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Flame and smoke rise fron the Crimean Bridge connecting the Russian mainland and Crimean peninsula over the Kerch Strait, in Kerch, Crimea, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. (AP Photo)
KYIV, Ukraine — An explosion Saturday caused the partial collapse of a bridge linking the Crimean Peninsula with Russia, damaging an important supply artery for the Kremlin’s faltering war effort in southern Ukraine and hitting a towering symbol of Russian power in the region.
Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, which killed three people. The speaker of the Russian-backed regional parliament in Crimea accused Ukraine, but Moscow didn’t apportion blame. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened to strike the bridge, and some lauded the destruction on Saturday. But Kyiv stopped short of claiming responsibility.
The explosion, which Russian authorities said was caused by a truck bomb, risked a sharp escalation in Russia’s eight-month war, with some Russian lawmakers calling for President Vladimir Putin to declare a “counterterrorism operation,” shedding the term “special military operation” that had downplayed the scope of fighting to ordinary Russians.
Putin signed a decree late Saturday tightening security for the bridge and for energy infrastructure between Crimea and Russia, and put Russia’s federal security service, the FSB, in charge of the effort.
Hours after the explosion, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that the air force chief, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, would now command all Russian troops in Ukraine. Surovikin, who this summer was placed in charge of troops in southern Ukraine, had led Russian forces in Syria and was accused of overseeing a bombardment that destroyed much of Aleppo.
Moscow, however, continues to suffer battlefield losses.
On Saturday, a Kremlin-backed official in Ukraine’s Kherson region announced a partial evacuation of civilians from the southern province, one of four illegally annexed by Moscow last week. Kirill Stremousov told Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti agency that young children and the elderly could be relocated because Kherson was getting “ready for a difficult period.”
The 19-kilometer (12-mile) Kerch Bridge, on a strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, is a symbol of Moscow’s claims on Crimea and an essential link to the peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The $3.6 billion bridge, the longest in Europe, is vital to sustaining Russia’s military operations in southern Ukraine. Putin himself presided over the bridge’s opening in 2018.
The attack on it “will have a further sapping effort on Russian morale, (and) will give an extra boost to Ukraine’s,” said James Nixey of Chatham House, a think tank in London. “Conceivably the Russians can rebuild it, but they can’t defend it while losing a war.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a video address, indirectly acknowledged the bridge attack but did not address its cause.
“Today was not a bad day and mostly sunny on our state’s territory,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was cloudy in Crimea. Although it was also warm.”
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