Blasts reported at Russian air base where satellite images showed an 'unusual' amount of activity

Blasts reported at Russian air base where satellite images showed an 'unusual' amount of activity
planes flying on cloudy day behind structure that looks like a cross
A Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber and an Il-78 aerial refueling tanker fly over downtown Moscow on May 7, 2021, during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade.KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images
  • Explosions were reported Monday at a military air base inside Russia.

  • A Russian official said the apparent blasts were being investigated by law enforcement.

  • Last week, Der Spiegel reported that an "unusual" amount of activity was occurring at the base.

Explosions were reported Monday at Russian air base that is home to the country's supersonic strategic bombers just days after satellite imagery suggested the site was being used to prepare for a massive new bombing campaign in Ukraine.

Writing on Telegram, Roman Busargin, governor of the Saratov region, appeared to confirm that several blasts occurred. "The incidents at military facilities [are] being checked by law enforcement agencies," he wrote, stating that no civilian infrastructure was damaged.

The Russian Ministry of Defense later issued a statement attributing the blasts to a Ukrainian attack.

According to the ministry, Ukraine used Soviet-era "unmanned aerial vehicles" to strike at its Engels base, in the Saratov oblast, and another airfield, Dyagilevo. Two Russian aircraft were "slightly damaged," the ministry claimed, from "fragments" of the attacking vehicles, which it claimed to have destroyed. Four soldiers were also injured, it said.

The Engels air base, located more than 370 miles from the Ukrainian border, is used by Russia's fleet of strategic bombers, including the Tupolev Tu-160 heavy bomber, also known as the Blackjack, which can travel at speeds greater than 1,500 miles per hour.

News of the explosion comes days after the German news outlet Der Spiegel reported on satellite imagery depicting an "unusual" amount of activity at the airport, which it suggested was a prelude to a "new heavy air attack on Ukraine." Images posted Monday by the commercial satellite firm Maxar shows the base hosting the Tu-160 as well as the Tu-95, or Bear, strategic bomber. Both planes are capable of carrying nuclear and conventional missiles.

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Russian bombers have fired long-range cruise missiles as part of the intensifying barrages on Ukraine's energy infrastructure, while taking care to steer clear of Ukraine's airspace out of what military analysts believe are fears they could be shot down by the enemy air defenses.

In the separate reported attack, a fuel tanker exploded at the Dyagilevo airbase, southeast of Moscow. The base is also home to strategic bombers. The Moscow Times reported that three people were killed and two planes damaged by the blast, citing state and independent media.

Mykhaylo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, obliquely referenced the explosions in a post on social media, writing: "if something is launched into other countries' airspace, sooner or later unknown flying objects will return to departure point."

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