Russia says three of its military personnel were killed in Ukrainian drone strikes at two Russian air bases hundreds of miles from the front lines of fighting on Monday.
Ukraine does not directly claim responsibility. If indeed carrying out an attack, it is the deepest military attack ever carried out in the heart of Russia since Moscow invaded on February 24.
One of its targets, the Digels airbase near Saratov City, hosts a bomber that is part of Russia's strategic nuclear force.
"The Kyiv regime, to disable Russian long-range aircraft, made efforts to attack with Soviet-made unmanned jet vehicles at the Dyagilevo military airfield, in the Ryazan region, and Engels, in the Saratov region," the Russian Ministry of Defense said.
Russia's RIA news agency said three deaths occurred at an air base in Ryazan, 185 km (115 miles) southeast of Moscow.
Engels Air Base, near the city of Saratov, about 730 km southeast of Moscow is one of two Russian nuclear strategic bomber bases, with another base located in Russia's Amur region, the Far East.
Russia has 60 to 70 strategic bombers consisting of two types: the Tu-95MS Bear and the Tu-160 Blackjack. Both are capable of carrying nuclear bombs and nuclear-armed cruise missiles.
It said the drone, which flew at low altitude, was intercepted by air defenses and shot down. The debris caused minor damage to two planes, he said, and four people were injured.
Russia's Ministry of Defense calls it an act of terrorism, aimed at disrupting its long-range flights.
BREAKING:Major explosions at the Engels Air Base in Saratov, Russia. It’s the same air base from which a major Russian air attack is expect to be launched against Ukraine.Initial reports say Ukraine attacked it with drones and damaged 2 Tu-95 bombers pic.twitter.com/nvp3BsVu6W— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) December 5, 2022
Nonetheless, he said, Russia responded by "a massive attack on military control systems and related objects from defense complexes, communications centers, energy units, and the Ukrainian military with air and sea-based high-precision weapons" in which Russia said all 17 designated targets were affected.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters President Vladimir Putin was aware of the incident but declined to comment further.
Separately, Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter: "If something is launched into the airspace of another country, sooner or later unidentified flying objects will return to their departure point."
Ukraine has previously demonstrated the ability to strike Russia's strategic targets well beyond the 1,100 km frontline in southern and eastern Ukraine.
In August, at least seven Russian warplanes were destroyed by explosions at Russian airbases on Russia's annexed southwestern coast of Crimea.
Ukraine does not publicly claim responsibility for it, or for a spate of explosions in places such as arsenals and fuel depots in Russian territory close to the border with Ukraine. However, it is said that such incidents were "karma" for the Russian invasion.
Russian commentators say on social media that if Ukraine could strike so far inside Russia, it might also hit Moscow, referring to Saratov's location which is at least 600 km from the nearest Ukrainian region.
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