UPDATED: Explosion destroys part of Crimea bridge crucial to Russian war effort

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KYIV, Oct 8 (Reuters) – A powerful truck explosion seriously damaged Russia’s road-and-rail bridge to Crimea on Saturday, hitting a prestige symbol of Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula and the key supply route to Russian forces battling to hold territory captured in southern Ukraine.

A handout photo made available by the Ukraine Security Service (SSU) shows a collapsed part of the Kerch Strait bridge in Crimea

The blast on the bridge over the Kerch Strait, for which Russia did not immediately assign blame, prompted gleeful messages from Ukrainian officials but no direct claim of responsibility.

Russian investigators said three people had been killed, probably the occupants of a car travelling near the truck that blew up.

Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the 19-km (12-mile) Kerch bridge linking it to Russia’s transport network was opened with great fanfare four years later by President Vladimir Putin, who drove a construction truck across it.

Blast damages prestige Crimea bridge central to Russia war effort

It now represents a major artery for the Russian forces who have taken control of most of southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, and for the naval port of Sevastopol, whose governor told locals: “Keep calm. Don’t panic.”

It was not yet clear if the blast was a deliberate attack, but the damage to such high-profile infrastructure came at a time when Russia has suffered several battlefield defeats and could further cloud the Kremlin’s messages of reassurance to its public that the conflict is going to plan.

It also took place a day after Putin’s 70th birthday.

The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, Oleksiy Danilov, posted a video of the burning bridge on social media alongside a video of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy birthday, Mr President”.

Since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24, Ukrainian officials have made regular allusions to their desire to destroy the Kerch bridge, seen in Ukraine as a symbol of Russia’s occupation of Crimea. Ukraine’s postal service said on Saturday it would print a special stamp to commemorate the blast.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said in a statement that its forces in southern Ukraine could be “fully supplied” through existing land and sea routes, and the Transport Ministry said rail traffic across the bridge would resume by 1700 GMT.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Kyiv’s reaction to the destruction of civilian infrastructure “testifies to its terrorist nature”.

The Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee said a freight truck had blown up on the bridge’s roadway at 6:07 a.m. (0307 GMT), causing seven fuel tanker wagons to catch fire on a train heading for the peninsula on the bridge’s upper level.

It said two spans of road bridge had partially collapsed, but that the arch spanning the Kerch Strait, the waterway through which ships travel between the Black Sea and Azov Sea, was not damaged.

‘THE BEGINNING’

Images posted by the Russian Investigative Committee showed one half of the roadway blown away, and the other half still attached, but cracked.

A still image taken from handout video provided by the Russian Investigative committee shows Russian investigators work on a collapsed part of the Kerch Strait bridge in Crimea, 08 October 2022. EPA-EFE/RUSSIAN INVESTIGATIVE COMMITEE HANDOUT

Others taken from a distance showed thick smoke pouring from part of the bridge.

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy posted a message on Twitter saying the incident was just “the beginning” but stopped short of saying Ukrainian forces were responsible for the blast.

“Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything that is stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled,” Mykhailo Podolyak wrote.

Moscow has presented largely Russian-speaking Crimea as a historic and cherished part of Russia and, especially this year, one where Russians could holiday in large numbers, supposedly safe from the war.

On Saturday, hundreds of people who had hoped to drive to Crimea from the Russian town of Kerch were redirected to the ferry port, only to find that high winds were preventing any sailings.

Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed deputy administrator of the Kherson region, said the bridge incident “will not affect the army supply very much”.

“But there will be problems with logistics for Crimea,” he added in a post on social media.

Mykola Bielieskov of the Ukrainian Institute of Strategic Studies, which advises the presidency in Kyiv, said the Kerch bridge was irreplaceable for Russia’s invasion forces, and if it were severed, “the whole Russian southern front will crumble quickly and easily”.

Although Moscow’s forces have seized a stretch of coastal Ukraine linking the Kherson region and Crimea to Russia, Bielieskov said the transport connections there were poor, and that Russia had preferred to send reinforcements to Kherson along the more circuitous route of the bridge into Crimea.

Russian Railways said trains heading for Crimea would be subject to extra checks, and that it was working with the government to find the “best way to deliver goods to the peninsula”.

In a video message Aksyonov, the Crimea governor, said he wanted to “assure Crimeans that the Republic of Crimea is fully provided with fuel and food. We have more than a month’s worth of fuel, and more than two months’ worth of food”.

However, the Russian Energy Ministry said on Telegram that Crimea had only 15 days of motor fuel.

The Russian governor of Sevastopol, which has separate territorial status in Crimea as home to the Black Sea fleet, also sought to reassure locals.

“We are not cut off from the mainland!” Mikhail Razvozzhayev posted on Telegram. “Keep calm. Don’t panic.”

In Other Developments:

CONFLICT

* The United States sees no reason to change its nuclear posture and does not have indications that Russia is preparing to imminently use nuclear weapons, the White House said a day after President Joe Biden referred to the threat of a nuclear Armageddon.

* amid fawning congratulations from subordinates and a plea from Orthodox Patriarch Kirill for all to pray for the health of the longest-serving paramount leader of Russia since Josef Stalin.

* After Ukrainian rescuers found 11 bodies and rescued 21 people from the rubble of buildings destroyed in missile attacks in the city of Zaporizhzhia, the regional governor said there was a new rocket strike on the city on Friday.

* A Ukrainian missile hit a bus in the Russian-controlled city of Kherson, killing four and wounding three civilians, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported.

* Russia has sacked the commander of its , Colonel-General Alexander Chaiko, the Russian news site RBC reported.

* Putin is grappling with the gravest domestic crisis of his 23-year rule: an increasingly public quarrel inside the Russian elite over who is to blame for battlefield defeats in Ukraine.

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE AND HUMAN RIGHTS

* Jailed Belarusian activist Ales Byalyatski, Russian organisation Memorial and Ukrainian group Center for Civil Liberties won the 2022 . The prize will be seen by many as a condemnation of Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

* passed a motion to appoint a new independent expert on alleged human rights abuses in Russia, accusing Moscow of creating a “climate of fear” through repression and violence.

ENERGY AND ECONOMY

* U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his team are working to expand and extend a deal allowing Ukrainian Black Sea grain exports, which could expire in late November, a U.N. spokesman said.

* The head of Ukrainian state energy company Naftogaz criticised local authorities for turning on the heating too soon before what may be a .

* Ukrainian farmers have completed the 2022 , threshing 19.2 million and 5.5 million tonnes respectively, the agriculture ministry said.

* A crime scene investigation of the damage on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines has strengthened suspicions of “gross sabotage”, Swedish security police said.

* European Union leaders agreed to give more financial and military aid to Ukraine, but talks in Prague seemed to bring them no closer to deciding on whether or .

QUOTES

* “We believe that it is a war that is a result of an authoritarian regime, aggressively committing an act of aggression,” Norwegian Nobel Committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen told Reuters after announcing the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

An aerial view of the Krymsky (Crimean) Bridge over the Kerch Strait. EPA-EFE/ALEXEY NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL

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