A satellite image shows the air base in Pskov, after what Kyiv confirmed to have been a Ukrainian drone attack, in Russia, August 31, 2023.
Planet Labs PBC/Handout via REUTERS
Russia’s Pskov airbase was hit by drones this week, leaving several aircraft damaged and destroyed.
The attack was launched from within Russia, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief revealed.
“We are working from the territory of Russia,” Kyrylo Budanov told The War Zone publication.
An attack on a Russian airbase this week that damaged and destroyed a handful of military transport aircraft was carried out from within Russia’s own territory, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief has revealed.
Officials in Kyiv have said that Ukraine was responsible for the nighttime drone attack on the Pskov airbase, which is located in northeastern Russia more than 400 miles from the border with Ukraine. The damaging attack on the base inside Russia’s internationally recognized territory was one of the most significant so far in the 18-month-long war and comes as Ukraine continues to launch attacks on Moscow and its surrounding regions on a regular basis.
Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the chief of Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, which is an arm of the country’s defense ministry, said in an exclusive interview with The War Zone that two Ilyushin Il-76s — Soviet-era airlift planes that can transport military cargo and personnel — were destroyed. Another two were “seriously damaged” as a result of the incident.
“We are working from the territory of Russia,” Budanov said. He did not specify the type or number of drones used in the attack, nor did he say if it was carried out by members of the Ukrainian military or Russian partisans. Budanov did, however, note that the drones specifically targeted the fuel tanks on the aircraft and critical sections of their wings.
Infrared drone footage appears to capture the moment one of the Il-76s is attacked, and satellite imagery from before and after the strikes shows the extensive damage to one aircraft.
Russian state-run media outlet TASS reported that there were no casualties as a result of the attack, and a spokesperson from Moscow’s foreign ministry said the incident would “not go unpunished.”
The Pskov airbase was one of at least five separate areas that were targeted by one-way attack drones overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday, marking the largest collective attack on Russia since the war began in February 2022, Britain’s defense ministry said in a Thursday intelligence update.
The attack on the base is the latest in a string of attacks specifically targeting Russian airbases — many of which have left a trail of destroyed military planes in their wake.
It remains to be seen how Russia responds, but “previous strikes against Russian military airbases have led to the dispersal of Russian aircraft to locations across Russia,” the UK defense ministry said.
The past month has featured a significant uptick in Ukrainian drone strikes, the UK said, with at least 25 attacks— likely all carried out by one-way attack drones — on Russian territory. Moscow has been routinely targeted by unmanned aerial vehicles. Unlike some of the other attacks, these are more likely to cause psychological harm than actual physical damage.
A Russian Il-76 MD airlifter is seen during the 2021 International Army Games at the Alabino training ground on August 23, 2021 in Moscow Region, Russia.
Photo by Wang Xiujun/China News Service via Getty Images
The frequent strikes highlight a problem for Russia’s air defenses, the British defense ministry noted.
“Many of these UAVs have reached their targets, which likely means that Russian air defense is having difficulty detecting and destroying them,” the UK said in its intelligence update. “Russia is likely rethinking its air defense posture in the area between Ukraine and Moscow to better deal with these attacks.”
The UK said the Pskov attack indicated that Ukraine’s drones have a far reach, given that the base is situated hundreds of miles from Ukrainian territory, but considering Budanov’s comments about the job having been carried out from within Russia, it’s unclear how far these specific drones traveled before they reached the base.
Still, the assessment matches recent comments by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who said in a Thursday address to the nation that Kyiv had a new weapon capable of traveling 700 kilometers, or over 430 miles. This could have theoretically put the Pskov base within Ukrainian reach even if the new weapon was launched from Ukraine’s sovereign territory.
Regardless, the incident is expected to force Moscow to reconsider its air defenses. “It is likely that Russia will have to consider the addition of further air defence systems to airfields that it considers to be at risk from UAV attacks,” the UK said.