Russia jailed two senior military officers for purchasing Pantsir-SM air defense system to protect Crimea bridge

Fire on the Kerch bridge linking Crimea to Russia after the huge explosion early on Saturday. Photograph: Reuters

 A court on Tuesday sentenced a senior officer in the National Guard to six years in a prison colony after convicting him of buying and deploying equipment unable to protect the bridge which links southern Russia to Crimea, the TASS state news agency reported.

TASS said that Colonel Sergei Volkov had purchased two Pantsir-SM air defence systems for $60.5 million which were meant to be able to bring down Ukrainian attack drones by suppressing their signal.

A military court in Moscow had determined that the equipment – which was also meant to protect a gas pipeline running from southern Russia to Crimea – needed modernising and upgrading to be effective and had found Volkov guilty of abusing his position, it said.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 in a move that Kyiv and the West do not recognise and say was illegal.

Volkov was reported to deny his guilt, saying he had acted within the law, and that the equipment was in fact intended to protect National Guard troops in various locations.

The Kommersant newspaper reported that Volkov’s oversight had left the bridge being “within range of (Ukrainian) fire.”

The road and rail bridge was a flagship project for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who opened it to road traffic to much fanfare by driving a truck across it in 2018.

After Putin sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022, the bridge became a prime target for the Ukrainian military and special services.

It was severely damaged in October 2022 by a massive explosion.

Russian officials said the blast was caused by a lorry that exploded while driving over the bridge, killing three people. A few months later, in July 2023, Ukrainian security services claimed responsibility for the explosion.

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