- Three people were killed at the Russian base just hours from Moscow
- One of the bases hit is home to the Russian bomber fleet
- The Ukrainian minister joked that careless Russian smokers were to blame
KYIV/NOVOSOFIIVKA, Ukraine, Dec. 6 (Reuters) – Russia’s third airfield was set ablaze by a drone attack on Tuesday, a day after Ukraine demonstrated a new capability to penetrate hundreds of kilometers deep into Russian airspace. Basics.
Authorities in the Russian city of Kursk, located near Ukraine, released images of black smoke above the airport early Tuesday morning after the latest strike. An oil storage tank there caught fire but no casualties were reported, the governor said.
It came a day after Russia confirmed a Soviet-era drone strike at Engels Air Base, home of Russia’s giant strategic bombers and in Ryazan, a few hours’ drive from Moscow. Kyiv did not claim direct responsibility for the strikes, but celebrated them.
“If Russia judges these incidents to be deliberate attacks, they will be considered the most significant failures in force protection since the invasion of Ukraine,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday.
“The Russian chain of command may seek to identify and impose severe sanctions on the Russian officials responsible for allowing the incident.”
Three soldiers were killed in an attack in Ryazan, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. Although the attacks hit military targets, it classified them as terrorism and said the aim was to disable its long-range flights.
The New York Times, citing a senior Ukrainian official, said the drones involved in Monday’s attacks were launched from Ukrainian territory and that at least one strike was carried out with the help of special forces close to the base.
Ukraine has never claimed responsibility for the attacks inside Russia. Asked about the strikes, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleskyi Reznikov repeated a long-standing joke that explosions at Russian bases were caused by careless cigarette smokers.
“Most Russians smoke in places where smoking is prohibited,” he said.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych went further and noted that Engels was Russia’s only base fully armed with the giant bombers used by Russia in its attacks on Ukraine.
“They will try to disperse (strategic aircraft) to the airfields, but all this complicates the operation against Ukraine. Yesterday, thanks to their unsuccessful smoke operation, we achieved a huge result,” he said.
Russian commentators took to social media to say that if Ukraine pushed this far into Russia, it might as well attack Moscow.
“The ability of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to achieve 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.
The giant Tupolev long-range bombers that Russia maintains at Engels Air Base are a key part of its strategic nuclear arsenal, similar to the B-52s used by the US during the Cold War. Russia has used them in its campaign since October to destroy Ukraine’s energy grid with weekly missile strikes.
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.” Missile attacks destroyed homes and knocked out power across Ukraine, but the impact seemed less severe than last month’s volleys that plunged millions of Ukrainians into darkness and cold.
Ukraine’s air force said it shot down more than 60 of about 70 missiles.
In the village of Novosofivka, about 25 km (16 miles) east of the city of Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine, a missile tore a large crater in the ground and completely shredded a nearby house. Ambulance crews collected two bodies from the mangled car.
Olha Droshina, 62, said the dead were her neighbors, who were standing in their car watching their son and daughter-in-law when the missile hit. Now that the houses are destroyed and winter is coming, she doesn’t know where she will go.
“We have nowhere to go back,” she said. “It would be nice if it was spring or summer. If it was a warm season we could do something. But what am I going to do now?”
Ukraine warned that emergency blackouts would resume in many areas as the damage was repaired.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at least four people were killed in the latest Russian attacks.
“In many regions, there should be an emergency blackout,” he said in a video message late Monday. “We will do everything to restore stability.”
Calling the invasion a “special military operation” aimed at rooting out nationalists, Russia claims a military justification for its attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. Kyiv says the attacks had no military purpose and were intended to injure civilians, a war crime.
“They don’t understand one thing – such missile attacks only increase our resistance,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Reznikov said. “Also, they increase our partners’ willingness to support us.”
According to a letter seen by Reuters, the US said it would hold a virtual meeting on Thursday with oil and gas executives to discuss how it could support Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Russia will lose its “current gamble of trying to force the Ukrainian people to hold their hands”.
Report by Reuters Bureau; Written by Peter Graff Editing by Gareth Jones
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