Putin hails reconstruction of Kerch Bridge
The Kerch bridge, linking Russia and the illegally occupied Crimean peninsula and damaged by an explosion in October, is now largely repaired, reopening a key supply route to Russian troops in Ukraine.
Opened in 2018, the 19km road and rail bridge enabled Russia’s rapid invasion of southern Ukraine in February and the seizure of Kherson, the only provincial capital to fall to Russia. Since the explosion, ferry services have been linking Crimea and Russia.
Repair work began on 274 metres of damaged road shortly after the unexplained October 8 blast.
Cranes on huge barges removed four collapsed road sections.
Satellite photos then showed pre-made road being shipped out on giant flatbed barges during seven-hour journeys from Russia.
Finally, the road surface on the longest bridge in Europe was relaid.
According to a Kremlin video, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin drove along the repaired bridge on Monday. He was told it can reopen by December 20. The huge blast reportedly killed four people.
Putin’s visit to the bridge, which was aired by state television, aimed to prove that Russia’s vital link to Crimea is once more fully operational.
The October explosion ignited fuel containers on a passing train on the rail bridge but the rail tracks reopened soon after the blast.
Russia claimed the explosion was a terrorist act by two men from southern Russia driving a truck across the bridge.
It has also been suggested that a boat-launched missile or a drone reached the Kerch bridge.
Ukraine said in October that it was developing a drone with a 1,000km range, a potential game-changer in the war. The so-called kamikaze drone is believed to be capable of carrying a 75kg explosive.
Subsequent blasts within Russia raise Kremlin concerns that Russian forces are increasingly vulnerable to Ukrainian strikes.
Ukrainian special forces are thought to have carried out attacks in Russia on oil refineries, ammunition depots and communications networks although other observers say the attacks are being conducted by Russian partisans.
Ukraine has not commented on the cause of the explosion but welcomed the setback for Russia.
The bridge enabled the supply of fuel and food to Russia’s invasion force in Ukraine, Crimea’s civilian population and the Sevastopol naval base, which houses Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet.
The US$3.5-billion Kerch project was clearly identified as Putin’s personal project when he opened it by driving a truck in 2018, symbolising the new connection with Crimea.
Work on the Kerch bridge after 2014. Picture credit: Kremlin