Putin’s ‘miracle’ bridge in flames

Published by The Mail on Sunday (9th December, 2022)

It is a picture that shows the stunning devastation caused to the only rail and road link between Russia and Crimea, after a huge blast left a fuel train in flames and caused the collapse of spans of the roadway below.

The massive fireball exploded on the 12-mile Kerch Bridge shortly after 6am yesterday, striking a hugely-symbolic blow against Vladimir Putin while prompting jubilation in Ukraine.

The Russian president ordered the bridge to be built in 2014 after his illegal annexation of Crimea – the first step in his assault on Ukrainian terrain. He declared it was a ‘miracle’ after driving a truck across to open the structure four years ago.

Now the bold attack demonstrates his inability to protect any part of the land he grabbed from Ukraine – and raises the stakes in this war as fears grow that the beleaguered Kremlin might respond to setbacks with a nuclear attack.

Russian media had boasted that the heavily defended bridge was impregnable. The rail line is a critical supply route for their military operations in Kherson region – although Moscow claimed last night that limited road and rail traffic would resume.

Yet the strike was another crushing humiliation for Putin. He demanded the building of the £2.7 billion bridge, the longest in Europe, and saw it as his pet project.

Several Ukrainian media quoted sources claiming the attack on the loathed symbol of Russia’s occupation of their land was carried out by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). Russia blamed a lorry bomb and the footage showed a freight truck on the bridge before the blast.

A spokesman for the SBU declined to comment. But the organisation tweeted four lines paraphrasing a poem by Taras Shevchenko, the nation’s most famous writer: ‘It’s dawn/ The bridge burns beautifully/ Nightingale in the Crimea/ Greet SBU.’

Ukraine’s post office immediately issued a stamp to mark the bridge’s destruction while the nation’s second-largest bank offered a new debit card design featuring the collapsed bridge. Delighted Ukrainians noted the attack came the day after Putin’s 70th birthday – including Oleksii Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security council.

He shared a video of the damaged bridge on social media next to Marilyn Monroe’s famous rendition of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ to John F. Kennedy in 1962.

Even pro-government newspapers in Russia have previously admitted that Ukraine hitting the bridge would be ‘a serious blow to Russia’ – although they ruled out the possibility of any attack succeeding. The structure was protected by air defence, sophisticated sonar systems to detect underwater saboteurs and a special naval brigade of the national guard with machine guns and missile-launchers.

Yet according to Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee, a lorry was blown up on the road and then the fuel cisterns of a freight train caught fire on a parallel rail bridge. Three people in a car died in the explosion, their corpses found in the water.

Russian sources said firefighters struggled to put out the blaze due to strong winds and leaking fuel, resulting in damage to an estimated 1.3 kilometres of railway track.

Putin has set up a government body to investigate the explosion and to oversee repairs while Sergei Aksyonov, his stooge head of Crimea, urged residents not to panic. He insisted the peninsula has adequate stocks of food and fuel amid signs of panic-buying.

Moscow’s transport ministry said in a statement their ‘experts’ expected rail crossings to resume quickly following ‘a primary assessment of the state of the infrastructure of the railway part of the Crimean bridge’.

The rail line is a vital supply route for the Kremlin’s operations in Kherson region, where they have been pushed back at least 12 miles this month. It became even more crucial following the loss of rail hubs in eastern Ukraine last month.

‘If the Kerch bridge railway lines are put out of commission for a significant period, it could be game over for Russian forces in Kherson,’ said Phillips O’Brien, an expert on military logistics and professor of strategic studies at St Andrews University.

Moscow’s armed forces have been pushed back on battlefronts in the north-east and south with heavy losses forcing Putin into mass mobilisation, sparking an exodus of potential recruits and mounting domestic criticism from hardline Kremlin allies. Ukraine’s President Zelensky said on Friday that his forces last week recaptured a further 800 square kilometres in the east, which follows last month’s dramatic breakthrough in Kharkiv region.

The Ukrainian president does not hide his determination to drive Moscow’s forces off all of their land, stating recently that ‘This Russian war… began with Crimea and must end with Crimea – with its liberation.’

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