Putin calls the Kerch bridge attack a “terrorist act” by Kyiv

Zaporizhia, Ukraine (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday described the attack on the sprawling Kerch bridge into Crimea as a “terrorist act” carried out by Ukraine’s special services, and the head of Russia’s investigation immediately opened a criminal investigation into terrorism into the explosion. A prominent Russian landmark.

What Russian authorities call a truck bomb on Saturday hit the massive bridge linking Russia to Crimea, which Moscow annexed eight years ago from Ukraine. Road and rail traffic on the bridge was temporarily stopped, which damaged an important supply route for the Kremlin’s forces and dealt a severe blow to Russia’s prestige.

“There is no doubt that it is a terrorist act directed at the destruction of critical civilian infrastructure in the Russian Federation,” Putin said in a videotape of a meeting on Sunday with the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin. “The authors, the perpetrators and those who ordered this are the special services of Ukraine.”

Bastrykin said that the Ukrainian special services and citizens of Russia and other countries were involved in the attack.

“We have already determined the route of the truck,” he said, adding that it was to Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, North Ossetia and Krasnodar – a region in southern Russia – among other places.

These statements came in the wake of Russian missile strikes during the night on the city of Zaporizhia, which destroyed part of a large apartment building, killing at least ten people.

The Ukrainian Air Force said that the six missiles used in the attack, which occurred on Sunday night, were launched from Russian-occupied areas in the Zaporizhia region. The region is one of four countries Russia declared affiliated with it this month, although its eponymous capital is still under Ukrainian control.

Russia suffered a series of setbacks nearly eight months after invading Ukraine in a campaign many thought would be short-lived. In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces counterattacked, retaking areas in the south and east, while Moscow’s decision to call in more troops led to protests and mass exodus. Tens of thousands of Russians.

The last fighting focused on the regions north of the Crimea, including Zaporizhzhya. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his regret over the recent attack in a message on Telegram.

“Again, Zaporizhzhia. Again, merciless attacks on civilians, targeting apartment buildings, in the middle of the night.” At least 19 people died Russian missile strikes on residential buildings in the city on Thursday.

And he added, “Who gave this order, to everyone who carried out this order: they will answer.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the attacks on civilians as a war crime and urged an international investigation.

From behind the police tape, stunned residents watched as emergency crews tried to reach the upper floors of a building that had been hit directly. A gap of at least 12 meters (40 ft) wide has burned where the apartments once stood. And in a neighboring apartment building, missile strikes blew windows and doors off their frames within a radius of hundreds of feet. At least 20 private homes and 50 apartment buildings were damaged, said City Council Secretary Anatoly Kortev.

On Sunday afternoon, regional police reported that 13 people were killed and more than 60 wounded, including at least 10 children.

Tetiana Lazonko, 73, and her husband, Oleksiy, hunkered down in the hallway of their upstairs apartment after the air raid sirens sounded. The explosion shook the building and flying off their possessions. Lazonko wept as the couple examined the damage done to their home nearly five decades ago.

Why are they bombing us? Why?” she said.

Others described the missile attack as relentless.

“There was an explosion, then another,” said Mukula Markovic, 76. In a flash, the fourth floor apartment he had been sharing with his wife was gone.

“I don’t know when it will be rebuilt,” Markovic said. “I was left without an apartment at the end of my life.”

About 3 kilometers (2 miles) away in another neighborhood devastated by a missile, three volunteers dug a shallow grave for a German shepherd killed in the raid, the dog’s leg blown off by the explosion.

Abbas Galiamov, an independent Russian political analyst and former Putin speechwriter, said the Russian president, who set up a committee on Saturday to investigate the bridge explosion, did not respond forcefully enough to appease angry war hawks. He said the attack and response “inspired the opposition, while loyalists are frustrated”.

“Because they see again that when the authorities say that everything is going according to plan and that we are winning, they are lying, and this demoralizes,” he said.

Putin personally opened the Kerch Bridge in May 2018 by driving a truck across it as a symbol of Moscow’s claims to Crimea. The bridge, the longest in Europe, is vital to the continuation of Russian military operations in southern Ukraine.

No one has claimed responsibility for destroying it.

Traffic over the bridge was temporarily suspended after the explosion, but cars and trains were back on Sunday. Russia has also restarted its car ferry service.

Crimea is a popular holiday resort for Russians. People who tried to drive to the bridge and to the Russian mainland on Sunday faced traffic jams that lasted for hours.

“We were not ready for such a turn,” said one of the drivers, Kirill Suslov, sitting in traffic. “That’s why the mood is a bit gloomy.”

The Institute for the Study of War said videos of the bridge indicate that damage from the blast “is likely to increase friction in Russian logistics for some time” but not cripple Russia’s ability to equip its forces in Ukraine.

In other news:

In the stricken Ukrainian city of LymanUkraine’s national police, recently recaptured after a months-long Russian occupation, said authorities had exhumed the remains of the first 20 bodies from a mass burial site. Initial evidence indicates that about 200 civilians were buried in one place, and another grave contains the bodies of fallen Ukrainian soldiers. Civilians, including children, were buried in one cemetery, while members of the army were buried in a 40-meter-long trench, according to the police.

On Sunday, the Ukrainian military said heavy clashes were taking place around the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region, as Russian forces announced some recent territorial gains. The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces did not acknowledge any territorial loss but said that the “most tense situation” had been observed around these two cities.

On the other hand, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said that the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, was reconnected to the grid after it lost the last external source of energy in the early hours of Saturday morning following the bombing.

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Shukrik reported from Kyiv.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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