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A blast hits the bridge to Crimea, a key supply route in Russia's war

Flame and smoke rise from the bridge connecting the Russian mainland and the Crimean peninsula early Saturday.
AP
Flame and smoke rise from the bridge connecting the Russian mainland and the Crimean peninsula early Saturday.

Updated October 8, 2022 at 2:08 PM ET

KYIV, Ukraine — At least two sections of the bridge connecting Crimea with Russia's rail and road network have collapsed, according to Russian state media. The Russian highway authority said the road is still navigable, but it has suspended traffic for the time being.

Three people were killed in an apparent blast on the bridge, Russian authorities said.

Ukrainian officials have been threatening to destroy the bridge since it was built in 2018. Russia forcibly annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 under circumstances similar to the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions this year.

An analysis from the digital forensics group Bellingcat found that three sections of the bridge had collapsed, limiting traffic on both the road and rail bridge.

The Kerch Strait Bridge, as it's also known, spans 12 miles of water, and has served as a key automotive and rail supply line from Russia into Crimea. Russia hosts at least a dozen military installations on the peninsula, and Western intelligence sources claim it remains a vital logistical hub for Russia's war on mainland Ukraine. The bridge has also made access for Ukrainian naval vessels into the Sea of Azov almost impossible.

New satellite images taken Saturday show the damage to the bridge.
/ Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies
/
Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies
New satellite images taken Saturday show the damage to the bridge.
A helicopter drops water to stop fire on Crimean Bridge connecting Russia and the Russia-controlled Crimean peninsula over the Kerch Strait on Saturday.
/ AP
/
AP
A helicopter drops water to stop fire on Crimean Bridge connecting Russia and the Russia-controlled Crimean peninsula over the Kerch Strait on Saturday.

Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee says a truck bomb caused the partial collapse, but stopped short of assigning blame. Russian officials said the truck was registered in the southern region of Russia.

According to Russian news agency Tass, the Russian government is establishing a special commission to investigate what happened. Speaking to the newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, an anonymous Ukrainian security official took responsibility for the blast.

Hours after the bridge explosion, Russia's defense ministry announced that Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the air force chief, will command Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.

In June, a top Ukrainian general told Radio Liberty that the Crimean bridge was "target number one." Soon after, Ukraine's military intelligence claimed to have gotten hold of the bridge's technical drawings.

After the bridge collapse, a top official in the Ukrainian president's office, Mykhailo Podoloyak, tweeted that Saturday's events are just "the beginning," but stopped short of taking credit. Ukrainians on social media posted hundreds of memes celebrating the apparent attack.

Claiming responsibility for a blast might be seen as a Ukrainian escalation, especially after Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed that forcibly annexed Ukrainian territories were to be "forever" Russian. He has also threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend land he sees as rightfully Russian.

Ukraine denied attacking Crimea after a slew of mysterious explosions at Russian military installations in August. Thousands of vacationing Russians jammed up the Kerch Strait Bridge to evacuate following those blasts.

After anonymous Ukrainian military sources took credit for the August attacks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to investigate leaks. Eventually, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov admitted that Ukrainian attacks on Crimea are fair game.

Some analysts have argued that destroying the Crimea bridge may be too much of a logistical challenge for Ukraine. Ukraine has a limited amount of long-range missiles and bombers capable of reaching the Kerch Strait. Bridges are notoriously difficult to destroy, especially bridges like the Kerch Bridge, which have four parallel spans for trains and cars.

Retaking Crimea has remained a goal for Kyiv throughout the war, even though some analysts have argued it could be an effective bargaining chip to de-escalate the war in the rest of Ukraine.

Refat Chubarov, the head of Crimea's persecuted ethnic Tatar community, has said that Ukraine shouldn't give up on Crimea. On Saturday, he praised the bridge's destruction and called the bridge a symbol of Russia's marginalization of ethnic Tatars and other Crimeans who want to rejoin Ukraine. He also raised fears that the Russians will "take out their anger on the Tatars."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Julian Hayda