Saturday, June 22, 2024

Ukrainian warplanes launch devastating strike inside Russia for first time ever

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Ukraine says its forces have successfully hit an advanced Russian warplane stationed nearly 600 kilometres (370 miles) from the front lines, marking a signficant escalation in the ongoing conflict.

Kyiv’s main military intelligence service released satellite photos on Sunday purportedly showing the aftermath of the strike. If verified, this would represent Ukraine‘s first known successful attack on a twin-engine Su-57 stealth jet, which is celebrated as Moscow’s most advanced fighter plane.

The photos reveal black soot marks and small craters around the parked aircraft on the concrete strip. According to Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate, the strike occurred on Saturday at the Akhtubinsk base in southern Russia, approximately 589 kilometres (366 miles) from the front line.

The Ukrainian agency stated that the plane, capable of carrying stealth missiles over long distances, was one of a limited number of such jets in Russia‘s arsenal. Reports from Russian sources indicate that Moscow’s air force acquired “more than 10” new Su-57s last year and has ordered a total of 76 to be delivered by 2028.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence, mentioned on Ukrainian TV that the attack might have damaged two Su-57 jets and injured Russian personnel, although he did not provide immediate evidence to support these claims.

Ilya Yevlash, a spokesman for Ukraine‘s air force, previously told Ukrainian media that Russia was trying to keep its Su-57 fleet “at a safe distance” from Ukrainian firepower.

The strike follows recent authorisations by the United States and Germany for Ukraine to hit certain targets on Russian soil with long-range weapons. Ukraine has already used US weapons to strike inside Russia under new guidelines approved by President Joe Biden, which permit American arms to be used defensively for Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

However, the airstrip’s distance from Ukraine and unofficial Russian comments suggest the likely use of Ukrainian-made drones. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion over two years ago, Kyiv has increased domestic drone production, using them to strike deep inside Russia. In January, drones targeted a gas terminal near St. Petersburg, over 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) north of the border.

A popular pro-Kremlin Telegram channel, believed to be run by a retired Russian army pilot, claimed that three Ukrainian drones struck the Akhtubinsk airstrip, damaging the jet with flying shrapnel.

“It is now being determined whether it can be restored or not. If not, it would be the first combat loss of a Su-57 in history,” reported the Fighterbomber channel.

Aleksandr Kharchenko, a military correspondent for Russia‘s state-run RIA news agency, criticised Moscow’s failure to construct hangars to protect its aircraft but stopped short of directly acknowledging the strike.

Russia‘s Defence Ministry or senior political figures did not comment on Sunday. The ministry did claim on Saturday that its forces downed three Ukrainian drones in the Astrakhan region, where the Akhtubinsk airstrip is located. Igor Babushkin, the governor of Astrakhan, also reported that Ukraine attempted to strike an unspecified facility in the region but claimed the attack was unsuccessful.

Russia‘s Su-57 fleet has been largely absent from the skies over Ukraine, instead firing long-range missiles across the border. The UK Ministry of Defence stated last year that Russia is likely avoiding the loss of Su-57 jets in enemy territory to prevent “reputational damage, reduced export prospects, and the compromise of sensitive technology.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces continued drone attacks on Russia‘s southern border regions. Three drones hit Belgorod province late on Saturday, damaging a power line and blowing out windows but causing no casualties, according to Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov. Another five drones and a Ukrainian-made missile were brought down over the region on Sunday, the Russian Defence Ministry reported.

Heavy battles continued in the area as Ukrainian troops tried to repel Russia‘s invading forces after a weekslong push by Moscow that sparked fears for Kharkiv, located just 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the Russian border, and led to a wave of civilian evacuations.

Russia’s new offensive has focused on the Kharkiv region but also included testing Ukrainian defences in Donetsk to the south and launching incursions in the northern Sumy and Chernihiv regions.

Moscow reacted furiously to Ukraine‘s move, warning it could involve NATO in a conflict with Russia. However, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, defended the decision as “common sense.”

“What was happening up around Kharkiv … was a Russian offensive where they were moving from one side of the border directly to the other side of the border, and it simply didn’t make sense not to allow the Ukrainians to fire across that border, to hit Russian guns and emplacements that were firing at (them),” Sullivan said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

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