The Ukrainian armed forces carried out another audacious military operation against Russia. Ukraine hit targets inside Russian territory, more than five hundred kilometers from the border. The country repeated its procedure of neither claiming nor denying responsibility for the attacks, but the war situation makes the answer obvious. By carrying out these operations, Ukraine wanted to send a message not only to the Russians, but also to the US.
On the last 5th of December, the air bases of Engels and Dyagilevo were attacked by drones. Both bases are home to strategic bomber regiments of the Russian Air Force. The Engels airfield is also home to Tu-160 long-range bombers and the heaviest supersonic plane in the world. Vectors are essential to Russian nuclear deterrence doctrine.
Russia uses its heavy bombers to fire cruise missiles at targets in Ukraine from safe distances, over the Caspian Sea, for example. In recent months, these attacks have intensified and targeted Ukraine’s infrastructure, destroying part of Ukraine’s ability to generate energy and maintain its basic sanitation. At the beginning of winter.
Interestingly, part of the Russian bomber fleet was from Ukraine, including half of the aforementioned Tu-160 fleet. Inherited by the Ukrainians after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, they were ceded to Russia in the late 1990s as part of the payment of debts for the purchase of natural gas. This is one of the main portraits of the situation that many former Soviet republics faced as independent states.
Effects of attacks
The material damage, apparently, was not so great. According to sources heard by the international press, two bombers were damaged, one or two fuel trucks were destroyed and three Russian soldiers died. Another airfield was hit the next day, Kursk Vostochny, where a fuel depot was destroyed. In this case, the base does not host strategic bombers.
The first effect of these attacks is psychological. It’s not just a propaganda victory, but Ukraine has now shown that it can damage, even slightly, targets previously thought to be unattainable. This could have consequences for Russian strategic planning, perhaps motivating the need to reorganize the country’s anti-aircraft defenses, in an already tense scenario of a dragging conflict.
Putting it in perspective, bear the reader in mind that Dyagilevo is closer to Moscow, some two hundred kilometers away, than it is to the border. It’s retaliation against cruise missile strikes, and a little retaliation is still more effective than passivity. The second effect is, in a way, also psychological. It creates uncertainty about the capabilities of the Ukrainian defense industry.
What equipment did Ukraine use to carry out these attacks? According to the Russian government, they were “modified Soviet drones”, possibly versions of the Tu-141 drone, which entered service in 1979 and was produced in what is now Ukrainian territory, in Kharkov, or Kharkiv, in Ukrainian spelling. How did Ukraine change it? Was it with western cooperation? Would they have used another type of weapon, in fact?
Finally, a third effect of these attacks is the international message they send. And not just the Russians, the idea, already mentioned, that Ukraine can hit other targets or even Moscow. One phrase caught the attention of the column in this regard. Ukrainian General Ihor Romanenko, former Deputy Chief of Staff of Ukraine, was heard by the network Al Jazeera regarding attacks.
message and audacity
He said the attacks were “unexpected, not only for our enemies, but also for our allies”. during the conflict. When you think about the immediate context, the “timing”, of the attacks, however, there may be something more.
The attacks were carried out two days after Joe Biden, while receiving Emmanuel Macron on a state visit in Washington, publicly announced for the first time that he would agree to negotiate directly with Vladimir Putin for an end to the war in Ukraine. On the fourth, Putin stated that he would admit the conversation with the US president, as long as there were no preconditions.
In direct military aid alone, the US has already sent about twenty billion dollars to the Ukrainians, plus tens of billions in indirect aid. As already discussed here in our space, this generates more and more fatigue in US internal politics. Even if it is the US that is paying for a large part of the “bill” for the war, it is the Ukrainians who are suffering and dying on the front lines.
At least part of the Ukrainian leadership does not want the end of the conflict to be dictated by Washington and wants to continue fighting. Biden says on day three that he agrees to negotiate, on day four Putin is receptive to the idea, and then on day five, the Ukrainians attack air bases inside Russia. Something unexpected even for its allies, as General Romanenko said.
This becomes Ukraine’s third daring military operation in as many months. First, the attack on the Crimean bridge. Then, the first attack on a port with naval drones in history. The issue is that the previous targets were seen as legitimate military targets even by Western countries that, on several occasions, signaled to Ukrainians that they should not use equipment provided by NATO to attack Russia.
The message is that Ukraine, at least part of its leadership, will fight. Not even if it is necessary to bring the conflict to Russian territory. This could have other consequences, of course, but, at least for now, there are no signs of an escalation in the conflict. It remains to be seen whether the desired effect by the Ukrainians has been achieved. Both in the Kremlin, in Moscow, and in the White House, in Washington.