Drone attacks hit Russia for second straight day
By Marc Santora, Mike Ives and Ivan Nechepurenko
A drone attack Tuesday struck near an air base in Russia, a local official said, a day after Ukraine used drones to hit two military bases deep inside the country in one of its most brazen attacks in the nine-month war. If Ukraine’s forces are confirmed to have been involved in the latest strike, it would add to signs that Kyiv is willing to bring the war closer to Moscow and to President Vladimir Putin.
Russian officials did not directly accuse Ukraine in Tuesday’s attack, which hit an oil facility near an airfield in the Kursk region, 80 miles from the Ukrainian border. The regional governor said Tuesday that a fire caused by the strike had been extinguished and that there were no injuries.
Ukraine’s willingness to hit far inside Russia’s border has altered the geography of the war, shown failures in Moscow’s air defense systems and signaled Kyiv’s determination that Russia pay a heavier price for its unrelenting assault on Ukraine’s infrastructure. After Monday’s drone strikes, Russia launched a volley of missiles at Ukraine that left half of the capital region of Kyiv without electricity and worsened rolling power outages across the country. Many Ukrainians have been without heat and water in frigid temperatures.
Monday’s attacks struck two military installations hundreds of miles inside the Russian border — the Engels airfield and the Dyagilevo military base — according to Russia’s Defense Ministry and a senior Ukrainian official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to convey sensitive information. The drones were launched from Ukrainian territory, and in at least one of the strikes Ukrainian special forces working near the base helped guide the drones to the target, the senior official said.
Ukraine has not explicitly claimed responsibility for those strikes, as is its practice regarding military actions inside Russia. Yurii Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian air force, said that the damage to the airfield at Engels appeared minimal.
“But it is an alarming signal for them,” he said on Ukrainian national television.
Many of Ukraine’s Western allies have sought to avoid escalating the conflict and consistently declined to provide Kyiv with weapons that it could use to hit targets on Moscow’s territory. But Ukraine has shown that it is capable of developing its own arsenal. The Kremlin said that the attacks Monday were carried out by Soviet-era jet drones.
Mick Ryan, a retired Australian army officer, wrote on the Substack blogging platform that the strikes indicated how Ukraine “is now taking the fight to Putin.”
“It is not, as some are sure to claim, an escalation,” he wrote. “But it is a necessary political and military measure for Ukraine to limit the humanitarian harm of Russia’s brutal drone and missile attacks.”
He said the strikes also carried symbolic import, with a strike so close to Moscow — Dyagilevo lies about 100 miles from the Russian capital — delivering “a psychological blow” to Russian people “who thought they were largely insulated from the effects of the war.”
The British military said Tuesday that if Russia believed that the strikes were deliberate, “it will probably consider them as some of the most strategically significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine.” Russian war commentators have intensified criticism of their country’s military command, with some calling for urgent measures to strengthen defense around strategic facilities.
The Engels airfield has been a launching pad for bombers involved in missile attacks against Ukraine’s energy grid, Ukrainian officials say. The wider Engels base complex fields the S-400 ground-based air-defense system, according to Janes, the defense intelligence agency.
The Kursk airfield is not thought to be as strategically significant, but since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February it has hosted fighter jets, according to Ukrainian intelligence reports.
The regional governor of Kursk, Roman Starovoit, has accused Ukrainians of targeting the area in the past. Last month, he said, Ukrainian shelling caused an explosion at a power plant.
Russian forces have used positions in Kursk to launch frequent attacks on the neighboring Sumy region of Ukraine, including with mortars, artillery and rocket launchers, according to Dmytro Zhyvytsky, the head of the Sumy regional military administration.
On Monday, Zhyvytsky accused Russian forces along the border of striking a monastery in Sumy with rockets, damaging the administrative building and other structures.