Ukrainian drones strike six Russian regions, destroy planes at airfield
PHOTO CAPTION: A plume of smoke is illuminated by a flash of light amid a drone attack in Pskov, Russia, in this still image obtained from social media video released August 30, 2023. TELEGRAM / MIKHAIL VEDERNIKOV/via REUTERS
(Reuters) - Ukrainian drones struck targets in at least six regions deep within Russia on Wednesday, including an airfield where they destroyed military transport planes, in one of the broadest volleys yet of Kyiv's campaign to turn the tables on Moscow.
Russian officials described attacks on targets in the Pskov, Bryansk, Kaluga, Orlov, Ryazan and Moscow regions. 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 giant 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, detonating in a huge explosion that lit up nearby apartment blocks. Moscow said it hit command and intelligence targets.
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, which is just 32 km (20 miles) east of Russia's border with NATO-member Estonia.
Moscow said it had thwarted all the attacks on Russia. 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.
Kyiv confirmed the Russian planes had been destroyed in Pskov, without commenting on the nature of the incident. 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 Kyiv from using weapons they supply to attack Russia but say Kyiv has a right to carry out such strikes with its own weapons.
Among the other attacks in Russia, Moscow said Ukrainian drones had tried to attack a TV tower over the Bryansk region. No casualties were reported.
Moscow also said its aircraft had destroyed four Ukrainian fast-attack boats carrying up to 50 paratroopers on the Black Sea and its forces had repelled attacks by enemy drones. Reuters could not independently confirm this.
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.
"Kyiv has not experienced such a powerful attack since spring. The enemy launched a massive, combined attack using drones and missiles," Serhiy Popko, the head of the city's military administration, said on Telegram.
Ukrainian forces have been conducting a summer offensive for nearly three months. They have yet to achieve a breakthrough of Russia's heavily mined and fortified defenses, although they said in the past week they had finally penetrated the first main defensive line.
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".
"It is a big loss for Russia," said Sergei Abeltsev, a former lawmaker from an ultra-nationalist party, who visited the grave. "As always - the realisation of the loss will only come later."
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," Kremlin 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.
Putin had called the mutiny treason but had promised Prigozhin he would escape punishment.
The Kremlin has rejected as an "absolute lie" Western suggestions that Putin was responsible.
"We all know that the Kremlin has a long history of killing opponents," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. "It's very clear what happened here."
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Anna Pruchnicka and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Philippa Fletcher)