foreign interests

Ukraine Bombs Russia’s Bridge to Crimea

Black smoke billows from a fire on the Kerch bridge that links Crimea to Russia on October 8. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

A massive explosion rocked Russia’s literal and figurative bridge to Crimea on Saturday, nearly destroying a key supply line between the Russian mainland and its embattled forces in southern Ukraine — and striking another humiliating blow to Russia as it struggles to hold on to its captured territory in the country amid an intense Ukrainian counteroffensive. The early morning blast, which Russia’s anti-terrorist committee says was caused by a truck bomb, collapsed part of the 12-mile-long Kerch Bridge, which spans the strait between the Azov and Black seas and is the only direct road and railway link between the Russian mainland and the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula.

The explosion also ignited fuel tankers being transported across the bridge by a freight train. Footage taken in the aftermath of the blast showed the railway portion of the bridge engulfed in flames. Half of the roadway is now in the strait, and the blast did significant but apparently non-catastrophic damage to the rest of the $4 billion bridge — at least temporarily forcing Russia to suspend road and rail traffic across it.

Russia said the explosion killed at least three people who were in a car driving across the bridge at the time. The Kremlin also said that road and rail transit over the bridge had been partially restored as of Saturday night, but that the bridge was not fully operational and it wasn’t clear when it would be again.

Ukrainian government officials publicly celebrated the strike on the bridge on Saturday morning, tacitly but not directly acknowledging Ukraine was responsible for the blast. An unnamed Ukrainian official later told the Washington Post that the operation had been carried out by Ukrainian special services. A Ukrainian official also reportedly told Western diplomats that the fuel tankers were on their way to a military depot (and thus a legitimate military target). How Ukraine carried out the strike is not yet clear.

The bridge, which Russia built after it illegally annexed Crimea, holds special meaning for both countries. For Russia, the bridge is a celebrated, long-sought engineering marvel that signifies its claim to the peninsula. President Vladimir Putin personally drove a truck across the bridge at its 2018 opening. The bridge is meanwhile reviled in Ukraine for these same reasons, but Ukraine had been either unwilling or unable to strike the bridge until now. While the Kerch Bridge apparently remains operational, at the very least Ukraine succeeded in hampering one of Russia’s most critical supply conduits, as well as striking another significant symbolic blow to Putin.

If and how the Russian president retaliates remains to be seen, particularly at a time of upheaval within the highest ranks of Russia’s military. Putin has previously threatened to use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine, but it remains far from clear whether or not he is actually willing to go that far.

Ukraine Bombs Russia’s Bridge to Crimea