Crimea bridge explosion: Massive blast cripples Europe’s longest bridge, Russian officials say



CNN

In a major blow to Russia, a fuel tank explosion early Saturday caused part of Europe’s longest bridge, which connects Russia to the annexed territory of Crimea, to collapse, Russian officials said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin immediately ordered a “government commission” to investigate the “emergency” of the Kerch Bridge in Crimea, Russian state media TASS reported.

According to TASS, the heads of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Transport are now at the scene of the incident.

Sergey Aksenov, the Russian-appointed head of Crimea, confirmed that “two spans of the roadbed of the part [of the bridge] from Krasnodar to Kerch, collapsed after a large explosion.

Aksenov said that “fuel tanks caught fire at the same time. Now two locomotives are approaching” to remove the burning train, he said. Videos and images from the bridge show several charred rail vehicles.

“Once the fire is extinguished, it will be possible to assess the extent of damage to the bridge and piers and talk about when traffic will be restored,” Aksenov said.

Images of the Kerch Bridge posted to social media appear to show part of the roadway of the vehicular and railway bridge that had fallen into the waters below. Flames burn from rail cars above.

The tanker was on the 19-kilometer bridge – strategically important because it connects Russia’s Krasnodar Krai with Russia’s annexed Crimea peninsula.

The bridge spans the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of ​​Azov, which is home to important Ukrainian ports including Mariupol. The source of the explosion remains unclear.

Further details on the timing or scope of the engagement were not disclosed. The decision comes after Putin “received reports from [Russian Prime Minister] Mikhail Mishustin, [Russian Deputy Prime Minister] Marat Khusnullin, the heads of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Transport and the heads of law enforcement agencies in connection with the Crimean Bridge emergency,” TASS reported, citing Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov.

Russian state media RIA Novosti said there were “no forecasts yet for when the Crimean bridge will be restored,” also citing Peskov.

“Work is underway to extinguish the fire,” adviser to Russia’s chief administrator of occupied Crimea, Oleg Kryunchkov, said in a Telegram post, adding that “the bridge’s bows were not damaged.”

An official in Russia-annexed Crimea blamed “Ukrainian vandals” for the explosion on the Kerch Bridge in a post on Telegram.

“Ukrainian vandals somehow managed to get their bloody paws on the Crimean bridge. And now they have something to be proud of, because in 23 years of their economic activity they have not managed to build anything interesting in Crimea. But they managed to damage the roadbed of the Russian bridge,” said Chairman of the State Council of the Republic of Crimea Vladimir Konstantinov.

“This is the whole essence of the Kiev regime and the Ukrainian state… Of course, the causes of the accident are being investigated and the damage is being repaired quickly,” he added.

CNN cannot independently verify Konstantinov’s claim.

In an August interview, a senior Ukrainian military commander said the Kerch Bridge was a legitimate target.

“This is a necessary measure to deprive them (Russia) of the ability to deploy reserves and reinforce their troops from Russian territory,” Major General Dmytro Marchenko said in an interview with RBC-Ukraine.

Meanwhile, a freight train in Ilovaysk, in the Russian-held Donetsk region, was hit by a “powerful explosion” on Saturday morning, according to Mariupol Mayor’s adviser Petro Andrushenko.

“Not only Crimea. Not just fuel tanks. There is also a freight train in Ilovaisk. Locals report a fairly powerful explosion and subsequent detonation at night. The occupiers now have big problems with supplies from both sides,” said Andrushenko.

Pro-Russian authorities in the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic confirmed the freight train incident and released video on Saturday showing the aftermath of the fire at a local train station.

The Kerch Bridge can handle 40,000 cars per day and carry 14 million passengers and 13 million tons of cargo per year, state news agency RIA Novosti reported at the opening of the bridge in 2018. Its opening – according to Russia’s official account – claimed that do mark the physical “reunification” of Crimea with mainland Russia.

After the bridge opened, the United States condemned its construction as illegal.

“Russia’s construction of the bridge is a reminder of Russia’s continued willingness to flout international law,” the US State Department said in a statement at the time.

“The bridge not only represents an attempt by Russia to consolidate its illegitimate seizure and occupation of Crimea, but also impedes shipping by limiting the size of ships that can pass through the Kerch Strait, the only way around sovereign waters to reach Ukraine in the Sea of ​​Azov.”

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