Black smoke billows from a fire on the Kerch Strait Bridge that links Crimea to Russia, after a truck exploded on October 8, 2022.

Black smoke billows from a fire on the Kerch Strait Bridge that links Crimea to Russia, after a truck exploded on October 8, 2022. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

'Hugely Damaging Blow' to Putin: Explosion Destroys Part of Bridge Linking Russia to Crimea

The Russian president started a "war to take Kyiv only to find that he can't even protect Crimea. He'll be looking for some way to respond," warned one Moscow correspondent.

A massive blast on Saturday tore through the only bridge linking Russia to the Crimean Peninsula that it annexed eight years ago, severely damaging one of Moscow's primary supply routes to troops battling to maintain control of territory captured in southern Ukraine.

"The extent of the damage was difficult to immediately assess, though any impediment to traffic on the bridge could have a profound effect on Russia's ability to wage war in southern Ukraine," The New York Timesreported. "Videos showed the railroad burning and two of four lanes of roadway collapsed into the Black Sea, where waves lapped the asphalt."

"The 12-mile-long Kerch Strait Bridge is a cherished political project of President Vladimir V. Putin and had become a potent symbol of the claims that Mr. Putin makes to the peninsula, which his forces illegally seized from Ukraine in 2014," the Times noted. "Mr. Putin presided over the opening of the bridge in 2018, personally driving a truck across."

Max Seddon, Moscow bureau chief at the Financial Times, called the explosion, which killed at least three people and is under investigation, a "hugely damaging blow" to "Putin's prestige" and the Russian offensive.

Seddon shared footage of the blast, which was reportedly caused when a truck exploded on the bridge and ignited seven fuel tanks being transported to Crimea via a parallel railroad.

If Russia were to lose the key military artery, Seddon noted, it would be left with "only one major land conduit to supply forces in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia"--two of the four regions Putin illegally annexed last week--"where they are already retreating in the face of Ukraine's counteroffensive."

As the Times reported, "Russia still controls roads on overland routes from Russia into southern Ukraine, but those are within range of Ukrainian rocket artillery."

"While there were no immediate claims of responsibility, Russian and Ukrainian officials indicated that the fire was no accident," the newspaper added.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov called the explosion an "emergency" but did not assign blame for it. Putin was briefed and "directed the prime minister to form a government commission to find out the causes of the incident and eliminate the consequences as soon as possible," Peskov said, per Russian state media.

Occupation officials in Crimea, however, were quick to launch accusations, with Vladimir Konstantinov, leader of the peninsula's Kremlin-installed parliament, alleging that "Ukrainian vandals were able to reach the Crimean bridge with their bloody hands."

Although they stopped short of directly claiming responsibility, Ukrainian officials and government agencies responded with glee and implied that Kyiv, which has maintained an ambiguous stance regarding attacks on Russian and occupied territory since early in the war, was behind the blast.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, described the bridge explosion as just "the beginning."

"Everything illegal must be destroyed. Everything stolen returned to Ukraine," he tweeted.

The Security Service of Ukraine, known by its Ukrainian acronym S.B.U., released a statement that rephrased a stanza written by the country's national poet, Taras Shevchenko. "The bridge is burning beautifully at dawn," the agency posted on social media. "A nightingale is meeting the S.B.U. in Crimea."

Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, shared a video of the burning bridge on social media alongside a video of Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy birthday, Mr. President." Putin turned 70 on Friday.

Ukraine's postal service has already unveiled a stamp to commemorate the partial destruction of the bridge, which is seen by Ukrainians as a symbol of Russia's occupation of Crimea.

An unnamed senior Ukrainian military official would neither deny nor confirm whether Kyiv was responsible, telling the Times: "All I can say is that an echelon with fuel intended to supply occupation forces in the south of Ukraine was passing over the bridge."

The partial destruction of the bridge, the newspaper reported, "could play into Mr. Putin's claims that Russia is under attack from a Western-armed Ukraine and help tamp down domestic opposition to Russia's first wartime draft since World War II."

Andrew Roth, Moscow correspondent at The Guardian, observed that Putin "went to war to take Kyiv only to find that he can't even protect Crimea. He'll be looking for some way to respond."

"How could Putin respond?" asked Seddon. "He's already threatened to use nuclear weapons if Ukraine takes back annexed territories. Hardliners have been calling for strikes on critical infrastructure and 'decision-making centers.'"

Oleg Morozov, a member of the Russian parliament, told the RIA news agency that "if we remain silent in response and do not give an adequate response, then such attacks will multiply."

Senator Alexander Bashkin, meanwhile, told the outlet that Russia "will give an adequate, conscious, and possibly asymmetric response to this daring blow."

The blast comes just two days after U.S. President Joe Biden warned that nuclear threats from Russia's leadership have raised the risk of "Armageddon" to its highest level since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In response, anti-war groups called on the White House to urgently pursue a diplomatic end to the war, including by giving Putin an "off-ramp" to avert a nuclear catastrophe.

Reutersreported that despite the damage to the bridge, "limited road traffic resumed about 10 hours after the blast, and the Transport Ministry said it expected rail traffic to restart later in the day."

As Seddon pointed out, "That would indicate Russia will still be able to supply the front line in Ukraine via that route--or wants everyone to think it will."

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