When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

In The News

600 Miles To Moscow? Attack? Defend? What Ukraine’s Drone Strikes In Russia Really Mean

600 Miles To Moscow? Attack? Defend? What Ukraine’s Drone Strikes In Russia Really Mean

A Ukrainian soldier from the 63 brigade was seen flying a drone as part of military training simulating an attack

Anna Akage

As they’ve done for the past year, Ukrainians have spent the past three days studying maps and calculating distances. But there's a difference now: The maps are of Russia.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

The unprecedented drone attacks this week of airfields deep inside Russian territory open a new phase in the war that is both tactical and symbolic. Though still without official confirmation from Kyiv, nobody doubts that the Ukrainian military executed the three strikes between Monday and Tuesday hundreds of kilometers inside Russia, which killed three and injured at least nine, including the strategic military air base of Engels.

Alexander Kovalenko, a Ukrainian military and political observer of the Information Resistance group, writes on his Telegram channel: "International war observers have seen that regardless of what struck the Russian airfields, it bypassed the lauded Russian air defense system and accomplished the task," he said. "They see not only that the supposed No. 2 military in the world not only drags old T-62 tanks and D-1 howitzers into the combat zone in Ukraine, but that it essentially has no air defense."

French weekly magazine L’Express declared: “Ukraine wants to show that Russian territory is not safe.”


The weapons used are believed to be Soviet-era Strizhs, which were originally reconnaissance drones with a maximum range of about 600 kilometers, which accounted for the distance they had to return to reach original base with the information collected. But reimagined and reconfigured as kamikaze drones means they don’t have to return, effectively doubling their range.

Some Ukrainian commentators have in fact begun calculating where else such weapons could reach: Sevastopol, in Crimea? Or even Moscow?

Russia's air advantage

Still, military experts say it’s not about dreaming about the Kremlin in flames. The breakthrough this week is above all strategic. It’s about the airbases, explained Mykhailo Samus of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, in an interview with Radio Liberty, Ukrainian edition. "Engels remained such a unique airfield. And just the strike on this airfield is an extraordinary event in the history of Russia,” Samus said. “This story will continue, and I hope that there will be less and less strategic aviation in Russia. If we destroy this complex, they will have a problem with basing strategic aviation. Especially in terms of the European part (of Russia)."

Indeed, since the beginning of the war, the air advantage has been Russia's main trump card in the war with Ukraine. Kyiv’s Western allies made it clear right away that a No-Fly-Zone was off the table, as were official deliveries of long-range missiles that could take out Russia’s air arsenal. Though Ukraine was especially vulnerable to Russia’s air superiority, Western assistance to reverse that was considered a major risk of escalating the war.

And Ukrainians have continued to face ever deeper and wider consequences of Russia’s air superiority, especially over the past two months with a constant barrage of air and missile attacks on the civilian infrastructure across the country. This in fact may have prompted Kyiv to activate the response inside Russian territory.

However, the point is not only that the old modified Soviet Strizh could fly about 700 kilometers of Russian airspace, but that they also managed to hit a strategic facility like Engels, where there were bombers Tu-95MS and Tu-160. These aircraft are part of the nuclear triad of the Russian Federation, which, according to the Kremlin, are supposed to carry nuclear warheads to strike Washington and other vital targets in the U.S. and Europe in case of a nuclear war.

Satellite imagery of Engels air base

MaxarTechnologies

Will the U.S. help Ukraine attack Russia?

Still, truth be told, neither the Russian air defense system nor the defense around the strategic object worked. The strikes were not very effective; so far, all that is known is that nine people were injured, three died, and a tanker truck and two aircraft were damaged. These first attempts to hit military targets inside Russia is, above all, a test of Ukrainian intelligence and air force capabilities.

But no less important than the technical execution was that it was a “trial balloon” of sorts to gauge the reaction of Kyiv’s Western partners.

Both Washington and Europe still make it clear they don’t want the war to spillover or escalate. And yet…. Unpacking responses from both U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shows that something has changed.

Blinken said: “We have neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia.” The careful language, without any hint of condemnation, likely indicates that Washington is not displeased with Ukraine’s actions.

Lloyd was also coy, answering a reporter Tuesday. “So, your question was: Is the U.S. working to prevent Ukraine from developing its own long-range strike capability? The short answer is no, we’re absolutely not doing that.”

It's an “absolute” double negative that speaks volumes about what Ukraine and its allies could be planning next.


You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Society

Tour Of Istanbul's Ancient Yedikule Gardens, At Risk With Urban Restoration

The six-hectare gardens in the center of Istanbul, which are more than 1,500 years old, have helped feed the city's residents over the centuries and are connected with its religious history. But current city management has a restoration project that could disrupt a unique urban ecosystem.

Photo of Muslims performing Friday prayer in the garden of Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul.

Last March, Muslims performing Friday prayer in the garden of Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul.

Tolga Ildun via ZUMA Press Wire
Canan Coşkun

ISTANBUL — The historic urban gardens of Yedikule in Istanbul are at risk of destruction once again. After damage in 2013 caused by the neighborhood municipality of Fatih, the gardens are now facing further disruption and possible damage as the greater Istanbul municipality plans more "restoration" work.

The six-hectare gardens are more than 1,500 years old, dating back to the city's Byzantine era. They were first farmed by Greeks and Albanians, then people from the northern city of Kastamonu, near the Black Sea. Now, a wide variety of seasonal produce grows in the garden, including herbs, varieties of lettuce and other greens, red turnip, green onion, cabbage, cauliflower, tomato, pepper, corn, mullberry, fig and pomegranate.

Yedikule is unique among urban gardens around the world, says Cemal Kafadar, a historian and professor of Turkish Studies at Harvard University.

“There are (urban gardens) that are older than Istanbul gardens, such as those in Rome, but there is no other that has maintained continuity all this time with its techniques and specific craft," Kafadar says. "What makes Yedikule unique is that it still provides crops. You might have eaten (from these gardens) with or without knowing about it."

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest