KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Russian military said Monday it shot down a Ukrainian drone approaching an airbase deep in Russia, the second time the facility has been attacked this month, again revealing weaknesses in Russian air defenses.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said debris killed three servicemen at the Engels airbase, which is home to nuclear-capable Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic bomber planes that have attacked Ukraine with missiles in the 10-month war..
Russian news outlet Baza reported four people were injured and said a fire had broken out, with explosions, sirens and flashes in a video it posted on its Telegram channel. The Defense Ministry claimed that no Russian aircraft were damaged. It was not clear if the drone had been launched from Ukraine or Russian territory.
If the drone had been launched from Ukraine, it would have traveled more than 600 kilometers (370 miles) to reach Engels, located in Russia’s Saratov region on the Volga River. Shooting down the drone after such a long journey inside Russia again raises questions about the effectiveness of Russia’s air defenses, particularly those aimed at protecting its most strategic military assets, such as fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
In keeping with the Kyiv government’s longstanding practice of not confirming cross-border strikes but welcoming their results, Ukrainian air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat did not directly acknowledge his country’s involvement in Monday’s incident. in an interview on Ukrainian television, but said: “These are the consequences of Russian aggression.”
He added: “If the Russians thought the war would not affect them deep behind their lines, they were sorely mistaken.”
Russia has suffered numerous cross-border attacks during the war on its main territory, as well as on the Crimean peninsula, which it illegally annexed in 2014. The incidents have outraged Russian military bloggers who say they show the weakness of air defenses and military systems. of country security. usually.
In another cross-border incident that could not be independently confirmed, Russia’s Tass news agency reported on Monday that the country’s security forces killed four Ukrainian saboteurs trying to enter the Bryansk region from Ukraine. The report states that the infiltrators were carrying explosive materials when they were captured on Sunday.
Cross-border attacks against the Russian military and other strategic sites prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to order almost weekly missile and armed drone strikes against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, causing widespread blackouts that also cut off heating and water supplies. in an increasingly cold climate. The attacks, which began in October across much of the country, have been taking place as ground fighting rages in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine.
In eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on Monday Russian forces withdrew from their military command operations post in the city of Kreminna as Ukrainian forces closed in after months of heavy fighting. . Russia’s Defense Ministry did not comment on the withdrawal claim.
Russian forces moved into Kreminna and several other areas in September after they withdrew from the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine. Kreminna is located in the eastern Luhansk region, which is almost entirely under Moscow’s control, and lies on a major supply route for Russian forces and serves as a gateway for movement to other strategic positions. Earlier, Haidai reported that Russia had withdrawn its occupation government administration from Svatove, 51 kilometers (31 miles) north of Kreminna. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his late-night video address on Monday that “the situation there is difficult, painful. The occupiers are spending all the resources available to them, and they are considerable resources, to get at least some progress.”
Haidai told Ukrainian television on Monday that Russian forces in the region are “suffering huge losses and medical facilities are overwhelmed with wounded soldiers.” The Russian army is redeploying paratroopers from the Kherson region to the area, he added.
In the neighboring Donetsk region, partly occupied by Russia, fierce battles continue around the town of Bakhmut, which Russian forces have been trying to take for weeks to consolidate their hold on eastern Ukraine. Zelenskyy said last week that Bakhmut was the hottest spot on the war’s 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) front line.
Ukrainian officials have remained ambiguous about previous high-profile attacks, including drone attacks on Russian military bases earlier this month.
On December 5th, Unprecedented drone strikes on Engels and Dyagilevo base in Ryazan region of western Russia killed a total of three soldiers and injured four others. In retaliation, Russia launched a massive missile barrage in Ukraine, hitting homes and buildings and killing civilians.
Elsewhere on the battlefield, at least four civilians have been injured in Russian shelling of five regions of southeastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours, according to the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko. In general, the intensity of the shelling from Sunday night to Monday was significantly less.
For the first time in weeks, Russian forces did not shell the Dnipropetrovsk region, which borders the partially occupied southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, its governor Valentyn Reznichenko reported on Telegram.
“This is the third quiet night in five and a half months since the Russians began shelling” the areas around the city of Nikopol, Reznichenko wrote. Nikopol lies across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is under the control of Russian forces and whose six reactors are shut down.
Ukrainian-controlled areas of the neighboring Kherson region were shelled 33 times in the last 24 hours, according to the Ukrainian governor of Kherson, Yaroslav Yanushevich. No casualties were reported.
On Sunday, Russian forces attacked the city of Kramatorsk, where Ukrainian forces are based. Three missiles hit an industrial facility and damaged residential buildings, but no casualties were reported, according to local officials.
On Saturday, a deadly attack in the city of Kherson, which Kyiv forces recaptured last month, killed and wounded dozens of people. Local residents are lining up to donate blood for the injured, Yanushevich said Monday.
Yuras Karmanau contributed reporting from Tallinn, Estonia.
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