Russian media reported Monday morning that a Ukrainian drone had attacked an airbase deep inside Russian territory, killing 3 soldiers. According to reports, the drone was intercepted before debris rained down on the base.
The drone was over Engels airbase in the Saratov region of southern Russia, more than 600km from the Ukrainian border. The Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying, “On December 26, at around 01:35 Moscow time, a Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicle was shot down at low altitude while approaching the Engels military airfield in the Saratov region.”
The statement continued, “As a result of the drone’s wreckage falling, three Russian technicians who were at the airfield were fatally injured.” According to the Defense Ministry, no aircraft were damaged in the attack, and the governor of Saratov, Roman Busargin, told locals that there is currently “absolutely no threat” to the region.
Due to the panic caused by the Ukrainian drone, Busargin told the public that “All stories about the evacuation from the city are blatant lies, created far from the borders of our country.”
Not only was the drone attack one of the only times that Russian soldiers have been killed on a base far away from the frontlines. Engels is known to house advanced hypersonic and nuclear-capable bombers.
Despite Russian reports that the drone was intercepted by an anti-air defense system, there is speculation that the drone made a direct impact on the base but that Russia is altering the narrative to deny that the Ukrainian operation was successful. Due to the speculation, Busargin cautioned residents not to spread “fake information.”
The drone attack Monday is the second time in 10 months that Engels air base has been attacked by Ukrainian forces.
Despite multiple videos showing what is alleged to be the moment of impact, Russian officials have claimed that the drone was intercepted and shot down “at low altitude” and that the explosions were caused by falling debris hitting the ground.
Earlier this month, on December 5, Ukrainian forces launched simultaneous drone attacks on both Engels and another air base in Ryazan in western Russia, which also hosts nuclear-capable strategic bombers. The previous attack on Engels was the deepest Ukrainians had attacked inside Russian territory.
Ukraine advancing its assaults further into Russian territory could cause Russian President Vladimir Putin to escalate the war and expand its attacks on Ukraine. Only recently has Putin begun to refer to the conflict as a “war” having previously only used the term “special military operation” to refer to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. As things escalate, fears are mounting that Belarus will officially join Russia’s war by sending in ground troops.
With a building string of successes in Crimea and now Russia, it is likely that Ukrainian forces will continue to launch strikes inside Russian territory. Ukraine has also been consistently receiving longer-range weapons from both the U.S. and NATO, which will allow them to launch assaults further from the front line. U.S. intelligence has also been stepping up to assist Ukraine with identifying and locating targets. While it is unclear whether or not the U.S. assisted with the drone attack at Engels, it is a possibility.