Crimean bridge explosion, ‘symbolic incident’ in Russia-Ukraine crisis, could open Pandora’s box of attack infrastructure

This video capture taken and posted on October 8, 2022 shows thick black smoke rising from a fire on the Crimean Bridge which connects the Crimean Peninsula to mainland Russia. Photo: AFP

The damage to the Crimean bridge caused by a truck explosion on Saturday is a ‘symbolic incident’ in the months-long Russian-Ukrainian conflict as the move, if confirmed as a terror attack, stalls Moscow’s red line and is tinged with provocation, will invite strong Russian countermeasures, Chinese experts said. This incident, which comes less than a month after the Nord Stream was sabotaged, opens a Pandora’s box of destruction of civilian and key infrastructure, experts say, and once these moves become a new normal, the world will will be forced to face growing security threats.

The Crimean Bridge, also known as the Kerch Bridge, which connects the Crimean Peninsula with mainland Russia, was damaged by a truck bomb, the Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee said on Saturday, as quoted by RT.

“According to preliminary information, three people were killed,” the Russian investigative commission said in a statement. He said they were probably “passengers in a car that was near the truck that exploded”.

Investigators also established the coordinates of the truck and its owner, registered in the Krasnodar region in southern Russia, and began searching his whereabouts, he added.

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

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the incident an “emergency” in a statement on Saturday, without determining who was behind it.

“The president ordered 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 the restoration of the Crimean Bridge, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

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

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova replied that “the Kyiv regime’s reaction to the destruction of civilian infrastructure testifies to its terrorist nature”.

Symbolic incident

Chinese observers said the incident will be another symbolic moment in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, as it will fuel the already tense situation. “The bridge is important enough for Moscow because it has repeatedly issued warnings against attacking the bridge and has drawn a ‘red line’ on it. If the explosion is confirmed as a deliberate attack, it will be a test for the Russia whether it can protect its ‘red line.’ For some people, Russia has no choice but to exercise strong countermeasures to show the outside world that it is determined to draw and protect its ‘red line,'” said Cui Heng of the Center. of Russian Studies from East China Normal University. Global Times Saturday.

The damage to the Crimean Bridge and the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines are actions tinged with terrorism, Cui said, noting that the use of such actions is a worrying sign that the parties involved are breaking the rules and ignoring the ethics of the war, which fuels the spiraling escalation of 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,” said Oleg Morozov, 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 spot between two countries since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. In August, explosions sounded above the bridge, but with no apparent damage. Ukrainian officials vowed to attack the Crimean Bridge numerous times during the conflict between Moscow and Kyiv.

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

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

“In the short term, the conflict will escalate and the hostility between the two countries will reach a limit. From a broader perspective, once sabotage of basic infrastructure becomes normal during this conflict, the whole world faces increasing security risks,” according to Cui.

This incident occurred less than a month after the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines burst on September 26, spilling Russian gas into the Baltic Sea off Denmark and Sweden. Sweden’s security service said on Thursday that a crime scene investigation had found evidence of detonations, bolstering suspicions of “gross sabotage”, Reuters reported.

Lingering impact

Observers see the damage to the 19-kilometre bridge over the Kerch Strait, opened by President Vladimir Putin in 2018, as a deliberate attack on Russian morale. Also, the attack on the bridge will have a direct impact on Russia’s ability to provide forces in the Kherson and Nikolayevsk regions, Cui said.

However, although the bridge plays a key role in getting fuel, equipment and ammunition to Russian units fighting in southern Ukraine, Wang said the impact of damage to the bridge over the conflict was rather limited.

“The Russian Black Sea Fleet has its main headquarters and facilities in Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. But logistical support and troop transport for Russian ground forces fighting in eastern Ukraine only come from not from the peninsula. Moreover, the bridge is only one of the channels connecting Crimea with mainland Russia. It can also be replaced by ferries and other means,” Wang said.

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

Li Ziguo, a senior researcher at 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 popular support for its military actions,” Li said.

Christi C. Elwood