Russia says it shot down a Ukrainian drone near an airbase

The Russian military reported Monday that it shot down a Ukrainian drone approaching an airbase deep in Russia, the second time the facility has been attacked this month – again revealing weaknesses in Russia’s air defenses.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said debris killed three soldiers at Engels airbase, which houses Tu-95 and Tu-160 nuclear-capable strategic bombers that have launched attacks on Ukraine in the 10-month-old war.

Russian news agency Baza reported that four people were injured and said a fire broke out, with explosions, sirens and flashes in a video it published on its Telegram channel. The Ministry of Defense claimed no Russian aircraft were damaged. It was not clear whether the drones had been launched from Ukraine or from Russian territory.

Engels is located in the Saratov region of Russia on the Volga River, more than 600 kilometers (370 miles) east of the border with Ukraine.

In line with the Kiev government’s longstanding practice of not confirming but welcoming the results of cross-border attacks, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat did not directly acknowledge his country’s involvement in the incident in an interview on Ukrainian television on Monday , but said: These are the consequences of Russian aggression.”

He added: “If the Russians thought that the war would not strike them deep behind their lines, they were terribly mistaken.”

Russia has suffered numerous cross-border attacks on its main territory as well as the Crimean peninsula, which it illegally annexed in 2014, during the war. The incidents have outraged Russian military bloggers, who say they show the country’s weak air defense and security systems in general.

In another cross-border incident that could not be independently confirmed, Russia’s Tass news agency reported on Monday that the country’s security forces had killed four Ukrainian saboteurs who were attempting to enter the Bryansk region from Ukraine. The report claimed the infiltrators were carrying explosive material when they were caught on Sunday.

On the nominal front line in Ukraine, Ukrainian Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Russian forces had withdrawn from their military command post in the city of Kreminna as Ukrainian forces approached after months of intense fighting. The Russian Defense Ministry did not comment on the withdrawal request.

Russian forces moved to Kreminna and several other areas in September after withdrawing from the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine. Located in the eastern Luhansk region, almost entirely under Moscow’s control, Kreminna lies on an important supply route for Russian forces and serves as a gateway for movement to other strategic positions. Earlier, Haidai reported that Russia had withdrawn its occupying government administration from Svatove, 51 kilometers (31 miles) north of Kreminna.

Haidai told Ukrainian TV on Monday that Russian forces in the region are “suffering huge casualties and medical facilities are overflowing with wounded soldiers.” The Russian army is deploying paratroopers from the Kherson region to the area, he added.

In the neighboring Donetsk region, which is partially occupied by Russia, fierce fighting continues around the town of Bakhmut, which Russian forces have been trying to capture for weeks in a bid to consolidate their grip on eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week Bakhmut was the hottest spot on the war’s 1,300-kilometer frontline.

Ukrainian officials have maintained ambiguities about previous high-profile attacks, including drone strikes on Russian military bases earlier this month.

On December 5, a total of three soldiers were killed and four others injured in unprecedented drone strikes on Engels and the Dyagilevo base in the Ryazan region of western Russia. In retaliation, Russia launched massive rocket fire in Ukraine, hitting houses and buildings and killing civilians.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, at least four civilians were injured in Russian shelling of five southeastern regions of Ukraine over the past 24 hours, according to Deputy Head of Ukraine’s Presidential Office Kyrylo Tymoshenko. Overall, the intensity of the shelling was significantly lower from Sunday night to Monday.

For the first time in weeks, Russian forces have not shelled the Dnepropetrovsk region, which borders the partially occupied southern Kherson and Zaporizhia regions, its governor Valentyn Reznichenko reported on Telegram.

“This is the third quiet night in 5.5 months since the Russians started shelling the areas around the city of Nikopol,” wrote Reznichenko, whose six reactors are being shut down.

Ukrainian-controlled areas of neighboring Kherson region have been shelled 33 times in the past 24 hours, according to Ukraine’s Kherson governor. Yaroslav Yanushevich. No casualties were reported.

On Sunday, Russian forces attacked the town of Kramatorsk, where Ukrainian forces are stationed. Three rockets struck an industrial plant and damaged residential buildings, but no casualties were reported, according to local officials.

Scores were killed and wounded on Saturday in a deadly attack on the city of Kherson, which Kiev’s troops retook last month. Local residents are lining up to donate blood for the wounded, Yanushevich said on Monday.

Yuras Karmanau provided coverage from Tallinn, Estonia.

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