Telegraph - By James Kilner and Danielle Sheridan, 8 October 2022 •
The former head of the British Army warns the Russian leader ‘might go nuclear’ after the destruction of a symbolic infrastructure project
The Kremlin previously warned any attack on the Kerch Strait would be a red line and trigger “judgement day”.
The explosion on the 12-mile bridge just before dawn on Saturday killed three people and cut a crucial supply line for Russian forces fighting on Ukraine’s southern front.
By Saturday evening the Kremlin had only said that it would bolster its defences around the bridge although Russian officials said they expected an aggressive response. Putin convened an emergency meeting of his cabinet on Saturday morning.
“This was a declaration of war without rules,” said Alexander Bashkin, a Russian senator, adding the Kremlin response will be: “adequate, conscious and, possibly, asymmetric”.
Amidst the chaos, Russia made a panicked announcement, unveiling Sergei Surovikin, a general known for his brutality in Syria, as the new commander in charge of the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Russian investigators said that the blast had been caused by a truck exploding but stopped short of accusing Ukrainian forces.
Kyiv has not claimed responsibility for the explosion but in the aftermath, an adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky said this was “just the beginning”, adding: “Everything that is stolen must be returned to Ukraine.”
The Ukrainian security service meanwhile remarked “the bridge burns beautifully”, after a new set of stamps celebrating the destruction of the Crimea Bridge was unveiled by the Ukrainian postal service shortly after the blast.
Western analysts said the Russian president will now escalate his assault on Ukraine with the threat of nuclear warfare increased.
General Lord Richard Dannatt, the former head of the Army, said that he would expect more indiscriminate shelling of Ukrainian civilian targets and that there was also the threat that Mr Putin “might go nuclear”.
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said Putin would take the alleged attack on the bridge personally. He said renewed attacks on civilian infrastructure are likely in addition to measures which cause “maximum economic harm and disunity across the West”.
The threat of nuclear weapons was now “much increased”, Mr Ellwood added.
The bridge was partially reopened to traffic on Saturday night but video footage showed extensive damage. Part of the road bridge had collapsed into the sea and a fire had destroyed a section of the railway which runs alongside it. The video showed oil tanks being transported by rail, exploding and thick black smoke billowing out of them.
The Crimea Bridge across the Kerch Straits was a pet project for the Russian leader. When he opened it in 2018, the bridge was supposed to mark the unbreakable linking of Crimea, which he annexed from Ukraine in 2014, to Russia.
As well as being of major symbolic value, the bridge forms the only direct road and rail route between Crimea and Russia. It has become a vital supply line for Russian forces trying to repel advancing Ukrainian forces around occupied Kherson.
Supplies to Russian forces fighting on the southern front will now have to be driven through occupied Donbas and other parts of occupied Ukraine, a far more dangerous and longer route which is exposed to Ukrainian artillery strikes.
In July, Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said that if Ukraine ever attacked the Crimea Bridge, Russia would unleash a “Judgement Day” scenario. The blast comes in the wake of a fresh nuclear threat from Mr Putin last month.
In Crimea, there were reports of panic buying in shops and huge queues at petrol stations as residents prepared for a drop in supplies from Russia because of the closure of the bridge.