In a major blow for Russia, at least one explosion has severely damaged the Kerch bridge connecting the annexed Crimean peninsula with the Russian Federation.
The explosion early Saturday caused parts of Europe’s longest bridge to collapse, according to images and video from the scene.
The exact cause of the explosion is unclear. Russian officials said a fuel truck exploded, but two spans of the road crossing in the direction of Crimea appear to have collapsed. A subsequent fire engulfed a train of fuel trucks on a separate part of the bridge.
Images of the Kerch bridge posted on social media appear to show a portion of the roadway of the vehicle and rail bridge had fallen into the waters below it. Flames could be seen burning from rail cars above.
Three dead: Russia’s Investigative Committee says that preliminary information indicates three people were killed in the explosion.
Why is the bridge important? The bridge spans the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, on which sit key Ukrainian ports, including Mariupol. For Russia, the bridge symbolizes the physical “reunification” of Crimea with the Russian mainland. The bridge carries much of Crimea’s needs – such as fuel and goods – and has been used regularly to supply weapons and fuel to Russian forces.
The aftermath: Major transport links between mainland Russia and the annexed peninsula of Crimea — including buses and trains — were suspended, following an explosion on Kerch bridge. Weather conditions in the Kerch Strait are hindering Russia’s plans to use ferries to reach Crimea from Krasnodar, according to Russian state media.
What has Ukraine said? Ukrainian officials have started responding to the fire without directly acknowledging that Ukraine was responsible for the explosion. Among the responses, the Navy of the Armed Forces of Ukraine posted on Facebook, “Air defense of the Russian Federation, are you sleeping?” alongside a video showing a section of the bridge’s road that had been completely destroyed.
In a brief post on its official Twitter account, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense reacted to the explosion, saying: “The guided missile cruiser Moskva and the Kerch Bridge – two notorious symbols of Russian power in Ukrainian Crimea – have gone down. What’s next in line, Russkies?”
What is Russia’s response? Russian President Vladimir Putin immediately ordered a “government commission” to examine the Kerch Bridge “emergency” in Crimea, Russian state media TASS reported, adding that the heads of Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Transport are now at the scene of the incident.
Russian officials suggest that the explosion was caused by a truck blowing up on the road bridge.
The spokeswoman for the Russian Investigative committee, Svetlana Petrenko, said the committee “has opened a criminal case about the incident at the Crimean Bridge. According to preliminary information, this morning a truck was blown up on the automobile part of the Crimean Bridge from the Taman Peninsula [the westbound lanes of the bridge], which led to the ignition of seven fuel tanks of a train travelling toward the Crimean Peninsula.”
“As a result, two car lanes of the bridge partially collapsed.”
The Committee also expanded on its earlier statement that a truck on the bridge had blown up.
According to Russia’s Investigative Committee, the owner of the truck is resident of the Krasnodar Krai, and investigative actions have been launched at his place of residence. The route of movement of the vehicle and the relevant documentation are being studied, the committee added.
CNN is unable to verify the Russian explanation for the explosion.