Update(1435ET): Russia’s state Investigative Committee has put out a statement saying at least three civilians died as a result of the attack on the Crimean Bridge, which was likely a fertilizer-laden truck bombing. “According to preliminary data, three people died as a result of the incident. They were presumably passengers of a car, which was near the exploded track. As of now, the bodies of a man and a women have been recovered from the water, their identities are being established,” the committee said. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova at the same time blasted what she called the “criminal logic” of some NATO officials who are positively cheering the attack.
Ukrainian government sources have owned up to the attack, but this claim of responsibility stopped short of being made publicly or officially: “A Ukrainian government official told The Washington Post that the country’s special services were behind the attack, though Kyiv stopped short of saying it was responsible — even as top officials taunted Moscow.” As for the taunting and trolling, the official Twitter account for the government of Ukraine also tweeted out:
— Ukraine / Україна (@Ukraine) October 8, 2022
A fire which had raged for hours at the scene, particularly freight which had been on the rail part of the bridge that had burned out of control, now appears to be out – allowing Russian investigators to view the full extent of the damage.
A large section of bridge which has been vital to Russian military supply lines has been totally collapsed, with entire sections of roadway having fallen into the water below.
Even closer images of the Crimean Bridge, fire seems to have burnt itself out. pic.twitter.com/AdO3yabZjh
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) October 8, 2022
One or two lanes of the bridge weren’t directly impacted, with reports that this section of bridge has already resumed traffic, with the Kremlin saying ferry traffic is to assist in transporting more.
This is what the Crimean bridge looks like now.
Russian journalists showed footage after the fire was extinguished.
One lane out of four works – cars only. pic.twitter.com/zSuG1AoS0w
— ТРУХА⚡️English (@TpyxaNews) October 8, 2022
Russia has almost finished restoring rail service over the bombed Crimean Bridge.
This is video of the first train transiting the repaired bridge span.
The combination of restored rail and car service makes the strategic consequences of the bombing negligible. pic.twitter.com/xmTMKceuLK
— Clint Ehrlich (@ClintEhrlich) October 8, 2022
In the aftermath of the major attack on Russian infrastructure, there’s growing speculation that President Vladimir Putin could be poised to declare full war on Ukraine, escalating far past the currently dubbed “special operation”. Some prominent Russian politicians are loudly calling for an equal response to Ukraine’s own “declaration of war” in the attack, according to state media sources:
“The terrorist attack on the Crimean Bridge is no longer just a challenge, but a declaration of war without rules,” said Russia’s State Duma on October 8 after an explosion rocked the Kerch Strait crossing earlier this morning.
Speaking to RIA Novosti, Deputy Oleg Morozov said that the explosion was “a blatant terrorist war is being waged against us.”
…if there is no “adequate” response, such acts of aggression would be more likely to occur. “If we keep silent in response and do not give an adequate response, such terrorist attacks will multiply,” he said.
At the same time, many war observers are wondering, is this the start of Zelensky’s declared intent to take back Crimea?
The moment of the explosion on the Crimean Bridge was caught on surveillance cameras. pic.twitter.com/7PgyXC9cSq
— Clash Report (@clashreport) October 8, 2022
By all appearances, Putin is preparing for greater escalation in the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and after weeks of reports and indicators that Russian lines are being rapidly pushed back in the east and south amid the major Ukraine counteroffensive. On Saturday a new overall commander for Russian forces in Ukraine has been announced. “Russia has appointed a notorious general who opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in the 1990s as its first overall commander for the war in Ukraine, as the Kremlin struggles to halt a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has left its forces in disarray,” The Guardian writes.
“The appointment of Gen Sergei Surovikin came on the same day as Vladimir Putin was dealt a humiliating blow after an explosion on the Kerch bridge sank a section of the motorway into the Kerch Strait and caused a major fire on the railway,” the publication confirmed. “Surovikin is a veteran commander who led the Russian military expedition in Syria in 2017, where he was accused of using ‘controversial’ tactics including indiscriminate bombing against anti-government fighters.”
An appropriate moment to recall the warning last month in NYT “that the most dangerous moments are yet to come,” given that Russia, by only making “limited attempts to destroy infrastructure” so far, “has avoided escalating the war” in ways that have “baffled Western officials.” pic.twitter.com/SOp2INmh9g
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) October 8, 2022
* * *
Russian authorities said that an explosion involving a truck on Saturday caused a fire and destroyed a section of a bridge linking Russia and Crimea. The bridge is regarded as a key supply route for Russian troops in southern Ukraine.
