Kerch Bridge explosion is personal for Putin: UK intelligence

(VIENNA) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely personally affected by the explosion on a crucial bridge linking Russia and the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula it occupies, which occurred hours after his birthday, England’s Ministry of Defence said on Sunday.

The British intelligence report makes a key link between Putin’s emotions and the military setback Russia now faces by damage to the Kerch Strait Bridge, signaling a major blow to both Russian operations and morale further under pressure by the Ukrainian military’s successful counteroffensive advances. 

“This incident will likely touch President Putin closely; it came hours after his 70th birthday, he personally sponsored and opened the bridge, and its construction contractor was his childhood friend, Arkady Rotenberg,” the Ministry of Defence tweeted

The assessment added that while damage to the rail crossing is uncertain, “any serious disruption to its capacity will highly likely have a significant impact on Russia’s already strained ability to sustain its forces in southern Ukraine.”

Ukraine’s military has not officially claimed responsibility for the explosion on the Kerch Bridge on Saturday, which damaged a section of freight railroad and severed a roadway that collapsed into the sea. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Saturday tweeted a short, undated video of traffic moving on the bridge with a caption signaling that transit operations were continuing as normal. 

Russian investigators said the explosion occurred from a truck.

Damage to the bridge is interpreted as a personal attack targeting Putin, with the span viewed as the Russian leader’s major, concrete manifestation of his stated claims to retake Ukraine. Russia invaded and occupied Crimea in 2014, imposing a referendum and annexing the territory in a move rejected by the international community at the time.

Putin celebrated the opening of the nearly $4 billion bridge in 2018 by driving a dump truck across a 12-mile section even as international powers condemned its construction as violation of international law and rejected Russia’s claims to Crimea. 

Timothy Snyder, Yale historian of Russia and Ukraine, tweeted on Saturday that the bridge explosion “cripples Russian logistics and dissolves the major symbol of Putin’s power.” 

Michael Kofman, director of the Russia studies program at the Virginia-based think tank CNA, said the explosion on the Kerch Bridge was meant to have “real operational effects” by disrupting Russian military supply lines related to its occupation of Ukraine’s Kherson region and efforts to control the region of Zaporizhzhia, with the Russian military occupying the region’s nuclear power plant but not all of the territory.

Kofman on the podcast “Geopolitics Decanted” said the explosion on the bridge was “very coordinated” and meant “potentially to degrade the supply lines to the south, to Kherson, Zhaporzhzhia, both from Crimea and both from mainland Russia.”

“I don’t think the attack on the Kerch bridge was just meant to be symbolic,” he added. “I think it was also meant to have real operational effects.”

The explosion and damage to the bridge, coupled with growing criticism in Russia of the war in Ukraine, still called a “special military operation,” are raising the possibility that Putin will lash out with nuclear weapons, amid his repeated threats of Moscow’s capabilities. 

Hours after the bridge explosion, Russian missile strikes reportedly hit civilian areas in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, with at least 12 killed and at least 49 injured, including six children. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called it “merciless strikes on peaceful people again.” 

“Absolute meanness. Absolute evil. Savages and terrorists. From the one who gave this order to everyone who fulfilled this order. They will bear responsibility. For sure. Before the law and before people,” Zelensky wrote on his Facebook page

Earlier, the Ukrainian president responded to the Kerch Bridge explosion and said the future for Ukraine is “sunny.” 

“This is a future without occupiers. Throughout our territory, in particular in the Crimea,” he said in his address Saturday night. 

Mykhail Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of Ukrainian president, tweeted that “Crimea, the bridge, the beginning. Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled.” 

And Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the minister of internal affairs of Ukraine, tweeted that “Israeli Mossad acknowledged today that they are no longer numbers one in the rating of world’s special services.” 

Tags Arkady Rotenberg Kerch Bridge Russia Ukraine Vladimir Putin

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