Truck bomb hits bridge to Crimea, hurts Russian supply lines

Truck bomb hits bridge to Crimea, hurts Russian supply lines

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – An explosion on Saturday caused the partial collapse of a bridge linking the Crimean Peninsula with Russia, damaging a key supply artery for the faltering Kremlin war effort in southern Ukraine. Russian authorities say a truck bomb caused the explosion and three people were killed.

The head of the Kremlin-backed Crimea region’s parliament immediately accused Ukraine of being behind the blast, though Moscow did not blame it. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened to attack the bridge and some have praised the destruction, but Kyiv has refused to admit responsibility.

The explosion risks a sharp escalation in Russia’s eight-month war, with some Russian lawmakers calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare a “counterterrorism operation” in retaliation, omitting the term “special military operations” which has underestimated the scope of ordinary combat. Russia.

Such a move could be used by the Kremlin to further expand the powers of the security services, ban rallies, tighten censorship, impose travel restrictions and expand the partial military mobilization that Putin ordered last month.

Hours after the explosion, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that the head of the air force, General Sergei Surovikin, would be appointed commander of all Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. It was the first official appointment of a single commander for all Russian troops in Ukraine.

Surovikin, who over the summer was assigned to command Russian troops in southern Ukraine, has led Russian forces in Syria and is accused of overseeing the brutal bombing that devastated large parts of the city of Aleppo.

Moscow, however, continued to suffer battlefield losses.

On Saturday, a Kremlin-backed official in Ukraine’s Kherson region announced the partial evacuation of civilians from the southern province, one of four that Moscow illegally annexed last week, amid ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensives. Kirill Stremousov told Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti agency that young children and their parents, as well as the elderly, could be moved to the two regions of southern Russia as Kherson prepares for difficult times.

The 12-mile-long Kerch Bridge across the Kerch Strait connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of ​​Azov is a vivid symbol of Moscow’s claim to Crimea and has become an important link to the peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The $3.6 billion bridge, Europe’s longest, opened in 2018 and is key to sustaining Russian military operations in southern Ukraine.

While Russia seized the northern region of Crimea at the start of its invasion of Ukraine and established a land corridor along the Sea of ​​Azov, Ukraine pressed for a counterattack to retake the land.

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said that a truck bomb set seven train cars carrying fuel on fire, resulting in the “partial collapse of two sections of the bridge.” A man and a woman driving a vehicle across the bridge died in the explosion, the Russian Investigative Committee said. It did not provide details about the third victim or what happened to the truck driver.

A view of the fire on the Kerch bridge in the Kerch Strait, Crimea, October 8, 2022, in this screenshot from a video flyer. (Credit: Reuters)

The explosion came despite all vehicles crossing the bridge undergoing explosives checks by a sophisticated control system, which drew a steady stream of critical comments from Russian war bloggers urging Moscow to retaliate by attacking Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.

The truck that exploded belonged to a resident of the Krasnodar region in southern Russia. Russia’s Investigative Committee said investigators searched the man’s home and were looking at the truck’s route.

Rail and car traffic on the bridge was temporarily suspended. Car traffic resumed Saturday afternoon on one of the two links that remained intact from the explosion, with alternating current in each direction and vehicles undergoing “full inspection procedures,” Crimea’s Russia-backed regional leader, Sergey Aksyonov, wrote on Telegram.

Rail traffic is expected to resume on Saturday evening, the Russian Ministry of Transport said, while the passenger ferry network between Crimea and mainland Russia was relaunched on Sunday.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said troops in the south received the necessary supplies via land corridors along the Sea of ​​Azov and by sea. Russia’s Energy Ministry said Crimea had enough fuel for 15 days.

Putin was notified of the explosion and he ordered the formation of a government panel to deal with the emergency.

The speaker of the Kremlin-backed Crimean region’s parliament blamed Ukraine for the blast, but played down the extent of the damage and said the bridge would soon be repaired.

Leonid Slutsky, head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, said “the consequences will be imminent” if Ukraine is held accountable.

Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Russian Communist Party, said the “terror attack” should serve as a warning.

“The long-awaited steps have not been taken, special operations must be changed to counterterrorist operations,” he said.

A man reacts while posing in front of an artwork depicting the Kerch bridge on fire, amid the Russian attack on Ukraine, in central Kyiv, Ukraine October 8, 2022. REUTERS/Vladyslav Musiienko

Sergei Mironov, head of the Just Russia faction in parliament, said Russia should respond to the explosion on the bridge by attacking Ukraine’s main infrastructure including power plants, bridges and railways.

Statements, especially from Zyuganov and Slutsky, may signal Putin’s decision to declare a counterterrorism operation.

The parliamentary leader of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s party on Saturday stopped short of claiming Kyiv was responsible but appeared to throw it out as a consequence of Moscow’s takeover of Crimea.

“Russia’s illegal construction is starting to fall apart and catch fire. The reason is simple: if you build something explosive, it will explode sooner or later,” said David Arakhamia, leader of the Servant of the People party.

The Ukrainian postal service announced that it would issue stamps to commemorate explosions such as the one after the sinking of the Moskva, a Russian flagship, by a Ukrainian attack.

Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Oleksiy Danilov, tweeted a video with the Kerch Bridge on fire and a video with Marilyn Monroe singing her famous song “Happy Birthday Mr President”. Putin turns 70 on Friday.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said “the reaction of the Kyiv regime to the destruction of civilian infrastructure shows its terrorist nature.”

Local authorities in Crimea made conflicting statements about what the broken bridge meant to residents and their ability to buy consumer goods. The peninsula is a popular destination for Russian tourists year-round and home to Sevastopol, the main city and naval base. A Russian tourist association estimates that 50,000 tourists were on holiday in Crimea at the time of the explosion.

Elsewhere, the UN nuclear watchdog said that Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant had lost its last remaining external power source as a result of new shelling and was now relying on makeshift diesel generators.

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

Ukrainian officials accused Russia of hitting Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, with surface-to-air missiles and said at least one person was injured. The attack targeted two residential neighborhoods, the governor said.

Kharkiv resident Tetiana Samoilenko’s apartment caught fire in the attack. He says he was in the kitchen when the explosion occurred, sending glass flying.

“Now I have no roof over my head. Now I don’t know what to do next,” said the 80-year-old.

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