Major bridge connecting Crimea to Russia is destroyed by an explosion

The Kerch bridge connecting Russia and Crimea, a despised symbol of the Kremlin’s occupation of the southern Ukrainian peninsula and one of Vladimir Putin’s prestige projects, has been destroyed by a massive explosion.

Images from the bridge showed a fiercely burning fire engulfing at least two railway carriages from a train crossing the bridge, accompanied by a massive column of black smoke, and one-half of the parallel road bridge collapsing into the Kerch Strait.

The explosion, which witnesses said could be heard kilometres away, took place before 6 am on Saturday while a train was crossing the bridge.

It was not immediately clear what caused it, but Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential adviser in Ukraine, appeared to blame Kyiv, tweeting: “Crimea, the bridge, the beginning.” Everything that is illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, and everything associated with the Russian occupation must be expelled.”

Damage to the bridge’s road section revealed that the carriageway had been cleanly severed, with no obvious sign of a missile strike in the first images to emerge, leading some to speculate that the attack on the bridge was a spectacular act of sabotage.

The bridge is significant to Russia as well as a vital logistical supply route for Russian forces in Crimea and southern Russian-occupied Ukraine. The railway line damage, in particular, leaves Russian forces in the south with a single railway supply line – between Krasnodar and Melitopol – that is now vulnerable to Ukraine attacks.

The bridge explosion occurred a day after Putin celebrated his 70th birthday, and it came amid mounting criticism in Russia of Putin’s handling of his war against Ukraine following a series of increasingly devastating setbacks on the battlefield in recent weeks.

Key bridge Crimea to Russia

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion reports emerged of residents in the Crimea rushing to petrol stations anxious about fuel shortages.

Official Russian sources, as in previous attacks in Crimea, were vague about the cause of the blast, with the news service Tass reporting that a fuel tanker was involved. “A fuel tank [railroad] car has been on fire at one of the sections of the Crimean bridge, according to preliminary data,” said Oleg Kryuchkov, an adviser to the Russian occupation head of Crimea.

Another Moscow-appointed official said: “A cistern carriage is burning with fuel on one of the bridge sections. Shipping arches aren’t affected. Too early to talk about reasons and consequences. Work is underway to put out the fire.”

“A cistern carriage is burning with fuel on one of the bridge sections,” said another Moscow-appointed official. The shipping arches are unaffected. It is too early to discuss reasons and consequences. The fire is being extinguished.”

Purported video footage from the moment of the explosion also seemed to strongly suggest a deliberate attack with high explosives.

Commenting on the attack in a thread on Twitter, analysts and retired Australian general Mick Ryan said: “First dropping a bridge span like this would take a lot of ‘bang’ (explosives) and good demolition design. As a sapper, we plan these kind of things all the time. The hardest bridges to drop are reinforced concrete like this.

“The amount of explosive required would be too much for a few SF personnel to carry.” A few trucks or missiles/bombs aimed at the right points of the bridge span would suffice.

“Either way, it presents the Russians with a significant problem. It doesn’t stop resupply to Crimea (there are boats and the route through Melitopol), but it makes holding Melitopol even more important for the Russians.”

The railway span is part of a pair of parallel bridges that cross the Kerch Strait between Russia’s Krasnodar and Crimea, and were built by Russia following its invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Some 12 miles (19km) long, the road bridge was opened by Putin in 2018, with the railway bridge opening two years later.

Throughout Ukraine’s nine-month war, Russia assumed for months that Crimea, including the Kerch bridge, was beyond the reach of Ukrainian forces. However, in the last two months, a series of explosions have struck Crimean sites, including the Saky naval air base, as Kyiv grows increasingly confident that it can retake Crimea.

The fire occurred hours after explosions rocked the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv early 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 early-morning explosions were the result of missile strikes in the centre of the city. He said the blasts sparked fires at one of the city’s medical institutions and a non-residential building. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

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