An explosion rocked and partially collapsed a large bridge connecting Russia-annexed Crimea with Russia on Saturday, a reversal of Moscow’s war that was quickly celebrated by senior officials in Ukraine.
Russian authorities said a truck bomb caused an explosion that killed three people and temporarily halted traffic and rail over Europe’s longest bridge — a multibillion-dollar project that opened in 2018 and is a true sign of Russia’s claim over Crimea. It is also an important supply artery for the Russian army.
President Vladimir Putin signed a decree at the end of Saturday to strengthen the security of the bridge and the power line between Crimea and Russia, and put the Russian Federation Security Service, FSB, in charge of this task.
Kyiv stopped short of claiming responsibility, but the attack drew widespread cheers among some officials.
Traffic on the bridge is slowly resuming. Light traffic resumed on Saturday afternoon. Sergey Aksyonov, the leader of the Russian-backed Crimea region, wrote on Telegram. Railway trains are also set to return.
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The attack on the 12-mile bridge across the Kerch Strait connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov is a major problem for the Russian military.
John Spencer, chair of urban warfare studies at the Madison Policy Forum, called the bridge explosion “the most explosive of the Russia-Ukraine war” because it sends a message that Ukraine can strike anywhere in the occupied territory.
“Russia said a few months ago it was impossible to hit the Kerch bridgehead,” Spencer said.
In addition to traffic, the bridge is a great way for goods to arrive by rail, Spencer said.
“There is no other bridge that connects Russia and Crimea in the South,” he said.
Some fear the explosion will give Putin an excuse to further escalate the conflict in Ukraine. Some Russian lawmakers are calling for Putin to declare a “terrorist role” in retaliation, calling for a “special military operation” that has reduced the number of casualties among Russian civilians.
The Kremlin could use such a move to expand the powers of security agencies, ban meetings, strengthen censorship, introduce restrictions on travel and increase the military mobilization ordered by Putin last month.
Putin himself opened the railway section of the bridge in 2019, saying it “proved our ability to carry out large-scale infrastructure projects” in the region Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 – a move many countries have taken illegally.
The official Telegraph account of the Ukrainian Parliament posted a photo and video of the explosion early Saturday morning praising the explosion. The Ukrainian postal service has promised to issue stamps commemorating the bombing.
The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council posted a video mocking Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has just turned 70, with footage of the attack.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy indirectly acknowledged the bridge attack by referring to the situation in Crimea but did not elaborate on its cause in a video address Saturday.
“Today was a beautiful day and the hottest in our region,” he said. “Unfortunately, there were clouds in Crimea.”
Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, has lost its last remaining external power source due to bombardment and is now relying on diesel generators, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Saturday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said the plant’s connection to the 750-kilovolt line was cut at 1 a.m. Saturday. It provided official information from Ukraine as well as reports from IAEA experts on the site, which is held by the Russian military.
All six reactors at the plant have been shut down but still need electricity for cooling and other maintenance work. Plant engineers have begun work to repair a damaged power line and the reactors – not all of which are currently in use – each have enough fuel for 10 days, the IAEA said.
“The relaunch of the bomb, to hit a single foreign energy plant, is not necessary,” Director-General of the IAEA Rafael Grossi said.
The Ministry of Economy of Ukraine said on Saturday that the economy of the country has declined by about a third in the first nine months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.
The ministry said exports, including grains after the United Nations agreement, grew by 23% between August and September, the highest rate since February.
The economic downturn was caused by factors including bad weather in September, late harvests, and ongoing work causing damage to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Russia’s actions, “further destruction of industrial facilities, buildings and residential buildings,” and uncertainty about how long the situation will continue are preventing development and reconstruction, the minister said.
Distribution: The Associated Press