Video has emerged purporting to show a man preparing and planting explosives on a Russian military helicopter at an airbase deep inside Russia.
Subsequent satellite imagery shows several damaged helicopters at the base in Pskov region in northern Russia. The base is about 35 kilometers from the border with Latvia, but nearly 1,000 kilometers from Ukraine.
The sabotage of the helicopters is the furthest from Ukrainian territory that an attack has been confirmed against a Russian military target since the conflict began.
The video shows an unidentified man placing something inside a helicopter. At one point he puts something to his ear, possibly a timer. At another moment, a Ka-52 attack helicopter is clearly visible.
The video is shot in daylight but the explosions did not occur until after nightfall, according to unofficial Russian media. CNN has geolocated the video to the Veretye base at Beredniki.
Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence said Tuesday that a “powerful explosion occurred at the air base of the Russian Armed Forces “Veretier” on the night of October 31.”
While not claiming a Ukrainian sabotage unit carried out the attack, it said that “as a result of mining, two Russian attack (KA-52) helicopters and one MI-28N were completely destroyed. Two more were significantly damaged.”
A satellite image published Tuesday showed several damaged helicopters at the base, and one unofficial Russian media outlet reported explosions there.
The Telegram channel Baza said: “At around 10 pm [on October 31], the military personnel of the unit heard several explosions, and then saw the scattered wreckage of two helicopters. The explosion was so strong that the fragments of the fuselage scattered 200 meters around. The reason for the Ka-52 explosion is unknown.”
Symbolism of the sabotage
Such an audacious attack, so far from home soil, would be a first for Ukraine’s special forces. While there is no confirmation they carried out the sabotage attack, the speed with which Ukrainian Defense Intelligence reported the details of the incident is at least intriguing.
The symbolism of the sabotage is perhaps more important than its military consequences. Russia has hundreds of combat helicopters, and those damaged were nowhere near the theater.
Ukrainian officials typically refuse to go on the record about any attacks in Russia itself, or even in annexed Crimea, but there have been several attacks much closer to Ukrainian territory since the Russian invasion began. Railway lines have been damaged in Belgorod, as have ammunition depots.
The Millerovo airbase in Rostov region was hit – apparently by Tochka missiles – right at the start of the conflict, and several aircraft were damaged. And it’s still unknown whether a devastating attack on a Russian air force base in Crimea in August was carried out by special forces on the ground or missiles.
The exact cause of last month’s attack on the Kerch Bridge is also unknown. And it seems the Ukrainians are quite happy not to acknowledge such attacks.