July 17, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Sana Noor Haq, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Elise Hammond and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, July 18, 2023
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7:09 p.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Why is the Crimean bridge so important to Russia?

From CNN's Lauren Kent 

A train moves along the Crimean Bridge, a section of which was damaged by an alleged overnight attack, on July 17.
A train moves along the Crimean Bridge, a section of which was damaged by an alleged overnight attack, on July 17. Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters

The key Crimean bridge linking the occupied peninsula to Russia was hit by two strikes early Monday, according to multiple reports. Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) and naval forces were responsible for the attack, according to a source.

The Kerch Bridge is strategically important because it links Russia’s Krasnodar region with the Crimean Peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.

It also has huge symbolic importance for Russia, which built the 12-mile bridge — the longest in Europe — at a cost of around $3.7 billion. It was the physical expression of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objective to take over Ukraine and bind it to Russia forever.  

The day it opened, Putin led a triumphant convoy over the bridge. Ukrainians revile the structure, which stands as a reminder of Russian occupation.

In October, the bridge was partially destroyed when a fuel tanker exploded and damaged a large section of the road. The Kremlin was quick to blame Kyiv and Putin alleged that it was an act of “sabotage” by Ukrainian security services. Moscow was quick to repair the bridge following that explosion.

The bridge is a critical artery for supplying Crimea with both its daily needs and supplies for the military, in addition to fuel and goods for civilians. Russian military convoys have regularly used the bridge to aid their full-scale invasion of Ukraine — carrying vehicles, armor and fuel. 

If the Russian military’s use of the bridge is hampered, its supply lines to forces in southern Ukraine would become more tenuous. 

Russia has used the Crimean railroads to ferry supplies to forces in Kherson and several rail hubs in both Crimea and Kherson have been attacked by long-range Ukrainian rockets. Rail traffic across the bridge continued to operate on Monday, albeit with delays, according to video on social media, a Russian official and Russian state media.

8:48 a.m. ET, July 17, 2023

UN confirms Russia is terminating its participation in Ukraine grain deal

From CNN's Alex Marquardt in Odesa, Ukraine

A UN official arrives to inspect the 'Chola Treasure' anchored in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 11, 2022.
A UN official arrives to inspect the 'Chola Treasure' anchored in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 11, 2022. Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images

A United Nations official has confirmed to CNN that the UN office in Istanbul, Turkey, has received written notice from Russia that they are ending participation in the Ukraine grain deal, officially called the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

The agreement allowed for the safe passage of grain exports from southern Ukraine to the global market after Russian forces barricaded ports in the region and exacerbated a widespread food crisis.

“The Secretary-General will not stop his efforts to facilitate the unimpeded access to global markets for food products and fertilizers from both Ukraine and the Russian Federation to preserve global food security,” the UN official said.

A United Nations official later told CNN that the organization sees Russia's decision as “pretty final,” adding that the focus for Ukraine’s grain was now on exporting via land routes, road and rail. 

The Russian government on Monday said that it's allowing a deal struck to allow the export of Ukrainian grain to expire, saying “it has been terminated.” The agreement, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022, was officially set to expire at 5 p.m. ET on Monday (midnight local in Istanbul, Kyiv, and Moscow). The deal allowed Ukraine to export grain from its ports and navigate safe passage through the Black Sea, to Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait.

A crew member prepares a grain analysis by members of the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) onboard the Barbados-flagged ship 'Nord Vind' coming from Ukraine and anchored in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 11.
A crew member prepares a grain analysis by members of the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) onboard the Barbados-flagged ship 'Nord Vind' coming from Ukraine and anchored in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 11. Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images

The UN official said that their main concern was the inevitable human suffering that will result from the deal’s termination: “There is simply too much at stake in a hungry and hurting world.”

The initiative has allowed for the export of nearly 33 million metric tons of foodstuffs from Ukraine. The World Food Programme has shipped more than 725,000 tons to support humanitarian operations – relieving, the official said, hunger in some of the hardest hit corners of the world, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

7:54 a.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Russia says Black Sea grain deal with Ukraine "has been terminated"

From CNN's Anna Chernova

Bulk carrier ARGO I is docked at the grain terminal of the port of Odesa, Ukraine, on April 10.
Bulk carrier ARGO I is docked at the grain terminal of the port of Odesa, Ukraine, on April 10. Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images

The Russian government is allowing the Black Sea grain deal to expire, saying on Monday “it has been terminated.”

The agreement, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022, was officially set to expire at 5 p.m. ET on Monday (midnight local in Istanbul, Kyiv, and Moscow). The deal allowed Ukraine to export grain from its ports and navigate safe passage through the Black Sea, to Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait.

