Fire and explosion on the bridge connecting Russia and Crimea

Key points:

  • Russian authorities say a truck bomb caused the fire
  • Ukrainian officials called the explosion "preliminary" without claiming Ukrainian responsibility
  • This bridge is the longest in Europe and connects Crimea to Russia's transport network

An explosion has rocked the only road and rail link between Russia and Crimea, with video showing a fuel tanker burning and part of the Kerch Bridge collapsing into the sea. Russian authorities said on Saturday a truck bomb caused a fire and the collapse of part of a bridge linking Russia's annexed Crimea with Russia.

Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee said the truck bomb set seven train cars carrying fuel on fire, resulting in the "partial collapse of two sections of the bridge". The committee does not necessarily blame.

Ukrainian media said the explosion on the bridge occurred around 6 a.m. local time. An adviser to Ukraine's president posted a message on Twitter, calling the blast "preliminary" but not directly claiming Ukraine's responsibility. "Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled," wrote Mykhailo Podolyak.

The attack on the bridge came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin turned 70, dealing him a humiliating blow that could see him raise the stakes in his war in Ukraine. Putin inaugurated the bridge in 2018 after Crimea was annexed from Ukraine in 2014, bringing sanctions and worsening relations with the West.

The bridge is 19 kilometers long, making it the longest bridge Russia has ever built and the longest bridge in Europe. Russia's sole link to the Crimean peninsula The Crimean peninsula has symbolic value for Russia and is key to sustaining its military operations in the south.

The bridge, a $3.6 billion ($5.7 billion) project is a tangible symbol of Moscow's claim to Crimea. The bridge was Russia's only land link to the peninsula until Russian troops seized more Ukrainian territory at the northern end of the Sea of ​​Azov in heavy fighting, particularly around the city of Mariupol, earlier this year. If the bridge is rendered inoperable, it will be more difficult to transport supplies to the peninsula.

While Russia seized the northern region of Crimea at the start of the invasion and established a land corridor along the Sea of ​​Azov, Ukraine pressed a counterattack to retake it. The bridge has a rail and car section. Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee detailed that the explosion and fire caused the collapse of two sections of one of the two links of the car bridge, while the other link was intact. Sergei Aksyonov, Russian Governor of Crimea, said on social media that the road bridge was still intact in one direction, although traffic was stopped while the damage was assessed.

Putin was notified of the explosion and he ordered the formation of a government panel to deal with the emergency. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened to attack the bridge. In August, Russia experienced a series of explosions at air bases and ammunition depots in Crimea, underscoring its vulnerability.

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