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Moscow investigates explosions at strategic bomber airbases deep in Russian territory

An adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hinted that simultaneous detonations at the Ryazan and Saratov airbases could have been a special operation launched by Kyiv

Javier G. Cuesta
Ukraine war
An image of an explosion at the Engels airfield, in the Saratov region of Russia early on Monday morning.Reuters

Simultaneous explosions rocked two Russian airfields located hundreds of miles from Ukraine’s borders on Monday morning, one of which led to at least three deaths while injuring six more people. According to local media reports the hypothesis of a Ukrainian attack is gaining weight as the cited sources state that at least one drone exploded at one of the installations, where Russian strategic bombers are deployed. Moscow has not denied the incidents and is investigating the circumstances. Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, insinuated on social media that the explosions could have been the result of a special operation launched by Kyiv. Hours after the explosions on Russian soil, several regions of Ukraine, including Kyiv, were targeted by Russian air strikes that left at least two people dead.

The governor of the Russian region of Saratov, Roman Busargin, issued a message to residents on the Telegram social media platform stating that no civilian buildings had been affected. “I want to assure you that no emergency has occurred in residential areas of the city. There is no reason to worry. No civilian infrastructure was damaged. Law enforcement agencies verify information about incidents at military facilities.”

Saratov is located over 400 miles from Ukraine. According to Russian media outlets Astra and Baza, a drone exploded on the runway at the Engels airbase in the region, damaging two Tu-95 strategic bombers. These warplanes are part of Moscow’s strategic deterrent forces and play an important role in conventional missile strikes against Ukraine.

The news agency Ria Novosti also reported another explosion at an airbase in Ryazan, 120 miles southeast of Moscow. According to the agency’s sources, three people were killed after a fuel truck blew up. “The Earth is round – discovery made by Galileo. Astronomy was not studied in Kremlin, giving preference to court astrologers. If it was, they would know: if something is launched into other countries’ airspace, sooner or later unknown flying objects will return to departure point,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Neither the Russian Defense Ministry or its Ukrainian counterpart has issued any official statement on the explosions, and neither has the theory that they were caused by a hypothetical drone attack been confirmed or denied. On Sunday, the Ukrainian military industry announced that it has developed a new unmanned device capable of carrying a 75-kilogram payload within a radius of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles). “After successfully testing the drone in an electronic warfare environment, we hope to see it in combat. We promised [delivery] before the end of the year and we are trying to fulfill the promise,” the press officer of the Ukrainian defense industry conglomerate Ukroboronprom said earlier on Sunday, according to the Unian news agency.

Russian military airbases are one of the priority objectives of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. On August 16, Kyiv bombed the Saki airbase in Crimea, in spite of the Kremlin’s warning of harsh retaliation for any attacks on the peninsula illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014. Furthermore, Ukraine could have an incentive to target the airfield in Saratov. German daily Der Spiegel last week published satellite images of numerous strategic bombers assembled at the Engels airbase, which could point to preparations for a new large-scale aerial campaign by Moscow.

On Monday, Russian forces launched another wave of missile attacks on Ukraine, shortly after the explosions at Saratov and Ryazan were reported. Air raid sirens sounded cross dozens of Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv. “Missiles have already been launched,” said Yuri Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force. “Do not ignore the sirens,” added Head of the Office of the President Andrey Yermak in a warning to civilians.

The Russian strikes hit several regions of Ukraine but the worst-affected was Zaporizhzhia, where at least two people were reported to have been killed. The attacks again targeted critical infrastructure, according to state energy supplier Ukrenergo, as Moscow pursues its tactic of knocking out heat, water and electricity provision to the Ukrainian population.

The United States, through its ambassador to Kiev, has pointed to the impact of Russian attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure as a key reason for maintaining Washington’s financial and military support to the government in Kyiv. “As Russia targets heat, water, and electricity for every person in Ukraine, including children and the elderly, we will continue to provide air defense against Russia’s barbaric escalation and energy assistance to help Ukraine protect and repair civilian infrastructure,” US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink wrote on Twitter.

Russian experts warned that after the partial destruction of the Kerch Strait bridge in the annexed Crimean Peninsula, nothing behind Russian lines is beyond the reach of Kyiv. “After the blowing up of the bridge it became clear that there are no strategic facilities left in Russia that can be considered absolutely safe,” Russian war correspondent Alexander Kots said on social networks. “Saratov is too far away? There is a Ukrainian underground and it operates on Russian territory. Yes, our special forces detain Kyiv’s agents regularly, but with the flow of refugees you can’t keep track of everyone,” he added, before warning his compatriots that they have become “too well accustomed to a quiet life.”

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