Crimea Bridge, Russia’s Key Supply Line, Damaged, Two Dead, Explosions Reported

(Reuters) – The Crimean Bridge, a key supply route for Russian troops in Ukraine, was damaged in an “emergency” situation that killed two people and injured a child, Russian officials said on Monday, while Ukrainian media reported explosions on the bridge.

Traffic has been banned from using the Russian-built bridge linking Russia with Crimea, which Moscow seized in 2014, Russian officials said. Reuters video showed no traffic on the bridge.

The 19 km (12 mile) road and rail bridge was a proud infrastructure project of President Vladimir Putin, who drove a Mercedes over the bridge in 2022 after it was repaired following an explosion.

Sergei Aksyonov, a governor installed in Russia, said the emergency occurred on the 145th pillar of the bridge that connects the Crimean peninsula with Russia’s Krasnodar region. He did not provide further details.

The Russian Transport Ministry said the road to the nearest bridge on the Crimean peninsula was damaged, but the pillars were not damaged. He did not specify what caused the damage.

The RBC-Ukraine news agency reported that explosions were heard on the bridge.

Russian channel Gray Zone, a popular Telegram channel affiliated with the Wagner mercenary group, reported that there were two strikes on the bridge at 03:04 (0004 GMT) and 03:20.

A girl’s parents were killed and their daughter was injured in a passenger car on the bridge early Monday, said Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region in southern Russia. He didn’t say how the people were killed.

Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesman for Ukraine’s military administration in Odessa, posted a photo on his Telegram account of what appeared to show part of the broken bridge. It was not immediately clear if this was related to an attack.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the information. There was no immediate comment from Ukraine.

George Barros, an analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of Warfare, said on Twitter that if the bridge were seriously damaged, it would have a significant impact on Russian supply lines.

“Russia will have only one land supply line – the coastal highway on the Sea of ‚Äč‚ÄčAzov – to support (or evacuate) its tens of thousands of troops in occupied Kherson and Crimea if the UKR succeeds to degrade/destroy the bridge,” Barros said.

It was not immediately clear what the incident on the bridge would mean for the UN-brokered deal that allows the safe export of Ukrainian grain to the Black Sea. Ukraine and Russia are among the world’s leading grain exporters.

The UN deal is due to expire on Monday, with the last ship to travel under the deal leaving the port of Odessa early on Sunday, according to a witness from Reuters and MarineTraffic.com.

PUTIN’S SHOWCASE

The Crimean Bridge was damaged by an explosion last October, in an attack the Kremlin says was orchestrated by Ukrainian security forces. Ukraine only indirectly admitted the attack months later.

Putin’s ally Arkady Rotenberg’s company built the vast structure, which is the longest bridge in Europe. Putin has long praised the project, boasting at one point that Russian czars and Soviet leaders dreamed of building it but never did.

The Crimean Peninsula is a major and popular holiday destination for Russians, especially after Moscow launched its 2022 invasion of Ukraine and travel west has become more difficult for many Russians.

For the past few weeks, traffic jams at the entrance to the bridge have been running for miles every day as Russians go on vacation.

On Monday morning, the traffic jam lasted for miles before police pulled vehicles away from the bridge. Social media accounts showed cars lined up at the bridge and its entrance.

The Crimean Peninsula administration, backed by Russia, has urged residents not to use the bridge.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Kim Coghill, Michael Perry and Guy Faulconbridge)

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