Ukraine isn’t content to let its suicide drones strike Russian airbases. Nor are the Ukrainian Armed Forces content with hitting targets in the Crimean Peninsula. Ukrainian commandos have struck a Russian airbase far from the fighting in Kherson. This time, the attack came to one of Russia’s northern bases, near the Russian borders with Estonia and Latvia.
Russia’s Veretye air base is in north-western Pskov, 500 kilometers from Ukraine and more than a hundred kilometers from the closest NATO territory. On Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022 the Ukrainian Defense Ministry confirmed that a raid on the base destroyed or damaged three Ka-52 “Alligator” attack helicopters on the airfield.
After Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Ukrainian Special Forces began a shift in their training and operations doctrine. It adopted tactics more akin to NATO and Western partners’ special operations doctrine. Since then, some 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers have trained with American and NATO special warfare units.
Ukrainian special operators infiltrated the base on Oct. 31, wired four helicopters with explosives and detonated three of them before leaving the area completely undetected. The fourth helicopter was spared only because the rigged explosives didn’t go off. A video leaked to Telegram confirmed the operation.
The mission, according to Ukraine’s Kyiv Post, was a response to the use of Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters used in Russian propaganda on state-run media. Each of the $16 million aircraft has advanced navigation controls, helmet-mounted sight displays, and can be equipped with anti-tank missiles, air support rockers and bombs.
Video of the attack was released to the Telegram channel Orestokratiya, which is run by the Ukrainian magazine Obozrevatel. It shows a man in military uniform entering the airfield, wiring the aircraft on a Russian airfield and then leaving, without a single Russian soldier or sentry in sight.
It’s actually nothing new. Russian journalists were able to penetrate the base without being challenged in 2019.
Telegram has become an information battleground in the war between Ukraine and Russia, and is sometimes the only source for frank discussion among Russian media outlets regarding Russian operations in Ukraine and the Russian military in general.
A pro-Russian Telegram channel called Starshie Eddy, known for promoting the Kremlin’s take on the war, even said “Let’s be frank, this is a gross failure on our side… If it’s possible to calmly blow up a helicopter on the grounds of a military unit, what can we say about our less protected sites?”
The raid is the latest in a series of successful raids on Russian aircraft and ships in the Black Sea Fleet. On Oct. 29, Ukraine launched a series of attacks using explosives-laden remote-controlled motorboats to hit three ships in the Black Sea Fleet. This attack only damaged two ships, but displays the lack of security in the Russian Army and Navy.
The ships were carrying long-range cruise missiles to be used in Russia’s latest assault on civilian infrastructure. It’s a retaliatory campaign that frequently targets civilian buildings, hospitals, and even schools.
Ukraine’s mission against the Veretye air base was bold, even by Ukrainian standards. Despite the base’s longtime record for lax security, few (especially those in Russia) believed the base could be a target for special operations or sabotage missions, given its distance from Ukraine.