An explosion destroyed parts of a bridge that links Russia to the Crimean Peninsula. DW takes a look at why the bridge is important for Moscow's war effort in Ukraine.
A deadly blast sparked a fire on Saturday and caused massive damage to the Kerch Bridge that links Russia to Crimea.
Russian officials said the fire was caused by a truck explosion and did not immediately assign blame. Analysts have suggested that it could have been the result of a Ukrainian attack. The Russian Transport Ministry said limited road traffic resumed on one lane of the bridge later on Saturday.
Ukrainian officials have not directly claimed responsibility for the blast but have regularly made allusions to their desire to destroy the bridge and have made social media posts celebrating the explosion.
Kyiv has vowed to retake Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
What is the Kerch Bridge?
Moscow built the Kerch Bridge to link the newly annexed Crimean Peninsula to the Russian region of Krasnodar Krai in the northern Caucasus.
The bridge cost $3.6 billion (€3.25 billion) at the time. With a length of 19 kilometers (12 miles), the ambitious project, designed to help shore up Crimea's infrastructure and strengthen its connection to Russia, is the longest bridge in Europe.
Kyiv accused Russia of damaging the environment and obstructing the passage of larger ships in constructing the bridge, which crosses the Kerch Strait that connects the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea.
The bridge represents a major source of supplies for Russian forces in Ukraine's occupied Kherson region. Moscow illegally annexed the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia at the end of September, through which it aims to connect Crimea to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where pro-Russian separatists have waged an insurgency against Kyiv since 2014.
Blast was 'almost certainly' a Ukrainian attack
Kings College fellow Mike Martin told DW on Saturday that the fire on the Kerch Bridge was "almost certainly" the result of a Ukrainian attack.
The Kings College War Department fellow said that crippling the bridge has both strategic and symbolic significance for Ukraine.
Only two rail links connect Russia to Crimea and the Kherson region, he said. He added that Russian forces heavily rely on rail links for supplies.
"One is on the bridge that we've just seen destroyed," Martin said, referring to freight lines on the Kerch Bridge. "So the Ukrainians are clearly isolating the Russian forces from their suppliers.
"This bridge has Putin's name all over it," Martin said, adding that the blast came at a time Russia's military and president face criticism at home over battlefield losses.
"What we've seen over the last three or four months is that the Ukrainians have consistently outthought the Russians and they've outfought them as well," Martin argued.
Ukrainian officials taunt Moscow over blast
Damaging the Kerch Bridge holds significant symbolic value for Kyiv, which has pledged to retake the Crimean Peninsula from Russia, along with all other Ukrainian territory currently occupied by Russian forces.
The head of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, posted a video on Twitter showing the burning Kherson Bridge juxtaposed with Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy birthday, Mr President." The blast occurred a day after Putin's 70th birthday.
Ukraine's postal service said it would print a special stamp to commemorate the explosion.
Following the blast, Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that this was "just the beginning."
"Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything that is stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled," Podolyak said.
Later on Saturday, Podolyak wrote a tweet suggesting that the bridge was damaged due to sabotage from within Russia. "Isn’t it obvious who made an explosion? Truck arrived from [the Russian Federation]," he said.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Ukrainian officials' reaction to the damage to the bridge "testifies to [Kyiv's] terrorist nature."