A drone attack has set an oil storage tank on fire at an airfield in Kursk, the Russian region’s governor has said, a day after Ukraine appeared to launch audacious drone attacks on two military airfields deep inside Russian territory. Roman Starovoyt, the governor of the Kursk region bordering Ukraine, said on the Telegram messaging app there were no casualties from the attack and the fire was “localised”. Video footage posted on social media showed a large explosion lighting up the night sky followed by a substantial fire at the airfield 175 miles (280km) from the Ukrainian border. At daybreak a large column of black smoke was still visible above the site.
There was no immediate comment from Kyiv or Moscow. Russian officials blamed Monday’s attacks on modified Strizh drones, which were first produced in the 1970s in the Soviet era and intended for use as target practice. Ukrainian attacks on Russian military targets have become increasingly bold in recent weeks as Kyiv has sought to bring Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine to the home front. Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday that Ukrainian drones had attacked two airbases at Ryazan and Saratov in south-central Russia, killing three servicemen and wounding four, and damaging two aircraft. Ukraine did not directly claim responsibility for any of the attacks.
However, a senior Ukrainian official, quoted by the New York Times, said the drones involved in Monday’s attacks were launched from Ukrainian territory and at least one of the strikes was made with the help of special forces close to the base. The Israeli satellite imaging company ImageSat International shared images it said showed burn marks and objects near a Tu-22M aircraft at Dyagilevo airbase in Ryazan. Russia’s defence ministry said Monday’s attacks were acts of terrorism intended to disable long-range aircraft, and that the low-flying drones used were shot down. Saratov is at least 370 miles from the nearest Ukrainian territory. Russian commentators said on social media that if Ukraine could strike that far inside Russia, it may also be capable of hitting Moscow.
The Ukrainian military analyst Serhiy Zgurets said the air force bases hit on Monday were the only facilities in Russia that could fully service bombers used to launch attacks on Ukraine. “It is still too early to say what is at issue here, but the ability of the armed forces of Ukraine to reach military targets deep in the territory of the Russian Federation has a very symbolic and important meaning,” he wrote on the website of Ukraine’s Espreso TV.
The latest drone attack came as a Russian official appeared to reject recent claims that Moscow may be nearing a deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to pull back from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. “Russian withdrawal from Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant or transferring control over it to some ‘third party’ is out of the question,” said the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova. The IAEA director general, Rafael Grossi, had said last week he hoped to reach an agreement with Russia and Ukraine on protecting the nuclear plant, which is occupied by Russia, by the end of the year.