The Kerch Strait bridge – the only crossing between Russia and the Crimean peninsula – was seriously damaged Saturday morning after an explosion went off and caused several fuel tanker wagons to catch fire. The crossing is a key transportation hub for Russia, which uses it to move supplies and military equipment into Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has not confirmed whether it was responsible for the attack, but has celebrated the news on social media.
Following the news of the blast, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Mykhailo Podolyak, said the explosion was just the “beginning,” but stopped short of claiming responsibility for the attack. “Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled,” he wrote in a message on Twitter.
According to Russian officials, the damage was caused by an explosion in a freight truck. Videos released by Russian media and Moscow-linked Telegram show that the bridge was hit by a huge blast after a truck went past. Images taken hours later confirmed that part of the bridge had been destroyed, while another had been damaged. The explosion set fire to several fuel tanks of a train heading to the Crimean peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014. But analysts from influential outlets, such as Nexta and Bellingcat, point out that the attack may not have been caused by a truck explosion, as the bridge has a tech security system that allows it to detect the presence of explosives in vehicles.
The chairman of the pro-Russian State Council of the Republic of Crimea, Vladimir Konstantinov, blamed the attack on “Ukrainian vandals, who have finally managed to reach their bloody hands to the Crimean bridge.” The explosion occurred on the freeway part of the Crimean bridge, on the side of the Taman peninsula. Russian investigators said the blast killed at least three people.
Ukraine’s armed forces had planned attacks on the Kerch Strait Bridge in the past, but these had failed, partly due to the anti-aircraft defenses protecting the crossing.
Sergey Aksyonov, the head of the Russian-annexed Republic of Crimea, said that a ferry service will operate in place of the damaged bridge. Aksyonov added that Moscow has other land routes to supply resources to its troops through the occupied regions in Donbas, which also borders Russia. These routes, however, are less secure because they come within range of Ukrainian artillery and drones. By Saturday afternoon, light traffic had resumed on the bridge.
Alexander Kots, a well-known Russian propagandist, said that the attack shows that the security of the bridge and Crimea more broadly cannot be taken for granted: “Nothing is impossible, the Ukrainians have proved it.”
The bridge was opened in 2018 by Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is a pharaonic work, spanning nearly 11 miles (17 kilometers). The crossing was a top priority for the Kremlin, which wanted to incorporate the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula into Russia as quickly as possible. The attack comes just over two months after Ukraine carried out its first attacks against Russia’s Black Sea fleet, which is based in the Crimea. The most significant attack, on the Saki air base, took place on August 9. In that instance, Ukraine also did not claim responsibility.