(Reuters) – Russian officials said on Wednesday that they had thwarted new Ukrainian attacks a day after Ukrainian drones struck targets in at least six regions deep within Russia in one of the broadest volleys yet of Kyiv’s campaign to turn the tables on Moscow.
One of the drone strikes, targeting an airfield far from Ukraine’s borders, destroyed military transport planes.
Ukraine’s military said six of its servicemen died on Tuesday involving the crash of two helicopters near Bakhmut in the east of the country – the main theatre of Russia’s 18-month-old invasion of its neighbour. It gave no details of what happened, but said all the men were officers.
The latest Russian announcements said anti-aircraft units had downed two Ukrainian drones in its southern Bryansk region.
The head of Crimea, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, said a Ukrainian cruise missile had been intercepted.
On Tuesday, Russian officials described attacks on Bryansk and five other regions, including Moscow region. The Russian foreign ministry said the attacks would “not go unpunished” and the drones could not have reached so far into Russian territory without Western help.
In northern Russia, more than 600 km (400 miles) from Ukraine, a huge fire erupted at a military airfield in the city of Pskov, where elite paratroopers are garrisoned. TASS news agency reported at least four Il-76 transport planes were damaged, two of which had “burst into flames”.
The attacks coincided with Russia’s most severe air strikes on Ukraine’s capital for months. Authorities in Kyiv reported at least two people had been killed as debris from intercepted missiles fell in four locations.
Reuters captured footage of a fireball falling out of the night sky close to a supermarket. Moscow said it hit command and intelligence targets.
SIRENS AND EXPLOSIONS AT AIR BASE
In Russia, the governor of Pskov posted video on Telegram showing a huge fire with the sounds of sirens and an explosion at the air base. Other video posted online showed anti-aircraft systems in action around the city, 32 km (20 miles) east of Russia’s border with NATO-member Estonia.
Moscow said it had thwarted all the attacks. Russia typically describes all Ukrainian drone strikes as unsuccessful, regardless of the damage on the ground.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was working out where the drones were launched from to prevent further strikes. President Vladimir Putin had been informed immediately, as would be the case in any such “massive attacks”, Peskov said.
The Kyiv government confirmed the Russian planes had been destroyed in Pskov, without commenting on the nature of their destruction. It generally withholds comment on strikes on territory inside Russia though it says it has a right to hit military targets.
“Yes, four IL-76 transport planes were destroyed in Pskov at an airfield, they are beyond repair. Also, several other of those (aircraft) are damaged, but the information is being checked,” Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s GUR military agency, told Reuters.
Ukraine’s Western allies generally forbid it from using weapons they supply to attack Russia but say Ukraine has a right to carry out such strikes with its own weapons.
ATTACKS BRING WAR HOME TO RUSSIANS
Attacks on Russia in recent weeks, including repeated drone strikes on central Moscow, have brought the war home to many Russians for the first time, even as Ukrainians have spent the past year and a half in constant peril from air strikes.
“So long as Putin remains president, the war will continue. Pulling Russia deeper and deeper into the abyss of chaos,” Mykhailo Poldolyak, a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, wrote on X.
Moscow has relentlessly pounded Ukrainian cities with long range missiles and drone strikes throughout the war. Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed.
Ukraine said its air defences had shot down 28 Russian missiles and 15 out of 16 drones fired overnight.
Ukrainian forces have been conducting an offensive for nearly three months. They have yet to achieve a breakthrough of Russia’s mined and fortified defences, although they said this week they had penetrated the first main defensive line.
Military spokesman Andriy Kovalyov told national television on Thursday that Ukrainian forces were making progress in the east, near Bakhmut, and in the Melitopol sector, where they are trying to move southward to the Sea of Azov.
Russian military accounts spoke of forces repelling five attempted Ukrainian advances in the east.
On the outskirts of St Petersburg, followers of Yevgeny Prigozhin, boss of Russia’s Wagner private army, paid tribute at a leafy cemetery where he was buried six days after being killed in a plane crash. A tribute left beside flowers read: “To be a warrior is to live forever”.
The Kremlin said foul play was one of the causes being investigated for the crash.
“It is obvious that different versions are being considered, including the version – you know what we are talking about – let’s say, a deliberate atrocity,” spokesman Peskov said.
Prigozhin, two top Wagner lieutenants and four bodyguards were among 10 people who died when his private jet crashed in unexplained circumstances on Aug. 23, two months after Wagner marched on Moscow in a brief mutiny.
The Kremlin has rejected as an “absolute lie” Western suggestions that Putin was responsible.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Anna Pruchnicka and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff and Ron Popeski; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Grant McCool)