Sea peninsula, as well as Ukrainian territory they seized during Putin’s February invasion.
The bridge is a major artery for Russian forces that control most of the Kherson region in southern Ukraine, and for Russia’s naval port of Sevastopol, whose governor has told residents: “Keep calm. Do not panic”.
It was not yet clear if the blast was a deliberate attack, but the damage to such a high-profile structure came amid Russia’s battlefield defeats and could still cloud the Kremlin’s assurances of the conflict planning.
On Saturday, Putin signed a decree to strengthen the security of the bridge, as well as Crimea’s electricity and natural gas supply infrastructure, and ordered an investigation.
“It’s conceivable that the Russians could rebuild it, but they can’t defend it by losing a war,” said political analyst James Nixey of UK think tank Chatham House.
Russian officials said three people were killed, likely the occupants of a car driving near a truck that exploded. On the upper level of the bridge, seven fuel tank cars of a 59-car train heading to the peninsula also caught fire.
Limited road traffic resumed around 10 hours after the blast and the Russian Transport Ministry allowed rail traffic to resume.
In the city of Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine, just 125 km (80 miles) from a Russian nuclear power plant which is the largest in Europe, a nighttime missile attack killed at least 17 people , a city official said Sunday.
“Apartment buildings and roads in a residential area of the city were damaged,” Anatoliy Kurtev added in a message on the Telegram messaging app.
Reuters could not independently verify the report.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. PRESIDENT”
The Kerch Bridge explosion came a day after Putin’s 70th birthday, coinciding with Russia’s third high-ranking military appointment in a week. He designated Air Force General Sergei Surovikin to take charge of the invasion effort.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy did not refer to the explosion in a video address on Saturday, simply saying that the weather in Crimea was cloudy.
“But as cloudy as it is, Ukrainians know (…) that our future is sunny,” he added. “It’s a future without occupants, all over our territory, especially in Crimea.”
The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council posted a video of the bridge on social media alongside a video of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”
Since the start of the war on February 24, Ukrainian officials have repeatedly hinted that they want to destroy the bridge. The Ukrainian postal service announced that it would print a special stamp.
“We are undoubtedly witnessing the beginning of large-scale negative processes in Russia,” Zelenskiy’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in a comment, blaming infighting within Putin’s circle as he blamed the outburst. to Russian operators.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Kyiv’s reaction to the destruction of civilian infrastructure “testifies to its terrorist nature”.
Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said a cargo truck exploded on the roadway of the bridge at 06:07 (03:07 GMT). He said two spans of the road bridge had partially collapsed, but the arch spanning the channel through which ships travel between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov was undamaged.
Emergencies Minister Alexander Kurenkov told state news agency TASS that the quick-thinking railway workers who uncoupled the burning fuel wagons had prevented the blaze from spreading.
The footage showed half of the roadway washed away, with the other half still attached.
Moscow has portrayed the largely Russian-speaking Crimea as a historical part of Russia and, especially this year, a part where its citizens could vacation.
The explosion “won’t affect the supply of the army much,” said Kirill Stremousov, the deputy administrator of the Kherson region installed by Russia.
“But there will be logistical problems for Crimea,” he added in a social media post.
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Reporting by Max Hunder, Jonathan Landay and Reuters bureaus; Written by Alistair Bell and Clarence Fernandez; Editing by William Mallard
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