In a major blow to Russia, a fuel tank explosion early Saturday caused part of the longest bridge in Europe linking Russia to the annexed Crimean territory to collapse, according to Russian officials.
Russian President Vladimir Putin immediately ordered the creation of a “government committee” to carry out “emergency” inspections of the Kerch bridge in Crimea, according to Russian state media TASS.
The heads of Russia’s emergency and transport ministries are currently at the scene of the accident, TASS news agency reported.
Sergey Aksenov, Russia’s appointed head of Crimea, confirmed that “two spans of the roadbed in this section” [of the bridge] From Krasnodar to Kerch, collapsed after a big explosion”.
“Meanwhile, the fuel tank caught fire. Two locomotives are now approaching” to remove the burning train, he said. Video and images from the bridge showed several charred railway fuel trucks.
“Once the fire is out, the extent of damage to bridges and pillars can be assessed and the timing of the restoration of traffic can be discussed,” Aksenov said.
Pictures of the Kerch Bridge posted on social media appear to show vehicles and parts of the railway bridge’s roadway falling into the water below it. Flames can be seen burning from the railcar above.
The tanker sits on a 19-kilometer (11-mile) bridge – strategically important as it connects Russia’s Krasnodar region with the Crimean peninsula, It was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.
The bridge spans the Kerch Strait, linking the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov, where major Ukrainian ports, including Mariupol, sit.
The source of the explosion is still unknown. It is unclear if anyone was injured.
For Russia, the bridge symbolizes the physical “unity” of Crimea with the Russian mainland.
Further details on the timing or scope of the committee have not been released.The decision comes after Putin “receives [Russian Prime Minister] Mikhail Mishustin [Russian Deputy Prime Minister] The TASS news agency quoted Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov as saying that Marat Kusnulin, the heads of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Transport and law enforcement agencies related to the Crimea Bridge emergency were in charge people.
Russian state media RIA Novosti also quoted Peskov as saying that “there is currently no forecast on the timing of the restoration of the Crimea bridge.”
An adviser to Oleg Kryunchkov, the head of the Russian government in occupied Crimea, said in a telegram that “fire fighting is in progress”, adding that the bridge’s “transportation arch” not damaged”.
A Crimean official posted on Telegram blaming “Ukrainian saboteurs” for the Kerch Bridge bombing.
“Ukrainian saboteurs somehow managed to get bloody claws on Crimea bridges. Now they have something to be proud of, in their 23 years of economic activity they have not managed to build anything of interest in Crimea things. But they managed to destroy the subgrade of the Russian bridge,” said Vladimir Konstantinov, head of the State Council of the Republic of Crimea.
“That’s the whole essence of the regime in Kyiv and the Ukrainian state… Of course, the cause of the accident will be investigated and the damage will be repaired quickly,” he added.
CNN was unable to independently verify Konstantinov’s claims.
Ukrainian officials responded to the blast on Saturday without directly acknowledging that Ukraine was responsible for the blast.
“Air defense of the Russian Federation, are you sleeping?” the Ukrainian Armed Forces Navy said on Facebook, alongside a video showing the complete destruction of a section of the road on the bridge.
“Illegal buildings in Russia are starting to collapse and catch fire. The reason is simple: if you make something explosive, sooner or later it will explode. And this is just the beginning,” said the leader of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky’s parliamentary party, the Kyiv-Russian negotiating group Member David Arakamia said in a Telegram statement.
In an interview in August, a senior Ukrainian military commander said the Kerch Bridge was a legitimate target.
“This is a necessary measure to deprive them (Russia) of the opportunity to provide reserves and reinforcements from Russian soil,” the major said. General Dmytro Marchenko said in an interview with RBC-Ukraine.
Meanwhile, a freight train in Ilovask, in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region, suffered a “strong explosion” on Saturday morning, according to an adviser to Mariupol Mayor Andrewshenko.
“Not just Crimea. Not just fuel tanks. There is also a freight train in Ilovask. Locals report a fairly strong explosion at night and subsequent explosions. Occupiers now have a large supply on both sides problem,” Andrew Shenko said.
Pro-Russian authorities in the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic confirmed the freight train incident, releasing video on Saturday showing the aftermath of the fire at the local train station.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday expressed caution about the danger posed by Putin’s nuclear threat as his troops continue to suffer military setbacks in Ukraine.
“For the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, we face the immediate threat of the use of nuclear weapons if in fact things continue in the direction they’re going,” Biden warned Thursday night at a Democratic fundraiser in New York
He added: “I don’t think there is an ability to easily (use) tactical nuclear weapons and not end the world with doomsday.
“I want to figure out what’s the way out for Putin?” Biden said at the event. “Where does he find a way out? Where does he find himself not only disgraced, but losing significant power in Russia?”
State news agency RIA Novosti reported when it opened to traffic in 2018 that the Kerch Bridge was capable of handling 40,000 vehicles a day, carrying 14 million passengers and 13 million tons of cargo annually.
After the bridge opened, the United States condemned its construction as illegal.
“Russia’s construction of this bridge reminds us of Russia’s ongoing willingness to flout international law,” a State Department statement at the time said.
“The bridge not only represents Russia’s attempt to consolidate its illegal occupation and occupation of Crimea, but it also impedes navigation by limiting the size of ships that can pass through the Kerch Strait, the only way to access Ukrainian territorial waters. Azov.”
Ukrainian officials echoed those sentiments after the bombing.
“Crimea, bridge, starting point. Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled,” Mikhailo Podoliya, adviser to Ukraine’s leaders Gram (Mykhailo Podoliak).