What is known about drone strikes against strategic military targets inside Russia

A satellite image shows strategic bombers at the Russian Engels airbase in the Saratov region, which was attacked last Monday by Ukrainian drones.

Following the successful drone attack on three military targets inside Russia, the war has entered a new phase for Ukraine.

Two strategically important Russian airbases were attacked by drones on Monday, and a third suffered the same fate on Tuesday.

It is the first time that Ukraine has managed to penetrate more than 600 kilometers inside Russia without its drones being intercepted by the country’s anti-aircraft defenses since the war began.

The three attacks also demonstrate the precision capacity of the Ukrainian army, already capable of reaching targets located inside its giant enemy.

And all this has been done, apparently, without using the material it has received from NATO countries, just using old Soviet drones modernized by Ukrainian engineers.

Russia has accused Ukraine of the attacks from the outset, although, as usual, Kyiv has not publicly commented on the matter. Ukrainian authorities have maintained the same cryptic attitude in recent months when explosions were reported at other major Russian military targets.

His air force, however, tweeted on Monday a photo of the damage caused at one of the attacked Russian bases, Diaghilevo, near Ryazan, and the question “What happened?”, along with a party emoticon.

 The target of the attacks

The bases attacked on Monday, December 5, are Engels, in Saratov, and Diaghilevo, near Ryazan, the latter only about 240 kilometers from Moscow.

A Tupolev Tu-95 BEAR like the one that has been hit at the Engels base. In the image, Vladimir Putin and other authorities visit the largest manufacturing plant for these aircraft last May.

According to British intelligence, two Tu-95 BEAR bombers were damaged due to the explosion at the Engels airbase, and three people were killed in Diaghilevo when a fuel tank exploded.

Tuesday’s attack took place at the Kursk airbase where another fuel store would have been hit.

The Russian Defense Ministry has acknowledged that its anti-aircraft defenses intercepted Ukrainian drones flying over its bases on Monday, and that it was the remains of these drones that “slightly” damaged two planes as they crashed into them.

Satellite images from last Sunday, before the attack took place, show a large fleet of Russian bombers at the Engels base.

Both Engels and Diaghilevo are not mere airfields, they explain from the Ukrainian service, but rather are air bases where some of the most important Russian military aircraft are located, among which are those that They have the capacity to carry nuclear weapons, so they have great strategic value.

There are the aircraft that Russia has used to bomb the Ukrainian energy infrastructure in recent months, hence the heavily protected bases.

What drones have been used

This is one of the most sensitive questions of the attack, since Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned the US and its NATO allies not to dare cross the “red lines”, that is, not to provide weapons long-range weapons to Ukraine with which it could attack its territory.

Following the explosions, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was quick to make clear that Washington has not “encouraged or enabled” Ukraine to attack targets inside Russia. In other words, the attack was not carried out with weapons that Washington has provided to Kyiv.

Since the beginning of the war on February 24, NATO has ruled out this possibility to avoid an escalation of the conflict and a direct confrontation with a nuclear power such as Russia.

Along these lines, the “Wall Street Journal” reported this week that the US would have secretly modified the Himars missile launcher system that it has sent to Ukraine so that the rockets cannot reach Russian territory and thus reduce the risk of war with Moscow.

The US has sent Himars missile launch systems to Ukraine, although it could have modified them so they do not reach Russian territory.

According to Blinken, Ukrainians have “the necessary equipment to defend themselves, to defend their territory and to defend their freedom,” and has criticized Moscow for “weaponizing winter” by destroying civilian infrastructure that deprives Ukrainians of heating. , electricity or running water.

But if the US does not want Ukraine to reach Russian territory with the weapons they send, which to date exceed $19 billion, it seems to have no problem with them doing so with their own material.

According to Oleh Chernysh, a drone expert with the Ukrainian service, it is not known exactly what type of unmanned aircraft the Ukrainian army has used. However, different experts, including some Russians, believe that the old Soviet Tupolev Tu-141, known as “Strizh” (swift), would have been used.

These old reconnaissance drones began to be manufactured 50 years ago and they are quite large. According to experts, “they could have been modernized and modified by Ukrainian engineers to carry weapons and allow them to fly up to 1,000km without being detected,” explains Chernysh.

In this way, the drones could have been transformed, de facto, into long-range missiles.

Anthony Blinken met in Kyiv last April with President Zelensky. The US wants to prevent its weapons from reaching Russian territory so as not to escalate the conflict with Moscow.

What consequences does it have?

For starters, the fact that Ukraine has managed to reach a base less than 250 km from Moscow sends a powerful message to both Putin and the Russians, now aware that they, too, could be vulnerable to the consequences of the war Russia started. last February.

In addition, according to British intelligence, “if Russia assesses that these incidents were deliberate attacks, it will probably regard them as one of the most significant strategic failures by its defense forces since the start of the invasion of Ukraine.”

Engels is the main operating base for Western Russia’s long-range aviation, hosting more than 30 bombers.

“These aircraft contribute to nuclear deterrence and have often been used to launch conventional cruise missiles into Ukraine,” says the British Defense Ministry, which believes that Russia could respond to these explosions by temporarily moving the bombers to other airfields.

It would not be ruled out, according to this same source, that Moscow will seek to identify and punish the officers responsible for the incident.

It is also possible that, barring the nuclear escalation, the Ukrainians consider that Russia does not have the capacity to further expand the conflict. This could have encouraged them to pursue more ambitious goals in the Russian interior.

“If someone attacks you, you respond,” former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said in an interview, making it clear he was not speaking on behalf of the Ukrainian government.

The logic, according to him, cannot be to stop responding so that they do not attack you again, “there is no strategic reason to do something like that,” he said..

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