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Drone strikes deep in Russia seen as Ukrainian rebuff to missile barrages

Moscow has been dealt a major reputational blow after two air bases within its territory were struck, analysts said, raising questions about why its defences failed.

Two mysterious explosions rocked two military airfields in Russia on Monday. Both facilities are used by Russian troops to attack targets in Ukraine. In the early morning hours, an explosion was recorded at the air base near the city of Engels in Russia.

The Russian airbase “Engels-2” has been hit. The base is located 400 km Southeast from Moscow. It hosts strategic bombers of Tu-95 and was the launch pad for numerous attacks against Ukraine. #Ukraine #Russia

— (((Tendar))) (@Tendar) December 5, 2022

On the same day, a gasoline tanker exploded at an airport near Ryazan. According to reports, at least three people were killed and six injured.

Gasoline tanker reportedly exploded on an airfield near Ryazan, Russia. Three people dead, six wounded.

Reasons for explosion are not reported.

— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) December 5, 2022

Despite braying over the blasts, Ukrainian officials refused to acknowledge Kyiv’s involvement, after Russian officials said Ukraine attacked Ryazan and Saratov air bases with unmanned Soviet-era aerial vehicles.

Neither side has provided concrete evidence of the weapons used or who was responsible. However, according to some experts, the Russian statements suggested Ukraine may have used Tupolev Tu-141 or Tu-143 reconnaissance drones, which date back to the 1970s.

According to Russian sources the drone which hit Dyagilevo airbase was a Tupolev Tu-141 Strizh, a Soviet-made recon drone from the 1970s and 1980s.#Ukraine #Russia #Ryazan

— (((Tendar))) (@Tendar) December 5, 2022

In addition, Kyiv announced on Sunday that it was working on its own 1,000-kilometer combat drone.

Moscow reported three Russian service members killed and four wounded in Monday’s attacks, in addition, two warplanes were damaged. Another drone strike on Tuesday damaged and set ablaze a third Russian airfield in Kursk, near Ukraine.

Earlier that day, Russia conducted another wave of missile strikes on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, which led analysts to believe Kyiv was responding to Moscow.

Whether Russia will retaliate remains unclear; it launched the first wave of bombardments shortly after a bridge leading to Crimea was attacked, which it said was organised by Ukrainian intelligence.

Military analysts see it as a bigger image blow than a military one, it indicates that no sites in western Russia are out of Ukraine’s reach.

The damage to the warplanes sparked new grumbling among Russia’s military bloggers, whose social media posts provide insight into Russian attitudes about the war unleashed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Analysts said it was unclear why Russia’s sophisticated air defences hadn’t detected the threat and nullified it, if Kyiv indeed used an old Tupolev reconnaissance drone.

Senior Western officials speculate that if Kyiv was behind the drone strikes, that shows that they can operate freely in Russia, a fact that will deeply concern Russia. The conclusion would be that the Russian air defences are not capable of protecting their strategic aerodromes and that they are effectively admitting this.

Russia’s strategic long-range bombers were believed to be kept at Engels, but now the country will have to decide whether or not to move them.

Russia has accused Ukraine of using drones for attacks inside its borders before. Russia’s Defence Ministry says Ukraine used Tupolev Tu-143 drones laden with explosives to conduct strikes in Belgorod and Kursk, two bordering regions of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government has been talking for weeks about developing an “army of drones”, and its defence minister reported that unmanned aerial vehicles and drones are the future of warfare.

A new combat drone with a range of 1,000 km was successfully tested over the weekend by Ukrainian arms manufacturer Ukroboronprom. Ukrinform reports that the company plans to test it under jamming conditions.

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