For the second time in less than a year, explosives have damaged the bridge that links Russia and Crimea, the southern Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow illegally annexed in 2014. The 12-mile-long bridge, which includes a road and rail line running side by side, is a heavily guarded piece of infrastructure that holds major importance for Russia.
Initial reports suggested the blasts on Monday were not as severe as in last October, when an explosion caused part of the road bridge to collapse into the water.
Before dawn on Monday, the top Russian-installed official in Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, announced on the Telegram messaging app that traffic had been stopped on the Kerch Strait Bridge because of an emergency.
Russia’s antiterrorism committee later said that the bridge had been hit by two maritime drones in what appeared to be separate explosions.
A Russian-appointed official in southern Ukraine, Vladimir Rogov, wrote on Telegram that two spans of the bridge had been damaged. A married couple was killed in the attack, and their daughter was injured, a Russian official said.
Rail service along the bridge had resumed as of Monday morning, though with delays, according to Russian state news media. Video and photographs verified by The New York Times showed damage to the road, and Russian officials said drivers should use alternate routes.
What are Russia and Ukraine saying?
Russian officials blamed Ukraine for the explosions, and Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said it was investigating them as a terrorist act.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s security service, Artem Dekhtiarenko, crowed about the attack without saying directly that it was conducted by Ukrainian forces, in keeping with Kyiv’s policy of deliberate ambiguity about strikes on Russian-held territory. He described the attack using the term “cotton,” which is used by Ukrainian officials to describe blasts in Russian-occupied areas.
“We are watching with interest how one of the symbols of the Putin regime has once again failed to withstand the military load,” Mr. Dekhtiarenko said in a comment posted on the Ukrinform website.
Why does the bridge matter?
The Kerch Strait Bridge, which opened in 2018, is a vital supply route for goods heading to the Crimean Peninsula. It also carries Russian tourists to the region’s beaches, which are most popular in summertime.
Before the start of its full-scale invasion in February 2022, Russia’s military used the bridge to transport supplies to its troops in the region, including to the naval port at Sevastopol, home of its Black Sea Fleet. Since last year, the bridge has also been an important conduit for reinforcements and supplies to Russian troops who have seized control of territory in southern Ukraine.
For the Kremlin, the bridge is a symbol of the connection it is attempting to forge between Crimea and Russia. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia drove a truck across its 12-mile length when it was opened, and two months after it was damaged last October, he again drove across as he inspected repairs.
What are the possible consequences of the attack?
A day after the bridge was damaged last October, Russia started an aerial campaign to cripple Ukraine’s energy supplies, hitting power stations and other infrastructure with drones and missiles in assaults that lasted for months.
Any attack on the bridge is celebrated by Ukrainians. But disruptions to the route also serve a military purpose, impeding Russian efforts to supply their forces trying to hold off a Ukrainian counteroffensive that began last month. The bridge is seen as a key artery for Russian occupation troops in southern Ukraine’s Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.
In recent months, Ukraine has made targeting Russian logistics nodes a priority in its war strategy, and has used missiles supplied by the United States and other allies, according to military experts.