Ukrainian forces appear to have stepped up their efforts to weaken Russian air superiority in the war by attacking bases that house supersonic warplanes deep inside Russian territory.
Kyiv said it had carried out a drone strike on the Shaykovka Russian military air facility some 200 kilometers (130 miles) northeast of the Ukrainian border on Monday. Over the weekend, Russia’s defense ministry said another Ukrainian drone hit the Soltsy military airfield in the Novgorod region, also hundreds of kilometers north of Ukraine.
Moscow’s dominance in the skies has been a major obstacle for Ukraine’s counteroffensive. Ukrainian forces have been working their way through dense minefields and multiple layers of defenses along the frontlines in recent weeks, while regularly coming under attack from above.
That’s why Kyiv has made it a priority to get F-16 fighter jets from its allies. But while the Netherlands and Denmark both agreed this week to provide the aircraft, it will take many months before Ukrainian pilots are trained up to use them. In the meantime, Ukraine seems to be trying to make a dent in Russia’s air power by targeting its air bases.
F-16 jets can change course of Ukraine war
The Shaykovka military air base operates Tupolev Tu-22M3 supersonic long-range bombers that have been used by Russia to strike targets in Ukraine since the start of its full-scale invasion last year. Just last week, the Ukrainian air force reported that aircraft flying from Shaykovka had launched four Kh-22 cruise missiles towards Ukraine.
Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence, said that a drone attack on the Shaykovka base in Russia’s Kaluga region on Monday left “at least one aircraft damaged.”
Speaking to Ukrainian media Liga.net, Yusov said the strike was carried out “in clear coordination with the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukraine’s Defense Ministry,” adding that this specific task was carried out from within Russian territory.
Ukraine performs various tasks from inside Russia “in many other cases,” he added.
Russia has not officially commented on the latest incident. However, Baza – a Russian social media blog that has close contacts with the country’s security services – said that a Ukrainian drone had crashed at the Shaykovka base on Monday and that “an unused aircraft at the airfield was damaged.” It said that the information has not been officially confirmed.
Another Russian Telegram channel, Mash, also reported the incident.
“A Ukrainian UAV landed on the territory of the airfield at around eight o’clock this morning. According to our information, it was a civilian copter equipped with an IED (improvised explosive device) and a reinforced battery – it was spotted in time and shot down,” Mash said.
Earlier, the governor of the region, Vladislav Shapsha, reported that a UAV attack was “repelled” in the Kirov district. The air base is about 15 kilometers north of the town of Kirov.
Yusov said that Russia was trying to underplay the incident. “At least one plane is damaged. As in most cases, the Russian regime is trying to hide the true extent of losses and damage,” he said.
The attack on Monday was the second strike against a Russian air base housing powerful hardware in just three days.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that a Ukrainian drone damaged a plane at a military airfield in Soltsy in the northwest Novgorod region. Ukraine did not comment on that incident.
The Russian ministry said the drone struck the field on Saturday morning and caused fire to break out. It claimed the drone was spotted and “hit by small arms.” The ministry statement didn’t provide any details on the damage, only saying there were no casualties as a result of the attack.
A CNN analysis of satellite images of the base showed that this airfield was also used to house Tu-22M3 supersonic bombers.
An image taken on August 8 shows a number of Tu-22 bombers parked there. Then an image taken on August 21 appears to show charred ground where one of the Tu-22M3 planes was parked, while the rest of the aircraft appear to have been moved.
Two social media images geolocated by CNN show a similar aircraft on fire at the same base.
Ukrainian media reported that attacks on Russian bases over the past few days have destroyed several aircraft including two bombers, citing unnamed Ukrainian defense intelligence officials.
According to the Washington-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), several Russian military bloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces used a small and relatively inexpensive quadcopter drone to conduct the attack and criticized the Russian Ministry of Defense for not storing the aircraft in hangars where they would have been protected.
The ISW added that while damage to or destruction of two Tu-22M3 bombers is not going to have a major military effect, the reaction by Russian military bloggers shows “such deep attacks support larger Ukrainian efforts to degrade Russian morale.”