The partial explosion of a bridge built by Russia with the Crimean peninsula, which was illegally occupied by the international community in 2014, this Saturday (8/10) further tenses the new phase of the war in Ukraine.
It is not yet clear what caused the Kerch Bridge incident, but it caused fuel tanks on the tracks to explode and part of the structure collapsed.
Built at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the bridge is vital for transporting Russian military equipment to his troops in Ukraine. Putin ordered an investigation into the bombing, according to a Kremlin spokesman. And pro-Russian officials in Crimea said restoration work on the bridge would begin on Saturday. Russia also said the railway section of the bridge would reopen later Saturday.
According to Russian investigators, the blast caused three deaths, including those in a car next to a truck that exploded.
BBC Russia editor Steve Rosenberg explains that the dramatic images of the burning bridge are a symbol of humiliation for Moscow. Because of this, he explains, pro-Kremlin commentators are already urging the Russian government to react harshly against Kiev.
It’s not yet clear how Putin will respond, but the Russian president is already escalating the war by calling in security forces, annexing four Ukrainian territories and threatening to use his nuclear weapons.
In the Russian-annexed region of Zaporizhzhia, a missile attack caused an uproar on Thursday, killing at least 17 civilians – with locals feeling they were being punished by Russian troops for Ukrainian advances on some fronts. It is also feared that more attacks on civilians may occur in the coming days.
The Kerch Bridge is not only strategically important, but also a symbol of Crimea’s unification – a way to show that the two territories are permanently united, explains Steve Rosenberg.
When the bridge opened in 2018, the Russian state press hailed the work as the “construction of the century” because it was the longest bridge in Europe, at 19 km.
In many cases, Russian officials said the bridge was well protected from threats by air, land or water.
At the same time, Russia also lost the Ukrainian territory it had captured, which would have provoked reactions from the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government celebrated the action against the bridge, although it did not take direct action. Zelensky’s adviser, Mykhailo Podoliak, said the episode was “just the beginning.”
“Crimea, the bridge, the beginning. Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, and the entire Russian occupation must be expelled,” Podoliak tweeted.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Ukrainians’ appreciation of the episode confirmed the “terrorist nature” of the incident.
The only link between Russia and Crimea, the bridge plays a vital role in Russian supplies, explains BBC Ukraine correspondent Paul Adams. Without that link, Moscow would struggle to send troops and equipment to repel a Ukrainian offensive in northern Kherson — one of the Ukrainian regions annexed by Russia.
Laurence Freedman, a retired professor of war studies at King’s College London, told the BBC that Russian troops would face major challenges when the bridge was disabled.
“The Ukrainians (Russians) not only targeted territory and individuals, but attacked logistics. (…) The Kerch bridge is an example that they (the Russians) have a resupply problem. Well-armed and fighting points, they won’t. If they don’t get the supplies to go forward Can,” Freedman told BBC Radio 4.
The BBC’s Ukraine correspondent Hugo Pacheca sees a critical momentum in the battle for Kiev, with its counterattack recapturing significant territory and forcing Russian troops to abandon positions they’ve held for months.
The Kerch bridge is particularly hated by Ukrainians because it symbolizes the eight-year-long occupation.
BBC correspondents in Ukraine explain that Saturday’s episode boosted Ukrainian morale. Videos of the burning bridge have gone viral on social media in the country, and Ukraine’s second-largest bank, Monobank, has released a debit card illustrated with the collapsed bridge.
According to the Russian anti-terrorist group, the fire started in a truck on the bridge at 6 am (local time) on Saturday. Later, the fire spread to the fuel tanks and rails of the railway section of the bridge.
Road and rail traffic on the bridge was suspended, causing long queues in the area.
Pro-Kremlin officials in Crimea have said they are organizing a ferry route between the territory and Russia and are trying to reassure locals that there is no risk of supply shortages on the peninsula.
“We have fuel for a whole month, and there should be no increase in prices,” Crimean government head Sergei Aksyonov said in a statement. “We have two months of food, no danger.”
Vladimir Kontantinov, the speaker of Crimea’s parliament, said the explosion on the bridge was the work of “Ukrainian saboteurs”.
“During the 23 years they (Ukrainians) were in charge (of the peninsula), they did not build anything important in Crimea, but they managed to damage the Russian bridge. This is the essence of the Kiev regime and the Ukrainian state. . will be restored,” he said.
A former British military expert told the BBC’s Paul Adams that the damage to the bridge appeared to be a “masterpiece of covert sabotage”.
On condition of anonymity, he said the operation may have been carried out by Ukrainian special forces.
“It appears that a well-planned attack from below (water) from above was the cause,” he declared.
“Music geek. Coffee lover. Devoted food scholar. Web buff. Passionate internet guru.”