A drone attack destroyed a Russian bomber at an airbase in the country over the weekend.
A Ukrainian news outlet said agents working with Ukrainian intelligence were responsible.
The hit represents both a practical and psychological win for Ukraine, two experts said.
The brazen drone attack on a prized Russian bomber that was located hundreds of miles from the frontline fighting represents both a strategic and symbolic win for Ukraine, two experts on the Russia-Ukraine war told Insider.
The supersonic bomber was likely destroyed in an attack over the weekend, the UK Ministry of Defense said in a Tuesday intelligence update. The Russian plane, identified as a Tupolev Tu-22, was located at Soltsky-2 airbase in the Novgorod region of Russia, nearly 400 miles from the country's Ukrainian border, according to UK officials.
The hit is the latest in a recent series of successful strikes on Russian infrastructure and military equipment as Ukraine seeks to shift its strategy amid a struggling counteroffensive on the ground and target Russian artillery.
#BREAKING A flagship Russian long-range bomber has been destroyed in a Ukrainian drone strike. Images posted on social media and analysed by BBC Verify show a Tupolev Tu-22 on fire at Soltsy-2 airbase, south of St Petersburg. The Tu-22 can travel at twice the speed of sound and… pic.twitter.com/UH9lym21Bu
— Michael Bociurkiw (@WorldAffairsPro) August 21, 2023
"Over the last many months, there's been an effort on the part of the Ukrainian defense establishment to drive home the idea that this isn't a war the Kremlin can just fight on the frontlines in Ukraine," Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations, told Insider.
Russia's defense ministry blamed the Saturday attack on a Ukrainian "copter-style" uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV). If Russia was correct in identifying the type of drone used in the assault, it's more than likely the attack originated within Russia itself, British intelligence concluded.
"Copter UAVs are unlikely to have the range to reach Soltsky-2 from outside Russia," the assessment read, adding that the attack is plausible evidence that drone strikes against Russian military equipment are being launched from within Russia.
Ukrainian news outlet New Voice of Ukraine reported that agents operating with Ukrainian intelligence were responsible for the attack, claiming two additional aircraft were also destroyed in the strike.
Kyiv rarely claims public credit for such attacks and has not done so in this case, though the country has hinted at being responsible for similar attacks in the past. Russian separatists who oppose President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, have taken credit for other attacks on Russian soil.
Throughout the war, Russia has used the Tupolev Tu-22 and other aircraft like it to launch several attacks on Ukrainian cities, including the bombings in Mariupol that led to tens of thousands of civilian deaths last year, UK intelligence said. So, while Russia's bomber loss is unlikely to change conditions on the frontlines, the attack represents a major win in the effort to keep Ukrainian cities and civilians safe, Miles said.
"The Russians have launched a lot of munitions at Ukraine off these really high-end fixed-wing platforms," Miles said. "Taking more of these out of the fight means degrading the Russians' capability to actually strike Ukraine."
But the destruction of the strategically important bomber also serves another, more symbolic purpose, said Ben Hodges, a retired lieutenant general and former commander of US Army Europe.
"There is a psychological aspect to this," Hodges told Insider. "The Russians need to know all the BS they're hearing from the Kremlin is BS. And the Ukrainians need to know their government is striking back against Russia."
The bomber's destruction, which is yet another reminder Russia is struggling to protect its equipment, especially within its own borders, will simultaneously serve as a morale hit for Russia and a boost for Ukraine, Hodges said.
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