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Explosions reported on key bridge linking annexed Crimea and Russia's mainland

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Russia says it's leaving a deal that made it possible to ship grain out of Ukraine to other countries around the world.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Now, that is one of two big stories today. The other is an attack on a bridge. Russia blamed Ukraine for explosions that seem to have taken a bite out of the only bridge connecting the Russian mainland to Crimea. That's the peninsula that Russia seized almost a decade ago and that Ukraine wants back.

INSKEEP: So much to dig into here, so we've reached out to NPR's Charles Maynes, who's following it all from Moscow. Hey there.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Morning.

INSKEEP: Let's remember - so we're talking about grain shipments that go through the Black Sea out of Ukrainian ports. Russia has allowed them through the war zone up to now. So why would Russia pull out?

MAYNES: Well, President Putin had been signaling he wanted to suspend Russian participation in the agreement, which formally ends today either way. And remember, this deal brokered by the U.N. and Turkey allows safe passage of grain from Ukraine and Russia through the Black Sea. The problem is President Putin has said the deal was one-sided. It only benefited Ukraine. And Putin said that months of negotiations had done nothing to address Russian complaints. And those are this - that Western sanctions, not on food, but on things like shipping and insurance and banking, essentially prevented the export of Russian grain and fertilizer. And today, the Kremlin spokesman said Russia was suspending participation until those snags are resolved.

INSKEEP: Oh, suspending participation until the snags are resolved - so maybe this is not the end of that story.

MAYNES: Yeah, we'll have to see.

INSKEEP: And at the same time, we're following this other story. We only have information from Russia at this point about an apparent attack on this bridge. What are they saying?

MAYNES: Well, what we heard from Russian media this morning saying two explosions hit the Kerch Bridge - that's the bridge that connects southern Russia to annexed Crimea - early morning Monday. And there have been theories circulating as to how that may have happened. Russia's national anti-terrorist committee said it involved so-called sea drones. These are some kind of watercraft.

Now, witness video online does appear to show a section of the road partially collapsed, although a parallel railway track seems undamaged. Local authorities have also identified the victims. They say two people died, but a teenage girl was injured and left orphaned after her parents' car was apparently hit from whatever caused the damage. And Russia has made clear who they think is responsible as well. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Ukraine of carrying out a terrorist attack with help, she said, from American and British intelligence.

INSKEEP: I guess it's true that this bridge is used by civilians, but what is the military significance of it as a target?

MAYNES: Yeah, this bridge is a key supply line for Russian forces operating in southern Ukraine. It's also a potent symbol of Moscow's hold over Crimea, the territory Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, so much so that President Vladimir Putin personally drove the first vehicle over the bridge when it opened in 2018, to much fanfare. And for all those reasons, Ukraine has said the bridge is a legitimate military target. Now, portions of the bridge were destroyed in the blast last October that Moscow blamed on Kyiv. Ukraine later acknowledged a role in the attack, although it's been more coy this time around.

INSKEEP: NPR's Charles Maynes, thanks so much.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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