The Crimean Bridge – also called Kerch Strait Bridge or Kerch Bridge – is a structure 19 kilometers (12 miles) in length that passes across the Kerch Strait and links southern Russia to the Crimean Peninsula. The Kerch Strait links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
The Epoch Times’ Mimi Nguyen reports that a truck exploded on the bridge around 6 a.m. local time. Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee announced that the explosion caused a fire on the parallel rail section, where seven railway cars carrying fuel caught fire. The blast also caused a “partial collapse of two sections of the bridge.”
— Pierre Davide Borrelli (@PierreDBorrelli) October 8, 2022
A spokesperson from the Russian Highways State Company (Avtodor) told the TASS news agency that the movement of vehicles across the Crimean Bridge has been temporarily suspended, adding at the time that “personnel of the Russian emergencies ministry and the road service are working on the site to contain the blaze.” The fire has since been extinguished.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was informed about the explosion and he ordered the creation of a government panel to deal with the emergency.
While the bridge undergoes repair, a ferry service will be provided later on Saturday. Crimea’s Head Sergey Aksyonov said on Telegram, per TASS: “A ferry service is ready to be launched, it will start operating later today. We will announce a timetable later.”
— Pierre Davide Borrelli (@PierreDBorrelli) October 8, 2022
The Crimean Peninsula is key to sustaining Russia’s military operations in the south. If the bridge is made inoperable, it would make it significantly more challenging to ferry supplies to the peninsula. While Russia seized the areas north of Crimea early during the invasion and built a land corridor to it along the Sea of Azov, Ukraine is pressing a counteroffensive to reclaim them.
The explosion on the Crimean Bridge took place hours after multiple explosions early Saturday hit the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, which triggered a series of secondary explosions. The city’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said that the series of explosions were due to missile strikes aimed at the center of the city, which caused fires at one of Kharkiv’s medical institutions, as well as a nonresidential building. No reports of casualties were noted.
Bridge Explosion Is the ‘Beginning’: Ukraine Official
While no one has yet to explicitly claim public responsibility for the attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s aide, Mikhail Podoliak, posted on Twitter saying the explosion is “the beginning.”
“Crimea, the bridge, the beginning. Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled,” he wrote in English.
Podoliak previously in August threatened the bridge, telling The Guardian that the bridge is “an illegal construction and the main gateway to supply the Russian army in Crimea” and that “such objects should be destroyed.”
Another big question
Who leaked this surveillance videos so easily? pic.twitter.com/mryt3TzwiT
— Russiаn Market (@runews) October 8, 2022
Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have also previously stated that Ukraine will use force to retake Crimea.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 after a vast majority of people in Crimea had voted in a referendum in March 2014 to reunite with Russia and secede from Ukraine. The vote took place after anti-Russia, pro-E.U. factions overthrew then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government, which wasn’t against Russia, in an armed coup in February 2014.
The referendum was condemned by the United States and the European Union, with the latter saying in a statement (pdf) that the poll was “illegal and illegitimate.” Both the United States and the E.U. issued sanctions in response to the vote.
The Crimean Bridge, a $3.69 billion (230 billion rubles) project, was constructed following the annexation of Crimea. Russia opened the first part of the span to car traffic in May 2018. The parallel bridge for rail traffic opened the following year. Before the bridge’s existence, the Crimean Peninsula could only be reached from Russia by sea or air.
It was Russia’s only land link to the peninsula until Russian forces later seized more Ukrainian territory on the northern end of the Sea of Azov in heavy fighting, particularly around the city of Mariupol, earlier in 2022.
Road traffic on the Crimean Bridge, which was damaged by a truck explosion earlier on Saturday, has partly resumed, and trains are expected to start moving later in the evening.
“The movement of vehicles along the Crimean Bridge has resumed. At the moment, traffic is open to cars and buses with a full inspection procedure,” the head of the Republic of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, announced on Telegram.
Truck drivers are advised to use the Kerch ferry crossing, he added.
Russia’s Transport Ministry said that road traffic had been reopened on the bridge, with one lane available for traffic alternating in both directions.
Following an initial assessment of the damage to the bridge’s railway, the ministry said the “organization of the movement of the first trains will be ensured by 20:00 Moscow time.”
Earlier on Saturday, Russia’s Investigative Committee said the explosion of a truck on the bridge caused seven fuel tanks of a train heading towards Crimea to ignite. Three people are believed to have died as a result of the incident.
The All-Russian Union of Insurers has estimated the damage done to the bridge at 200-500 million rubles ($3.2 to 8 million).
Kiev, despite top officials celebrating the blast, stopped short of claiming responsibility. Nevertheless, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu congratulated the “Ukrainian special operations units who are believed to be behind this operation.”
Since the launch of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine in late February, various Ukrainian officials have vowed to attack the Crimean Bridge. Kiev views the peninsula as its own territory which was illegally “annexed,” in spite of the fact that the region voted overwhelmingly to reunite with Russia following the 2014 Maidan coup in Kiev.