Crimea bridge attack: what caused Kerch Bridge explosion? Did Ukraine attack bridge between Crimea and Russia?

Ukrainian officials have not ‘formally’ taken responsibility for the attack, but have taunted Russia following the explosion

Russian missile attacks continue to rock Ukrainian cities in an apparent response to an attack on the Kerch Bridge which links Russia with the Crimean peninsula.

Speculation has abounded since Saturday’s (8 October) explosion at its exact cause and who was responsible, with numerous theories emerging.

Analysts have suggested that the bridge may have been blown up by a missile strike, a truck bomb or potentially an underwater attack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the attack on the sprawling Kerch Bridge to Crimea “a terrorist act,” and accused Ukrainian special services of being responsible.

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the BBC today (10 October) that Ukraine had not “publicly taken responsibility,” but that the attack was “obviously a consequence of the heinous war that Putin is conducting”.

Ukrainian officials have taunted Russia following the explosion, with the country’s post office announcing it will launch a range of stamps commemorating the incident.

Why is Kerch Bridge significant?

The bridge connecting Russia to Crimea across the Kerch Strait was built by Russia after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

At 19km it is Europe’s longest bridge and cost around the equivalent of around £3.5billion to build.

It provides a crucial link by both rail and road for people and goods to travel back and forth between the annexed area of Crimea and Krasnodar on the Russian mainland.

It has been of major strategic importance to Russia during the recent conflict with Ukraine as a way of transporting military personnel and supplies.

Damaging the bridge could be seen as striking a greater psychological than practical blow against Russia, due to its symbolic importance.

Putin personally opened the Kerch Bridge in May 2018 by driving a truck across it as a symbol of Moscow’s claims on Crimea.

Traffic over the bridge was temporarily suspended after the blast, but both cars and trains were crossing again on Sunday. Russia also restarted a car ferry service.

How was the bridge blown up?

The attack on the bridge has left many analysts unsure of the exact method which caused the explosion.

The blast took place early Saturday morning, with video from the scene showing a huge explosion which collapsed part of the roadway, and caused a fire which spread to a train of fuel tanks on the separate rail bridge.

Three people died in the blast, according to Russian officials.

Russian authorities promptly claimed the blast was caused by a truck-bomb from a white van which can be seen in footage of the incident.

Despite some suggestions that Ukrainian forces could have launched a missile attack on the bridge, most experts believe this method to be unlikely, as the bridge was likely out-of-range of Kyiv’s rocket systems.

Some Ukrainian officials seem to have accepted Russia’s claims that a truck-bomb was the source of the explosion, although there has been further speculation that the bridge could have been blown up some kind of water-based attack.

Some of the video released after the attack appears to suggest that a small boat or vessel of some kind may have been travelling underneath the bridge moments before the explosion.

There were reports of an unmanned maritime drone washing up on the shore in Crimea earlier this year, which could be taken as confirmation that Ukraine has the technical capacity to launch an attack of this kind from the water.

Who is responsible for the explosion?

As the bridge is owned by Russia and its continued operation is of great importance to Moscow, the most likely source of the attack would seem to be Ukraine.

Russia has blamed Ukrainian special forces, launching a fierce wave of attacks against a number of targets inside the country in response to the incident.

“There’s no doubt it was a terrorist act directed at the destruction of critically important civilian infrastructure of the Russian Federation,” Mr Putin said in a video of a meeting on Sunday with the chairman of the investigative committee, Alexander Bastrykin.

“And the authors, perpetrators, and those who ordered it are the special services of Ukraine.”

Mr Bastrykin said Ukrainian special services and citizens of Russia and other countries took part in the attack.

“We have already established the route of the truck,” he said, adding it had been to Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, North Ossetia and Krasnodar — a region in southern Russia — among other places.

Ukrainian officials have previously described the Kerch bridge as a legitimate target, with a senior Ukrainian military commander confirming this in August.

Major General Dmytro Marchenko told RBC-Ukraine back in August that an attack on the bridge would be “a necessary measure in order to deprive them (Russia) of the opportunity to provide reserves and reinforce their troops from Russian territory”.

On Saturday night the head of President Zelensky’s office, Mykhailo Podolyak, said ”the answers should be sought in Russia.”

He said: "This is a concrete manifestation of the conflict between the FSB [Russia’s internal intelligence service] / PMC [private military contractors, like the Wagner Group] on the one hand, and the Ministry of Defence / general staff of the Russian Federation on the other hand.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Alexander Rodnyansky, an adviser to Zelensky, said Ukraine has not “formally” taken responsibility, instead suggesting that the attack may have been carried out by parties within Russia.

He said: “Formally we haven’t taken responsibility and in fact if you look at how the bombing seems to have happened, it was a lorry that was driving from Russia to Crimea, so that tells you a lot about what could have been going on.

“It could be Russian sabotage, it could be Russian resistance, we really don’t know. We haven’t publicly taken responsibility for that but it’s obviously a consequence of the heinous war that Putin is conducting.

“We haven’t formally taken responsibility because that’s not what we have organised directly, there is obviously in this war that was begun by Putin, has a lot of consequences even within Russia and there is obviously a movement which is probably starting up already and we see the first signs of the crumbling of the Russian regime, so that was to be expected.”

Although the Ukrainian government has not taken responsibility for the attack, officials from the country have taunted Russia following the incident.

Writing on Facebook, alongside a video showing the extensive damage to the bridge, the Ukrainian Navy said: “Air defence of the Russian Federation, are you sleeping?”

Just hours after the attack, the CEO of the Ukrainian Postal Service said it will issue stamps featuring the damaged bridge.

“I will not wish you a good day, because it is already wonderful. The Kerch bridge is done,” the official, Igor Smelyansky, said.