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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Trains and cars are moving on Kerch Bridge, but not all traffic

Passenger cars driving on the Kerch bridge, after an explosion destroyed part of it, in the Kerch Strait, Crimea, on Sunday.

By Neil MacFarquhar

Russian-installed authorities in Crimea moved quickly Sunday to restore some road and rail traffic on the Kerch Strait Bridge, after an explosion a day earlier partly damaged the span and embarrassed the Kremlin.

Sergey Aksyonov, the Kremlin-installed leader of Crimea, said Sunday that cars would be able to use the bridge, but that for the time being, trucks, buses and all heavy-duty vehicles would have to cross using a ferry service that will be provided for free.

As state officials and the official news media strove to present the situation as under control, railroad service would operate normally, said Aksyonov, who has been head of the administration on the disputed peninsula since Russia seized it from Ukraine in 2014.

Eighteen trains carrying a total of about 6,000 passengers had crossed the bridge since traffic resumed overnight, the state-run Russian news outlet RIA Novosti reported, quoting the railroad service.

Crimean authorities were still working on reestablishing stable transportation links, including ferries, between the peninsula and Russia, Aksyonov said on his Telegram channel.

Trucks were piling up on both sides, according to Russian news reports, with about 250 waiting to get off Crimea. A first ferry carrying about 16 trucks departed Sunday, the reports said. Ferries had operated across the Kerch Strait long before the bridge opened in 2018. On the other side, more than 170 trucks were waiting to cross from Russia into Crimea, the state-run news agency Tass reported.

An enormous explosion Saturday dropped segments of two auto traffic lanes into the sea, while the barricades used to wall off the damaged area occupied half of the two remaining lanes, leaving just one open for transport.

The explosion also damaged the adjacent rail bridge, which stands slightly higher.

The blast — which a senior Ukrainian official said was orchestrated by Ukrainian intelligence services — was a symbolic setback for President Vladimir Putin of Russia, targeting the only physical link to a peninsula that he has asserted is Russian in the face of international condemnation. The Russian army has also used the bridge since February’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine to supply its occupation forces in the southern part of the country.

But the resumption of auto and rail traffic indicated that while the explosion could create temporary logistical hurdles, it did not appear to have permanently damaged the bridge or Russia’s war effort, analysts said.

“The collapsed lane of the road bridge will restrict Russian military movements until it is repaired, forcing some Russian forces to rely on the ferry connection for some time,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington group that tracks the conflict, wrote in a report Saturday. “Russian forces will likely still be able to transport heavy military equipment via the railroad.”

Russian investigators are working to establish the cause of the explosion, which Moscow said killed three people. Putin has signed an order strengthening security on the bridge, and will meet with his Security Council on Monday, said his spokesperson, Dmitry S. Peskov. He did not specify the agenda.

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