KYIV, Dec 26 (Reuters) – A drone believed to be Ukrainian penetrated hundreds of kilometers into Russian airspace, causing a deadly explosion at Moscow’s main strategic bomber base in the latest attack to expose air defense gaps .
On Monday, Moscow said it had shot down the drone that caused it to crash at Engels Air Force Base, killing three servicemen. As per its usual policy regarding incidents in Russia, Ukraine has not commented.
The base, the main airport for the bombers, which Kyiv says Moscow has used in recent months to attack Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, is hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border. The same aircraft are also designed to launch nuclear-capable missiles as part of Russia’s long-term strategic deterrent.
A suspected drone had already struck it on December 5, exposing what was widely described at the time as a humiliating hole in Russia’s air defenses, which the latest attack suggests Moscow has yet to plug.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that no planes were damaged, but Russian and Ukrainian social media accounts said several were destroyed. Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports.
As the war entered its 11th month, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted leaders of other former Soviet states in St. Petersburg on Monday for a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States group, from which Ukraine has long since left.
In televised remarks, Putin did not directly mention the war, but said threats to the security and stability of the Eurasian region were growing.
“Unfortunately, the challenges and threats in this area, especially from outside, are growing every year,” he said. “We also have to admit, unfortunately, that disagreements also arise between the member countries of the community.
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 a conflict in which Russia has peacekeepers, while a border dispute has flared between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Putin said such disagreements should be resolved through “friendship and mediation.”
On Sunday, Putin said he was open to talks on Ukraine, blaming Kyiv and its Western allies for failing to engage in negotiations. He showed no sign of backing down from his demand that Ukraine recognize Moscow’s armed takeover of a fifth of the country. Kyiv says it will fight until Russia withdraws.
“We are ready to negotiate with all participants for acceptable solutions, but it depends on them – it’s not us who refuse to negotiate, but they,” Putin said in an interview with state-run Rossiya 1 television.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed the remarks: “Russia has single-handedly attacked Ukraine and is killing citizens,” Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. Russia does not want negotiations, but tries to avoid responsibility.
Zelensky said in his nightly video address that the situation at the front in the Donbass region is “difficult and painful” and requires all the “strength and concentration” of the country.
He also said that as a result of the Russian attack on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, nearly nine million people were left without electricity.
After the invasion, Ukraine pushed Russian forces from the north, defeated them on the outskirts of the capital, and forced the Russians to retreat east and south. But Moscow still controls parts of eastern and southern lands that Putin claims to have annexed.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians died in cities Russia razed to the ground, and thousands of soldiers from both sides were killed, forcing Putin to call up hundreds of thousands of reservists for the first time since World War II.
The Ukrainian military said early Monday that Moscow had shelled dozens of towns in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions along the front line.
Since October, Russia has been deliberately striking Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with drones and missiles. Moscow claims the aim is to reduce Kyiv’s ability to fight. Ukraine says the attacks have no military purpose and aim to harm civilians as winter sets in, a war crime.
Ukraine’s power grid operator said there was still a significant lack of electricity on Monday, with emergency consumption restrictions in place in five Ukrainian regions and the capital.
Reports from Reuters bureaus; Screenplay by Michael Perry, Angus McSwan, Peter Graff, Matt Spetalnik; Editing by Alexandra Hudson, John Stonestreet and Alistair Bell
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