Ukrainian drone attacks expose Russian air defences

47

A third Russian airfield was ablaze on Tuesday from a drone strike, a day after Ukraine demonstrated an apparent new ability to penetrate hundreds of kilometers deep into Russian air space with attacks on two Russian air bases.

Officials in the Russian city of Kursk, located closer to Ukraine, released pictures of black smoke above an airfield in the early morning hours of Tuesday after the latest strike. The governor said an oil storage tank there had been set ablaze but there were no casualties.

It came a day after Russia confirmed it had been hit by what it said were Soviet-era drones — at Engels air base, home to Russia’s fleet of giant strategic bombers, and in Ryazan, just a few hours drive from Moscow. Kyiv did not directly claim responsibility for the strikes but celebrated them.

“If Russia assesses the incidents were deliberate attacks, it will probably consider them as some of the most strategically significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine,” Britain’s ministry of defence said on Tuesday.

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

Russia’s defence ministry said three service members were killed in the attack at Ryazan. Although the attacks struck military targets it characterised them as terrorism and said the aim was to disable its long-range 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 strikes was made with the help of special forces close to the base.

Ukraine never acknowledges responsibility for attacks inside Russia. Asked about the strikes, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleskiy Reznikov repeated a longstanding joke that explosions at Russian bases were caused by careless cigarette smokers.

“Very often Russians smoke in places where it’s forbidden to smoke,” he said.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych went further, noting that Engels was the only base Russia has that is fully equipped for the giant bombers which Russia has used in attacks on Ukraine.

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

Russian commentators said on social media that if Ukraine could strike that far inside Russia, it might also be able to hit Moscow.

“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 the Espreso TV website.—Reuters