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Moscow-installed authorities in Crimea have halted traffic on the bridge connecting the occupied peninsula to Russia after a Ukrainian attack that caused parts of it to collapse early on Monday, killing two people.
A Ukraine intelligence source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the SBU — the country’s security service — and its naval forces were behind the assault.
It is the second Ukrainian attack on the bridge — which carries road and rail traffic and was opened with great fanfare by Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2018 — dealing another humiliating blow to the Kremlin’s prestige, and possibly to its ability to supply troops occupying Ukraine’s southern regions.
Putin vowed to respond to the attack on the bridge and said the defence ministry was working on proposals for actions that Russia could take.
Viacheslav Gladkov, governor of Russia’s Belgorod region which borders Ukraine, said a man and a woman from the region had been killed in the explosion. Their 14-year-old daughter was in hospital in a stable condition.
Artem Dekhtiarenko, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s SBU, said that details of the operation would only be revealed “after our victory”.
“Meanwhile, we are watching with interest as one of the symbols of Putin’s regime once again failed to withstand the military burden,” he added.
Mash, an online news outlet with close ties to Russia’s police, posted videos showing that one span on the bridge had collapsed and another had begun to sink into the waters of the Kerch Strait below.
It said investigators had found traces from jet skis near the site of the explosion and claimed Ukraine had begun to use them as explosive-carrying underwater drones.
The bridge was previously damaged in an attack in October last year that forced Russian authorities to close it temporarily for repairs. Ukraine did not immediately take credit for that strike, though last week deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar called it “the first blow on the Crimean bridge to break the logistics of the Russians”.
Russian authorities did not say how badly the bridge was damaged in Monday’s attack but claimed the railway tracks had not been harmed in the blast and promised traffic would soon resume. Marat Khusnullin, a deputy prime minister, said work had begun to repair damaged sections of the bridge.
On the social media app Telegram, several videos appeared to show the blast before sunrise, while others showed smoke rising from the bridge, a crushed vehicle and cars backed up for kilometres.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, blamed Ukraine for the attack.
“We need to talk about this so everyone knows that this is the handiwork of the Kyiv regime,” Peskov told reporters. “We remain prepared to prevent similar tragedies from happening again,” he said.
Ukrainian officials did not take responsibility for the explosion. But several top officials and Ukraine’s security service gloated on social media, while Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, reiterated Kyiv’s position that the bridge was a legitimate military target.
“Any illegal structures used to deliver Russian instruments of mass murder are necessarily shortlived . . . regardless of the reasons for the destruction,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
Andriy Yusov, a representative of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, declined to comment when asked by Ukraine’s public broadcaster Suspilne if Kyiv was behind the attack. But he said it could hinder Russian logistics.
“Any logistical problems are additional complications for the occupiers, which create potential advantages for the Ukrainian defence forces,” Yusov said.
The bridge is a crucial link between Russia and the occupied Ukrainian territories and is used to transport troops, tanks and other military supplies for the Kremlin’s invasion forces fighting in southern Ukraine.
The only other supply route is via the so-called “land bridge” that Moscow created by invading and occupying the southern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, which Putin claimed to have “annexed” in September.
But that route is narrow and fraught with challenges, as Ukrainian brigades focus their attention on trying to cut off the land bridge in their counteroffensive.
Russian holidaymakers have continued to flock to Crimea, a popular vacation destination, even as the peninsula has become a target for air and drone strikes during the war.
Occupation authorities urged people to use the land bridge and insisted the peninsula had sufficient supplies of food and fuel.
The 12-mile bridge over the Kerch Strait was a special project of Putin’s. Built for $3bn after Russia’s illegal 2014 annexation of Crimea, it was completed in 2018, with Putin marking the occasion by driving a Kamaz truck over the bridge.