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A fire broke out on the Kerch bridge linking Crimea to Russia on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Ukraine war: Russia says three people dead in truck blast that damaged key Crimea bridge

  • Russian authorities said the blast caused seven railway cars carrying fuel to catch fire, resulting in a ‘partial collapse of two sections of the Kerch bridge’
  • President Putin had ordered the creation of a government panel to deal with the emergency, and an investigation into the incident
Russian authorities said on Saturday that three people were killed after a truck exploded on its bridge linking Moscow-annexed Crimea to Russia, adding that the owner of the vehicle had been identified.

“According to preliminary information, three people were killed,” Russia’s investigative committee said in a statement. It said they were likely to be “passengers of a car that was near the truck that exploded.”

The statement said the bodies of two victims – “a man and a woman” – had been lifted out of the water and that their identities were being confirmed, giving no details on the third body.

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said that the truck bomb caused seven railway cars carrying fuel to catch fire, resulting in a “partial collapse of two sections of the bridge.” The committee didn’t immediately apportion blame.

Ukrainians threaten to destroy Russian bridge ‘target number one’

The attack on the bridge comes a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin turned 70, dealing him a humiliating blow that could lead him to likely to up the ante in his war on Ukraine.

The Crimean Peninsula holds symbolic value for Russia and is key to sustaining its 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 bridge has train and automobile sections. Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee specified that the explosion and fire led to the collapse of the two sections of one of the two links of the automobile bridge, while another link was intact.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (centre) inspects the road section of the Crimean bridge over the Kerch Strait. File photo: AFP

Railway traffic on the bridge will resume at 8pm (17:00 GMT), the Interfax news agency reported, citing Russia’s transport ministry.

Russia’s Transport Ministry said on Saturday that limited road traffic for cars and buses had resumed on intact lanes of the bridge. It said traffic would for now be restricted to crossing between Crimea and the Russian Taman peninsula in alternating directions.

Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-appointed Governor of the Crimean peninsula, said on social media that heavy goods vehicles would have to wait to cross by ferry.

Putin has ordered the creation of a government panel to deal with the emergency and the investigative committee has sent detectives to the scene.

Sergei Aksyonov, the Moscow-installed head of the peninsula, called on Crimeans to remain “calm” as authorities appeared to downplay the blasts.

“I call on everyone to clam down and not spread fake information,” he said on Telegram. “The situation is being controlled, professionals are working on the ground.”

He said rail links to Russia had been halted and added that authorities had set up food and heating points to help stranded drivers. Russia’s Energy Ministry said Crimea has enough fuel for 15 days, adding that it was working on ways to replenish stock.

People watch fuel tanks ablaze and damaged sections of the Kerch bridge in the Kerch Strait, Crimea. Photo: Reuters

The speaker of Crimea’s Kremlin-backed regional parliament blamed Ukraine for the explosion, but downplayed the severity of the damage and said it would be promptly repaired.

“Now they have something to be proud of: over 23 years of their management, they didn’t manage to build anything worthy of attention in Crimea, but they’ve managed to damage the surface of the Russian bridge,” Vladimir Konstantinov, chairman of the State Council of the Republic, wrote on Telegram.

Russia’s foreign ministry on Saturday said Ukraine’s reaction to the blast showed Kyiv’s “terrorist nature”.

“The reaction of the Kyiv regime to the destruction of civilian infrastructure shows its terrorist nature,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram.

Explosions refocus Ukraine war on Crimea as Putin lashes US

The 19km bridge across the Kerch Strait linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov is the longest in Europe. It has cost billions of dollars to build and it has provided an essential link to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened to strike the bridge and some lauded the attack, but Kyiv stopped short of claiming responsibility.

The parliamentary leader of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s party on Saturday stopped short of claiming that Kyiv was responsible for the incident but appeared to cast it as a consequence of Moscow’s takeover of Crimea and attempts to integrate the peninsula with Russia.

“Russian illegal construction is starting to fall apart and catch fire. The reason is simple: if you build something explosive, then sooner or later it will explode,” David Arakhamia, the leader of the Servant of the People party, wrote on Telegram.

A couple poses in front of an artwork shaped as a big stamp entitled (with a play on words) “Cotton to the Crimean Bridge” depicting the October 8 explosion on Kerch bridge, set in the centre of Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Photo: AFP

“And this is just the beginning. Of all things, reliable construction is not something Russia is particularly famous for,” he said.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted, “Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled.”

The Ukrainian postal service has announced that it would issue stamps commemorating the blast, saying in a statement that the images would draw on classic film posters to highlight the bridge’s “sacred significance” to Moscow. The postal service previously released a set of stamps commemorating the sinking of the Moskva, a Russian flagship cruiser, by a Ukrainian strike in late May.

In August, Russia suffered a series of explosions at an airbase and munitions depot in Crimea, which underlined its vulnerability.