Russia launched a nationwide missile attack at Ukraine on Monday in its latest attempt to cripple civilian infrastructure, as Moscow accused Kyiv of attacking two air bases deep in its territory with drones.
Three people were killed and there was damage to aircraft at the Ryazan and Engels air bases, both more than 450km from the Ukrainian border, the Russian defence ministry said.
Kyiv did not comment on the strikes on the air bases and Moscow gave no evidence to support its claim, but if confirmed they would mark the deepest attacks inside Russian territory since the start of the war in February.
The missile barrage and air base attacks came on the day an EU ban on seaborne Russian oil shipments took effect alongside a G7 mechanism to cap the price of Russian crude.
Monday’s barrage against Ukraine was the latest in a months-long Russian pivot to attacks on power and water supplies, seeking to demoralise Ukrainians and, as the cold weather sets in, aiming to prompt a fresh wave of refugees into Europe that erodes western support.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address to the nation that “air defence forces shot down most of the missiles” and that repairs to damaged areas were already under way. Ukraine’s air force said it had intercepted more than 60 missiles out of a total of 70.
The extent of damage from the hours-long air strike was not immediately clear but affected areas included the Black Sea port of Odesa, Zelenskyy’s home town of Kryvyi Rih and the Zaporizhzhia frontline region, where two people were killed by a missile, according to officials.
Ukraine’s air defences have been bolstered in recent weeks by supplies of modern surface-to-air weapons from its US and European allies.
Ukrenergo, the state power grid company, described Monday’s strikes in a statement as the “eighth mass missile attack by a terrorist country”.
“Unfortunately, there are already hits on energy infrastructure facilities and related emergency power outages. Ukrenergo dispatchers are working to maintain balance in the power system,” it added.
Police in Moldova told a local news site that missile fragments had landed in a northern part of the country bordering Ukraine for a second time in recent weeks.
Russia’s defence ministry said the Ukrainian drones that targeted the air bases were shot down as they flew in at low altitude and it was the resulting explosions which killed three at Ryazan and led to some superficial damage of aircraft.
Earlier on Monday, videos appeared on Russian social media channels showing a large-scale explosion in the Saratov region, and state media reported a fuel tank explosion at the Ryazan site.
“In an attempt to to disable Russian long-range aircraft, Ukraine tried to strike military airfield ‘Dyagilevo’ in the Ryazan region and ‘Engels’ in the Saratov region, using Soviet-made jet unmanned aerial vehicles,” the ministry said in a statement.
The attack on the air bases represents a significant blow to the perceived invulnerability of Russian positions far from the frontline.
It also confirms one of the main conclusions of a recent report by the Royal United Services Institute in London, a think-tank, which concluded: “There is no sanctuary in modern war. The first clear lesson from the war in Ukraine is that the enemy can conduct strikes on targets throughout its adversary’s operational depth with long-range precision fires.”
Russian pro-war military bloggers voiced criticism of Russian domestic defences after the attacks.
One, the pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda reporter Alexander Kots, claimed he had information that the Engels site was hit by a Soviet-era Tupolev Strizh drone, and wondered how such an old aircraft had travelled so far undetected.
“It freely overcame almost 650km over the territory of the Russian Federation. Was stealth technology mastered in the USSR long before it became a fashionable modern trend?” Kots wrote on his Telegram channel.
He also reminded his over half a million subscribers that “to Moscow from the Ukrainian border is less than 650km”.
Separately, Russian state media shared a video on Monday afternoon of President Vladimir Putin visiting the Crimea bridge which suffered severe damage following a strike earlier this year. Russia has been rebuilding the Kerch crossing in an attempt to portray as minor the damage to its prized infrastructure project and reassure travellers of the safety of crossing it.
In the video, Putin can be seen behind the wheel of the car, steering on to a bridge as an official reports to him about the progress of repairs.
Additional reporting by John-Paul Rathbone in London