“Unfortunately, the part of the Black Sea agreements concerning Russia has not been implemented so far,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday. “Therefore, its deal has been terminated. As soon as the Russian part is completed, the Russian side will return to the implementation of this deal immediately.

The Russian government has formally informed Turkey, Ukraine and the United Nations that it is allowing the deal to expire, foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told state media RIA Novosti on Monday.

When asked, Peskov denied that Russia’s decision to allow the deal to lapse was related to Ukraine’s claimed strike on the Crimean Bridge on Monday, which connects mainland Russia to the peninsula.

Key background: The Black Sea grain deal imposed measures for the safe export of grain from Ukrainian ports after Russia launched its invasion and barricaded docks in the region.

The key deal helped stabilize global food prices and brought relief to countries in the Global South that rely on Ukrainian exports.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin told his South African counterpart on Saturday that "the relevant Russia-UN memorandum to remove obstacles to the export of Russian food and fertilizers still remain unfulfilled,” according to the Kremlin.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week accused Russia of using the grain deal “as a weapon.”

CNN's Radina Gigova and Sophie Tanno contributed reporting.

5:52 a.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Ukraine's security service responsible for Crimean Bridge attack, source says

From CNN's Victoria Butenko

A source from Ukraine's security service (SBU) said Monday that an attack on the Crimean Bridge linking the peninsula with Russia overnight was a joint operation of the SBU and Ukraine’s naval forces.

The source spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not received authorization to speak on the record.

5:02 a.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Russian foreign ministry blames Ukraine for Crimea bridge "attack"

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Russian investigators work at the scene on the section of a road sloping to one side following an alleged attack on the Crimea Bridge across the Kerch Strait, in this still image taken from video released on July 17.
Russian investigators work at the scene on the section of a road sloping to one side following an alleged attack on the Crimea Bridge across the Kerch Strait, in this still image taken from video released on July 17. Investigative Committee of Russia/Reuters

Russia’s foreign ministry on Monday held the Ukrainian government responsible for an “attack” on the bridge connecting the Russian mainland to occupied Crimea, echoing claims from other senior officials in Moscow.

“Today's attack on the Crimean bridge was carried out by the Kyiv regime,” Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel. “This regime is a terrorist one and has all the signs of an international organized criminal group.”

The Kremlin said earlier that it had opened an official investigation into what the Russian Investigative Committee calls “a terrorist act committed by the special services of Ukraine.”

Kyiv has not responded directly to the allegations, but the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) hinted that the Ukrainian government was responsible.

In a statement on Telegram, threaded to an October 2022 post referring to a previous attack on the Crimean Bridge last year, the SBU said: “Nightingale, my dear brother, The bridge has gone to sleep again. And once… Twice!”

CNN's Mick Krever contributed reporting.

4:42 a.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Russia blames Ukrainian seaborne drones for Crimea bridge attack and opens investigation

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Mick Krever

The Kremlin claimed two Ukrainian seaborne drones struck the Crimea bridge connecting the peninsula to Russia on Monday, though it did not provide evidence for the allegation.

Moscow has opened an official investigation into what the Russian Investigative Committee calls “a terrorist act committed by the special services of Ukraine.”

A couple traveling by car was killed and their daughter was injured in the incident, Russian authorities said earlier.

“At 3.05 a.m., two Ukrainian unmanned water-surface drones carried out an attack on the Crimean bridge,” the National Antiterrorism Committee of the Russian Federation said in a statement.

“As a result of the terrorist act, the road component of the Crimean bridge was damaged. Two adults were killed and one child was injured.”

The Russian Investigative Committee said that it had “opened a criminal case" into the incident, under legislation relating to terrorism.

“According to investigators, on the night of July 16-17, one of the sections of the Crimean bridge was damaged as a result of a terrorist act committed by the special services of Ukraine."

“The necessary expert examinations have been commissioned as part of the criminal case. Investigators are identifying persons from among the Ukrainian special services and armed formations involved in the organization and execution of this crime.”

Ukrainian authorities have not responded to the accusations.

6:14 p.m. ET, July 17, 2023

No damage to Crimean bridge railway track, Russia-backed official says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Mick Krever

Rail traffic across the Crimean bridge continues to operate albeit with delays after an apparent attack halted road traffic on the structure early Monday, a Moscow-backed official said.

“The railroad track was not damaged by the strike,” Vladimir Konstantinov, head of the State Council of the Republic of Crimea, said on Telegram.

Russian state-run news agencies RIA Novosti and TASS also reported that rail traffic on the bridge is continuing to operate with delays.

