Flurry of drone strikes hits Russia as TV, radio are hacked

By Susie Blann

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Regional officials in southern and western Russia reported a string of drone attacks near the border with Ukraine and deep inside the country that resulted in no casualties, as the war with Kyiv trudged on Tuesday.

At the same time, the hacking of Russian TV channels and radio stations as well as the temporary closure of St. Petersburg’s airport fed suspicion that Kyiv could be behind the disruption.

A flurry of drone attacks on Monday night and Tuesday morning targeted regions inside Russia along the border with Ukraine and deeper into the country, with one drone crashing just 100 kilometers (60 miles) away from Moscow, according to local Russian authorities.

A drone fell near the village of Gubastovo, roughly 100 kilometers southeast of Moscow, Andrei Vorobyov, governor of the region surrounding the Russian capital, said in an online statement.

The drone didn’t inflict any damage, Vorobyov said. He didn’t specifically describe the drone as Ukrainian, but said that it likely targeted “a civilian infrastructure object.”

Russian forces early Tuesday shot down a Ukrainian drone over the Bryansk region, local Gov. Aleksandr Bogomaz said in a Telegram post. He said there were no casualties.

Three drones also targeted Russia’s Belgorod region on Monday night, with one flying through an apartment window in its namesake capital, local authorities reported. Regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said the drones caused minor damage to buildings and cars but no casualties.

While Ukrainian drone strikes on the Russian border regions of Bryansk and Belgorod that lie north of Ukraine’s Sumy region are not unusual, the hits on the Krasnodar and Adygea regions further south are noteworthy.

A fire broke out at an oil depot in Russia’s Krasnodar region, which neighbors Adygea, on Monday, Russia’s state RIA Novosti agency reported. Russian Telegram channels claimed that two drones exploded near the depot.

A drone also exploded overnight over Adygea, which lies some 600 kilometers (370 miles) east of Crimea, regional Gov. Murat Kumpilov said on Telegram. He said no one was hurt in the attack, which damaged some farm buildings.

Ukrainian authorities offered no immediate acknowledgement or comment on the reported strikes. Last year, Russian authorities repeatedly reported shooting down Ukrainian drones over annexed Crimea. In December, the Russian military said Ukraine used drones to hit two bases for long-range bombers deep inside Russian territory.

Separately, the local government of St. Petersburg – Russia’s second-largest city some 1300 kilometers (800 miles) north of the border with Ukraine – said early Tuesday that it was temporarily halting all flight departures and arrivals at the city’s main airport, Pulkovo. It did not give a reason for the move.

Hours earlier, unconfirmed reports on Russia’s Telegram social network referred to the air space over St. Petersburg being shut down and to Russian warplane overflights. It was not immediately clear whether this was connected to the alleged uptick in drone attacks in Russia’s south.

The Russian military said its air defense forces in Western Russia conducted drills on “detection, interception and identification” of enemy targets in its air space, as well as in coordination with civilian air traffic services in an emergency situation.

The Russian Defense Ministry didn’t specifically mention St. Petersburg, but its statement appeared designed to explain the temporary closure of the air space.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the situation in St. Petersburg, urging reporters to wait for details from the country’s aviation authorities or the military.

He noted, however, that President Vladimir Putin had “full information” on the situation.

Speaking at Russia’s main security agency, the FSB, Putin urged the service to tighten security on the border with Ukraine.

Russian media reported on Tuesday morning that in several Russian regions an air raid alarm interrupted the programming of several TV channels and radio stations.

Footage posted by some news sites showed TV sets displaying a yellow sign with a person heading to a bomb shelter, with a female voice repeating: “Attention! Air raid alarm. Everyone should head to a shelter immediately.”

Russia’s Emergency Ministry said in an online statement that the announcement was a hoax “resulting from a hacking of the servers of radio stations and TV channels in some regions of the country.”

Inside Ukraine, authorities said Tuesday that at least two civilians were killed by renewed Russian shelling in the southern city of Kherson and surrounding villages and 17 more were injured in fighting over the previous 24 hours.

The fiercest fighting continued to be in eastern areas of Ukraine, where Russia wants control over all four of the provinces it illegally annexed in September.

Ukrainian officials said Russian forces have deployed additional troops and equipment, including modern T-90 tanks, in those areas.

Meanwhile, satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press appear to show a Beriev A-50 early warning aircraft was parked at a Belarus air base just before a claimed attack by partisans there.

Images from Planet Labs PBC shows the A-50, a late Soviet era aircraft known for its distinctive rotodome above its fuselage, parked at the northern apron of the Machulishchy Air Base near Minsk, Belarus’ capital, on Feb. 19.

A lower-resolution image taken on Feb. 23 shows a similarly-shaped aircraft still parked there, though heavy cloud cover has blocked any images since.

Belarusian opposition organization BYPOL claimed that guerrillas damaged the A-50 in an attack Sunday.

The Associated Press has been unable to independently confirm the claimed attack, which both Belarus and Russia have yet to acknowledge.