TBILISI, Georgia — Eight people, including five Russians, have been arrested after an explosion caused the partial collapse of a bridge that connects mainland Russia to the annexed peninsula of Crimea.
According to Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti, the Kremlin’s Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed the attack was committed by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, including its intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov.
The Kerch Strait Bridge, which consists of a pair of parallel bridges, is the only direct link Russia has to Crimea, and has been a key supply route for the country during its invasion of Ukraine.
Security footage of the blast on Saturday shows cars driving along the bridge before the large fiery explosion. Clearer pictures that emerged later show plumes of black smoke rising from the bridge.
Despite the damage done to the bridge — which is both logistically and symbolically important for Russia — Russia’s Foreign Ministry signaled that it was still functioning.
What we know so far
On Wednesday, Russian authorities announced the arrests of eight people, including “five citizens of Russia, three citizens of Ukraine and Armenia.”
Shortly after the attack, Kyiv’s Ministry of Defense celebrated the bridge’s destruction on Twitter. It didn’t immediately comment on the arrests made by Russian authorities.
“The guided missile cruiser Moskva and the Kerch Bridge — two notorious symbols of russian power in Ukrainian Crimea — have gone down,” the ministry tweeted. “What’s next in line, russkies?”
In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky indirectly mentioned the attack on the bridge, which has been seen as a symbol of Russian occupation since it was erected in 2018.
“Today was a good and mostly sunny day on the territory of our state,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was cloudy in Crimea.” He continued, “Our future is sunny. This is a future without occupiers. Throughout our territory, in particular in Crimea.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Russian-backed State Council of Crimea blamed Ukraine for the explosion. “Ukrainian vandals somehow managed to get their bloody paws on the Crimean bridge,” Vladimir Konstantinov said. “And now they have something to be proud of. In 23 years of their economic activity, they did not manage to build anything deserving of interest in Crimea. But they did succeed in damaging the roadbed of the Russian bridge.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of attacking the bridge, calling it an “act of terrorism” by Kyiv’s special forces. According to a translation of remarks made by the Kremlin leader during a meeting with Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Russian authorities believe the attack was aimed at “destroying the critical civilian infrastructure of the Russian Federation.”
Bastrykin said a truck with explosives blew up part of the bridge on Oct. 8. He also said citizens of Russia as well as of some foreign states had lent a hand in preparations for the attack. Investigators claim the truck had traveled from Bulgaria through Georgia to Armenia and up through the Russian territories of North Ossetia and Krasnodar.
In a swift act of retaliation, Putin unleashed his military might onto Ukraine’s major cities, including the capital, Kyiv. According to CNN, at least four explosions were heard in Kyiv on Monday morning during rush hour. Kyiv officials condemned the attacks, mainly targeted at civilian infrastructure, including a children’s playground and tourist attractions. Airstrikes continued into Tuesday, with thousands of Ukrainians forced to hide in underground shelters.
Why it matters
“The Kerch Strait Bridge is both strategically and symbolically significant for the Russian regime,” Alyssa Demus, an associate international and defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, told Yahoo News via email.
“The high visibility of the attack on the bridge and its reverberations across social media may contribute to the already slumping morale of Russian troops. For Vladimir Putin — who christened the bridge’s unveiling in 2018, thereby tying his own image to the completion of the hulking structure — the strike could be perceived as a personal humiliation.”
The explosion is also likely to have an effect on the Russian military and its operations. According to Demus, Russia will need to find alternative ways to “deploy forces, weapons, equipment, and supplies to this front whether by sea, air, or land” as soon as possible. Since March there have been several reports that Russian troops had run out of food, and this situation could exacerbate the problem even more.
“All of this is going to eat away at troop morale,” Matthew Schmidt, the director of international affairs at Connecticut’s University of New Haven, told Yahoo News. “And when that happens, combat effectiveness is going to plummet. And you're not going to be able to engage in offensive operations, which means they’re going to be stuck on the defense responding to what Ukraine is likely to unleash in the next few weeks.”