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Moscow Says Ukrainian Drones Hit Third Russian Airfield in Two Days

The Wall Street Journal 12/6/2022 Yaroslav Trofimov
© /Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine—Russia said drones struck an airfield in the city of Kursk on Tuesday, igniting a fuel-storage facility, in what Moscow said was the third long-range attack by Ukrainian forces on its air bases in two days.

The attack on the Kursk airport, which was closed to civil aviation after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, followed Monday’s strikes on Russian strategic-bomber bases in Engels and Diagilevo. Both bases are hundreds of miles from Ukrainian-controlled territory. Kursk is around 65 miles from the Ukrainian border.

The Ukrainian government usually refrains from claiming strikes on Russian territory and hasn’t commented on this week’s strikes. On Monday, Ukrainian officials hinted that their weapons were capable of reaching that far. Russia’s Ministry of Defense said Monday’s attack killed three service members and damaged two aircraft.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday gathered his national-security council for a meeting on how to guarantee “internal security,” according to state media.

While Ukraine lacks the kind of long-range cruise and ballistic missiles Moscow has rained on Ukrainian cities for the past nine months, Western officials say that Kyiv has partially offset that asymmetry with attacks on strategic targets deep in Russian territory. Those include the October strike against the bridge linking Russia to Crimea and the August destruction of several military aircraft at the Saki air base. 

It couldn’t be established what weapons were used in these raids. Russia said Monday’s attacks on Engels and Diagilevo were carried out with Soviet-designed jet drones, without providing more details. Tu-141 Strizh reconnaissance drones, designed in the 1970s and originally manufactured in Ukraine, have a range of hundreds of miles. If outfitted with a modern warhead and navigation system, they essentially function like a cruise missile, military analysts say.

In Kursk, firefighters were trying to extinguish the blaze at the airfield on Tuesday morning, and classes were canceled for the day at two schools in the area, according to the region’s governor, Roman Starovoyt. There were no casualties from Tuesday’s strike, he said. Footage posted on local news sites showed predawn explosions and a plume of smoke rising into the sky after daybreak.

Russian news channels and military analysts also said Russian air defenses Tuesday repelled another Ukrainian drone attack on the Belbek military air base in occupied Crimea. There was no independent evidence of that incident.

Russia has relied heavily on its strategic aviation to lob cruise missiles at Ukrainian cities, targeting the country’s electricity infrastructure in an attempt to create a humanitarian crisis and force Kyiv into peace talks that would leave Moscow in control of occupied Ukrainian territory, analysts say. Monday’s strikes in Engels and Diagilevo came just hours before the latest such barrage of over 70 cruise missiles launched by Russia’s strategic bombers and from Black Sea Fleet vessels.

Ukraine said that it intercepted more than 60 of those missiles, which killed four people, and that the impact on its electricity supply was limited compared with the multiday blackout caused by the barrage on Nov. 23. Only the area around Odessa in the south experienced an overnight power outage, with officials saying Tuesday morning that heating services were resuming. Ukrainian officials warned Tuesday that Russia might launch a second-day salvo on targets it missed the previous day, a pattern that Moscow has sometimes followed in the past.

Russia’s Soviet-vintage strategic bombers are part of its nuclear triad, alongside ground and sea-launched missiles. Since neither the airframes nor the engines are manufactured anymore, the loss of any such aircraft is a non-replenishable blow to Russia’s military capacity. Photographs posted by Russian news channels from Diagilevo showed a Tu-22 bomber, with what appeared to be a Kh-22 missile already attached, sustaining severe damage during a strike while refueling.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Tuesday that the attacks on Engels—the main operating base of long-range aviation in western Russia—and on Diagilevo would be considered by Moscow as “some of the most significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine.” The Russian chain of command would probably severely punish officers deemed responsible for the incidents, it added.

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at

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