KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — An explosion damaged a bridge that is one of the few links between Crimea and Ukraine’s mainland, Russia-backed officials said Thursday, as the early stages of a Ukrainian counteroffensive unfold.
Russia-backed officials say an explosion Thursday damaged a bridge that is one of the few links between Crimea and the Ukrainian mainland.
Russian forces in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, use the Chongar bridge to reach southern Ukraine’s Kherson province. Russia and Ukraine control different sides of the province, which is a focus of fighting and attacks as Ukrainian troops try to reclaim Russian-occupied territory.
Ukrainian authorities have said that for the country’s nearly 16-month war to end, Moscow must withdraw its forces from Crimea as well as from areas they seized during the full-scale invasion that started last year.
The damage to the bridge was not severe and likely will be repaired within several days, Vladimir Konstantinov, chairman of the parliament of Crimea, said.
Vladimir Saldo, the Russia-appointed head of the occupied parts of Kherson province, said the explosion appeared to have been caused by a type of long-range cruise missile that both France and the U.K. have given to Ukraine’s military.
The claim could not be independently verified. Ukrainian authorities did not immediately comment on the bridge and typically do not confirm specific attacks. However, numerous military analysts have said recent Ukrainian actions in the country’s south and east indicated that Kyiv’s troops were in the early stages of a long-anticipated counteroffensive.
Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti cited an unnamed representative of Russia’s Investigative Committee as saying Thursday that preliminary information indicates there were four missiles fired and the remains of one of them showed markings of being French-made.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu alleged this week that Ukraine planned to use U.S.-made HIMARS and U.K.-provided Storm Shadow missiles to attack Russian territory, including Crimea. He warned that use of those missiles against targets outside the main war zone would “trigger immediate strikes on the decision-making centers on the territory of Ukraine.”
The Crimean Peninsula is connected to mainland Ukraine by an isthmus about 9 kilometers (6 miles) wide and several bridges.
An October explosion on a bridge linking Crimea to Russia caused the span’s partial collapse and killed three people, according to Russian authorities.
The 19-kilometer (12-mile) Kerch Bridge, which stands over a strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, is the longest bridge in Europe and a symbol of Moscow’s claims on Crimea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin presided over the bridge’s opening in 2018 and drove across it in a Mercedes in December when repairs were completed.
Putin also visited Crimea the day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader accusing him of war crimes. He made the trip to mark the ninth anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation, a move that Ukraine and most of the world considered illegal.
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The Associated Press