Missiles Strike Russian-Held Bridge Far Behind Ukraine Front Line

KYIV, Ukraine — A Russian-held bridge far behind the front lines that helps Moscow resupply its forces in Ukraine was hit by missiles on Thursday, Kremlin-backed local officials said.

The bridge, which connects the occupied Crimean Peninsula to the rest of Ukraine, was struck by several missiles in an overnight attack that some of the officials blamed on Kyiv.

While Ukrainian forces have stepped up their strikes on the peninsula, which Moscow seized long before launching its full invasion, the Ukrainian government has generally declined to officially confirm them, and that was the case again on Thursday.

The bridge — which consists of two spans — crosses the Chonhar Strait to connect Crimea and the Kherson region.

Videos and photographs verified by The New York Times show damage to both spans. The main road bridge has a hole in it, and the surface of the smaller bridge that runs alongside it also appears to be damaged.

Sergei Aksyonov, the Kremlin-installed leader of Crimea, said that there had been no casualties in the attack and that bomb technicians were investigating the cause.

Although Mr. Aksyonov did not assign blame for the strike, the Russian-backed governor of occupied Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, directly accused Ukraine. He accused the “criminal Kyiv regime” of hitting the bridge with Storm Shadow long-range missiles provided by Britain.

But Mr. Saldo also struck a dismissive tone.

“We know how to repair bridges quickly,” he said on Telegram. “Vehicle passage will be restored in the very near future.”

The attack came just days after a strike on a Russian ammunition depot in the Kherson region, and appeared to be part of a broader Ukrainian strategy aimed at hindering the resupply of Russian units fending off Kyiv’s counteroffensive in southern Ukraine.

Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014, has over the past year been used as a staging ground for the full invasion launched in February 2022. It has served as an important link in the Russian military’s supply chain that supports the tens of thousands of soldiers occupying parts of southern Ukraine.

In recent months, anticipating the counteroffensive, Russia has been trying to strengthen its defenses along the Crimean coast, laying land mines and building obstacles to slow down tanks.

Earlier this week, Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, claimed that Ukraine’s military was planning to strike Crimea with long-range missiles and warned of “immediate retaliatory strikes” if it did. When a bombing in October badly damaged another bridge on the Crimean Peninsula — this one connecting it to the Russian mainland — Russia responded by attacking Ukraine’s power grid, a serious escalation in the war.

On Thursday, addressing a meeting of Russia’s Security Council, Mr. Shoigu offered assurances that his forces would be able to withstand the recently launched Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Mr. Shoigu projected confidence, even as Ukraine’s Western allies deliver more weapons and as analysts say the main thrust of Kyiv’s counteroffensive is still to come.

“From our side, we are getting ready, too,” Mr. Shoigu said at the meeting.

President Vladimir V. Putin, in comments that may have been intended less for the defense minister than for the Russian public watching the meeting on state television, struck a note of caution.

“The enemy’s offensive potential has not been depleted, and a number of strategic reserves have not been used,” Mr. Putin said. He said: “I would urge you to take that into account. We need to proceed from the real situation.”

The Russian army has sustained heavy losses in the war, but Mr. Shoigu said that efforts to recruit additional contract soldiers and volunteers had resulted in over 160,000 new service members, although he did not specify in what time frame. He said Russia would form a new reserve army by the end of this month.

Russian state TV channels have adopted a similarly optimistic tone about Russian success on the battlefield, but there have been some skeptics.

“What we are being told about Ukraine’s counteroffensive is not true,” Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, head of the Wagner paramilitary group, said Thursday in a voice message published by his press service, reprising his frequent criticism of Russian military officials.

“What the president gets on his table is a total lie,” he said.

Cassandra Vinograd reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia. Haley Willis contributed reporting from Seoul, and Paul Sonne from Berlin.

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