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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Divers to Assess Damage to Blast-hit Crimea Bridge Crucial to Russia’s Supply Lines

The bridge was inaugurated with grand fanfare four years after the Crimean annexation in 2014

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UKRAINE. Kyiv: Russian divers were to examine on Sunday the extent of the damage left by the sudden explosion on a road-and-rail bridge to Crimea, which is a prestigious symbol of Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula and a key supply route for Russian forces battling in southern Ukraine.

Saturday’s explosion on the bridge overlooking the Kerch Strait elicited gleeful messages from Ukrainian officials, but they admitted no claim of responsibility. Russia also did not accuse Ukraine of any foul play immediately.

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Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said the divers would start work in the morning to ascertain the degree of damage and produce a thorough survey above the waterline by the day’s end, domestic news agencies reported.

“The situation is manageable – it’s unpleasant, but not fatal,” Crimea’s Russian governor, Sergei Aksyonov, told reporters. “Of course, emotions have been triggered, and there is a healthy desire to seek revenge.”

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He added that the peninsula was equipped with a month’s ration of fuel and more than two months’ worth of food. Moreover, Russia’s Defence Ministry said its forces in southern Ukraine could be “fully supplied” through existing land and sea routes.

Russia annexed Crime from Ukraine in 2014, along with the 19 km (12 miles) long Crimea Bridge linking the region to its transport network and serving as a critical supply line for Russian resources entering Ukraine during the conflict.

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The bridge was inaugurated with grand fanfare four years later by President Vladimir Putin but now appears battered and dismantled by the sudden explosion.

The bridge is a crucial pathway for the Russian forces that now control most of southern Ukraine’s Kherson region and for the Russian naval port of Sevastopol, whose governor reassured locals by saying, “Keep calm. Don’t panic.”

It was unclear if the blast was a deliberated attack, but the destruction of such an integral and high-profile structure occurred at a crucial time when Russia has been in the midst of heavy battlefield losses and could further debilitate the Kremlin’s reassurances that Russia will eventually emerge victorious.

On Saturday, Putin signed a decree for tighter security and surveillance near the bridge and infrastructure supplying electricity and natural gas to Crimea and ordered a probe into the matter.

“Conceivably, the Russians can rebuild it, but they can’t defend it while losing a war,” said political analyst James Nixey of Britain’s Chatham House think tank.

Russian officials reported three casualties, probably the occupants of a car travelling near a truck that blew up. On the bridge’s upper level, seven fuel tanker wagons of a 59-wagon train en route to the peninsula also caught fire.

Road traffic was suspended for the first 10 hours, following which Russia’s transport ministry cleared rail traffic to restart operations.

 The explosion on the bridge will not permanently disrupt critical Russian ground lines of communication to Crimea, but its destructive aftermath is likely to cause friction in Russian logistics for some time, according to the Institute for the Study of War.

Russian forces will still likely be able to transport heavy military equipment via the railroad.

Moreover, security and surveillance will likely become tighter around the region, causing more delays in the movement of Russian military hardware, personnel and supplies to Crimea.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s routine video address on Saturday did not refer to the blast, merely touching upon Crimea’s weather as being cloudy.

“But however cloudy it is, Ukrainians know … our future is sunny,” he added. “This is a future without occupiers, across our territory, particularly in Crimea.”

Since the inception of Putin’s “special military operation” against Ukraine on February 24, Ukrainian officials have been eyeing the Crimean Bridge, intending to destroy it and disrupt Russian resources and communication networks. On the occasion of such an event, Ukraine’s postal service said it would print a special stamp.

“Undoubtedly, we are witnessing the beginning of large-scale negative processes in Russia,” Zelenskiy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in a commentary, blaming infighting among Putin’s circle as he attributed the blast to Russian operators.

Viewing Ukraine’s indifferent, somewhat cold response to the explosion, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Kyiv’s reaction “testifies to its terrorist nature”.

In other news, Zelensky, in his late-night address on Saturday, reported that very fierce battles were being fought in the Bakhmut area of the Donetsk region, and the Ukrainian military is continuing to hold its ground.

Following the Crimea bridge attack, Putin retaliated by showering a huge missile barrage on residential areas in Zaporizhzhia, killing at least 17 people. 

Moreover, according to Regional Military Administration, Russian troops fired nearly 70 shells at the Dnipropetrovsk region overnight, targeting cities and villages around the region with Grad MRLs and heavy artillery.

Preliminary reports suggest people were not injured.

Also Read: Ukraine Acquires Territory That Putin Had Annexed to Russia

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