Vehicular traffic resumed on Sunday on the bridge linking Russia with Crimea – widely seen as the Kremlin’s annexation of the peninsula – that was partly destroyed by a massive explosion a day ago. Moscow had blamed the blast on a truck bomb. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to tighten security measures for the bridge that connects the Russia-annexed region to the mainland.
Russian deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin told reporters that “traffic has been fully restored” on the bridge’s railway, according to state news agency Ria Novosti. He added, in a Telegram post, that the resumption is for “both freight and passenger traffic” and that one of the destroyed lanes would be restored “in the near future”.
At least three people were killed in Saturday’s explosion on the Crimea bridge. The incident took place a day after Putin celebrated his 70th birthday. While some in Moscow hinted at Ukrainian “terrorism”, state media continued to call it an “emergency situation.” Meanwhile, the explosion was reported to have drawn celebrations in Ukraine and by its supporters on social media, even as Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky did not directly mention the explosion in his nightly address.
On the same day, the Kremlin also announced the appointment of a new general to lead its Ukraine offensive following a series of battlefield setbacks that triggered unprecedented criticism of its army at home.
Several videos went viral on social media platforms showing the 19-kilometre road-and-rail bridge on fire, with several oil tankers set ablaze and two car lanes collapsed with parts plunging into the water. Authorities had identified the owner of the truck as a resident of Russia’s southern Krasnodar region, saying his home was being searched.
The Kremlin’s spokesman said Putin had ordered a commission to be set up to look into the blast. Further, Russian divers are said to have been appointed to examine the damage left by the powerful blast on the bridge to Crimea. Although officials in Moscow stopped short of blaming Kyiv, a Russian-installed official in Crimea pointed the finger at “Ukrainian vandals.”
Some officials in Moscow and in Russian-occupied Ukraine even called for retaliation.
The bridge is a logistically crucial zone for Moscow, a vital transport link for carrying military equipment to Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin personally inaugurated the bridge in 2018 – even drove a truck across it – and Moscow had maintained the crossing was safe.
Crimea was annexed to Russia in 2014 and has since been dependent on the Russian mainland for food and fuel supplies.
The blasts come after Ukraine’s recent lightning territorial gains in the east and south that have undermined the Kremlin’s claim that it annexed Donetsk, neighbouring Lugansk and the southern regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
(With inputs from agencies)