A Ukrainian security official has claimed Kyiv’s responsibility for an attack on the bridge linking the annexed Crimean peninsula to the Russian mainland – a vital supply line for Russia’s war effort in Ukraine and a personal project for President Vladimir Putin.
The nearly 12-mile crossing, also known as the Kerch Bridge, is the longest in Europe and holds huge strategic and symbolic importance for Moscow. Monday’s attack on the bridge was the second since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, after a fuel tanker exploded while crossing it in October.
A source in Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) said this attack was a joint operation of the SBU and Ukraine’s naval forces. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not received authorization to speak on the record. Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation later said that the bridge was struck by “naval drones.”
“Today the Crimean bridge was blown up by naval drones,” Mykhailo Fedorov said on Telegram on Monday “It is better to act, not to reveal photos of our own production facilities and to supply the defense forces,” Fedorov said.
Two people were killed and their daughter wounded in the attack, according to Russian-appointed officials. Two strikes were reportedly carried out around 3 a.m. local time Monday (8 p.m. ET Sunday), damaging part of the bridge, according to Telegram channel Grey Zone, which supports the Wagner mercenary group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Russian President Putin called the Ukrainian strike a “terrorist attack” and vowed to retaliate. He also claimed there was no military significance to hitting the bridge.
“There will be a response from Russia to the terrorist attack on the Crimean bridge. The Ministry of Defense is preparing relevant proposals,” Putin said during a meeting with officials. “I would like to repeat that what happened is another terrorist act of the (Kyiv) regime.”
Explosions were heard around 3:04 a.m. and 3:20 a.m. local time, Grey Zone and popular Crimean blogger ‘TalipoV Online Z’ said on Telegram. CNN is unable to verify those reports.
The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said a girl was injured and her parents were killed while traveling in the car that was damaged in the incident.
“There is damage to the roadway on spans of the Crimean Bridge,” Russia’s Transport Ministry said on Telegram. The spans on a bridge are the lengths between the support piers. Images showed a partial collapse of a section of the roadway portion of the bridge, which also carries railroad tracks.
Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said that the supports of the bridge were not damaged by the blast, according to preliminary assessments.
He later said traffic on the bridge will only resume in nearly two months time, adding that there “are ferries available for civilian and commercial transportation” and the railway bridge was still operational.
“Two-way traffic will be open for one lane only by September 15. Then two-way traffic in both lanes will open Nov 1,” he said in a remote meeting with officials, including Putin, televised on Monday. “One way on the railway bridge sustained insignificant damage that is not impacting the operation of trains.
Videos posted on Telegram by Baza, Grey Zone and other Crimean news outlets appeared to show part of the bridge collapsed and a vehicle damaged in the incident.
Emergency responders and law enforcement have been dispatched to the scene, said Sergey Aksenov, the Russia-appointed head of Crimea. Aksenov urged residents and those traveling to and from Crimea to choose an alternative land route.
The bridge is a critical artery for supplying Crimea with both its daily needs and supplies for the military, in addition to fuel and goods for civilians. A Russian-backed official of the peninsula, Elena Elekchyan, said Crimea is well supplied with fuel, food and industrial goods.
Denis Pushilin, the Russia-backed head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, said on Telegram that he had spoken with his Crimean counterpart to introduce measures “to ensure the faster passage of checkpoints on the administrative border.”
Pushilin said the nightly curfew was being suspended to allow “round-the-clock” travel to Crimea, and that he was working to ensure the availability of fuel at gas stations along the route. Last year, another huge blast partially damaged the crossing, causing parts of it to collapse.
The bridge was severely damaged on October 8 when a fuel tanker exploded and destroyed a large section of the road. Responding to the attack – which took place the day after Putin turned 70 – Ukrainian officials posted a video of the bridge in flames alongside a video of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mister President.”
Russia built the 19-kilometer bridge at a cost of around $3.7 billion after Moscow illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. It was the physical expression of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objective to take over Ukraine and bind it to Russia forever.
After the October blast, Russia quickly set about repairs to the span. It was fully reopened to traffic in February.
Earlier this month, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar made what appeared to be the clearest admission yet that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the October attack. A Ukraine official on Monday said damage to the bridge could hamper Russian logistics.
“Any logistical problems are additional complications for the occupiers, which create potential advantages for the Ukrainian defense forces,” Representative of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine Andrii Yusov said to Ukraine’s public broadcaster, Suspilne.
Hours after the explosions on the bridge, Russia announced that it is allowing a deal struck to enable the export of Ukrainian grain to expire, sparking fears of global food insecurity. Peskov also told reporters that the decision to allow the deal to lapse was not related to Ukraine’s claimed strike on the bridge.
“These are absolutely unrelated events,” he said. “Even before this terrorist attack, the position was declared by President Putin. And I repeat again, as soon as the part of the Black Sea agreements concerning Russia is fulfilled, Russia will immediately return to the implementation of the deal.”