A large explosion was reported to have taken place during the morning of December 5, 2022, at Engels-2, an air base used by Russia for deploying strategic bombers to perform cruise missile attacks on Ukraine. Around the same time, an explosion happened at Dyagilevo, another strategic bomber base in Ryazan region.
Reports published to Russian social media channels claim the explosion at Engels was a drone attack and at least two aircraft were damaged.
Telegram channel “Mobilizatsiya. Volgogradskaya Oblast,” which reports local news, posted a short video which appears to have been filmed by a CCTV camera. A large explosion can be seen in the footage.
Another Russian Telegram channel, Baza, which regularly posts insider information about the country’s government and military, reported that a flying object – presumably a drone – crashed into the base’s runway, damaging two aircraft and injuring two people.
Local news outlet Saratov24 reported that residents of the nearby towns Engels and Saratov heard a loud explosion coming from the direction of the airbase. Several videos of the explosion have been posted on social media, Saratov24 claims.
The second explosion reported at Dyagilevo was caused by a fuel truck, according to the Russian state news agency TASS. Another news agency, RIA Novosti, said two people died and six were injured in the explosion.
The reports do not indicate what caused the fuel truck to explode. However, several Russian military Telegram channels claim both attacks were synchronized acts of sabotage.
Footage claiming to show the explosion at Dyagilevo has also been published online.
Two strategic locations for the Russian Air Force
Engels-2 is a strategic bomber base located in the Saratov region. There have been numerous reports of the base serving as one of the main locations for launching cruise missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure.
The attacks, started in earnest in August 2022, have been credited with disabling large parts of Ukraine’s electricity grid and causing constant blackouts in the country.
Dyagilevo is also a strategic bomber base. Located not far from Moscow, it is the main training center for Russia’s strategic bomber crews.
In the last days of November, additional Tupolev Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic bombers were transferred to Engels airbase, causing concerns of more and larger attacks.
The bombers have been scrambled several times without launching an attack.
Numerous attacks have targeted Russian airbases since the start of the large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. However, such bases, located in the nearby Belgorod region and the occupied peninsula of Crimea, were in close proximity to the frontlines, and within reach of Ukrainian kamikaze drones and short-range ballistic missiles.
Engels and Dyagilevo airbases are located 500 kilometers (300 miles) and 460 kilometers (281 miles) from the Ukrainian border, indicating that the attacks are unlikely to have been launched from the Ukrainian territory.
UPDATE 12-06-2022, 11:10 (UTC +3): In the evening of December 5 Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement claiming that Ukraine attacked the bases with modified Soviet-era drones, presumably Tu-141 Strizh or similar models. According to the statement, Russian air defense successfully intercepted all the drones, and some of their fragments caused “insignificant” damage to two aircraft at the base.
There has been little visual evidence of the damage so far. At Dyagilevo air a Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber with heavily damaged tail section can be seen in both satellite images and an unconfirmed picture posted by Russian reporters.
Satellite photos from @ImageSatIntl showing the aftermath of the attack on the Russian Dyagilevo airbase today. The photos show burn marks near a Tu-22M3 bomber. H/t @manniefabian pic.twitter.com/582vhK2xLg
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) December 5, 2022
Not sure where this photo originated but it is supposedly from Dyagilevo airbase of a damaged Russian Tu-23M3 bomber. Dyagilevo does have Tu-22M3 based there. https://t.co/C6x1gytsiK pic.twitter.com/B982WwEFOS
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) December 5, 2022
At Engels, where at least two Tu-95 bombers have been damaged according to preliminary reports, several burn marks can be spotted on the apron in satellite photos done later that day.
Aftermath if the alleged Ukrainian strike at the Engels airbase, Dec 4th/Dec 6th @planet images comparison. Several fire trucks and a foam beneath Tu-95 is clearly visible (also I’d say some craters, but I’m not 100% sure). pic.twitter.com/EkJMKKzpdY
— Mark Krutov (@kromark) December 6, 2022