A powerful blast has damaged Russia's road-and-rail bridge to Crimea, hitting the key supply route to forces battling to hold territory captured in southern Ukraine.
The early morning truck explosion on the bridge occurred on Saturday (local time) – just one day after President Vladimir Putin's 70th birthday.
While Russia did not immediately assign blame for the blast, it prompted gleeful messages from Ukrainian officials but no claim of responsibility.
Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said a truck bomb caused seven railway cars carrying fuel to catch fire, resulting in the “partial collapse of two sections of the bridge.”
Three people were killed, including a couple riding in a vehicle on the bridge, Russia’s Investigative Committee said. It didn’t say who the third victim was.
Ukraine's cheeky response to explosion
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not directly refer to the blast in a video address on Saturday, but poked fun at Russia with a reference to the weather.
"Today was not a bad day and mostly sunny on our state's territory," he said.
"Unfortunately, it was cloudy in Crimea. Although it was also warm.
"But however cloudy it is, Ukrainians know ... our future is sunny. This is a future without occupiers, across our territory, particularly in Crimea," he said.
The head of Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council posted a video of the bridge on social media alongside a video of Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy birthday, Mr President".
Since the war started on February 24, Ukrainian officials have regularly suggested they want to destroy the bridge. Ukraine's postal service said it would print a special stamp.
'Triggered' Russia to 'seek revenge': Official
Putin signed a decree instructing tighter security for the bridge as well as the infrastructure supplying electricity and natural gas to the peninsula.
He also ordered a commission be set up to investigate.
Limited road traffic resumed about 10 hours later, and the Transport Ministry cleared rail traffic to restart.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin ordered that the collapsed section of the bridge be dismantled immediately, domestic news agencies reported.
Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the 19km Crimean Bridge linking it to Russia's transport network was opened with great fanfare four years later by Putin.
It is a major artery for Russian forces who control most of southern Ukraine's Kherson region, and for the Russian naval port of Sevastopol, whose governor told locals: "Keep calm. Don't panic."
It was not yet clear if the blast was a deliberate attack, but the damage to such high-profile infrastructure came as Russia has suffered several battlefield defeats and could further cloud Kremlin messages of reassurance that the conflict is going to plan.
"The situation is manageable – it's unpleasant, but not fatal," Crimea's Russian governor Sergei Aksyonov told reporters.
"Of course, emotions have been triggered, and there is a healthy desire to seek revenge."
He earlier said the peninsula had a month's worth of fuel and more than two months' worth of food.
The blast took place a day after Putin's 70th birthday, and coincided with the naming of Air Force General Sergei Surovikin, Russia's third senior military appointment in a week, to take charge of the invasion effort.
Are Russians behind the blast?
Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the fact the truck was travelling from Russia showed the blast had been arranged by Russian operators.
"Undoubtedly, we are witnessing the beginning of large-scale negative processes in Russia," he said in a commentary, blaming infighting among Putin's circle.
Earlier, he tweeted the incident was just "the beginning".
The truck that exploded was owned by a resident of the Krasnodar region in southern Russia, the nation's Investigative Committee said, adding that the man’s home was searched and experts were looking at the truck’s route.
Russia's Defence Ministry said forces in southern Ukraine could be "fully supplied" through existing land and sea routes.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Kyiv's reaction to the destruction of civilian infrastructure "testifies to its terrorist nature".
- with Reuters and Associated Press
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