Clandestine operators flying drones from a secret Russian launch site were responsible for a recent punishing attack on one of the Kremlin's military air bases, Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukrainian army military intelligence, told a US-based defense publication.

Two Russian air force Il-76 four-engine military cargo jets (NATO designation CANDID) were totally destroyed, two more were very likely damaged beyond repair, and as many as three more were hit by explosions and debris and possibly grounded following a strike on the Kresty airfield near the northwestern Russian city of Pskov, the American publication The War Zone (TWZ) reported on Thursday.

Kresty Air Base is about 700 miles northwest of the Ukrainian border, near the NATO member state Estonia. According to local reports and official Russian statements, between 15 and 20 drones were used in the attack.

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 Budanov declined to say the number or type of drones used or whether Ukrainian uniformed service personnel or secret agents carried out the Pskov raid. He made clear that the operation was carried out from inside Russia, saying in part “We are working from the territory of Russia.”

 Budanov’s comments seemingly contradicted a statement by his boss, President Volodymyr Zelensky, published the same day on Telegram announcing that recent Ukrainian long-range attacks were carried out by home-grown weapons launched from Ukrainian territory. 

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 Kyiv has long-range strike weapons capable of flying 700 kilometers and hitting precise targets in Russia, the Ukrainian leader said.

A possible resolution to the contradiction between Budanov’s and Zelensky’s remarks would be a long-range weapon, possibly a drone, launched from Ukrainian territory, and flown to targets by controllers operating secretly closer to the Russian airfield. Kyiv Post was unable to confirm the hypothesis.

Russian military information channels followed by some state-controlled media on Thursday claimed the most likely origin of the Pskov airfield attack was from NATO member state Estonia, without giving evidence.

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Since Russia’s Feb. 2022 invasion, Kyiv has steadfastly maintained any and all counterattacks hitting Russian Federation territory, are carried out only with Ukrainian weapons.

A single Ukrainian drone was – according to widespread news and official reports – circling in air space around Kresty airfield on Friday morning, triggering air raid alerts and a heightened security posture in air defense units. The reports did not say where the drone came from. As of midday Kyiv time, the drone was still in the air, reports said.

The Kremlin was badly embarrassed by the Aug. 29 strike penetrating deep into Russian air space.

 Satellite images TWZ said were recorded following the Ukrainian attack showed the two IL-76 hulks burned to the tarmac and two more with extensive fuselage damage blackened by fire at the base of both planes’ wings.

 Ukrainian drone operators intentionally targeted the Candids’ fuel tanks and the main structural element of the wings, Budanov said. The TWZ report also published infrared images it said showed the moment of an Il-76 being hit by a drone.

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 The probable screenshots published by the US military information platform dovetailed with video from Russian social media in the immediate wake of the strike showing an Il-76, reportedly at Kresty airfield, burning furiously following an air attack.

According to open sources, Kresty airbase is home to Russia’s 334th Military Transport Aviation Regiment, a logistics unit with the primary mission of moving Kremlin military cargo and air-transportable combat units across Russia’s 13 time zones and abroad. Reportedly, there are a total of about 100 operational Il-76s in the Russian Air Force.

 In an interview published by the UNIAN news agency on Friday, Budanov said Ukraine’s national war strategy intends more frequent and intensive strikes on Russian territory, with the objective of increasing political pressure on the Kremlin to abandon its campaign to eliminate the Ukrainian state and destroy the Ukrainian military.

 “It’s a splendid idea…War should be taken to the enemy’s territory, and for us, that’s Russia. The more the better,” Budanov said.

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