Russia says it shot down Ukrainian drone near air base

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Russian military reported Monday that it shot down a Ukrainian drone approaching an air base inside Russia, the second time the facility has been targeted this month — again exposing Russia Weaknesses of the air defense system.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said the debris killed three servicemen at the Engels air base, which hosts the Tu-95 and Tu-160 nuclear strategic bombers that have struck Ukraine with missiles during the 10-month war.

Russia’s Baza news outlet reported that four people were injured and said there was a fire, with explosions, sirens and flashing lights in a video posted on its Telegram channel. The Ministry of Defense claimed that no Russian aircraft were damaged. It was not immediately clear whether the drone was launched from Ukraine or Russian territory.

If the drone had been launched from Ukraine, it would have traveled more than 600 kilometers (370 miles) to Engels in Russia’s Saratov region on the Volga. Shooting down the drone after such a long flight inside Russia has once again raised questions about the effectiveness of Russia’s air defenses, especially those designed to protect its most strategic military assets, such as warplanes capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

Ukrainian air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat did not directly acknowledge the country’s involvement in Monday’s incident in an interview with Ukrainian television, but the Kyiv government has always welcomed the outcome of the cross-border attack without confirming it. “These are the consequences of Russian aggression,” he said.

He added: “If the Russians think that the war will not affect them deep behind them, they are very mistaken.”

During the war, Russia suffered multiple cross-border attacks on its main territory, as well as the Crimean peninsula, which it illegally annexed in 2014. The incidents have angered Russian military bloggers, who say they show the weakness of the country’s 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 killed four Ukrainian saboteurs trying to cross into the Bryansk region from Ukraine. The report said the infiltrators were carrying explosives when they were arrested on Sunday.

Cross-border attacks on Russian military and other strategic locations have prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to order almost weekly missile and weaponized drone strikes on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, causing widespread blackouts in an increasingly The cold weather also disrupted heating and water supplies. The attacks began in October and spread across much of the country, when ground fighting was concentrated in southern and eastern Ukraine.

In eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian governor Serhiy Haidai in Luhansk said on Monday that Russian troops had withdrawn from their military command post in the town of Krymina as Ukrainian troops closed in after months of heavy fighting. The Russian Ministry of Defense did not comment on the withdrawal request.

Russian troops moved to Kryminna and several other regions in September after withdrawing from the Kharkov region in eastern Ukraine. Kreminna is located in the Eastern Lugansk region, which is almost entirely under Moscow’s control and is a key supply route for Russian forces and a gateway to other strategic locations. Earlier, Haiwai.com reported that Russia had withdrawn its occupying government administration from Svatov, 51 kilometers (31 miles) north of Kremina. President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening video address on Monday, “The situation there is difficult, it is painful. The occupiers are using up all the resources available to them — and they are quite a lot — — to squeeze out at least some progress.”

Heydai told Ukrainian television on Monday that Russian troops in the region “have suffered heavy losses and medical facilities are overwhelmed by wounded soldiers”. He added that the Russian army was redeploying paratroopers from the Kherson region to the region.

In the partly Russian-occupied region of neighboring Donetsk, heavy fighting continues around the city of Bakhmut, which Russian forces have been trying to seize for weeks to consolidate their hold on eastern Ukraine. Zelensky said last week that Bakhmut was the hottest point on the war’s 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) front.

Ukrainian officials have remained equivocal about previous high-profile attacks, including a drone attack on a Russian military base earlier this month.

On December 5, drones launched an unprecedented air strike on the Engels and Dyagilevo bases in the Ryazan region of western Russia, killing three soldiers and injuring four. In retaliation, Russia launched a massive barrage of missiles across Ukraine, hitting homes and buildings and killing civilians.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Russia shelled five regions in southeastern Ukraine in the past 24 hours, wounding at least four civilians, according to Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office. Overall, the intensity of shelling was significantly lower from Sunday night into Monday.

For the first time in weeks, Russian troops did not shell the Dnipropetrovsk region, which borders the partially occupied southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia, the governor of the region, Valentin Reznichenko (Valentyn Reznichenko) on Telegram.

“This is the third quiet night in 5.5 months since the Russians started shelling the area around the city of Nikopol,” Reznichenko wrote. It is under the control of the Russian military and its six reactors have been shut down.

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

On Sunday, Russian troops attacked the city of Kramatorsk, where the Ukrainian army is headquartered. Three missiles hit an industrial facility and damaged residential buildings, but no casualties were reported, according to local officials.

Dozens were killed or injured Saturday in a deadly attack in the city of Kherson, which Kyiv forces recaptured last month. Janushevich said on Monday that local residents were queuing up to donate blood to the wounded.

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