Monday’s dawn attack damaged a bridge linking Russia with Moscow-annexed Crimea, a key supply route for Kremlin forces in the war with Ukraine, causing the bridge to temporarily close for the second time in less than a year. Two people were killed and their daughter was injured.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered increased security measures on the 19-kilometre (12-mile) Kerch Bridge, echoing a call he made in October 2022 when the span was severely damaged by an explosion Moscow also blamed on Kiev.
He also promised that “the answer from Russia, of course, will be.”
“What happened is another terrorist act of the Kyiv regime,” Putin said at a meeting with officials on television. “This is a crime that is senseless from a military point of view, it does not matter because the Crimean bridge has not been used for military purposes for a long time, and it is cruel because innocent civilians were injured and killed.”
Vehicular traffic on the bridge was shut down on Monday, and rail traffic was also shut down for about six hours.
Satellite imagery taken Monday morning by Maxar Technologies showed severe damage to both the east and west of the Kerch Strait bridge at the section closest to mainland Russia, with at least one section collapsed. The railroad bridge running parallel to the highway was undamaged.
The strike was carried out by two Ukrainian naval drones, according to the Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee.
Ukrainian officials did not take responsibility, as they had during past strikes. But in what appeared to be a tacit admission, Artem Degtiarenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Security Service, said in a statement that his agency would reveal details of how the “bombing” was orchestrated after Kiev won the war.
The October attack on the bridge came when a truck bomb blew up two sections of the bridge and required months of repairs. Moscow denounced the attack as a terrorist attack and retaliated by shelling Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure during the winter, targeting the country’s power grid.
In the explosion on Monday, the Ukrainian news portal RBC-Ukraine, citing a source in the security services, said that the explosion was carried out with the help of so-called floating drones. Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Fedorov later stated on the Telegram messaging service that “today the Crimean Bridge was torn apart by maritime drones,” but it’s unclear if he’s making an official confirmation or referring to earlier reports.
Hours after the attack, video from Russian authorities shows crews picking up debris from the bridge deck, part of which appeared to be tilted to one side, and a damaged black sedan with the passenger door open.
Putin instructed the authorities to “thoroughly investigate the incident”, come up with “concrete proposals to improve the security of this strategically important transport facility” and “provide all possible support to people who find themselves in a difficult situation due to the traffic stop.” On Bridge.”
The Kerch Bridge is a prominent symbol of Moscow’s claim to Crimea and an important land link to the peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. The $3.6 billion bridge is the longest in Europe and is critical to Russia’s military operations in southern Ukraine in the nearly 17-month war.
Russia has expanded its military forces in Crimea after a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Since then, there have been occasional sabotage and other attacks on Russian military and other installations on the peninsula, with the Kremlin blaming Ukraine for this.
These attacks and acts of sabotage did not prevent Russians from vacationing in Crimea, and long queues formed at the ferry crossing the Kerch Strait when vehicular traffic crossed the bridge, according to Russian media.
Traffic jams also clogged highways in the Russian-held part of Kherson region after Moscow-appointed authorities in Crimea diverted motorists to the land route to Russia via the partially occupied regions of Kherson, Zaporozhye and Donetsk, Russian state news reported. agency RIA Novosti. Drivers heading to Crimea also got stuck in a three-kilometer traffic jam between the Russian cities of Rostov-on-Don and Taganrog, RIA Novosti reported.
The attack on the bridge comes at a time when Ukrainian forces are launching a counteroffensive across several sectors of the front line. It also came just hours before Russia predictably announced that it was suspending a deal brokered by the UN and Turkey that allowed Ukrainian grain exports during the war.
The Russian media identified the dead as Aleksey and Natalya Kulik, who were on their way to Crimea for their summer holidays. Kulik, 40, worked as a truck driver, while his 36-year-old wife worked as a municipal worker. Their 14-year-old daughter suffered chest and brain injuries.
Kyiv also initially denied responsibility for the October attack on the bridge, but earlier this month, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar admitted that Ukraine hit it to disrupt Russian logistics.
Russian authorities said the attack did not affect the bridge piers, but damaged two road links, one of which was beyond repair. The damage still seemed less severe than during the October attack; Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said authorities would gradually resume traffic on one side of the bridge after Monday midnight (21:00 GMT).
Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence department, declined to comment, but said: “The peninsula is used by the Russians as a major logistical hub for moving forces and assets deep into Ukraine. Of course, any logistical problems are additional difficulties for the occupiers.”
The Security Service of Ukraine published an edited version of the popular lullaby, correcting that the bridge “fell asleep again”.
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Associated Press contributor Michael Bizeker provided information from Washington.