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Ideas

Was The Crimea Bridge Explosion A Suicide Attack? Why The Question Matters

We may never know the exact cause of the explosion that damaged the strategic Kerch bridge. But it is quite plausible that it was carried out by a Ukrainian suicide bomber. Yes, it’s come this far — and for a very simple reason.

Photo of the sun setting through the smoke caused by the the fire on the bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia following an explosion on Oct. 8

Fire on the bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia following the Oct. 8 explosion.

Cameron Manley

-Analysis-

As cold-blooded as it was, Russia’s barrage of missile attacks aimed at civilian targets across Ukraine was no surprise. But as indiscriminate as the revenge killings were, it cannot erase the single strike that happened two days earlier: the precision targeting of the Kerch bridge, linking Crimea to mainland Russia, a well-orchestrated blow with both major symbolic and strategic consequences.

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The bridge had been both a source of enormous pride for Russian President Vladimir Putin ever since it opened in 2018, and an important logistical component to transport supplies to Russian troops. And of course, the attack came the day after Putin’s birthday.

Thus, for the Russian President, revenge was in order — and in terms of a human toll, he made sure it would be grossly disproportionate, with the sole objective to terrorize the Ukrainian nation.

Comparing the two attacks, there is little mystery about how Russia carried out its response: firing more than 80 missiles at civilian targets and basic infrastructure in Kyiv and other major cities around Ukraine.

Instead, the details behind Saturday’s bridge attack are unknown (and largely unknowable) — but it is a story all its own that may help to shed further light on the difference between how Ukraine and Russia see the war.


A number of theories are currently making the rounds on social media as to the cause of the blast: explosives under the bridge, a drone-activated bomb coordinated by Ukrainian Security Services, or perhaps the most feasible: a suicide truck bomber.

How did the truck get on to the Crimea bridge?

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee reported that the cause of the explosion on the bridge was "the explosion of a truck, which led to the ignition of seven fuel tanks of the [nearby] train."

The truck that allegedly exploded on the bridge at around 6 a.m. Saturday morning underwent inspection in Taman before making its way onto the bridge. From surveillance footage, officers can be seen asking the driver of the car to open the cargo compartment of the van. After a quick check, the truck drives on to the bridge and, a few minutes later, explodes.

At the entrance to the Crimean bridge, special X-ray equipment has been installed, which ought to pick up explosives in vehicles. But on this particular occasion, the Mash telegram channel reports, the truck was not checked by these methods.

Another Russian Telegram channel, citing a source in law enforcement agencies, wrote that the traffic officers who checked the truck had been “detained and interrogated.”

The driver may have been fully aware that it would be his last trip.

“The main issue is the human factor: It's either bribe or negligence,” they write, noting that “a convenient time had been chosen for the explosion [early Saturday morning] when all the smugglers go to the peninsula.”

The Telegram channel also pointed out that “the employees participating in inspections can earn an extra million rubles a day [$16,000],” by turning a blind eye to the loading of trucks and the transport of prohibited goods.

BellingCat Investigator Khristo Grozev on Twitter, attempted to answer the question of how the amount of explosives needed to destroy several spans of the bridge could have made its way on to the bridge undetected. He suggested that something "legal" but "weaponizable" could have been used, such as ammonium nitrate, which is also used as a fertilizer.

A Ukrainian suicide bomber

But all of the information about the truck and its contents excludes a crucial question: Who was the driver? Russia has reported that three people were killed, and surveillance video shows a truck that is clearly visible at the center of the explosion.

Some have noted that the driver could have been an unwitting Russian simply paid to drive the cargo across the bridge, with the truck blown up by remote control. Though technically possible, having the driver set off the explosion is still a far more reliable choice, especially when the vehicle is moving at high-speed across a long bridge. Moreover, timing the detonation with the moment the train is passing requires even more human precision.

So yes, it is quite plausible that the driver may have been fully aware that it would be his last trip, that he or she was a Ukrainian suicide bomber.

Photo of Russian personnel and a dog searching vehicles at an entrance to a ferry line across the Kerch Strait at the Port of Krym.

Russian personnel searching vehicles at an entrance to a ferry line across the Kerch Strait at the Port of Krym.

Sergei Malgavko/TASS/ZUMA

Kamikaze and history's other suicide bombers

The image evoked by the term “suicide bomber” has come to be associated with a religious cause, mostly jihad terrorists dating back to the attack against the U.S. Marine barracks in 1983, through the post-9/11 era. Still, nationalism and patriotism have also famously inspired a chosen few who are prepared to die.

The most well-known in the past century are the Japanese Kamikaze pilots, who died as they deliberately crashed specially made planes directly into enemy warships. But there have been others, from the legendary 14th Swiss martyr Arnold von Winkelried to Chinese "Suicide squads" during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Ukrainian determination and sacrifice does not seem to abate.

There has been at least one similar report since the war began in Ukraine. In early September, Ria Melitopol, a local news outlet in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Oblast, reported that a young man, approached on his doorstep by two Russian soldiers, blew himself up, along with the two Russians, shouting "Glory to Ukraine."

While unconfirmed, and likely to remain so for some time, the theory that a suicide bomber could have been the cause of the explosion on the Crimean bridge highlights the divide in national attitudes towards the war.

While Russia fires cruise missiles from the safety of its ships in the Black Sea, and its demoralized ground troops retreat and thousands flee Putin’s draft, Ukrainian determination and sacrifice does not seem to abate — and may now even include cases of individuals seeking martyrdom.

Photo of a fireman working among the rubble caused by the Oct. 8 explosion on the Kerch bridge

A fireman working among the rubble caused by the Oct. 8 explosion on the Kerch bridge

Cover Images/ZUMA

Courage unshaken

These differences have quite a simple source: Ukrainians know their nation’s very existence is at stake, and that their brothers and sisters have already died to trying to defend it.

Whatever the actual cause, the pictures of the exploded bridge send a clear and pointed message back to the leaders inside the Kremlin: We will do whatever is necessary to win the war, even knowing that it will trigger a brutal response.

The independent Russian-language media Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories reported Monday that sentiment in Kyiv, where at least 10 people were killed, remained largely unshaken.

One resident named Anna said the fear is not like it was at the beginning of the war. “Fear does not turn into apathy, but into composure,” she said. “This is not the time to relax, or to cry and be nervous. We need to always be ready for something more serious.”

The experts say that war is determined by weapons and tactics and politics. But never underestimate pride and courage.

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Society

Now They're Diagnosing Burnout's Never-Quit Cousin: Burn-On

Feeling overworked but not yet burned out? Often the problem is “burn-on,” an under-researched phenomenon whose sufferers desperately struggle to keep up and meet their own expectations — with dangerous consequences for their health.

Now They're Diagnosing Burnout's Never-Quit Cousin: Burn-On

Burn-out is the result of sustained periods of stress at work

Beate Strobel

At first glance, Mr L seems to be a successful man with a well-rounded life: middle management, happily married, father of two. If you ask him how he is, he responds with a smile and a “Fine thanks”. But everything is not fine. When he was admitted to the psychosomatic clinic Kloster Diessen, Mr L described his emotional life as hollow and empty.

Although outwardly he is still putting on a good face, he has been privately struggling for some time. Everything that used to bring him joy and fun has become simply another chore. He can hardly remember what it feels like to enjoy his life.

For psychotherapist Professor Bert te Wildt, who heads the psychosomatic clinic in Ammersee in Bavaria, Germany, the symptoms of Patient L. make him a prime example of a new and so far under-researched syndrome, that he calls “burn-on”. Working with psychologist Timo Schiele, he has published his findings about the phenomenon in a book, Burn-On.

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