Russian president Vladimir Putin has ordered his security council to meet on Monday after an explosion struck the only bridge linking the country with Crimea, damaging a major symbol of his 2014 occupation of the region and disrupting a key supply route for Moscow’s military in southern Ukraine.
Local officials said some road and rail traffic was moving across the 19km bridge on Sunday, as a Russian missile hit an apartment block in Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine, killing at least 13 civilians and injuring 60 in a Kyiv-held city where another rocket strike took 20 lives on Thursday.
Moscow’s security agencies said a truck crossing the bridge from Russia to Crimea exploded on Saturday morning, collapsing a two-lane stretch of the motorway into the waters of the Kerch Strait and igniting fuel wagons on a cargo train using the rail section of the span.
Several Ukrainian officials hailed the incident on social media without claiming responsibility, while Russian local officials and deputies pointed the finger at Kyiv.
At a meeting with the head of the Russian Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, Mr Putin said: “As you just reported, there is no doubt. This was a terrorist act aimed at destroying critically important civilian infrastructure of the Russian Federation … and it was planned, perpetrated and ordered by the special services of Ukraine.”
Mr Bastrykin added that those involved were the “special services of Ukraine and citizens of Russia and foreign countries who helped in the preparation of this terrorist act”.
“The situation is manageable; it’s unpleasant but not fatal,” said Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor of occupied Crimea. “Of course, emotions have been triggered and there is a healthy desire to seek revenge.”
Russian officials said cars and trains were using the bridge again on Sunday and that supplies to Moscow’s forces in southern Ukraine would not be badly affected. It is not clear whether heavy loads such as armoured vehicles can cross the bridge, however, and cargo trucks were told to use a ferry until a safety assessment was complete.
“Crimea, the bridge, the beginning. Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, tweeted after the blast.
Later, however, he noted that the truck which blew up was travelling from Russia and claimed the explosion was part of a power struggle between Russian security services and armed forces who are trying to blame each other for failures in Ukraine.
The partial destruction of Europe’s longest bridge — which Mr Putin opened by driving a truck across it in 2018 after a €3.9 billion construction project — is another embarrassment for the Kremlin following the withdrawal of its forces from the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine and parts of Kherson region in the south.
Russia appointed general Sergei Surovikin as overall commander of its troops in Ukraine over the weekend, as Kyiv announced that it had retaken 1,200sq km of Kherson since late August.
[ Ukraine war: 17 dead in Russian attack on Zaporizhzhia apartment buildings ]
Emergency workers in Zaporizhzhia searched through the rubble of an apartment block after it was hit by a Russian missile at about 2am on Sunday, killing at least 13 people just three days after 20 people died in another Russian attack on the city.
“Zaporizhzhia again. Merciless strikes on peaceful people again. On residential buildings, right in the middle of the night,” Mr Zelenskiy said on social media.
“These are savages and terrorists. From the one who gave this order to all those who carried out the order. They will answer for this … before the law and before the people.”