A key Russian airbase used to launch bombing strikes on Ukraine has been struck by an unknown attacker, reportedly leaving several bombers damaged. The airfield, named "Engels-2", is located in Saratov Oblast, southeast of Moscow and roughly 700km from the Ukrainian border. The houses in the nearby city of Engels "shuddered" following the huge blast, according to Saratov Online, posting via Telegram.
Satellite image revealed just days ago that Russia has been gathering bombers and cruise missiles in the airfield, suggesting another large-scale attack on Ukraine may be imminent after repeated airstrikes targeted much of the country's civilian infrastructure.
According to early reports, three people were killed in the explosion and six wounded, while at least two Tu-95 bombers were damaged.
Russian news outlet Baza is reporting the attack as an "unknown" drone strike.
The airfield has been used to host Russia's strategic Tu-95 bombers, capable of carriyng multiple cruise missiles, as well as the Tu-160, a supersonic bomber nicknamed "Blackjack" by NATO. It has been the launching site for many of the Kremlin's airstrikes in recent weeks.
Satellite images taken on November 28 showed about 20 missile-carrying aircraft on the airfield, with experts quick to highlight the danger represented by the high activity.
Independent military analyst Arda Mevlutoglu told Der Spiegel: "Ground personnel is very active, fuel tankers are parked next to long-range bombers, numerous large boxes of ammunition, vehicles, and repair materials are visible."
Mr Mevlutoglu also noted the large number of transport aircraft on the field.
Yuriy Ihnat, spokesman of the Ukrainian Air Force, warned civilians on national television that the increased activity on the airfield may suggest further airstrikes were imminent.
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He added that Russia was running low on the missiles themselves, but that their objective continued to be to target Ukrainian civilian infrastructure.
The latest instance of such an attack was November 23, in which 67 cruise missiles were fired at targets across Ukraine - 30 of which were launched at Kyiv alone, according to the Commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Valeriy Zaluzhniy.
He also reported that Ukrainian defense forces shot down a total of 51 missiles.
Russia's strikes have almost exclusively targeted Ukrainian energy infrastructure, leaving six million Ukrainians without electricity.
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In response Kyiv is urging NATO to speed up its delivery of weapons and for help with restoring its power grid.
According to the alliance's secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, discussions are ongoing to provide Ukraine with Patriot anti-air defenses - a surface-to-air missile system primarily used by the US.
In response, Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council and Former President Dmitry Medvedev shot back, warning that NATO would make itself a "legitimate target" by supplying the equipment.
The experienced personnel required to operate a Patriot system means NATO would likely need to supply them with their own operatives - who may in turn be killed by Russian airstrikes, which would represent a very serious escalation of declining diplomacy between Russia and NATO.