Three military bases inside Russia’s borders have been hit by suspected Ukrainian drone attacks in the past two days. New Ukrainian strikes deep inside Russian territory could escalate the ongoing war between the two countries.
Videos taken early on Tuesday morning showed an oil depot on fire at Russia’s airbase in Kursk.
Kursk regional governor Roman Starovoit confirmed the airfield strike in a statement shared by the Russian state-run TASS news agency. Russia’s Ministry of Defense attributed the strike to the “Kiev Regime,” referring to the Ukrainian government.
The day before the strike in Kursk, TASS reported strikes in Russia’s Ryazan and Saratov regions, hitting the Dyagilevo and Engels air bases respectively. Three people were killed and five were wounded in at an aircraft parking lot at an airfield near Ryazan. Two Russian aircraft were also damaged in Monday’s attacks inside Russia.
A video shared on social media showed the suspected Ukrainian strikes on the Engels airfield.
Another video showed the suspected Ukrainian strike on the Dyagilevo airfield.
The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed it had intercepted other Ukrainian drones in the past two days.
The Ukrainian government has not taken credit for the strikes inside Russia, nor has it denied responsibility for them. One adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy did cryptically tweet on Monday, “If something is launched into other countries’ airspace, sooner or later unknown flying objects will return to departure point.”
The recent strikes inside are not the first time Ukrainian forces have likely struck inside Russia’s borders since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the neighboring country in February. Russia credited Ukrainian attack helicopters with carrying out strikes on a fuel depot in Russia’s Belgorod region, and a strike that hit civilian homes in Russia’s Bryansk region in April.
While Kursk, Belgorod and Bryansk directly border Ukraine, Saratov and Ryazan are both hundreds of miles further inside Russia’s borders.
Thus far in the war, the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies have been careful to avoid providing Ukraine with weapons that could strike far inside Russia’s borders. Ukraine still has some non-NATO weapon systems that can reach inside Russia. Some defense analysts speculated that Ukraine used modified Soviet-era Tu-141 drone jets to carry out the long-range strikes inside Russia.
In a column for Bloomberg, former U.S. Navy admiral and NATO alliance commander James Stavridis wrote, “reports of significant attacks against two Russian air bases are a new and dangerous twist in the Ukraine war.”
Stavridis noted Ukraine’s non-denial of responsibility for the new attacks and said “leaders in Kyiv are going to try to maintain a minimal level of deniability about strikes within Russian territory, but there’s little doubt they will conduct them.”
The former NATO commander said Ukraine will likely try to stick to strictly military targets inside Russia’s borders. He said western allies like NATO will also “try to restrain the Ukrainians from launching larger-scale attacks, hoping to reduce the risk of the conflict spiraling further and drawing in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization directly.”
Still, Stavridis said “these attacks will likely harden the Russian military’s resolve and provide Putin with the talking points he wants for the Russian population: Ukraine is attacking us!”
Russian officials have also claimed Ukrainian artillery strikes inside Donetsk — a Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine — have killed 11 civilians and wounded 48 more.
The apparent Ukrainian strikes inside Russia and Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory come as Russian forces have widely targeted Ukrainian energy infrastructure.