KYIV — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday accused Ukraine of orchestrating the powerful blast that damaged a key bridge linking Russia and Crimea the day before, describing the explosion as an “act of terrorism.”
“There is no doubt. This is an act of terrorism aimed at destroying critically important civilian infrastructure,” Putin said in a video on the Kremlin’s Telegram channel.
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“This was devised, carried out and ordered by the Ukrainian special services,” Putin said.
His statement came after a Russian missile attack early on Sunday struck an apartment block and other residential buildings in Ukraine’s southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, killing at least 13 people and wounding 89 others, Ukrainian officials said.
The pre-dawn strikes were the second such attack against the city in three days.
Putin was meeting Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, who presented findings of an inquiry into what he said was Saturday’s explosion of a vehicle and subsequent fire on the bridge.
The blast on the bridge over the Kerch Strait, a key supply route for Moscow’s forces in southern Ukraine, had prompted gleeful messages from Ukrainian officials on Saturday but no claim of responsibility.
The bridge is also a major artery for the port of Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea fleet is based.
Speaking on camera, Bastrykin said investigators had established the route that the vehicle had taken and the individuals who were involved in its movements.
He said that it had gone through Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, South Ossetia and Russia’s Krasnodar region before arriving on the bridge.
The damage to the bridge, which had been an imposing symbol of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, came amid battlefield defeats for Russia, and could further cloud Kremlin reassurances that the conflict is going to plan.
Rail services and partial road traffic resumed a day after the blast. Images showed half of a section of the bridge’s roadway blown away, with the other half still attached.
Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the 19-km (12-mile) bridge linking the region to its transport network was opened with great fanfare four years later by Putin. Crimea’s Russian governor, Sergei Aksyonov, told reporters, that residents would manage despite the damage to the bridge. “Of course, emotions have been triggered and there is a healthy desire to seek revenge,” he said.
Aksyonov has said Crimea had a month’s worth of fuel and more than two months’ worth of food. Russia’s defense ministry said on Saturday its forces in southern Ukraine could be “fully supplied” through existing land and sea routes.
ATTACK ON ZAPORIZHZHIA
In the Zaporizhzhia attack, Russian aircraft launched at least 12 missiles, partially destroying a nine-story apartment block, leveling five other residential buildings and damaging many more, Oleksandr Starukh, governor of the region, said on state-run television.
Sixty wounded people were hospitalized, Ukrainian officials said. They included 11 children.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy condemned the attack as “absolute evil” by people he called “savages and terrorists,” vowing those responsible would be brought to justice.
Zaporizhzhia city, about 52 km (30 miles) from a Russian-held nuclear power plant, has been under frequent shelling in recent weeks, with 19 people killed on Thursday.
Emergency workers and firefighters cordoned off the nine-story building and dug for survivors and casualties in the smoldering rubble of a massive central section that had collapsed.
The blast wrecked cars and left torn metal window frames, balconies and air conditioners dangling from the building’s shrapnel-pitted facade.
Most of the Zaporizhzhia region, including the nuclear plant, have been under Russian control since the early days of Russia’s invasion in February. The capital of the region, Zaporizhzhia city, remains under Ukrainian control.
U.S. TO CONTINUE ARMING UKRAINE
The White House on Sunday declined direct comment on the Crimea Bridge blast but said the United States would continue to arm Ukraine.
Kyiv demands that Russian forces leave the Black Sea peninsula, as well as Ukrainian territory they have seized in the invasion Putin launched in February.
Ukraine has recaptured more than 1,170 square kilometers (450 square miles) of land in its southern Kherson region since launching the start of its counterattack against Russia in late August, a military spokesperson said on Sunday.
Ukraine achieved lightning success with its offensive in the northeast, but its drive in the south to wipe out a Russian foothold on the west bank of the vast Dnipro river has been less rapid.
(Reporting by Max Hunder, Jonathan Landay in Kyiv, Sergiy Chalyi in Zaporizhzhia and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Jonathan Landay, Frances Kerry and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Alex Richardson and Cynthia Osterman)