Five Russians are among eight suspects detained in connection with the explosion that has gnarled rail and vehicle traffic on the $3.6 billion Crimea bridge, Russia’s domestic intelligence service said Wednesday.
Ukraine’s military intelligence agency was behind the attack Saturday on the 12-mile bridge, Europe’s longest, the FSB said in a statement. Ukraine authorities have lauded the incident but have not formally accepted responsibility for the blast, which Russia says killed three people.
“At the moment, five citizens of Russia, three citizens of Ukraine and Armenia, who participated in the preparation of the crime, have been detained as part of a criminal case,” the FSB said, adding that several other suspects were involved in the plan.
The FSB said the explosives were shipped out of the Ukrainian city of Odesa in August, and three Ukrainians, two Georgians and an Armenian national were behind the plan to arrange the delivery from Bulgaria through Georgia into Russia.
A Ukrainian citizen and the five detained Russians had prepared documents for a nonexistent Crimean firm to receive the explosives, the agency said. The investigation was continuing.
►NATO defense ministers were meeting Wednesday in Brussels to coordinate plans for providing Ukraine with more weaponry.
►Russian President Vladimir Putin was meeting Wednesday with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Kazakhstan on the sidelines of a regional summit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said. Erdoğan has offered to host talks between Russia and the West.
No indication Putin is preparing to use nuclear weapons, Pentagon says
The Pentagon has not seen indications that Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing to use nuclear weapons as his forces falter in Ukraine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday. Austin made his remarks in a briefing to reporters in Brussels, where NATO allies met to discuss supplying military aid to Ukraine.
“Nuclear saber rattling is reckless and irresponsible,” Austin said. “We don’t expect to see and hear that kind of behavior from a major nuclear power. And so that’s very dangerous.”
Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Ukraine’s top needs for the war include air defense systems, cannon artillery, rocket artillery, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. Milley blasted the recent Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian cities, calling the “indiscriminate and deliberate attacks” a “war crime.”
— Tom Vanden Brook
Ukraine receives artillery, air defense systems from US, Germany
The U.S. and its allies are taking quick steps to respond to Ukraine’s request for air defense systems that may prevent major damage from missile strikes such as the ones Russia launched Monday and Tuesday.
Ukraine received its first IRIS-T air defense system from Germany and four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) from the U.S., Ukraine Foreign Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Wednesday. The deliveries were expedited after this week’s Russian barrage across much of Ukraine, a retaliatory attack for a truck bomb that damaged a crucial, Russian-built bridge in Crimea on Saturday.
The U.S. also announced plans to send Ukraine eight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS); two are expected to be delivered soon. In addition, the Netherlands said it would deliver $14.5 million worth of air defense missiles, and France said it would also contribute to Ukraine’s air defense.
“A new era of air defense has begun,” Reznikov tweeted. “There is a moral imperative to protect the sky over in order to save our people.”
Shelling again causes dangerous blackout at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
For the second time in five days, Europe’s second-largest nuclear power plant was knocked off the grid by shelling, once again risking a radiation emergency.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant lost its electric supply Wednesday when a Russian missile damaged a substation north of it, the facility’s operator said. Even though the plant’s six reactors are inactive, they need to be cooled for long stretches to prevent overheating.
Energoatom said the external power source was repaired after about eight hours and that the plant’s emergency diesel generators — which rely on uncertain fuel deliveries in the war zone — provided backup power in the meantime, but pointed out a similarly hazardous interruption could happen at any time.
Experts have raised alarm about the danger of continued fighting near the plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since early in the war but is operated by Ukrainian employees. Repeated power outages over brief stretches only increase the risks, analysts say.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly called for the establishment of a protection zone around the facility — IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi made his case to Putin directly Tuesday — but so far hostilities in the plant’s periphery have not ceased.
Biden: No progress in effort to free Brittney Griner from Russian prison
U.S. officials have made no progress toward freeing WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner from a Moscow prison, President Joe Biden said Wednesday. Asked by reporters if there was any movement in the Griner case, Biden replied, “Not with Putin.”
In an interview Tuesday with CNN, Biden said he had “no intention” of meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit next month in Indonesia – but that he would consider a conversation if Putin said he wanted to talk about Griner.
Griner, who plays basketball in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport outside Moscow in February on drug charges. Griner admitted having vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage, but testified she had inadvertently packed them and had no criminal intent. She was sentenced to nine years in prison; her appeal hearing is set for Oct. 25.
– Francesca Chambers, USA TODAY
Putin blames US for pipeline blasts, says Russia ready to resume gas flow
Putin said Wednesday that Russia is ready to restart the flow of gas to Europe over the single remaining link of the Nord Stream gas pipelines – and again blamed the U.S. for blasts that crippled the system. German government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann rejected the proposal, saying Russia has been an unreliable gas supplier since the war began.
European authorities are investigating the explosions that ripped through both links of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline and one of the two links of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. U.S. officials have dismissed Putin’s claim that the U.S. wanted to disrupt the flow to encourage Europe to import more expensive liquefied natural gas.
Experts discuss Putin’s threat to use nukes in Ukraine
What does Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons mean for the security of millions of people in Ukraine and around the world, including the United States, which Russian nuclear-tipped missiles can certainly reach?
USA TODAY spoke with former top intelligence officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA official and a host of other nuclear security experts and analysts for answers. All of them agreed with President Joe Biden’s assessment that the current situation is fraught with potential danger, including the possibility an increasingly cornered Putin decides to deploy one of the smaller nuclear weapons in his massive arsenal. Here is what else the experts had to say.
– Josh Meyer, USA TODAY
Kremlin blasts plan to rebuild Ukraine with frozen Russian assets
A proposal by leading industrial nations to use frozen Russian assets to finance the rebuilding of Ukraine has drawn sharp criticism from Moscow.
“It’s just pure international racketeering,” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday.
The G-7 statement released after Tuesday’s virtual meeting called for “ensuring Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction, including exploring avenues to do so with funds from Russia.” After the invasion began in February, the West imposed sanctions against the Bank of Russia. In addition to freezing Russia’s gold and foreign exchange reserves, all transactions related to the management of reserves and assets of the Bank of Russia, as well as transactions with any legal entity, fell under the ban.