Russia has arrested eight suspects over an explosion that damaged a strategic bridge linking annexed Crimea to Russia.
Moscow regards Saturday’s blast on the Kerch Strait Bridge as a “terrorist attack” organised by Ukrainian secret services.
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Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Wednesday that it had arrested five Russians and three citizens of Ukraine and Armenia, Interfax reported.
Explosives were stored in plastic film rolls that left the Ukrainian port of Odesa in August and transited through Bulgaria, Georgia and Armenia before entering Russia, the service said.
The FSB accused Ukraine’s military intelligence service and its director Kyrylo Budanov of organising the attack.
Twelve people were also identified as accomplices, TASS reported.
According to the Russian news agency, at least four people were killed in the explosion.
Ukraine has not officially confirmed its involvement, but some Ukrainian officials celebrated the incident.
A senior Ukrainian official dismissed Russia’s investigation.
“The whole activity of the FSB and Investigative Committee is nonsense,” Ukraine’s public broadcaster Suspilne cited interior minister spokesman Andriy Yusov as saying.
He described the FSB and Investigative Committee as “fake structures that serve the Putin regime, so we will definitely not comment on their next statements”.
One section of the 19km (12 miles) long bridge was destroyed, temporarily halting road traffic, in addition to several fuel tankers on a train heading towards the annexed peninsula from southern Russia.
The bridge, a prestige project personally opened by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018, had become logistically vital to his military campaign, with supplies to Russian troops fighting in south Ukraine channelled through it.
Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall, reporting from Moscow, said the owner of the truck from which the explosion is thought to have originated was a 25-year-old Crimean man, according to local media.
The man says he is innocent as his uncle had been driving the truck, Vall said.
The driver was among those who died in the blast.
Act of retaliation
Reeling from the attack, Russian forces launched mass missile strikes against Ukrainian cities, including power supplies, on Monday.
At least 19 people were killed across Ukraine in a day, with dozens wounded, as Moscow escalated the conflict.
At a televised meeting of Russia’s Security Council, Putin said the attacks were in retaliation for the Crimea bridge blast.
Any further Ukrainian attacks would yield a “severe” response from Moscow, the Russian president said.
Dozens of explosions rocked cities, including the capital, Kyiv, which had for months been in a state of relative calm.
General Valerii Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said 75 missiles were launched, 41 of which were neutralised by the air defence system.
Missiles also hit Lviv, near the border with Poland, as well as the city of Dnipro, closer to the eastern front lines.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday appealed to leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) countries for more air defence capabilities.
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States pledged continued “financial, humanitarian, military, diplomatic and legal support … for as long as it takes” to Ukraine.
They said attacks on civilians constituted war crimes and pledged to “hold President Putin and those responsible to account”.
At a United Nations General Assembly meeting called on Tuesday to discuss Moscow’s annexation of four partly-occupied regions of Ukraine, Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, called Russia “a terrorist state that must be deterred in the strongest possible ways.”
Meanwhile, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday ordered troops to deploy with Russian forces near Ukraine in response to what he called a threat to Belarus from Kyiv and its Western backers, stirring fears the conflict is yet to expand further.