The overnight swarm of drones, presumed to have been launched by Ukraine, temporarily forced some of Russia’s biggest airports to halt operations and left soldiers firing at the unpiloted aerial vehicles with small arms, demonstrating the ability of Kyiv or its proxies to attack deep within Russian territory. The airstrikes were the largest by Kyiv since President Vladimir Putin ordered his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
In Ukraine, at least two people were killed and three others injured early Wednesday morning when Russia launched a combined missile and drone attack on Kyiv that the city’s military administration described as the most “powerful attack since spring.” The Ukrainian capital has been under near-constant air attack since November.
Video from Pskov, 378 miles northwest of Moscow, near Russia’s borders with Estonia and Latvia, showed the planes burning.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the drone attacks were “massive” and told journalists in his regular conference call that Putin was always kept constantly informed about the “special military operation,” Moscow’s euphemism for its bloody war.
“The supreme commander in chief constantly and promptly receives all the information both within the framework of the special military operation itself and around the operation, and, of course, as for such massive attacks, the information is brought to the attention of the supreme commander,” Peskov said.
He deflected questions about the launch locations of the drones that struck the Pskov airfield. “I have no doubt that our military experts are working on these issues and are finding out the routes and how it was done to take appropriate measures to prevent such situations in the future,” Peskov said.
Soldiers at the Pskov airport tried to shoot down the drones with small arms, according to Russian independent media, before a team of 65 firefighters was called to quell the fires.
Kyiv has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense announced that four Il-76 planes were destroyed and that two were damaged, numbers that differed from those reported by Russian media. Il-76 cargo planes can be used to transport military equipment and troops over long distances.
Although Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the drone attacks, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense released a cryptic message on the platform formerly known as Twitter that appeared to hint at Ukraine’s responsibility: “Did you know that Pskov Airport is named after Kyivan Princess Olha? Oh, what a spectacularly vengeful woman she was!”
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Russian state television, the Kremlin’s main tool for shaping public opinion on the war, barely mentioned the attacks, although the drones temporarily closed six Russian airports, including major airports in Moscow, which also was targeted. Drone strikes and airport closures in the Russian capital have practically become a nightly event as Ukraine has stepped up its efforts to make sure the war is felt by Russian citizens who live closest to the Kremlin.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense did not mention the drone attacks on Pskov in its daily media briefing and did not comment on the damage to planes at the airfield.
The Pskov attack also caused a fire in military unit 64044, the 2nd Brigade of the GRU, or military intelligence special forces, Russian media reported.
In Bryansk, a city in western Russia near the Ukrainian border, the office of the Investigative Committee — a federal law enforcement agency — was damaged in a drone attack, which also set off a fire at the Kremniy EL microelectronics plant, which produces parts for Russian missiles, according to Russian media.
Bryansk governor Alexander Bogomaz said a television tower also was targeted but reported that that drone was shot down and that the tower was not damaged.
Despite the relative silence about the attacks on state television, the strikes raised embarrassing questions about the failures of Russian air defenses — especially to prevent the attack on the Pskov airport. Some members of the country’s hard line pro-war lobby vented frustration at a war that has yielded no major Russian advances for months.
The overnight drone attacks came 11 days after a drone destroyed a Russian supersonic Tu-22M3 strategic bomber at Soltsy air base in the Novgorod region, northwest of Moscow, according to the open-source military analysis group Ukraine Weapons Tracker. A Telegram channel with links to Russian security services confirmed that attack, while the Russian Ministry of Defense said one plane had been damaged.
The Russian opposition media outlet We Can Explain, which is associated with the exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, quoted two witnesses in Pskov as stating that there were no sounds of air defenses working as the drones began attacking. Residents in Pskov saw three Il-76s taking off after the attack, local media reported.
Pskov governor Mikhail Vedernikov announced that the airport would be closed until Thursday to assess damage to the runway.
Drones also hit the Oryol, Ryazan and Kaluga regions, and maritime drones attacked the port of Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea, where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based. Russia’s Ministry of Defense claimed to have destroyed four speed boats carrying Ukrainian paratroopers in the Black Sea. Ukraine denied that the boats were destroyed.
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On Wednesday, the Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov expressed the frustration of Russia’s pro-war faction, known as the “party of war” when he blasted the failure to intercept the drones in Pskov during his online morning program, Full Contact.
“What is happening? What is happening?” Solovyov repeated angrily. “Do we not know where the drones are flying from? What is happening? Do we not understand where they’re being manufactured, delivered and stockpiled? Where they’re launched from? If we can’t cope with drones, how are we going to cope with F-16s?”
He was referring to the modern American-made fighter jets that NATO allies have pledged to provide to Ukraine in coming months.
Speculating without evidence that the drones may have been launched from nearby Estonia, a NATO member, Solovyov called for Russia to launch airstrikes against Estonia if this were true.
“If that’s true, of course it means world war. If it’s true, Estonia must be wiped off the face of the earth,” he said.
A prominent Russian military blogger, who uses the handle Fighterbomber and focuses on aviation, said Russia had to learn from the Pskov attack and make sure airfields are properly defended.
“We draw conclusions and strengthen the protection of airfields. Enough has already been written and said about what needs to be done quickly for this,” the blogger wrote on Telegram.
In Kyiv, loud explosions sounded early Wednesday as air defenses were activated in the city. Several nonresidential buildings caught fire and were damaged.
The two people killed in the attack were security guards aged 26 and 36, Kyiv’s military administration announced, but further information was not immediately available. At least two of the wounded were hospitalized.
The Ukrainian air force reported shooting down all of 28 Russian cruise missiles it said had been launched from aircraft in the Caspian Sea and the port city of Engels and 15 of 16 drones launched from a coastal town on the Sea of Azov, and from the city of Kursk.
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Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military claimed to continue its push forward in the country’s south and east. In the south, general staff spokesman Andriy Kovalev said, troops “were successful” and “are consolidating the positions they have seized.”
The death of Russia’s Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeniy Prigozhin last week silenced one of the fiercest critics of Russia’s military command over its failures in the war. Prigozhin’s secretive burial Tuesday — also ignored on Russian state television — sent a powerful signal that his name is taboo for the Kremlin, after hard-line pro-war nationalists showered him with praise in the days after his death.
But despite the Kremlin’s determination to suppress all criticism of the war effort, some hard-liners still are publicly demanding a harsher approach. Among them is Andrei Gurulyov, a lawmaker, member of Putin’s United Russia party and retired lieutenant general in Russia’s army and former deputy commander of the Southern Military District, who on Tuesday called on Putin to launch a tactical nuclear strike on Ukrainian forces in Robotyne, a village in southern Ukraine recently liberated in Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
Speaking on Solovyov’s program Tuesday, Gurulyov said Robotyne was the “ideal place” for a Russian tactical nuclear strike, to end Ukraine’s counteroffensive and allow Russia, “even with the forces we have,” to regain the upper hand.
“We will be able to move forward, liberating Zaporizhzhia and even Dnipropetrovsk region, and to create a threat to the group that is fighting in Donetsk region,” he said. Zaporizhzhia is one of four Ukrainian regions that Putin has declared illegally to be annexed by Russia. Putin, however, has not laid claim to the neighboring Dnipropetrovsk region, and Gurulyov’s comments were a sign that some Russian officials want to take even more of Ukraine’s territory than the president has so far claimed.