Russia arrests 8 for Crimean bridge attack

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia’s domestic intelligence service announced on Wednesday the arrest of eight people in connection with last weekend’s bombing of the bridge connecting Russia with the occupied Crimean peninsula. Five are Russian citizens, according to the agency, the FSB, and the others are Ukrainians and Armenians.

President Vladimir V. Putin accused Ukraine of being behind the blast, which he called a “terrorist attack”, and retaliated with a barrage of missile fire against civilian targets in Ukraine this week, killing more than 20 people.

In a statement, the FSB presented Russia’s first detailed version of how it claims the explosion took place. He said the bomb contained 22 tonnes of explosives which were shipped from a port in Odessa, southern Ukraine, in August. The explosives traveled to southern Russia, where they were loaded onto a truck which was driven over the bridge and exploded, he added.

Details could not be independently confirmed. Russia maintains an effective blockade on the ports of Odessa, allowing only grain ships, inspected by international observers, to leave under an agreement brokered this summer by the United Nations.

The FSB, as Russia’s premier domestic intelligence service, is primarily responsible for security on the bridge. The bombing represented a serious shortcoming in the agency’s oversight, even as Ukrainian officials telegraphed for months their intentions to hit the structure.

The FSB said Ukraine’s military intelligence service, the GUR, orchestrated the explosion, saying the agency’s commander, General Kyrylo Budanov, bore personal responsibility. A senior Ukrainian official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to a government ban on discussing the episode, confirmed that Ukrainian intelligence services executed him, and other senior officials did not. denied Ukraine’s role.

But the Ukrainian government has not officially claimed responsibility for the blast, and a GUR spokesman called the Russian claims “nonsense”.

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The FSB and the main Russian investigative committee “are false structures in the service of the Putin regime, and therefore we will certainly not comment on their latest statement”, said Andrei Yusov, the spokesman for the GUR.

The explosion in Crimea, just after 6 a.m. on Saturday, was both a strategic and symbolic attack. The bridge is the only link between Russia and Crimea, and a symbol for Russian President Vladimir V. Putin of one of his greatest triumphs as a leader: the illegal annexation of Crimea to Ukraine in 2014. The force of the explosion sent a large chunk of the bridge falling into the sea and set fire to a fuel-pulling train passing over a parallel railway bridge.

The bridge is also the main supply route for fuel and heavy equipment for Russian troops fighting in southern Ukraine. Any disruption to the structure would hamper the ability of Russian forces to fight at a time when the Ukrainian military is pushing deeper into territory captured by Russia at the start of the war.

The FSB’s claims about the size of the bomb smack of credulity, given the history of improvised explosive devices used in recent armed conflicts. During the US occupation of Iraq, the largest improvised bombs commonly made by insurgents were those placed in dump trucks, carrying about five tons of improvised explosives.

The most powerful non-nuclear aerial bomb used by the US military – the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB – contains the equivalent power of just over nine tons of TNT. At 30 feet long and over three feet in diameter, a MOAB can only be dropped by military cargo planes. The Pentagon revealed only one use of the MOAB by US forces in combat, during a 2017 attack on a suspected insurgent cave complex in Afghanistan.

Twenty-two tons is more than double the maximum capacity of most dump trucks. It emerged that Russian intelligence was offering an estimate based on loading limits for standardized 20ft or 40ft shipping containers, which are usually transported by semi-trailers. In videos captured at the time of the explosion, the truck that exploded on the Kerch Strait Bridge did not appear to be carrying such a shipping container.

The FSB identified the truck driver as Makhir Yusubov, born in 1971. The senior Ukrainian official said it was likely the truck driver died in the blast, although it is unclear whether he knew the truck was carrying a bomb. .

Shortly after the blast, a man claiming to be Mr Yusubov’s nephew gave an interview to Russian media claiming to be the owner of the truck, but denying knowledge of any plot to blow up the bridge.