Attacks on Russian air bases will have psychological impact- Western officials
By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) - Attacks on airfields deep inside Russia will have struck a powerful psychological blow, senior Western officials said on Tuesday, saying it meant Moscow would have to think much more carefully about how to keep its long-range bombers safe.
The Engels air base, near the city of Saratov and at least 600 km (372 miles) from the nearest Ukrainian territory, and two other airfields have been hit in the last two days by drone attacks. Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attacks but has celebrated them, and Russia retaliated with a "massive strike on Ukraine's military control system".
The senior Western officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the strikes were the deepest inside Russia since its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
"If it were them (the Ukrainians)... it does show that they can operate in Russia at will, and that will deeply worry the Russians," one official said. "Psychologically I think it strikes a blow."
The officials said they were confident that it was at the Engels base that Russia kept its strategic long-range bombers, but that now it would have to think of moving them.
"It may have the effect of pushing those bombers into dispersed locations," the official said. "It certainly makes the Russians less confident ... (that) anywhere is safe."
PARTNERSHIP WITH IRAN
Russia has used the bombers in its campaign since October to destroy Ukraine's energy grid, attacks that the Western officials said reflected Russian President Vladimir Putin's growing desperation.
Military analysts see the drone strikes on Russia as a response to its attacks on Ukraine's critical infrastructure.
The Western officials also said Ukrainian claims of an 85% success rate in shooting down Russian missiles were credible, and that Moscow had run out of Iranian drones used to target key energy infrastructure, although a resupply was expected.
"Clearly what we are seeing is a closer partnership between Russia and Iran on the supply of advanced weapons systems, it's something which concerns us and something we're monitoring very closely," one of the senior officials said.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Gareth Jones)