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 links Russia’s Krasnodar region with Russia’s annexed Crimean peninsula.
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 remains unclear.
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”.
An official in Russia’s annexation of Crimea called the Kerch Bridge bombing a “Ukrainian saboteur” in a Telegram post.
“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.
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.
State news agency RIA Novosti reported that the Kerch Bridge can pass 40,000 vehicles a day, transporting 14 million passengers and 13 million tons of cargo annually. According to Russian officials, its opening claims to mark the physical “unification” of Crimea with the Russian mainland.
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.”