Russia is rushing to repair the bridge connecting occupied Crimea to Russia after a major blast on Saturday, in an attempt to downplay the attack.
Suburban train lines are scheduled to start running again on the Kerch Bridge as of 7 p.m. local time, according to a message from the Russian Transport Ministry posted on Telegram Sunday. Long-distance freight and passenger trains on the bridge already “are moving according to the standard schedule,” the ministry said.
The fiery explosion Saturday morning marked a huge symbolic blow against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who grabbed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and started building the bridge connecting the Ukrainian peninsula to Russia that same year.
“This incident will likely touch President Putin closely,” the U.K. Ministry of Defense said in analysis published on Sunday, since the blast happened “hours after his 70th birthday” and his childhood friend Arkady Rotenberg built the bridge.
Putin tightened security for the bridge after Saturday’s explosion, and he ordered a government commission to investigate the damage. The initial report from Moscow’s inspection of the bridge is due later Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry appeared to be downplaying the blow as it tweeted a video of the Kerch Bridge with traffic flowing. Despite Moscow’s message of business as usual, the U.K.’s Defense Ministry said that transport “capacity will be seriously degraded” on the bridge.
“The extent of damage to the rail crossing is uncertain, but any serious disruption to its capacity will highly likely have a significant impact on Russia’s already strained ability to sustain its forces in southern Ukraine,” the U.K. ministry said.
Russia’s Ministry of Transport wrote on Telegram Sunday that vehicles containing perishable goods would be given priority on ferries crossing the Kerch Strait.
The Ukrainian government so far hasn’t been commenting about the origins of the apparent bombing. Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzheppar posted a picture of the collapsed bridge section on Saturday with the hashtag #CrimeaIsUkraine.
Over the past few weeks, Ukraine has been leading a counteroffensive against Russia and regaining territory and towns held by Moscow. Kyiv is now asking for more Western weapons, including air defense systems. The Kremlin signalled on Sunday that if the West were to provide Ukraine with heavier long-distance arms, Russia would retaliate.
“Deliveries of long-range or more powerful weapons to Kyiv” would cross Russia’s “red lines,” Russian foreign affairs official Aleksey Polishchuk told the country’s state-owned news agency TASS on Sunday.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba renewed the call for additional defensive systems on Sunday, after at least 17 people were reported killed overnight by Russian shelling on the city of Zaporizhzhia.
“Russia continues its missile terror against civilians in Zaporizhzhia,” Kuleba said in a tweet. “We urgently need more modern air and missile defense systems to save innocent lives. I urge partners to speed up deliveries.”