Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of being behind the Kerch bridge explosion, masterminding an “act of terrorism” that destroyed part of the crucial link between Russia and the annexed territory of Crimea, as calls grow for reprisals.
The bridge, which holds important strategic and symbolic value to Russia, was partly damaged on Saturday by what Moscow has said was a truck bomb. Road and rail traffic on the 19km (12-mile) bridge was temporarily halted, hindering a vital supply route for Russia’s armed forces battling a renewed Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“There is no doubt. This is an act of terrorism aimed at destroying critically important civilian infrastructure,” Putin said on Sunday in a video posted on the Kremlin’s Telegram channel.
“This was devised, carried out and ordered by the Ukrainian special services.”
Putin is due to convene a meeting of the country’s security council on Monday with the body’s Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev saying that Russia should kill the “terrorists” responsible for the attack.
“Russia can only respond to this crime by directly killing terrorists, as is the custom elsewhere in the world. This is what Russian citizens expect,” the former president was quoted as saying by the state news agency Tass.
The damage to the bridge came amid battlefield defeats for Russia in the east and south, and growing concern over the use of nuclear weapons. Russia last month formally annexed four areas of Ukraine following hastily-organised referendums that breached international law, and Putin has repeatedly warned that any attack on Russia could provoke a nuclear response.
Putin made the accusation against Ukraine during a meeting with Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, who presented the findings of an inquiry into the bridge blast and subsequent fire.
Bastrykin said the truck had travelled through Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, North Ossetia and Russia’s Krasnodar region before reaching the bridge. Among those who helped in the attack were “citizens of Russia and foreign countries,” Bastrykin added in the video on the Kremlin’s Telegram channel.
In Kyiv, presidential adviser Mikhail Podolyak called Putin’s accusation “too cynical even for Russia”.
“Putin accuses Ukraine of terrorism?” he said. “It has not even been 24 hours since Russian planes fired 12 rockets into a residential area of Zaporizhzhia, killing 13 people and injuring more than 50. No, there is only one state terrorist and the whole world knows who he is.”
Podolyak was referring to attacks on the city of Zaporizhzhia in the early hours of Sunday morning that brought down part of a large apartment building.
The missiles were launched from Russian-occupied areas of the Zaporizhia region, according to the Ukrainian air force. The region is one of the four Russia annexed, although the capital remains under Ukrainian control.
Oleksandr Kovalenko, a military analyst and head of the website Information Resistance, told Espreso TV website, a prominent digital broadcaster in Ukraine, that Russia may intensify attacks on civilian targets following the Crimea bridge blast.
“This probably means missile attacks on border areas — Sumy and Chernihiv regions. It could also mean using missiles and [Iranian-made] Shahed-136 drones to hit even deeper into Ukrainian territory,” he said.
There was morning shelling on Sunday night into Monday, with some people injured when an apartment building in Zaporizhzhia was hit, regional Governor Oleksandr Starukh said early on Monday.
Zaporizhzhia city — 52km (32 miles) from Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant which Russia has occupied since shortly after the invasion — has been under frequent shelling in recent weeks, with 19 people killed on Thursday.
Russia denies targeting civilians.
The White House on Sunday declined direct comment on the bridge blast but said the United States would continue to arm Ukraine.
Ukraine has recaptured more than 1,170 square kilometres (450 square miles) of land in its southern Kherson region since a counteroffensive against Russia began in late August, a military spokesperson said on Sunday.
Ukraine achieved lightning success with its offensive in the northeast, but its advance in the south has been slower.
Recent fighting has focused on the regions just north of Crimea, including Zaporizhzhia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lamented the latest attack. “Again, Zaporizhzhia. Again, merciless attacks on civilians, targeting residential buildings, in the middle of the night,” he wrote.
“From the one who gave this order, to everyone who carried out this order: They will answer,” he added.
Moscow has appointed a new commander to lead the war, air force chief Sergey Surovikin, and announced plans to mobilise some 300,000 reservists in a move that has prompted many Russian men to flee their country.