By AFP – Oct 09,2022 – JORDAN TIMES
This photo shows black smoke billows from a fire on the Kerch bridge that links Crimea to Russia, after a truck exploded, near Kerch, on Saturday (AFP photo)
MOSCOW — Russia said on Saturday three people had been killed after a truck exploded on its bridge linking Crimea — a symbol of its annexation of the peninsula — without immediately blaming Ukraine.
On the same day, after a series of setbacks on the battlefield that triggered unprecedented criticism of its army at home, Moscow appointed a new general to lead its Ukraine offensive.
The blast ripped through the 19-kilometre bridge more than seven months into Moscow’s Ukraine offensive.
Local officials said it had reopened to motor traffic with vehicles subject to stringent screening. Shortly after, Grand Service Express, which operates rail services there, said the first trains had left the peninsula for Moscow and St Petersburg.
Dramatic social media footage showed the bridge on fire with parts plunging into the water.
Russian investigators said three people had been killed. Two bodies — a man and a woman — were pulled out of the water after the bridge had partially collapsed.
Their identities were still to be established, but they were likely passengers in a car driving near the exploded truck, Moscow said.
The authorities also said they had identified the owner of the truck as a resident of Russia’s southern Krasnodar region, saying his home was being searched.
Russia said the blast — which happened just after 6:00am local time — had set ablaze seven oil tankers transported by train and collapsed two car lanes of the giant road and rail structure.
The bridge is logistically crucial for Moscow, a vital transport link for carrying military equipment to Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
It is also hugely symbolic.
President Vladimir Putin personally inaugurated the bridge in 2018, and Moscow had maintained the crossing was safe despite the fighting.
While some in Moscow hinted at Ukrainian “terrorism”, state media continued to call it an “emergency situation”.
Ukraine’s Presidential Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak earlier took to Twitter posting a picture of a long section of the bridge half-submerged.
“Crimea, the bridge, the beginning,” he wrote.
“Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled.”
But in a later statement, he appeared to suggest that Moscow had had a hand in the blast.
“It is worth noting that the truck that detonated, according to all indications, entered the bridge from the Russian side. So the answers should be sought in Russia,” he said.
The Ukrainian post office announced it was preparing to print stamps showing the “Crimean bridge — or more precisely, what remains of it”.
The Kremlin’s spokesman said Putin had ordered a commission to be set up to look into the blast on the bridge.
Officials in Moscow stopped short of blaming Kyiv.
But a Russian-installed official in Crimea pointed the finger at “Ukrainian vandals”.
And the spokeswoman of Russia’s foreign ministry said Kyiv’s reaction to the blasts showed its “terrorist nature”.
Calls for retaliation
Some officials in Moscow and in Russian-occupied Ukraine called for retaliation.
“There is an undisguised terrorist war against us,” Russian ruling party deputy Oleg Morozov told the RIA Novosti news agency.
A Russian-installed official in the occupied Ukrainian Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, said: “Everyone is waiting for a retaliatory strike and it is likely to come.”
There have been several explosions at Russian military installations in the Crimean Peninsula.
If it is established that Ukraine was behind the latest blast, it will trigger alarm with the bridge so far from the frontline.
Authorities in Crimea appeared to downplay the blasts and tried to calm fears of food and fuel shortages in Crimea, dependent on the Russian mainland since Moscow annexed it in 2014.
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.
Moscow appoints new general
After several weeks of military setbacks, Moscow on Saturday announced that a new general — Sergei Surovikin — would take over its forces in Ukraine.
Surovikin previously led Russia’s forces in southern Ukraine. He has combat experience in the 1990s conflicts in Tajikistan and Chechnya, as well as, more recently, in Syria.
The decision, which — unusually — was made public, comes after growing discontent among the elite over the army’s leadership.
This month, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov had called for a top general to be fired in Ukraine after Russian forces lost control of the key city of Lyman.
Senior Russian lawmaker Andrei Kartapolov urged officers to stop “lying” about the situation on the battlefield.
Also on Saturday, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, said Kyiv’s forces had fired at a Russian border village, injuring a teenage girl.
On Friday, Moscow said its forces had captured ground in Donetsk, their first claim of new gains since a Kyiv counteroffensive rattled Moscow’s military campaign.
The Donetsk region, partially controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists for years, is a key prize for Russian forces, which sent troops to Ukraine into February.