Ukrainian long-range drone strikes expose Russian air defenses

  • Three dead at Russian base just hours from Moscow
  • One of the bases hit was home to the Russian bomber fleet
  • The Ukrainian minister jokes that careless Russian smokers are to blame

KIEV/NOVOSOFIIVKA, Ukraine, December 6 (Reuters) – A third Russian airfield was ablaze after a drone attack on Tuesday, a day after Ukraine demonstrated what appeared to be a new capability with attacks on two Russian airfields hundreds of kilometers deep in the bases to invade Russian airspace.

Officials in the Russian city of Kursk, which is closer to Ukraine, released images of black smoke over an airfield in the early hours of Tuesday after the latest strike. The governor said an oil tank was set on fire there, but there were no casualties.

It came a day after Russia confirmed it had been hit by Soviet-era drones – at Engels air base, home of Russia’s fleet of giant strategic bombers, and at Ryazan, just a few hours’ drive from Moscow. Kiev did not directly identify itself with the strikes, but celebrated them.

“If Russia characterizes the incidents as premeditated attacks, it will likely view them as one of the most strategic failures in troop protection since its invasion of Ukraine,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

“The Russian chain of command will likely seek to identify Russian officers held responsible for allowing the incident and impose severe sanctions.”

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, three military personnel were killed in the attack on Ryazan. Although the attacks hit military targets, it labeled them terrorism and said the aim was to disable its long-haul aircraft.

The New York Times, citing a senior Ukrainian official, said the drones involved in Monday’s attacks were launched from Ukrainian territory and at least one of the attacks was carried out with the help of special forces near the base.

Ukraine never acknowledges responsibility for attacks inside Russia. Asked about the strikes, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleskiy Reznikov repeated a long-standing joke that explosions at Russian bases were caused by careless cigarette smokers.

“Very often, Russians smoke in places where smoking is prohibited,” he said.

Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Oleksiy Arestovych went further, noting that Engels is the only Russian base fully equipped to handle the giant bombers Russia has used in attacks on Ukraine.

“They will try to distribute (strategic aircraft) to airfields, but all this complicates the operation against Ukraine. Yesterday we got a very big result thanks to her unsuccessful smoking,” he said.

Russian commentators on social media said that if Ukraine could invade Russia that far, it could potentially hit Moscow as well.

“The ability of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to reach military targets deep in the territory of the Russian Federation has a very symbolic and important meaning,” Ukrainian military analyst Serhiy Zgurets wrote on Espreso TV’s website.


The giant long-range Tupolev bombers that Russia deploys at Engels Air Force Base are an important part of its strategic nuclear arsenal, similar to the B-52s used by the United States during the Cold War. Russia has used them since October in its campaign to destroy Ukraine’s energy grid with near-weekly waves of rocket attacks.

The Engels base near the city of Saratov is at least 600 km (372 miles) from the nearest Ukrainian territory.

Russia responded to Monday’s attacks with what it called a “massive attack on Ukraine’s military control system.” Rocket attacks in Ukraine destroyed homes and cut off electricity supplies, but the impact appeared less severe than last month’s barrage, which plunged millions of Ukrainians into darkness and cold.

Ukraine’s air force said it shot down more than 60 missiles out of around 70.

A rocket ripped through the earth in the village of Novosofiivka, about 25 kilometers east of the city of Zaporizhia in southern Ukraine, completely destroying a nearby house. Rescue workers collected two bodies lying next to a wrecked car.

Olha Troshyna, 62, said the dead were her neighbors, who were standing by the car saying goodbye to her son and daughter-in-law when the rocket struck. With the houses now destroyed and winter set in, she had no idea where she was going.

“We have no place to go back to,” she said. “It would be nice if it was spring or summer. We could have done something if it was a warm season. But what do I do now?

Ukraine warned several regions would experience renewed emergency power outages while repairing damage.

At least four people have been killed in the recent attacks in Russia, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“There will have to be emergency power outages in many regions,” he said in a video address late Monday. “We will do everything to restore stability.”

Russia, which describes the invasion as a “military special operation” to root out nationalists, is demanding military justification for its attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. According to Kiev, the attacks have no military purpose and are intended to injure civilians, a war crime.

“They don’t understand one thing – such missile attacks only strengthen our resistance,” said Ukrainian Defense Minister Reznikov. “In addition, they increase the desire of our partners to support us.”

The United States said it would convene a virtual meeting with oil and gas industry executives Thursday to discuss how to support Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, according to a letter from Reuters.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia’s “current attempt to actually get the Ukrainian people to throw up their hands” will fail.

Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Peter Graff Edited by Gareth Jones

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