A top adviser to Ukraine’s President Zelensky has issued Vladimir Putin with a chilling warning. His remarks come in the wake of an attack on the Kerch Bridge on Saturday morning that saw a fuel train engulfed in flames following a huge blast. The explosion also appeared to cause a section of the road bridge to collapse into the sea.
The bridge was constructed in 2014, following Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea and covers a distance of 19km (12 miles).
It connects the peninsula with the Russian mainland and provides a vital supply route for Putin’s southern army, which has come under increasing pressure from a Ukrainian counteroffensive in recent days.
Putin’s generals have used the bridge to move military equipment, ammunition, and personnel from Russia to battlefields in southern Ukraine.
As such, any damage to the bridge will have serious consequences for Russia’s beleaguered troops and its overall war campaign.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, said the attack was just the “beginning”, although he did not confirm that Kyiv was behind the strike.
He tweeted: “Crimea, the bridge, the beginning.
“Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled.”
Crimea’s annexation has been the crowning glory of Putin’s recent foreign adventures and was rapturously celebrated by Russians in 2014.
Its recapture has become somewhat of a holy grail for many Ukrainians, partly due to the peninsula’s significance for Putin and his regime.
Ukraine’s defence ministry compared the bridge explosion to the sinking of Russia’s Moskva missile cruiser in April.
It tweeted: “Two notorious symbols of Russian power in Ukrainian Crimea have gone down.
“What’s next in line?”
Meanwhile the Ukrainian government simply tweeted: “Sick burn.”
Moscow reacted with fury to the bridge attack, accusing Ukraine of acting like terrorists.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said: “The Kiev regime’s reaction towards destruction of civilian infrastructure is a testament to its terrorist nature.”
Just recently, the Kremlin confidently asserted that the Kerch bridge could not be attacked due to robust defences it had put in place.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, tweeted: “Only 3 months ago, Russian propaganda was claiming that the Crimea bridge was impossible to attack because of 20 different modes of protection covering it, including military dolphins.
“What a colossal failure.”
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Putin’s army is facing a determined Ukrainian counteroffensive on two fronts, as it desperately tries to hang on to territories it seized during the course of the war.
Ukraine has driven Russian troops from the Kharkiv region in the northeast of the country and is threatening to make significant gains in the Donbas.
At the same time, its Kherson counterattack has started to make real progress, with dramatic gains reported on the west bank of the Dnipro River this week.
President Zelensky claimed Ukraine’s army had retaken at least 500 square kilometres (193 square miles) within the last seven days on the southern front.
In a public address on Thursday, he said: “Only as of October 1 and only in the Kherson Region, more than half a thousand square kilometres of territory and dozens of settlements were liberated and stabilised from the Russian pseudo-referendum.”
Last week, Putin formally announced the incorporation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces into Russia, following sham referenda.