The nearly 12-mile bridge, also known as the Kerch Bridge, is the longest in Europe and carries both road and rail traffic between the annexed Crimean peninsula and Russia. It also serves as a vital logistical node for Moscow's military in its war against Ukraine.

The bridge was hit by strikes early Monday, killing two people, according to multiple reports.

A widely circulating video of significant damage to one of the bridge’s road spans appears to have been captured this morning from a train passing on the parallel rail bridge.

6:14 p.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Russia-backed official blames Ukraine for "attack" on Crimean bridge

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Mick Krever

A screengrab from a video shows damage to the Crimea bridge on Monday, July 17.
A screengrab from a video shows damage to the Crimea bridge on Monday, July 17. Telegram via @grey_zone

A Moscow-appointed official in occupied Crimea on Monday blamed Ukraine for an "attack" on the bridge connecting the peninsula to Russia.

“Tonight the terrorist regime in Kyiv committed a new crime – it attacked the Crimean bridge,” Vladimir Konstantinov, head of the State Council of the Republic of Crimea, said on Telegram.

The key bridge was hit by strikes early Monday, according to multiple reports. Two people were killed in the incident, a Russian regional governor said earlier.

Cryptic message: Kyiv has not claimed direct responsibility for the alleged attack but the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) posted an opaque hint on social media that its government was behind the damage.

"Nightingale, my dear brother, The bridge has gone to sleep again. And once... Twice!" the SBU said in a cryptic message on Telegram, threaded to an October 2022 post referring to a previous attack on the Crimea bridge.
"P.S. The music is folk," the SBU said. "Lyrics by the Security Service of Ukraine."

Some context: Last October, a huge blast partially damaged the bridge, causing parts of it to collapse. Earlier this month, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar made what appeared to be the clearest admission yet that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the October attack.

6:14 p.m. ET, July 17, 2023

A deadly incident has been reported on the key bridge linking Crimea with Russia. Here's what we know

From CNN staff

An “emergency incident” has been reported on the Crimean bridge, halting traffic on the only link between the annexed peninsula and Russia, a Moscow-backed official said Monday.

Sergey Aksenov, the Russia-appointed head of Crimea, did not specify the nature of the incident, but multiple Telegram channels reported strikes on the bridge.

CNN is unable to verify the reports.

Here's what we know so far:

  • What Russian officials say: Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Russia's southwestern Belgorod region, said a couple traveling by car was killed and their daughter was injured in the incident. Russia's Transport Ministry said the bridge had sustained damage to its spans — the lengths between the support piers — and is being inspected by officials. The ministry did not mention the extent of the damage.
  • What other reports say: Two strikes were allegedly carried out on the bridge around 3 a.m. local time, damaging part of the structure, according to the Telegram channel Grey Zone, which supports the Wagner mercenary group. Explosions were heard around 3:04 a.m. and 3:20 a.m. local time, Grey Zone and popular Crimean blogger TalipoV Online Z said on Telegram. At least two people were killed and another wounded, Russian Telegram channel Baza posted. Videos posted on Telegram by Baza, Grey Zone and other Crimean news outlets appeared to show part of the bridge collapsed and a damaged vehicle. Russian state media reported Monday there has been an “emergency incident” that had stopped traffic.
  • What Ukraine says: A spokesperson for Ukraine's defense intelligence said damage to the bridge could create logistical difficulties for Russian forces, but stopped short of claiming responsibility for the incident. "As for the reasons for this [damage], we do not comment. I can only quote the chief of Ukrainian Defense Intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, who said 'the Crimean bridge is an unstable structure,'" spokesperson Andrii Yusov told public broadcaster Suspilne.
  • 2022 attack: The bridge was severely damaged on October 8 last year when a fuel tanker exploded and destroyed a large section of the road. Earlier this month, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar made what appeared to be the clearest admission yet that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the October attack. "273 days ago, (we) launched the first strike on the Crimean bridge to disrupt Russian logistics." Maliar posted on Telegram on July 9, as she listed Ukrainian achievements since the start of Russia's invasion.
  • Why the bridge matters: The nearly 12-mile structure, also known as the Kerch Bridge, is the longest in Europe and carries both road and rail traffic. It also serves as a vital logistical node for Moscow’s military in its war against Ukraine. The bridge holds huge strategic and symbolic importance for Russia, which built the structure at a cost of around $3.7 billion after Moscow illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. It was the physical expression of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objective to take over Ukraine and bind it to Russia forever.
  • Crimea's significance: Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, have long stated their goal of recapturing Crimea but rarely comment directly on actions in the peninsula. “We cannot imagine Ukraine without Crimea. And while Crimea is under the Russian occupation, it means only one thing: the war is not over yet,” Zelensky told CNN earlier this month.