February 1, 2023

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Russia removes bombers from an air base attacked by Ukraine

Russia removes bombers from an air base attacked by Ukraine

Satellite image of Engels Airport with bombers on November 29, 2022Planetlabs image / de Volkskrant

Until recently, the Russian military launched bombing attacks on Ukrainian cities and electrical installations from the Engels air base. The airport, located 700km south of Moscow and more than 600km from the border with Ukraine, was bombed for the second time in a short time on December 26. Suspected Ukrainian drone attack.

Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Olekseyj Danilov stated the next day that the Russians had moved their TU-95 and TU-22 bombers into the attack. Britain’s Ministry of Defense described the move as “highly likely” in early January.

Since it had been cloudy for several days at Engels airfield, it was impossible to verify whether the bombers had actually disappeared. Available images from Planet Labs from Saturday, January 7, can now be seen as there are hardly any planes parked at the snow-covered airport. In places where the silhouettes of TU-95 bombers used to be visible, now no aircraft can be seen.

An initiative not with Russia

The plane was most likely moved to another air base, much deeper in Russia. This has little effect on the effectiveness of the bombers, says the former commander of the ground forces, Mart de Crieff. The TU-95 has a huge range, so it will only have to take off a little earlier from a base farther from Ukraine. Britain’s Ministry of Defense says the longer flight distance requires additional maintenance for the already fragile, aging aircraft.

The transfer process is amazing, says de Crieff. If the Russian military had announced before the war that it would fly such large aircraft in the middle of the conflict, everyone would have thought they were crazy. It shows that the initiative does not lie with Russia, but with Ukraine. That they could strike an air base so deep in Russia is remarkable.

Engels Airport – the neighboring town of Engels is named after Friedrich Engels, co-author of the Communist Manifesto – was also attacked in early December. The explosions then destroyed two TU-95 long-range bombers, presumably from Ukrainian drones. Russia has been using these aircraft to target Ukraine with cruise missiles since the invasion. Since the attack on the Crimean bridge last October, Russia has stepped up its missile attacks on Ukraine.

Satellite image of Engels Airport without launchers, January 7, 2023 Image Planet Labs / de Volkskrant

Satellite image of Engels Airport without launchers, January 7, 2023Image Planet Laboratories / de Volkskrant

Russia has dozens of military airports. In addition to the Engels airfield, there are three more locations where the Tu-95 long-range bombers are based. According to the British Ministry of Defense, the planes are believed to have been stationed further east, in Russia.