Kyiv (Reuters) – A drone believed to be Ukrainian has penetrated hundreds of kilometers of Russian airspace, causing a deadly explosion at the main base of Moscow’s strategic bombers in the latest attack to expose holes in its air defences.
Moscow said on Monday it had shot down the drone, causing it to crash at Engels Air Base, killing three of its personnel. Under its usual policy on incidents inside Russia, Ukraine has not commented.
The base, the main airfield for the bombers that Kyiv says Moscow has used in recent months to attack Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, is hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border. The planes themselves are also designed to launch nuclear-capable missiles as part of Russia’s long-range strategic deterrence.
A suspected drone hit it on Dec. 5, exposing what was widely described at the time as a humiliating gap in Russia’s air defenses that the latest attack indicates Moscow has yet to fill.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the planes were not damaged, but Russian and Ukrainian social media accounts said several planes were destroyed. Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
As the war enters its 11th month, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted the leaders of other ex-Soviet states in St Petersburg on Monday for a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States, from which Ukraine has long since quit.
In televised remarks, Putin did not directly refer to the war, while saying that threats to the security and stability of the Eurasian region are increasing.
“Unfortunately, the challenges and threats in this field, especially from abroad, are increasing every year,” he said. “We also have to unfortunately admit that disagreements also arise between member states of the Commonwealth.”
The invasion of Ukraine was a test of Russia’s longstanding authority among other former Soviet states. Fighting has escalated in recent months between CIS members Armenia and Azerbaijan in the conflict as Russia has peacemakers, while a border dispute has flared up between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Putin said such disagreements should be resolved through “assistance and mediation work”.
On Sunday, Putin said he was open to negotiations on Ukraine and blamed Kyiv and its Western allies for not participating in the talks. He has shown no sign of backing down on his demand that Ukraine recognize Moscow’s armed invasion of a fifth of the country. Kyiv says it will fight until Russia withdraws.
“We are ready to negotiate with everyone involved in acceptable solutions, but it is up to them,” Putin said in an interview with Russia 1 state television. “We are not the ones who refuse to negotiate. They are.”
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied the comments, saying on Twitter: “Russia single-handedly attacked Ukraine and is killing citizens.” “Russia does not want negotiations, but it is trying to avoid responsibility.”
In his nightly video address, Zelensky said that the situation at the front in the Donbass region was “difficult and painful” and required all the “strength and concentration” of the country.
He also said that as a result of Russia targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, nearly nine million people are left without electricity.
Since the invasion, Ukraine has driven the Russian forces out of the north, defeating them on the outskirts of the capital, and forcing the Russian forces to retreat in the east and south. But Moscow still controls large swathes of the eastern and southern territories that Putin claims it annexed.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians died in cities Russia was razed to the ground and thousands of soldiers were killed on both sides, forcing Putin to call up hundreds of thousands of reservists for the first time since World War II.
The Ukrainian military said early on Monday that Moscow had bombed dozens of towns in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions along the front line.
Since October, Russia has been bombing Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with drones and missiles. Moscow says the aim is to weaken Kyiv’s ability to fight. Ukraine says the attacks have no military purpose and aim to harm civilians as winter approaches, which is a war crime.
Ukraine’s power grid operator said electricity was still in short supply on Monday, with emergency consumption restrictions imposed in five Ukrainian regions and the capital.
Reporting by Reuters offices. Writing by Michael Berry, Angus McSwan, Peter Graff, and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Alexandra Hudson, John Stonestreet and Alistair Bell
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