Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Putin accuses Ukraine of Crimea bridge blast, calls it terrorism

Putin accuses Ukraine of Crimea bridge blast, calls it terrorism

KYIV (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of orchestrating what he called a terrorist attack on a key bridge linking Russia and Crimea, as he prepared to hold a meeting of his security council on Monday.

"There is no doubt. This is an act of terrorism aimed at destroying critically important civilian infrastructure," Putin said on Sunday in a video on the Kremlin's Telegram channel.

"This was devised, carried out and ordered by the Ukrainian special services."

Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said ahead of Monday's meeting 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," he was quoted as saying by state news agency Tass.

A blast on Saturday on the bridge over the Kerch Strait, a major supply route for Moscow's forces in southern Ukraine, prompted gleeful messages from Ukrainian officials but no claim of responsibility.

The bridge is also a vital artery for the port of Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea fleet is based, as well as an imposing symbol of Russia's 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

The damage to the bridge came amid battlefield defeats for Russia and growing concerns that Moscow could resort to nuclear weapons, after Putin repeatedly cautioned the West that any attack on Russia could provoke a nuclear response.

Putin on Sunday met Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia's Investigative Committee, who presented findings of an inquiry into what he said was the explosion of a vehicle and subsequent fire on the bridge.

Bastrykin said the vehicle had travelled through Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, North Ossetia and Russia's Krasnodar region before reaching the bridge. Among those who helped Ukrainian special services prepare were "citizens of Russia and foreign countries," Bastrykin added in the video on the Kremlin's Telegram channel.

Oleksandr Kovalenko, a military analyst and head of the website Information Resistance, told Espreso TV website, a digital broadcaster well-known in Ukraine, that Russia may intensify attacks on civilian targets after the explosion on the Crimea bridge.

"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.

Images showed part of the bridge's roadway blown away, although rail services and partial road traffic resumed.

The Russian transport ministry, quoted by RIA news agency, said nearly 1,500 people and 162 heavy cargoes had travelled by ferry across the Kerch Strait since the explosion.

Putin opened the 19-km (12-mile) bridge linking Crimea to Russia with great fanfare in 2018.

Russia's defence ministry said on Saturday its forces in southern Ukraine could be "fully supplied" through existing land and sea routes.