Europe

Putin inspects a Crimean bridge partially destroyed by an explosion

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President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday inspected repairs to a bridge that connects the country to the Crimean peninsula, two months after an explosion partially destroyed it, dealing an embarrassing blow to the Russian leader and the effort of war from Moscow to Ukraine.

October’s attack on the Kerch Strait bridge, a pet project of Mr Putin that has become a key supply route for Moscow’s forces in southern Ukraine, was a critical moment in the war. The Kremlin accused Ukraine of orchestrating the blast, which underscored Russia’s inability to protect a key strategic asset and prompted Moscow to unleash a wave of airstrikes on Ukraine.

Video released by the Kremlin showed Mr Putin driving a Mercedes car across the bridge. Accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who is in charge of the repair, Putin inquired about the progress of the work and said he hoped the road and rail bridge would be fully restored by middle of summer vacation.

Pointing to the still charred rail section of the bridge, he said “it was a big explosion”.

When the bridge opened in 2018, it was a strong symbol of the connection the Kremlin was trying to establish between Russia and Crimea, a Ukrainian region illegally annexed by Moscow four years earlier. Mr Putin took personal credit for its construction, driving a truck along its 12-mile span at the head of a convoy.

On Monday, he also took credit for building two rail tracks and two traffic lanes each way, as redundancy allowed traffic to be partially restored shortly after the October blast.

While the Ukrainian government has not claimed responsibility for the explosion, which sent part of the bridge crashing into the sea on October 8, a senior Ukrainian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in due to a government ban on discussing the explosion, confirmed that Ukrainian intelligence services were behind it all.

The attack on Kerch came during a period of setbacks for Russian forces in Ukraine, including the loss of territory they had captured in the northeast of the country. Two days after the bridge attack, Russia stepped up its strategy of bombarding Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with waves of missiles launched at power plants and other facilities.

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nytimes Eur

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