Russia said on Monday that it had shot down a Ukrainian drone near one of its air bases for long-range bombers deep inside its own territory, killing three Russian air force members in the process.
The drone was reportedly flying near Russia’s Engels air base, where long-range strategic bombers may have been based and used to target Ukrainian cities and infrastructure. The defence ministry said in a statement that was picked up by Russian news agencies that no planes were hurt in the incident.
Russian and Ukrainian social media accounts that couldn’t be checked said, however, that a number of planes had been destroyed. Reuters was not able to check these reports on its own.
The air base, which is one of two strategic bomber bases, is near the city of Saratov. It is about 730 km (450 miles) southeast of Moscow and hundreds of kilometres from the front lines in Ukraine.
Ukraine didn’t say anything right away. It has never publicly said it was behind attacks inside Russia, but it calls them “karma” for Russia’s invasion on February 24.
Russia said earlier this month that Ukrainian drones had attacked the same base.
“A Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) was shot down as it got close to the Engels military airfield in the Saratov region,” a statement from the defence ministry said Monday.
“Three Russian service members on the airfield who were part of the technical staff were killed by falling drone parts.”
A popular Defence news website reported that Russia has between 60 and 70 Tu-95MS Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bomber planes. Both can carry both nuclear bombs and cruise missiles with nuclear warheads, as well as conventional weapons.
Moscow has used its air force to fire cruise missiles in what it calls a “special military operation” to weaken Ukraine’s military potential. Ukraine has called these kinds of attacks war crimes and compared Russia to a terrorist state.
The attack on the same base on December 5 and the attack on another base on the same day shocked Russians and made them question how well their air defences were working.
People said on social media that if Ukraine could hit that far into Russia, it might also be able to hit Moscow.
Earlier on Monday, Roman Busargin, the governor of the Saratov region, said that the latest incident at the base did not damage any civil infrastructure. He said that the authorities were looking into the incident.
“There is no way that residents are in danger… “There was no damage to civil infrastructure,” Busargin said.