Ukraine has apparently destroyed a flagship Russian long-range bomber in a drone attack deep inside the country. Russia has downplayed the incident but images on Telegram, verified by the BBC, indicate Ukrainian success.
Images posted online show a critically damaged Tupolev Tu-22M3 engulfed in flames at Soltsy-2 airbase, south of Saint-Petersburg. The long-range bombers can reach speeds of twice the speed of sound and they have been extensively used by Russia to launch attacks on cities within Ukraine.
Ukraine has recently been highly successful in using drones to launch attacks within Russia. The Soltsy-2 airbase is around 900km from Ukraine’s border.
The Russian defence ministry said a “copter-type UAV” executed an attack on August 19 at “a military airfield in the Novgorod region”.
“The UAV was detected by the airfield’s observation outpost and was hit with small-arms fire,” the ministry claimed. “One airplane was damaged; there were no casualties as a result of the terrorist act.”
Social media quickly painted another picture, with Russian groups sharing photos of the recognisable nose of a Tu-22 with the rest of the destroyed plane engulfed in flames.
BBC Verify authenticated the site of the Ukrainian drone strike on Soltsy-2 by cross-referencing visual indicators, such as aircraft features and hangar structures, with archive satellite pictures of the airbase.
The weather conditions at the time also matched the weather in the images, in addition to other witness photos of the incident.
Old satellite images also show that the base was used for such aircraft.
The Tu-22 was originally brought into service during the Cold War period and prior to the weekend attack, the Russian fleet consisted of 60 such aircraft.
The strike has not been acknowledged by Ukraine as the country seldom provides comments regarding assaults on Russian territory.
In January, Kyiv authorities said a Tu-22 supersonic bomber launched a missile that struck an apartment complex in Dnipro, resulting in the loss of 30 lives.