Crimean Bridge blast a ‘symbolic incident’ in Russia-Ukraine crisis, might open Pandora’s box of attacking infrastructure
Published: Oct 08, 2022 10:11 PM
This video grab taken and released on October 8, 2022 shows thick black smoke rising from a fire on the Crimean Bridge that connects the Crimean Peninsula with mainland Russia.Photo: AFP

This video grab taken and released on October 8, 2022 shows thick black smoke rising from a fire on the Crimean Bridge that connects the Crimean Peninsula with mainland Russia. Photo: AFP

The damage to the Crimean Bridge caused by a truck explosion on Saturday serves as a "symbolic incident" of the months-long Russia-Ukraine conflict, as the move, if confirmed as terrorist attack, which tramples on Moscow's red line and is tinted with provocation, will invite strong countermeasures from Russia, said Chinese experts. This incident, which comes less than a month after the Nord Stream sabotage, opens a Pandora's box of destroying civilian and key infrastructure, experts said, and once such moves become a new normal, the whole world will be forced to face rising security threats.

The Crimean Bridge, also known as Kerch Bridge, which connects the Crimean Peninsula with mainland Russia, has been damaged by a truck bombing, Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee was quoted by RT as saying on Saturday.

"According to preliminary information, three people were killed," Russia's investigative committee said in a statement. It said they were likely to have been "passengers of a car that was near the truck that exploded."

The investigators have also established the details of the truck and its owner, registered in Russia's southern Krasnodar region, and begun searching his place of residence, it added.

Russian officials said that the blast, which occurred shortly after 6 am local time, caused a partial collapse of the road on the vehicle section. It also triggered a blaze on a freight train on the parallel rail section, with seven fuel tanks catching fire. 

The Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, referred to the incident as an "emergency" in a statement on Saturday, without assessing who was behind it. 

"The president directed the prime minister to form a government commission to find out the causes of the incident and eliminate the consequences as soon as possible," Peskov said, according to Russian state media.

Peskov said "there are still no forecasts" for restoring the Crimean Bridge, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported. 

Soon after the incident, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine's president, wrote in a Twitter post on Saturday that "Crimea, the bridge, the beginning … Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled," but he did not directly claim Ukrainian responsibility.

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded, saying "The Kiev regime's reaction towards destruction of civilian infrastructure is a testament to its terrorist nature."

Symbolic incident

Chinese observers said this incident will be another symbolic moment of the Russia- Ukraine conflict, as it will fuel the already tense situation. "The bridge is important enough for Moscow as it repeatedly issued warnings against attacking the bridge and drew a 'red line' on it. If the blast is confirmed as a deliberate attack, it will be a test for Russia whether it can safeguard its 'red line.' For some people, Russia has no choice but to exert strong countermeasures to show the outside world that it has the determination to draw and protect its 'red line,'" Cui Heng from the Center for Russian Studies of East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Saturday.

Both the Crimean Bridge damage and the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines are moves tinted with terrorism, said Cui, noting that the use of such moves is an ominous sign that the relevant parties are breaking the rules and ignoring war ethics, which fuels the spiraling escalation of the conflict.

"An undisguised terrorist war is being waged against us. Moreover, the long-announced terrorist attack on the Crimean Bridge is no longer just a challenge, it is a declaration of war without rules," Oleg Morozov, a member of the Russian parliament, told the RIA news agency. "If we remain silent in response and do not give an adequate response, then such attacks will multiply," he added.

The bridge has become a hot button location between two countries since the Russia-Ukraine crisis began. In August, explosions rang out over the bridge, although with no apparent damage done. Ukrainian officials have vowed to attack the Crimean Bridge on numerous occasions during the conflict between Moscow and Kiev.

Major General of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Dmytro Marchenko said that the bridge would be the number one target for the defenders of Ukraine after receiving the promised Western weapons, media reported in August. 

The US has also been supporting Ukraine for attacking Crimea. A senior US official told NatSec Daily that the US supports strikes on Crimea if Ukraine deems them necessary, US media outlet Politico reported in August.

"In the short term, the conflict will escalate, and hostility between both countries is reaching a limit. From a broader perspective, once the sabotage of basic infrastructure becomes normal during this conflict, the whole world faces rising security risks," according to Cui. 

This incident occurred less than a month after the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines burst on September 26, draining Russian gas into the Baltic Sea off the coast of Denmark and Sweden. Sweden's Security Service said on Thursday that a crime scene investigation of the incident found evidence of detonations, strengthening suspicions of "gross sabotage," Reuters reported.

Lingering impact

Observers see the damage of the 19-kilometer bridge across the Kerch Strait, opened by President Vladimir Putin in 2018, as a deliberate attack on Russian's morale. In addition, the attack on the bridge will have a direct impact on Russia's ability to supply forces in the Kherson and Nikolayevsk regions, said Cui. 

However, although the bridge plays a key role in bringing fuel, equipment and ammunition to Russian units fighting in southern Ukraine, Wang believed the impact of the damage to the bridge on the conflict is rather limited.

"Russia's Black Sea Fleet has its official primary headquarters and facilities in Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. But logistic support and transportation of troops for Russia's ground force fighting in eastern Ukraine is not from the peninsula. Moreover, the bridge is just one of the channels connecting Crimea with mainland Russia. It can also be substituted by ferries and other ways," said Wang. 

Hours after the incident, local authorities in Crimea said they will organize a ferry service between the Russian mainland and the peninsula, BBC reported. 

Li Ziguo, a senior research fellow with the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times that Russia could also use this incident to further mobilize its people and show them the dangers Russia faces during the conflict. "It could also be used by Moscow to win over people's support for its military actions," said Li.