MOSCOW – Ukrainian drones swept across Russia in overnight attacks that destroyed military aircraft and disrupted air traffic, Russian officials said early on Wednesday, hours after the funeral service for Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Attacks by unmanned aircraft were reported in Pskov, Bryansk, Kaluga, Orlov and Ryazan regions as well as the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula, Russian officials said.

The most significant attack appeared to be in Pskov about 660km north of the Ukrainian frontier, near the borders with Estonia and Latvia, where Russian officials said four Il-76 military transport planes were damaged.

Ukraine has stepped up its drone war in recent months, often hitting targets deep inside Russian territory in support of a ground offensive that is meeting stiff resistance on the southern and eastern front lines.

Footage published by Pskov’s governor on the Telegram messaging app shows smoke rising from a large fire as the sounds of sirens and an explosion ring out.

Other reports on Telegram channels showed anti-aircraft systems in action around the city, which is just 32km east of the Estonian border.

“According to initial assessments, nothing serious has occurred but it is hard to determine that at night. If everything is in order, the airport will resume normal operations on Thursday,” Governor Mikhail Vedernikov wrote on Telegram, adding that there were no injuries.

Tass news agency, quoting emergency services, said four Il-76 transport aircraft, long the workhorse of the Russian military, were damaged at the military airfield. Two of the planes “burst into flames”, it added.

Russian military and defence officials said three Ukrainian drones were shot down over southern Bryansk region, one over central Orlov region and one over Ryazan region south of Moscow. The airspace around Moscow’s Vnukovo airport was closed briefly, Tass reported.

A Russian aircraft also destroyed four Ukrainian fast-attack boats carrying up to 50 paratroopers in an operation on the Black Sea, the military said.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the reports and there was no immediate comment from Ukraine.

More US aid

The drone attacks came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new package of military assistance to aid Ukraine in its fight against Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbour in February 2022.

The package includes additional mine-clearing equipment, missiles for air defence, plus ammunition for artillery and small arms, Mr Blinken said in a statement.

Ukraine is using vast amounts of ammunition in some of the heaviest fighting of the war as its presses its summer counter-offensive in the south and east, where Russian forces are deeply entrenched.

On Tuesday, the Russian mercenary chief Prigozhin was buried in a leafy cemetery on the outskirts of St Petersburg, six days after he was killed in an unexplained plane crash north of Moscow.

Prigozhin, two top lieutenants of his Wagner group and four bodyguards were among 10 people who died when his Embraer Legacy 600 private jet crashed in unexplained circumstances on Aug 23.

He died two months after staging a brief mutiny against the Russian defence establishment, in the biggest challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s rule since he rose to power in 1999.

Moscow says it is investigating the crash and has denied any involvement, but in Washington White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre gave her strongest statement yet about the possibility that Putin directed the killing.

“We all know that the Kremlin has a long history of killing opponents,” she said. “It’s very clear what happened here.”

Russia informed Brazil’s aircraft investigation authority that it would not probe the crash of the Brazilian-made Embraer jet under international rules “at the moment”, the Brazilian agency told Reuters on Tuesday.

Russia’s aviation authority is not obligated to follow international investigation protocols as the flight from Moscow to St Petersburg was domestic. REUTERS

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