This afternoon, Russian cruise missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities again, but now in two waves. Part of it was shot down by Ukrainian air defenses, the General Staff in Kiev reports, but there are also reports from cities such as Odessa and Zaporizhia of damage and four wounded at the moment. Images from the capital Kiev show how thousands of citizens seek refuge in underground metro stations for their safety.
That the new Russian missile attack would be a response to this morning’s explosions at two Russian air bases seems unlikely. Planning such a massive attack on cruise missiles takes time. Both Ukrainian reports and the German weekly The mirror reported last week how 20 long-range bombers were stationed at Engels-2 bases in the Saratov region, and cruise missiles were delivered to Djagilevo bases near the city of Ryazan.
Explosions took place this morning precisely at the two bases, which rather indicates that Ukraine tried to thwart a new missile wave for the first time before it happened. Photos of local residents and private security cameras have been circulating on social media since this morning. In Ryazan, 450 kilometers from Ukraine, a fireball can be seen in the distance. According to various Russian sources, a tanker exploded, killing three and injuring six. A number of parked bombers would have been damaged.
The possible scenario of a stupid accident is contradicted by the similar explosion at the Engels base – named after the German communist philosopher Friedrich Engels – near the city of Saratov, 700 kilometers from Ukraine. A surveillance camera that this morning recorded a flying sound – possibly from a plane or a missile – and an explosion a few seconds later.
According to Baza, a Russian website with sources in the security services, it was a kind of kamikaze drone aimed at the base’s runway. According to another Russian website, Astra, two large Tupolev-95MS bombers were damaged. There is no official confirmation from the Russian side. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reported only that President Vladimir Putin had been “informed about the incidents in the Saratov and Ryazan regions.”
The big question is how Ukraine was able to hit these targets hundreds of kilometers away. The same question arose earlier in the case of, among other things, the explosion on the Kerch bridge in Crimea and the explosions at the Saki airbase there. A definitive explanation for this has never been published. Ukraine will not receive missiles from NATO countries that can reach more than 80 kilometers.
Other options are sabotage via a car bomb – proposed for example at the bridge in Kerch – or attacks with smaller drones controlled at close range by partisans or Ukrainian special forces. It seems more likely in nearby Crimea than at Russian air bases hundreds of kilometers deep in Russia.
Just on Sunday, Ukraine’s state defense company Ukroboronprom had reported that “final tests” were being conducted with a long-range drone that would reach 1,000 kilometers. Its explosive charge is said to be limited – around 75kg – but is more than enough to explode parked aircraft or tankers. Already in October, the company spoke for the first time about the production of such a drone. Did such a craft come directly to Ryazan and Saratov?
Russian military bloggers are already criticizing the lack of Russian ‘competence’ among the ‘back sheep’. The “tendency” of such long-range attacks was expected, writes the blog channel Voenni Osvedomitelj (“military informant”) on Telegram. Yet the distant air bases still lack radars and anti-aircraft defenses against “even small commercial drones used by Ukrainian saboteurs to attack Russian targets,” the blog channel said.