Explosions at two Russian airbases far from the frontlines have raised the possibility that Kyiv has found a way to target Russia's long-range bombers used in attacks against Ukraine's infrastructure.
Russian media reports and video posted to social media indicated that an explosion occurred early on Monday morning at the Engels 2 airbase in Russia s Saratov region that hosts Tu - 95 bombers that have taken part in cruise missile strikes against Ukraine.
Another explosion took place at a military airbase near Ryazan, a city less than 150 miles from Moscow. Three people were killed and five wounded after a fuel truck exploded, Russian state media reported. That base also hosts Tu - 95 and Tu - 22 M long-range bombers.
The country's defence ministry said Russia launched its latest missile barrage against Ukraine hours later. Russia has launched more than 100 cruise missiles from land and sea, according to media reports. Ukrainians were making their way to bomb shelters in anticipation of the missile attack.
The strike on the Engels airbase would be the most daring attack behind Russian lines if confirmed as a Ukrainian operation. The airbase is a crucial site for Russian air force operations against Ukraine and the country's strategic nuclear forces. It has a nuclear weapons storage bunker with warheads that can be deployed on Russia's long-range strategic bombers.
A video of the explosions at Russian airbases showed a fiery blast illuminating the night sky. Locals reported that the sound of the explosion could be heard from miles away.
In a video from Saratov, the sound of an aircraft or missile can be heard screaming overhead shortly before the explosion is heard.
The cause of the two explosions has not been confirmed.
A Russian media outlet with sources in the security services reported that the Russian airfield at Engels was attacked by a loitering munition, a type of aerial weapon system that targeted the airbase's runway. Two nuclear-capable Tu-95 bombers were damaged in the explosion, according to Astra, another independent Russian media outlet. They didn't indicate a source for their information.
The Kremlin said Vladimir Putin had been informed of the incidents. Security services were investigating reports of the explosion at the Engels airbase, according to local authorities in the Saratov region.
Ukrainian monitoring reports last week indicated Russia was transferring cruise missiles to the airbase and transferring aircraft to the Ryazan facility in preparation for another attack against Ukraine.
Satellite images released by Der Spiegel last week showed 20 strategic bombers parked on the runway at Engels Airbase in preparation for another strike on Ukraine.
Ukraine has not known to have any loitering munitions that would allow it to attack hundreds of miles beyond the frontlines of the conflict, although there have been reports of such unmanned aerial vehicles under development.
A Ukrainian official offered a cryptic appraisal of Monday's explosions. The Earth is a round discovery made by Galileo. Astronomy was not studied in Kremlin, giving preference to court astrologers. If something were launched into other countries' airspace, sooner or later unknown flying objects would return to the departure point, wrote Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential advisor.