Russian forces claim to have intercepted two Ukrainian drones flying over military airfields in Russia on Monday, both several hundred kilometers from the border between the two countries.
Ukraine Starting a Drone War?
Two Russian airbases were rocked by explosions as the drones were reportedly intercepted, with one occurring early on Monday morning at the Engels-2 airbase in Saratov, and another at the Dyagilevo airbase near Ryazan.
Both Russian airbases were home to Tu-95 long-range bomber aircraft.
The strikes, presuming they were ordered by Ukrainian military officials, appear to have been a pre-emptive attack, with Russian forces soon launching mass strikes on Russia after the two explosions.
Russian forces used air-to-surface and sea-launched missiles to initiate a wave of new missile strikes in Ukraine on Monday. Kyiv claims to have shot down 60 out of 70 incoming missiles.
The strikes on Russian airbases killed three Russian servicemen and injured an additional four.
Despite the seriousness of the attacks, Russian officials spent Monday playing down the incident and avoiding placing the blame on Russia.
By Monday evening, Kyiv had not officially commented on the strikes – however, given that the attacks occurred much deeper into Russian territory than Ukraine has achieved at any other point in the conflict, the incident could signify the willingness and capability of Ukrainian troops to launch new offensives on Russian soil.
Russia Running Scared?
Pro-Kremlin Telegram channels reportedly spent the afternoon theorizing that the attacks were not orchestrated by Kyiv and playing down the implications of the strikes.
Oleg Tsaryov, a former separatist Ukrainian official who was expelled from the Part of Regions in April 2014, recognized how serious the strikes were, but argued that the culprit is unknown.
“Two extremely unpleasant events in our deep rear: in the area of the Diaghilev air base near Ryazan, a fuel tanker exploded, three were killed, six were injured, and at about the same time, a drone attacked the Engels airfield in the Saratov region, where our strategic bombers are based, two were wounded and two Tu -95 were damaged,” Tsaryov said, adding that authorities will now need to “figure out where and by whom the UAVs were launched and whose fault it was.”
The Ukrainian separatist also argued that the strikes were “on the level of detonation of the Crimean bridge.”
While some supporters of the Russian invasion have cast doubt on Ukrainian forces being responsible for the strikes, however, the Russian Ministry of Defense placed the blame squarely at Kyiv’s feet in a Telegram post on Monday.
“On the morning of December 5 this year, the Kiev regime, in order to disable long-range aircraft, attempted to strike Soviet-made jets and unmanned aerial vehicles at the Diaghilev military airfields in the Ryazan region and Engels in the Saratov region,” the statement reads.
The Defense Ministry said that the “fall and explosion of the wreckage of jet drones” caused damage to the hull plating of two aircraft. The statement also accused Kyiv of orchestrating a “terrorist attack” on Russian soil.
The Kremlin may have blamed Ukraine for the attacks, but its official response to the strikes downplayed the severity of the attacks.
Ukraine Hints At Responsibility
While Ukraine has not officially taken responsibility for the explosions, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak warned Russia that firing rockets at Ukraine are likely to cause a response in kind.
“The Earth is round – discovery made by Galileo. Astronomy was not studied in Kremlin, giving preference to court astrologers. If it was, they would know: if something is launched into other countries’ airspace, sooner or later unknown flying objects will return to departure point,” Podolyak said.
Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor.