Russia-Ukraine: 3 dead in Crimea bridge blast, official says

A blast on Saturday caused the partial collapse of a bridge linking the Crimea peninsula to Russia, damaging a vital supply artery for the Kremlin’s stalled war effort in southern Ukraine. Russian authorities said a truck bomb caused the blast and three people were killed.

The speaker of Crimea’s Kremlin-backed regional parliament immediately accused Ukraine of being behind the blast, although Moscow did not assign blame. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened to storm the bridge, and some praised the destruction, but Kyiv has come close to taking responsibility.

The bombing came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin turned 70 and dealt him a humiliating blow that could prompt him to up the ante in his war against Ukraine.

Russian lawmakers urged Putin to declare a “counter-terrorism operation” in response. Such a move could be used by the Kremlin to further expand security agency powers, ban rallies, tighten censorship, impose travel restrictions and expand a partial mobilization that Putin ordered last month.

Russia’s National Counter-Terrorism Committee said a truck bomb caused seven fuel-loaded railroad cars to catch fire, leading to a “partial collapse of two sections of the bridge.” A man and woman, who were driving across the bridge in a vehicle, were killed by the blast and their bodies were recovered, the Russian investigative committee said. Details of the third victim or the accident of the truck driver were not given.

The blast happened even though all vehicles passing over it were automatically checked for explosives by state-of-the-art control systems, prompting a flurry of critical comments from Russian war bloggers.

The exploded truck belonged to a resident of Krasnodar Krai in southern Russia, the Russian investigative committee said. It said investigators had arrived at his home as part of the investigation and were looking at the truck’s route and other details.

The 19-kilometer bridge across the Kerch Strait, connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of ​​Azov, opened in 2018 and is the longest in Europe. The $3.6 billion project is a tangible symbol of Moscow’s claims to Crimea and has created a vital link to the peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Crimea has symbolic value for Russia and is key to sustaining its military operations in southern Ukraine. While Russia captured areas north of Crimea early in the invasion and built a land corridor along the Sea of ​​Azov to get there, Ukraine is forcing a counteroffensive to retake them.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said troops in the south would receive necessary supplies via the land corridor and by sea. Russia’s Energy Ministry said Crimea has enough fuel for 15 days and is working on ways to replenish supplies.

The bridge has train and car sections. The explosion and fire caused the collapse of the two sections of one of the two limbs of the automobile bridge while another limb was intact.

Russia’s Transport Ministry said train services across the bridge would resume after 8 p.m. (1700 GMT; 1 p.m. EDT) following quick repair work. All car traffic was also halted and it was not clear when it would be able to resume.

Putin was informed of the blast and ordered a government body set up to deal with the emergency.

The spokesman for Crimea’s Kremlin-backed regional parliament blamed Ukraine for the blast but downplayed the seriousness of the damage and said the bridge would be repaired immediately.

Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, said “the consequences will be imminent” if Ukraine is to blame.

Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Russian Communist Party, which is nominally in opposition but votes in parliament on Kremlin wishes, said the “terrorist attack” should serve as a wake-up call.

“The long overdue measures have not yet been taken, the special operation must be converted into an anti-terror operation,” he said.

Sergey Mironov, the leader of the Fair Russia faction in parliament, said Russia should respond to the blast on the bridge by attacking key Ukrainian infrastructure, including power plants, bridges and railways.

The comments, particularly by Zyuganov and Slutsky, could herald a decision by Putin to launch a counter-terrorism operation.

The parliamentary leader of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s party on Saturday refrained from claiming that Kyiv was responsible, but appeared to blame it on Moscow’s takeover of Crimea.

“Russian illegal constructions are starting to fall apart and catch fire. The reason is simple: if you build something explosive, sooner or later it will explode,” David Arakhamia, leader of the Servant of the People party, wrote on Telegram.

The Post Office of Ukraine announced it would issue postage stamps commemorating the blast, as it did after a Ukrainian strike in late May sunk the Moskva River, a Russian flagship.

Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov tweeted a video showing the Kerch Bridge burning on the left and a video of Marilyn Monroe singing her famous “Happy Birthday Mr. President” on the right.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in Moscow that “the Kiev regime’s response to the destruction of civilian infrastructure shows its terrorist character.”

In August, Russia suffered a series of explosions at an airbase and ammunition depot in Crimea, underscoring its vulnerability.

Local authorities in Crimea made conflicting statements about what the damaged bridge would mean for residents and their ability to shop for consumer goods on the peninsula, a popular year-round destination for Russian tourists in which Sevastopol, a key city and a Naval base, is home to.

The Association of Russian Travel Agencies estimated that around 50,000 tourists were vacationing in Crimea at the time of the blast.

Elsewhere, Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has lost its last remaining external power source as a result of renewed shelling and is now dependent on backup diesel generators, the UN nuclear watchdog said.

The blast on the bridge came hours after explosions rocked the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv early Saturday, sending towering plumes of smoke into the sky and sparking a series of secondary explosions.

Ukrainian officials accused Russia of bombing Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, with surface-to-air missiles and said at least one person was injured. The strikes targeted two mostly residential areas, regional governor Oleh Sinehubov said on Telegram.


Adam Schreck reported from Kyiv. Francisco Seco contributed to this report from Kharkiv.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Russia-Ukraine: 3 dead in Crimea bridge blast, official says

Russell Falcon

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