What we know about the bridge The facts, and the theories, about the explosion on the Crimean Bridge
Around 6:00am on Saturday, October 8, an explosion occurred on the only bridge between Russian and the annexed territories of Crimea. By most accounts, a truck crossing from the Russian side exploded, causing several sections of roadway to collapse into the water. The explosion also ignited a train hauling oil tanks on the neighboring railway part of the bridge, damaging a long stretch of track. Meduza gathers the latest facts and theories on what happened, how, and who did it.
What we know about the bridge explosion
Around six in the morning an explosion occurred on the Kerch Strait Bridge. According to videos published by Baza, the incident happened as a truck and a passenger car which was passing the truck, began to ascend a shipping arch on the 19 kilometer (12 mile) bridge. The clip shows a blinding white flash, and then it becomes clear that the truck, the car, and all four lanes of the roadway are engulfed in flames. Both vehicles were traveling to Kerch from the Taman Peninsula.
The explosion also ignited a train carrying fuel tanks, which was passing on the railway part of the bridge at the same time.
Soon afterward, videos appeared on social media showing the extent of the damage. A few sections of roadway collapsed into the water, though the other side of the car lanes survived, which allowed vehicle traffic on the bridge to resume later in the day. The fire damaged more than a kilometer (more than half a mile) of railway track on the bridge, however the bridge reopened to train traffic in the evening of October 8.
Five people were killed in the explosion, reports the publication Mash. In addition to the truck driver, four people were killed in personal vehicles which happened to be near the truck at the moment of the explosion. Mash claims that a married couple from St. Petersburg were among the victims. The Investigative Committee of Russia initially reported three victims.
The Investigative Committee quickly opened a criminal case related to the explosion, though it was not initially clear what the charges might be. Russian president Vladimir Putin did not comment on the incident until over a day after it occurred.
Putin said on Sunday, October 9 that the Ukrainian Security Service was behind the explosion, and called it an act of terrorism. “There is no doubt that this is an act of terrorism, aimed at destroying critically important civilian infrastructure of the Russian Federation,” he said.
Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee then announced that the criminal case would be prosecuted under the article in the Russian criminal code dealing with terrorist acts. He added that citizens of Russia as well as of foreign countries were involved.
Ukrainian authorities neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the explosion. Mykhailo Podolyak, senior adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, posted on Twitter:
However, Podolyak later put forward the idea that the Russian defense ministry blew up the bridge in connection with internal feuds about personnel.
Ukrainian media, Western media, and Putin himself have said that Ukrainian security services are responsible for the explosion.
How the bridge exploded
Version 1: Official version – the truck blew up
The Russian National Antiterrorist Committee announced that the cause of the explosion on the bridge was “an exploding freight truck that ignited seven fuel tanks on a train.”
The truck, which allegedly exploded on the bridge at around 6:00am, passed inspection in Taman. Surveillance video shows a man asking the driver to open the truck’s freight compartment. The driver behaves “calmly.” After a quick check the truck proceeded onto the bridge and, according to the Investigative Committee, blew up within a few minutes. There is equipment at the entrance to the bridge, including an x-ray machine, for tracking explosives in vehicles, but the truck was not checked on it, according to Mash.
The Telegram channel BChK-OBPU quoted a source in law enforcement saying that the explosion happened on early Saturday morning, “the time when all the smugglers go to the peninsula.” The source also added that “employees carrying out inspections ‘earn’ millions of rubles a day,” by turning a blind eye to the reloading of trucks and transport of prohibited goods.
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Investigators quickly established the identity of the truck’s owner – the 25-year-old Samir Yusubov. Yusubov himself published a video saying he had “no connection with events on the bridge.” He explained that the truck was registered to him, but that it was driven by his father’s cousin, the 51 year old Makhir Yusubov. Samir himself is currently abroad. Several sources say Makhir Yusubov did not know he was transporting explosives.
Version 2: Explosives under the bridge
Twitter users noticed an unidentified object under the bridge, which is visible in the first few frames of videos of the explosion. In the footage, probably shot by a camera mounted on the railway part of the bridge (which is above the car part), a white object is visible in the water between pilings. A few users thought it was a wave. It’s impossible to make out the object because, after the first few seconds of footage, it is obscured by a blinding flash and then by flames, smoke, and large waves.
However, many experts disagree that the explosion came from beneath the bridge. Nick Waters, an open source analyst with Bellingcat, says if the explosion had happened under the bridge he would have expected to see at least a slight delay on the footage as the thick concrete blocked the explosion.
Version 3: A combined operation
Ilya Ponomarev, a former Russian politician currently residing in Ukraine, put forward this theory on a YouTube livestream. He claimed that no truck is capable of carrying enough explosives to damage a bridge so badly, and that the train and the truck were separate operations, which were coordinated to look like a single event.
In August, Ponomarev also put forward his own theory about the death of Darya Dugina.
Bonus version: A birthday present for Putin
President Putin turned 70 on October 7. On the same day, Makhir Yusubov, the driver of the truck which exploded on the Crimean Bridge, picked up the load that he was supposed to deliver to Simferopol. However, Yusubov apparently stopped on the Russian side of the bridge to sleep, crossing the bridge early in the morning on October 8, rather than on Putin’s birthday.