Ukrainian drone believed to have struck Russian airbase

Satellite image of Engels airfield taken this morning. A damaged Russian bomber with what appears to be the remnant of fire-suppressing foam beneath it can be seen, as well as scorch marks on the tarmac.   Image © 2022 Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission.
Satellite image of Engels airfield taken on Tuesday morning. A damaged Russian bomber can be seen. Credit: Planet

By ITV News global security producer Dan Howells and global security editor Rohit Kachroo

A Ukrainian drone strike was the cause of an explosion at a Russian airbase used for launching rockets against civilian targets in Kyiv, it has been claimed.

The early morning assault inside Russia could be “one of the most strategically significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine,” according to British defence officials.

Video footage posted on the messaging app Telegram showed a large explosion followed by a fire at the airfield, around 175 miles from the border with Ukraine. Columns of smoke were seen rising from the facility shortly after sunrise on Tuesday morning.

Kursk governor Starovoyt said in an online post that the drone attack ignited an oil reservoir in the area of Kursk airport and the blaze was being contained by crews at the scene. 

Satellite images studied by ITV News appear to demonstrate that the audacious strikes were an attempt to take out the aircraft being used by Moscow to hit Ukraine’s power and water supplies.

Video footage of the oil reservoir at Kursk airfield ablaze this morning.

It would be the third such attack on a Russian base this week, following strikes at the Engels air field in Saratov and the Dyagliov airbase, southeast of Moscow, on Monday. 

Though Ukrainian officials have not yet confirmed these attacks, the fact they happened so deep into Russian territory will concern the Kremlin.

The bold strikes - hundreds of miles beyond the frontline - may be evidence of how the Kyiv government plans to confront Moscow’s threats to target civilian populations far from the frontline by hitting pumping stations and energy facilities as winter approaches.

Footage posted on social media appeared to confirm the fire at the airbase in Kursk this morning.  Recent satellite images show several Russian jets near the runway at the Kursk base, only 600 metres from the fire at the oil reservoir. 

Satellite image taken of Kursk airfield on November 30. The oil reservoir seen burning in social media videos is to the bottom right. Credit: 2022 Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission.

Meanwhile, Monday’s attack on Engels airfield looks to have been an attempt to target the

Russian air force’s long-range bombers based there.

The UK Ministry of Defence said two Tu-95 BEAR heavy bombers were damaged in the apparent attack. The missile-carrying aircraft are widely used by the Russian military and are thought to have taken part in cruise missile strikes against Ukraine.

A satellite image taken on Tuesday over the Engels base, appears to show the aftermath of the firefighting efforts, with leftover fire suppressing foam beneath one of the bombers.

Satellite image from Engels airfield, taken on December 4, the day before the attack. Credit: 2022 Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission.

Another image from December 4, a day before the attack, shows the same bomber in the same position. Dozens of aircraft are seen massing on the airfield, at a time when Ukraine has been facing frequent missile attacks on its energy infrastructure. 

In an ominous Tweet posted on Monday morning, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote: “If something is launched into other countries’ airspace, sooner or later unknown flying objects will return to departure point.”

Following the third strike, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russian authorities will “take the necessary measures” to enhance protection of key facilities in view of the latest Ukrainian attacks.

Speaking in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Peskov said “the Ukrainian regime’s course for continuation of such terror attacks poses a threat.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know