Russia said it was stepping up security at some infrastructure facilities after a third airfield in the country was hit by a drone within 24 hours and Moscow accused Ukraine of launching two of the strikes and planning more such “terror attacks”.
“An oil tank is on fire as a result of a drone attack near the Kursk airfield. There are no casualties,” Roman Starovoit, governor of the Kursk region that borders Ukraine, said on Tuesday as officials released photos of billowing flames and smoke at the airfield.
He did not say where the drone came from, but a day earlier Moscow said explosions at two military airbases in the Saratov and Ryazan regions – both hundreds of kilometres from Ukraine – were caused by drones launched by Kyiv’s forces.
The defence ministry in Moscow said Ukraine had tried to “take out Russian long-range aircraft” at the bases, but the “Soviet-made” drones were shot down by air defence systems, scattering debris that damaged two planes, killed three servicemen and injured four others.
Kyiv has not publicly taken responsibility for the attacks, but The New York Times quoted an unnamed senior Ukrainian official as saying the drones involved in Monday’s attacks were launched from Ukraine, and special forces near the Russian bases aided at least one of the strikes.
“Certainly, the push for such terror attacks to continue being openly announced by the Kyiv regime is a risk. Of course, this is being taken into account, with all necessary measures being taken,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday, as Russia’s security council met to discuss issues of domestic security.
When asked if security at oil and other infrastructure facilities was being increased, Mr Peskov said: “Naturally, they are protected on a constant basis [and] additional measures are being taken there. Every region handles this, plus the security services. It is a constant process.”
In the Belgorod region that borders eastern Ukraine, governor Vyacheslav Gladkov announced the formation of “several battalions” of territorial defence troops, comprising “those who, for health or age reasons, cannot be called up by the armed forces but have combat experience and a great desire, if necessary, to defend their home and family.”
In the hours after Monday’s drone attacks on Russian airbases, Moscow’s military launched dozens of cruise missiles at Ukrainian cities, in what Kyiv said was another attempt to inflict massive damage on the country’s power grid.
Ukraine said more than 60 of over 70 missiles fired were intercepted and destroyed, however – thanks largely to air-defence systems supplied by western states – and so another near-nationwide blackout was averted.
“Yesterday, during the rocket attack, Odesa and Kyiv regions were the most affected ... It will take a few more days to restore electricity production to the level it was at before the missile attack on December 5th,” said state power firm Ukrenergo, as it announced the continuation of rolling blackouts to facilitate repair work.
Russia and Ukraine accused each other of shelling civilian districts near the frontline, killing and injuring several people in both Kyiv- and Moscow-controlled territory, as fierce fighting continued around the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region; at the same time, the warring sides conducted their latest prisoner exchange, in which 60 soldiers from each side were allowed to return home.
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country’s embassies in Romania and Denmark were the latest to receive “dangerous packages”, after one exploded and slightly injured a guard at Kyiv’s mission in Madrid and others containing animals’ eyes were sent to Ukrainian embassies and consulates in about a dozen countries.
“I can only reiterate this for all enemies of Ukrainian diplomacy and Ukraine – you will not succeed at intimidating or stopping us ... don’t waste your time and money for postage,” Mr Kuleba said.