Ukraine sent waves of drones deep into western Russia in nighttime attacks that lasted more than four hours and struck military assets, Russian officials and media reports said Wednesday.
The drones hit an airport near Russia’s border with Estonia and Latvia, causing a huge blaze and damaging four Il-76 military transport planes, which can carry heavy machinery and troops, Russian state news agency Tass reported, citing emergency officials.
With at least six regions of Russia targeted, the barrage appeared to be the most extensive Ukrainian drone attack on Russian soil since the war began 18 months ago. The Kremlin has repeatedly accused the Ukrainian military of cross-border incursions on the Belgorod region of Russia and of launching drones toward Moscow.
There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian officials, who usually refuse to take responsibility for any attacks inside Russia. The Kremlin’s forces, meanwhile, hit Ukraine’s capital with drones and missiles during the night in what Ukrainian officials called a “massive, combined attack” that killed two people.
Aerial attacks on Russia have escalated in recent months as the Ukrainian military pursues a counteroffensive to drive Moscow’s forces out of its territory. Ukraine has increasingly targeted Russia’s military assets behind the front lines in the invaded country’s east and south.
Ukraine has also claimed to have used sea drones against Russian ships in the Black Sea. Ukrainian media have said that Kyiv saboteurs used drones last week to hit bomber aircraft parked at air bases deep inside Russia.
Russian authorities did not report any casualties from Wednesday’s deluge. The airport in the Pskov region, which is located about 700 kilometres north of the Ukraine border and 700 kilometres west of Moscow, suffered the most damage. Unconfirmed media reports said up to 20 drones may have targeted the facility.
Smoke from a massive fire billowed over the city of Pskov, the region’s namesake capital, images posted on social media showed. Videos showed loud bangs and flashes punctuating the night, along with the crackle of air defence systems and tracers climbing into the dark sky.
Targets deep inside Russia
Pskov Gov. Mikhail Vedernikov ordered all flights to and from the airport cancelled for the day so the damage could be assessed during daylight. There were no casualties and the fire was put out, he said.
Other regions hit in the barrage were Oryol, 400 kilometres south of Moscow; Ryazan, which is 200 kilometres southeast of Moscow; and Kaluga, lying 200 kilometres southwest of Moscow; as well as Bryansk, which borders Ukraine, and the region surrounding the Russian capital, according to the Russia Defence Ministry. Minor damage was reported in those areas.
Three main Moscow region airports — Sheremetyevo, Vnukovo and Domodedovo — temporarily halted incoming and outgoing flights.
The Associated Press is unable to confirm whether the drones were launched from Ukraine or from inside Russia.
Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, said his country now has drones with a range of up to 500 kilometres, though he did not take responsibility for any attacks inside Russia or on Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
“If you look carefully at the news recently, in general, every day there is news about long-range drones that hit various targets both in [Russian-]occupied Crimea and in the territory of Russia,” Fedorov told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “So in this regard, let’s say, that more or less a mass production of these drones has appeared.”
Russia, meanwhile, also used drones as well as missiles in its biggest bombardment of Ukraine’s capital in months, Ukrainian authorities said.
Two security guards, ages 26 and 36, were killed and another person was injured by falling debris, Serhiy Popko, the head of the Kyiv military administration, wrote on Telegram.
Russia launched Shahed exploding drones at the city from various directions and then followed with missiles from Tu-95MS strategic aircraft, Popko said. It was unclear how many were launched, but Popko called the attack the biggest on the capital since the spring.