A massive explosion on a strategically important bridge connecting Russia and the Crimean peninsula on Saturday morning caused sections of the road to crash and fuel tankers to burst into flames on a train.
A day after President Vladimir Putin celebrated his 70th birthday, the critical supply route for Russian troops fighting in southern Ukraine was rocked by the blast caused by a truck that had “blown up,” the Russian commission of inquiry said in a statement.
This “resulted in the ignition of seven fuel tanks from a train bound for the Crimean peninsula,” the statement said, adding that two sections of the road bridge had partially collapsed, but the arch over the Kerch Strait, the waterway through which ships travel between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov was not damaged.
Images of the Kerch Bridge posted on social media appeared to show that part of the roadway had fallen into the water below, and flames and smoke billowed from the train cars above.
Sergei Aksyonov, Russia’s governor of Crimea, later said on social media that the one-way road bridge was still intact, although traffic was shut down while the damage was assessed.
Putin has ordered the government to set up a state commission to investigate the incident, Interfax news agency reported, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Asked about how long the repair of the bridge would take, he said there were “no predictions yet”.
Without directly claiming responsibility for the explosion, Ukrainian officials have posted cheery messages on social media about the explosion.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said it was just “the beginning” in a post on his Twitter account.
“Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled,” he wrote.
Ukraine’s security service, meanwhile, said the bridge “burns beautifully,” in a Telegram post.
Russian lawmakers expressed their dismay at the explosion on the bridge opened with much fanfare by Putin in May 2018, four years after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Putin took the wheel of a truck and led a convoy over it.
“There is an undisguised terrorist war being waged against us. Moreover, the long-heralded terrorist attack on the Crimean Bridge is no longer just a challenge, it is a declaration of war without rules,” Oleg Morozov, a member of the Russian parliament told the RIA news agency. “If we remain silent and do not provide an adequate response, such attacks will multiply,” he added.
In a separate interview with Ria, Senator Alexander Bashkin said Russia will “provide an adequate, deliberate and possibly asymmetric response to this bold blow.”
“Politically, it’s a big kick in the guts for Putin the day after his birthday,” Mick Ryan, a military strategist and former major general in the Australian Army, told NBC News by phone on Saturday.
“It shows that Russia cannot defend all these provinces that it has recently annexed, including Crimea,” Ryan said.
He added that the bridge was an important supply route for newly mobilized troops and ammunition and civilian supplies entering Crimea. Wounded troops and broken weapons were also transported across the bridge back to Russia, he said.
The bridge “is a symbol of” [Putin’s] takeover of Crimea, and it is a symbol that Ukrainians are planning to take it back,” he said.