Drone strikes targeting key Russian airbases may have come from within Moscow’s territory, according to a new assessment. This report follows the high-profile targeting of a supersonic bomber hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border.
A Russian Tu-22M3 bomber aircraft was “highly likely” destroyed at the Soltsy-2 airbase on Saturday in the Novgorod region between Moscow and St Petersburg, the British defense ministry said on Tuesday. The airbase is just over 400 miles from the Russian border with northern Ukraine.
Moscow said Ukraine had used a copter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to target the military airfield around 10 a.m. Moscow time on Saturday, adding that one plane was damaged.
If this type of drone did carry out the attack, “this adds weight to the assessment that some UAV attacks against Russian military targets are being launched from inside Russian territory,” the British government said in an intelligence update posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.
Copter UAVs likely do not have the range to be able to reach the Soltsy-2 airbase from outside Russia, the ministry added. Newsweek has contacted both the Ukrainian and Russian defense ministries for comment.
Copter drones are part of Ukraine’s significant investment in a wide range of technology, now deeply integrated into Kyiv’s war effort.In some of the more high-profile attacks, attack drones have struck key bridges linking the annexed Crimean peninsula to mainland Russia, Moscow’s naval bases in the Black Sea, and the Russian capital city itself. In the early hours of Tuesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its air defenses had destroyed two Ukrainian UAVs over Moscow, and a further two drones over the border Bryansk region.
The drone which attacked Russia’s supersonic bombers in Novgorod was “hit by small arms,” the Russian Defense Ministry said over the weekend, adding that a fire where aircraft were stationed was extinguished by fire brigades.
But images quickly emerged suggesting that at least one Tu-22M3 aircraft was completely engulfed in flames. Moscow has used Tu-22M3 bombers since the early days of the war, including to drop unguided munitions on Mariupol during the siege of the port city in April 2022. Ukraine also said earlier this month that Tu-22M3 bombers based in Soltsy had launched Kh-22 cruise missiles at Ukrainian territory.
Russia has also used the bombers to fire “the notoriously inaccurate AS-4 KITCHEN heavy anti-ship missiles against Ukraine,” the British government added.
But destroying jets deep in Russian territory challenges how well Moscow is seen to be protecting its airbases and key strategic assets as the war creeps further towards Russia’s population.
“This is at least the third successful attack on LRA [long-range aviation] airfields, again raising questions about Russia’s ability to protect strategic locations deep inside the country,” the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence said. Previous strikes include targeting Russia’s Engels airbase close to the city of Saratov, which is home to a number of Moscow’s strategic bombers.
Criticism comes not least from Russia’s influential military blogger, or “milblogger,” community, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank noted on Sunday. Some “milbloggers” condemned Moscow for not keeping its aircraft in hangars, or using “even elementary protective structures” and netting to fend off copter drone strikes, the ISW said.
Damaging or destroying two of Russia’s Tu-22M3 strategic bombers “will not generate militarily significant effects in itself,” the think tank said, “but Russian milbloggers’ responses to the attack show the way in which such deep attacks support larger Ukrainian efforts to degrade Russian morale.”