Kyiv, Ukraine –
Drones the Kremlin says Ukraine launched flew deep into Russian territory, including one that came within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of Moscow, indicating breaches in Russia’s defenses as President Vladimir Putin has ordered beefed up border protection.
Officials said the drones caused no casualties or major damage, but the attacks, which occurred Monday night and Tuesday morning, raised questions about Russia’s defense capabilities more than a year after the country’s all-out invasion of its neighbor.
Ukrainian officials did not immediately take responsibility, but also avoided directly acknowledging responsibility for previous strikes and acts of sabotage while emphasizing Ukraine’s right to strike any target in Russia.
Although Putin did not refer to any specific attacks in a speech in the Russian capital, his remarks came hours after drones targeted several regions in southern and western Russia. Authorities closed the airspace over St Petersburg in response to what some reports said was a drone.
On Tuesday, several Russian television channels also broadcast the missile attack, warning that officials attributed it to a hacking attack.
Drone attacks have targeted areas in Russia along the border with Ukraine and deeper into the country, according to local Russian authorities.
Andrei Vorobyov, the governor of the region around the Russian capital, said in an online statement that the drone had crashed near the village of Gubastovo, less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Moscow.
Vorobyov said the drone did not cause any damage, but it was likely aimed at a “civilian infrastructure target”.
Footage of the drone showed it was a small Ukrainian-made model with a range of 800 km (about 500 miles) but not the ability to carry a large explosive charge.
Local governor Aleksandr Bogomaz said via Telegram that early Tuesday morning another Ukrainian drone was shot down by Russian forces over the Bryansk region.
Local authorities reported that three drones also targeted Russia’s Belgorod region on Monday evening, including one flying through the window of an apartment in the capital. The region’s governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said the drones caused minor damage to buildings and cars.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Ukraine had used drones to attack facilities in the Krasnodar region and neighboring Adygea. He said that the drones were shot down by means of electronic warfare, adding that one of them crashed in a field while another deviated from its flight path and missed a facility it was supposed to attack.
The Russian state news agency, Novosti, reported that a fire broke out at the oil facility, and other Russian reports said two drones exploded nearby.
While Ukrainian drone strikes on Russia’s border regions of Bryansk and Belgorod have become frequent, others have mirrored more ambitious efforts.
Some Russian commentators have described the drone attacks as an attempt by Ukraine to show that it can strike deep behind lines, stoking tensions in Russia and galvanizing Ukrainian public opinion. Some Russian war bloggers have described the raids as a possible repeat of a larger, more ambitious attack.
Andrei Medvedev, a commentator for Russian state television and deputy speaker of the Moscow city legislature who runs a popular war blog, warned that the drone strikes could be a precursor to broader attacks inside Russia that could accompany Ukraine’s attempt to launch a counterattack. .
“Drones bombing targets behind our lines will be part of this offensive,” Medvedev said, adding that Ukraine may try to expand the range of its drones.
The Russian hawks called for extreme retaliation. Igor Koroshenko, a retired Russian army colonel turned military commentator, has called for a punitive strike against Ukraine’s presidential office in Kiev.
Victor Alexis, another retired military officer, noted that the drone attacks represented a widening in the conflict and criticized Putin for not delivering a forceful response.
Also on Tuesday, authorities reported that the airspace around St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, had been temporarily closed, halting all departures and arrivals at the main Pulkovo airport. The officials did not say the reason for the decision, but some Russian reports claimed that an unidentified drone detonated the decision.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it was conducting air defense exercises in western Russia.
Over the past year, Russian authorities have repeatedly reported shooting down Ukrainian drones over Crimea. In December, the Russian military said that Ukraine had used drones to strike two long-range bomber bases deep in Russian territory.
Speaking to Russia’s main security agency, the FSB, Putin urged the agency to step up security on Ukraine’s borders.
In another development that fueled tensions across Russia on Tuesday, an air raid alert system halted the programming of several television and radio stations in several regions. Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said in an online statement that the advertisement was a hoax “resulting from hacking into the servers of radio stations and television channels in certain regions of the country”.
Meanwhile, satellite imagery analyzed by the Associated Press appeared to show a Russian warplane in Belarus that Belarusian guerrilla fighters claimed they targeted as largely intact.
High-resolution images captured by the BBC’s Planet Labs and Maxar Technologies on Tuesday showed Russian A-50 warning and control planes after what Belarusian opposition activists described as an attack on Machulyshi airbase on Sunday outside the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
However, discoloration could be seen on the distinctive circular part of the aircraft above the fuselage, which could damage it. This color did not appear in previous photos of the aircraft at the air base. The Maxar image also showed what appeared to be vehicles near the plane.
Belarusian pro-Ukrainian activists claimed that the plane was badly damaged. Russian and Belarusian officials have not commented on the allegations.
In Ukraine, four people were killed and five others were injured, on Tuesday, in the new Russian bombing of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, according to what the region’s governor, Oleksandr Prokudin, reported in a telegram.
Gov. Oleh Sinyhopov said a 68-year-old man was also killed when Russian forces shelled the town of Kobyansk in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region.
The fiercest fighting continues in the eastern regions of Ukraine, where Russia wants to gain control of the four provinces it illegally annexed in September.
Ukrainian officials said that Russian forces have deployed additional forces and equipment, including the latest T-90 combat tanks, to these areas.
In a video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked American industrialists for their support of Ukraine and hoped for their support in rebuilding the country after the war. Zelensky noted that the country faces the “enormous task” of restoring hundreds of thousands of damaged sites, including “whole cities, industries and production”.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.