Russia and Ukraine launch numerous drone attacks targeting a Russian air base and Black Sea coast

AP , Sunday 17 Dec 2023

Russia and Ukraine reportedly launched mass drone attacks at each other’s territories for a second straight day Sunday, one of which targeted a Russian military airport.

Residents clean debris in Odesa region
Residents clean debris in a courtyard of a house destroyed as a result of a drone attack in Tairove, Odesa region. AFP


At least 35 Ukrainian drones were shot down overnight over three regions in southwestern Russia, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a post on the messaging app Telegram.

A Russian air base hosting bomber aircraft used in the war in Ukraine was among the targets, according to a Russian Telegram channel critical of the Kremlin. The channel posted short videos of drones flying over low-rise housing in what it said was the Russian town of Morozovsk, whose air base is home to Russia’s 559th Bomber Aviation Regiment.

Vasily Golubev, the governor of Russia’s Rostov province, separately reported “mass drone strikes” near Morozovsk and another town farther west, but didn't mention the air base. Golubev said most of the drones were shot down and there were no casualties. He didn't comment on the damage.

As of Sunday evening, Kyiv didn't formally acknowledge or claim responsibility for the drone attacks.

A major Ukrainian newspaper, Ukrainska Pravda, cited an anonymous source in the security services as saying that Ukraine's army and intelligence services successfully struck the Morozovsk air base, inflicting “significant damage" to military equipment. It wasn't immediately possible to verify this claim.

Also Sunday morning, Ukraine’s air force said it shot down 20 Iranian-made Shahed drones launched overnight by Russian troops in southern and western Ukraine, as well as one X-59 cruise missile launched from the country’s occupied south.

A civilian was killed overnight near Odesa, a key port on Ukraine’s southern Black Sea coast after the remnants of a destroyed drone fell on his house, Ukraine’s military said.

Stepped-up drone attacks over the past month come as both sides are keen to show they aren’t deadlocked as the war approaches the two-year mark. Neither side has gained much ground despite a Ukrainian counteroffensive that began in June.

Russian shelling on Sunday also killed an 81-year-old man in central Kherson, the southern Ukrainian city that was recaptured by Kyiv's forces last fall, according to the head of its municipal military administration.

Ukrainian and Russian forces exchanged fire outside Terebreno, a Russian village just kilometres (miles) from the Ukrainian border, according to Telegram posts by Gov. Vasily Gladkov. He did not provide details, but insisted Russian authorities had the situation “under control.”

According to Baza, a Telegram news channel set up by Russian journalists critical of the Kremlin, fighting between Russian troops and a “Ukrainian diversionary group” began around 11 a.m. near Terebreno, home to some 200 people, forcing residents to hide in shelters.

Ukraine's military security agency, the GUR, said on Sunday evening that Russia-based “armed opponents of the Kremlin regime" were responsible for what it called “armed clashes” near Terebreno. The online statement didn't say whether the GUR or other Ukrainian bodies had any involvement in or prior knowledge of the fighting.

Hours later, a 69-year-old woman was reported killed in a Ukrainian border village in the northern Sumy region, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Terebreno. According to the Ukrainian regional prosecutor's office, the woman died after a Russian shell flew into her home. It wasn't immediately clear whether her death was linked to the reported clashes.

Late on Sunday afternoon, a Ukrainian border force official reported in a video statement that multiple Russian “sabotage and reconnaissance” operatives had crossed into Ukraine's northern Sumy and Kharkiv regions. Andriy Demchenko said that Ukrainian border guards and territorial defence units succeeded in pushing them back into Russia.

While cross-border raids on Russian territory from Ukraine are rare, the Russian military said in May that it had killed more than 70 attackers, describing them as Ukrainian military saboteurs, in a 24-hour battle. Kyiv portrayed the fighting as an uprising against the Kremlin by Russian partisans.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, meanwhile, welcomed what he called a sea change in Germany's approach toward Kyiv’s European Union membership bid.

In an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper, Dmytro Kuleba said that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has won “sincere and well-deserved admiration” among Ukrainians for his role in the EU’s recent decision to open membership talks for Kyiv.

Ukraine has long faced strong opposition in its attempts to join the 27-member bloc from Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has repeatedly spoken of his desire to maintain close ties with Russia.

Scholz said that at an EU summit last week, he proposed that Orbán leave the room to enable the summit to launch accession talks with Ukraine, something that the Hungarian leader agreed to do.

“What German Chancellor Olaf Scholz did at the summit to remove the threatened Hungarian veto will go down in history as an act of German leadership in the interests of Europe. The chancellor has this week won a lot of sincere and well-deserved admiration in the hearts of Ukrainians,” Kuleba told Bild.

He also voiced hope that Scholz’s actions would mark a “broader and irreversible shift” in Berlin’s approach towards EU negotiations with Kyiv.

“When I campaigned in Berlin last May to grant Ukraine EU candidate status, my appeals to Germany to take the lead in this process mostly fell on deaf ears. ‘Germany doesn’t want to lead,’ experts and politicians in Berlin told me. I am glad that German political decisions have changed since then,” Kuleba said.

The Ukrainian government has long cast EU and NATO membership as key foreign policy goals, and the EU's decision to start accelerated negotiations gave Kyiv a major boost, although it could be years before it's able to join.

NATO leaders, meanwhile, haven't set any clear timeline so far for Kyiv's membership bid, even as Moscow's all-out invasion of Ukraine led another of Russia's neighbours, Finland, to be accepted into the military alliance in April.

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to build up military units near the Russian-Finnish border. The Kremlin leader declared, without giving details, that Helsinki's NATO accession would create “problems” for the Nordic country.

“There were no problems (between Russia and Finland). Now, there will be. Because we will create (a new) military district and concentrate certain military units there,” he told Russian state television on Sunday morning.

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