Crimea bridge attack: Everything to know about the Kerch bridge as critical Russian supply line attacked

Europe’s longest bridge connects the Russian city of Krasnodar in the east to Kerch in Russia-annexed Crimea

Maanya Sachdeva
Tuesday 18 July 2023 06:14 BST
Crimean Bridge badly damaged after 'multiple blasts' in early hours

Two people were killed and their teenaged daughter wounded in an attack on the Crimean Bridge – connecting the Russian mainland to the peninsula.

The bridge, also known as the Kerch Bridge, is a major artery for Russian troops fighting in Ukraine and a prestige project personally opened by President Vladimir Putin. The bridge had had only recently returned to full operation after suffering severe damage in a similar attack last October.

Traffic along the 19km-long road and rail bridge was halted for six hours, following reports of multiple explosions at around 3am on Monday morning.

Here’s everything we know about the attack on the Crimean Bridge and its importance to Moscow:

Damaged parts reportedly of an automobile link of the Crimean Bridge connecting Russian mainland and Crimean peninsula over the Kerch Strait not far from Kerch, Crimea

Where is the Crimean Bridge?

Europe’s longest bridge connects the Russian city of Krasnodar in the east to Kerch in Crimea, which was illegally annexed from Ukraine by Moscow in 2014.

The Crimean Bridge runs over the Kerch Strait and is the only direct road link between Russia and the annexed peninsula. It consists of a separate roadway and railway – fortified by concrete stilts – which give way to a wider span held by steel arches at the point where ships pass between the Black Sea and the smaller Azov Sea.

The bridge was a prestige project for Mr Putin, who opened it to road traffic by driving an orange Kamaz truck across it in 2018. At the inauguration ceremony, Mr Putin thanked the construction workers for the “miraculous” completion of the bridge.

He said: “In different historical epochs, even under the tsar priests, people dreamed of building this bridge. Then they returned to this [idea] in the 1930s, the 40s, the 50s. And finally, thanks to your work and your talent, the miracle has happened.”

The £2.7bn ($3.6bn) bridge was built by Stroygazmontazh, a firm previously owned by Russian billionaire Arkady Rotenberg, who is known as an ally of the Russian premier. In 2020, Mr Putin awarded his former judo sparring partner, Mr Rotenberg, the title of “Hero of Labor” for constructing the controversial bridge. Mr Rotenberg is said to have sold his shares in the company in 2019.

After its construction began in 2016, the United States imposed a series of sanctions on the seven companies involved in the project, including Stroygazmontazh.

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Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the bridge has served as a crucial supply route for Moscow, sending forces from Crimea to seize most of southern Ukraine’s Kherson region and some of the adjoining Zaporizhzhia province.

What happened in the attack?

Traffic on the Crimean Bridge was stopped early on Monday as reports emerged that two people had died in an attack that Russian-placed Crimean officials blamed on Ukraine.

The parents of a girl were killed and their daughter was injured in a passenger car, according to Russian-installed officials.

“The girl was injured,” Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region, said in a message on the Telegram messaging app. “The hardest thing is that her parents died, dad and mum.

Three Ukrainian media outlets quoted unnamed sources as saying Ukraine’s domestic security agency and navy were behind Monday’s incident on the Crimean Bridge, and that they had used sea-borne drones to attack it.

Ukraine’s government did not comment on the incident and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the navy declined to say whether they were involved, although some Ukrainian officials portrayed the bridge as a legitimate military target.

Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne, online publication Ukrainska Pravda and The New Voice of Ukraine media outlet cited one or more sources saying the navy and the SBU were behind the incident.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence department, declined to comment on the incident but said: “The peninsula is used by the Russians as a large logistical hub for moving forces and assets deep into the territory of Ukraine. Of course, any logistical problems are additional complications for the occupiers.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry claimed “terrorist” Kyiv carried out Monday’s attack.

Maria Zakharova said: “Today’s attack on the Crimean bridge was carried out by the Kyiv regime. This regime is terrorist and has all the hallmarks of an international organised crime group.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said Kyiv was behind the attack and opened a terrorism case.

The extent of the damage was not immediately clear, but unverified videos appeared to show a section of road on the bridge had split and was sloping to one side. Rail traffic resumed later on Monday morning.

The Crimean Bridge explosions occurred amid Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Moscow, on the same day Moscow was set to extend the Black Sea deal, which allowed Ukraine to resume shipping food from its southern ports despite the war and expires today.

“There can be no grain deal after another terrorist attack,” senior Russian politician, Sergei Mironov said on Telegram on Monday, urging Moscow to respond by destroying Ukrainian infrastruture.

“That is what we need to do, and not discuss a grain deal that helps Kyiv’s rulers and their Western masters line their pockets. There can be no grain deal after another terrorist attack,” he commented on the Kerch Bridge attack. The Kremlin has yet to comment on the Crimean Bridge incident.

In the wake of the attack, Russia said it would not be extending the grain deal, but said the attack on the bridge was not a factor.

Past attacks on the Crimean Bridge

In October last year, the Crimea Bridge was damaged by a truck bomb. At the time, Mr Putin claimed the blast a “terrorist attack” masterminded by Ukrainian security forces, and ordered retaliatory strikes on Ukraininan cities, including the capital Kyiv. Ukraine declined to comment on who was behind the attack at the time.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky months later claimed only indirectly that his country was responsible for the attack, listing the bridge as one of his army’s “successes” in 2022.

The bridge was repaired and reopened to traffic earlirt this year, and has built up to normal levels since. The rail bridge is said to have fully reopened in July.

Ten days prior to the latest attack, Russian-installed authorities in the Crimean peninsula said a cruise missile was shot down near the city of Kerch, as traffic on the flyover was briefly suspended.

Additional reporting by agencies.

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