An attack on Monday before dawn damaged a bridge linking Russia to the Crimean peninsula, which is a key supply route for Kremlin forces in the war with Ukraine, forcing the span to be temporarily closed for the second time in less than a year. A couple died and their daughter was injured.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered increased security on the 19-kilometre (12-mile) Kerch Bridge, repeating a call he made in October 2022 when the span was badly damaged by an explosion that Moscow also blamed on Kiev.
The president also promised that “there will be a response from Russia, of course.”
“What happened is another terrorist act by the kyiv regime,” Putin declared in a televised meeting with officials. “It is a crime that does not make sense from a military point of view, it is not relevant because the Crimean bridge has not been used for military purposes in a long time, and it is brutal, because innocent civilians were injured and killed.”
The Kremlin invaded the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and illegally annexed it to Russia.
Vehicular traffic on the bridge was halted on Monday, while rail traffic was also suspended for about six hours.
Satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies on Monday morning showed extensive damage to the eastbound and westbound lanes of the bridge, which spans the Kerch Strait closest to mainland Russia, with at least one section collapsed. . The railway bridge that runs parallel to the highway appeared to be intact.
The attack was carried out by two Ukrainian maritime drones, according to Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee.
Ukrainian authorities were evasive about taking responsibility, as they have done in previous attacks. But in what appeared to be a tacit acknowledgment, Ukrainian Security Service spokesman Artem Degtyarenko said in a statement that his agency would reveal details about how the “blowup” was staged once Kiev had won the war. .
The attack on the bridge last October occurred when a truck bomb blew up two of its sections, which required months to repair. Moscow characterized the attack as a terrorist act and responded with shelling of Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, targeting the country’s power grid during the winter.
The explosion on Monday was carried out by hovering drones, a source in the security services described to the Ukrainian news portal RBK-Ukraine. Mykhailo Fedorov, a deputy prime minister, later noted on the Telegram messaging app that “today, the Crimean bridge was destroyed by maritime drones,” but whether this was an official confirmation or a reference to previous reports is unknown.
Hours after the attack, video released by Russian authorities showed crews picking up debris from the bridge deck, one section of which appeared to lean to one side. A black sedan that sustained damage and had its passenger door open could also be seen.
Putin ordered the authorities to “investigate thoroughly what happened”, present “concrete proposals to strengthen the security of this strategically important transport object”, and “provide all possible support to the people who ended up in a difficult position due to the suspension of traffic on the bridge.
The Kerch Bridge is a striking symbol of Moscow’s claims to Crimea and an essential land link to the peninsula. The $3.6 billion bridge is the longest in Europe, and is crucial to Russian military operations in southern Ukraine in the nearly 17-month war.
Russia has increased its military presence in Crimea since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022. Since then there have been occasional acts of sabotage and other attacks against the Russian military and other facilities on the peninsula, which the Kremlin has blamed. to Ukraine.
Those attacks and acts of sabotage have not discouraged Russians from spending their holidays in Crimea. After traffic on the bridge came to a halt, long lines formed on a ferry crossing the Kerch Strait, Russian media reported.
Traffic jams also hampered traffic on a highway in the Russian-controlled part of the Kherson region, after Moscow-appointed authorities in Crimea diverted drivers to take the land route to Russia via the Kherson, Zaporizhia and Donetsk regions — all under partial Kremlin occupation — according to Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency. Drivers heading to Crimea were also stuck in a three-kilometre-long traffic jam between the Russian cities of Rostov-on-Don and Taganrog, the agency reported.
The attack on the bridge came as Ukrainian forces are launching a counteroffensive in various sections of the battlefront. It also came hours before Russia announced, as anticipated, the suspension of a deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations allowing the export of Ukrainian grain during the war.
The Russian press identified the deceased as Alexei and Natalia Kulik, who were traveling to Crimea for their summer vacation. Alexei, 40, was a truck driver, and his wife, 36, was a municipal education worker. His 14-year-old daughter suffered chest and brain injuries.
Kiev also did not initially acknowledge responsibility for the attack on the bridge in October, but Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar admitted a few weeks ago that Ukraine launched the attack to affect Russian logistics.
Russian authorities said the blast did not affect the bridge’s piers, but it did damage two road links, one of which was beyond repair. The damage looked less severe compared to October. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said authorities would gradually resume traffic on one side of the bridge after midnight Monday.
Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence department, declined to comment, but noted: “The peninsula is used by the Russians as a major logistics center for the movement of soldiers and assets deep into Ukrainian territory. Of course. , any logistical problem is an additional complication for the invaders.”
The Security Service of Ukraine published an edited version of a popular lullaby, altered to say that the bridge “went to sleep again.”