According to the Russian defense ministry and a senior Ukrainian official, on Monday Ukraine launched its most audacious incursion into Russian territory in the nine-month-long conflict, targeting two military locations hundreds of kilometers inside the nation using unmanned drones.
The senior official stated that the drones were launched from Ukrainian territory and that at least one of the strikes was conducted with the assistance of Ukrainian special forces stationed near the facility, who assisted in guiding the drone to its target.
The strikes signaled a new willingness by Kyiv to hit Russian bases in the heart of the country, escalating the war's stakes, and revealing for the first time Ukraine's ability to launch such long-range attacks. Immediately following the attacks on the bases, Russia launched a volley of missiles at Ukrainian cities.
The Kremlin stated that the Ukrainian missiles were Soviet-era jet drones aiming at locations in Ryazan and Engels, approximately 480 kilometers (300 miles) from the Ukrainian border. It stated that its forces had intercepted the drones and that "the fall and explosion of the wreckage" had "significantly damaged" two aircraft, resulting in the deaths of three service members and the injuries of four others.
On the Volga River in southern Russia, the Engels airfield is home to several of Russia's long-range, nuclear-capable bombers, including the Tupolev-160 and Tupolev-95. According to Ukrainian officials, it is also a staging area for Russia's continuous campaign of missile attacks against infrastructure, which has left millions of Ukrainians with sporadic light, heat, or water — or none at all — as winter approaches. A fireball was captured on surveillance footage from an apartment complex close to the facility, illuminating the sky.
The other explosion occurred at the Dyagilevo military post in the central city of Ryazan, only around 160 km from Moscow, according to Russia’s defense ministry. According to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, fatalities and injuries happened in that location.
Consistent with previous attacks on Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea, the Ukrainian government refuses to acknowledge the attacks publicly.
The distance between the Engels air base and the Ryazan military complex and the Ukrainian border is more than the range of any known missile in Ukraine's arsenal.
Even before Russia's Defense Ministry accused Ukraine of sending attack drones, the explosion at the Engels airport caused influential pro-invasion bloggers in Russia to demand additional strikes against Ukraine and renew their criticism of the Russian military.
Voenniy Osvedomitel, a popular critic, stated on the messaging application Telegram, "Sometimes we believe that even if you put a bomb in these people's pockets, they wouldn't notice."
Mykhailo Podolyak, an assistant to the Ukrainian president, appeared to make oblique reference to the strikes following the blasts, as Ukrainian authorities have frequently done after inexplicable explosions in Russia.
"Galileo discovered that the Earth is round," he posted on Twitter. If something is launched into the airspace of another country, unidentified flying objects will eventually return to their point of origin.
A few hours after the explosions, Ukrainian officials reported that more than a dozen Russian aircraft had taken off from the air base at Engels.