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Rostov-on-Don, Russia, home to a key military base, is rocked by drone strikes

Explosions rocked the area around one of Russia’s largest military centers before dawn on Thursday, and local officials later said air defenses downed two drones.

At least one explosion was heard in the city of Rostov-on-Don, home to Russia’s southern military headquarters and command center for its forces in Ukraine. In June, the city attracted worldwide attention when mercenary fighters from the Wagner military company clashed there with regular Russian soldiers in a short-lived uprising.

On Thursday, Russian media published a series of videos showing an explosion in the center of Rostov-on-Don. The Russian Defense Ministry said drone attacks in other regions had been foiled.

Vasily Golubev, regional governor of Rostov, said debris that fell after air defenses shot down the drones damaged cars and buildings, injuring one person. A drone fell in the city center, he said in a message posted on the Telegram messaging app, pointing to an address opposite the military headquarters. Another was shot outside the city, in the western part of the region, he said.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has made several official visits to Rostov-on-Don since the start of the war. His most recent visit was on August 19, when he received reports from Valery V. Gerasimov, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, as well as various commanders and senior officers, according to the Kremlin.

In terms of official policy, the Ukrainian government does not comment on its involvement in the growing number of strikes on the Russian border. But authorities in kyiv are increasingly vocal in their defense of such strikes, as they justify. President Volodymyr Zelensky described the strikes as a “fair and just” way to bring war back to Russia.

Last week, a wave of drone explosions targeted six Russian regions, including an airfield near the border with NATO member Estonia, where military cargo planes were damaged. In recent days, airports around Moscow have had to temporarily suspend flights almost every morning due to drone activity.

The incursions are a sign, analysts say, that even though Kiev has begged its Western allies for long-range weapons, its own arms manufacturers have built a local arsenal capable of striking Russian territory from great distances over land. , air and sea. .

The strikes on Russian territory did not cause as much damage as Moscow’s deadly attacks on Ukrainian cities, which often target civilian areas.

On Thursday, for the fourth time in five days, Russia attacked Izmail, a port city on the Danube, said Oleg Kiper, head of the region’s military administration. Two people were injured, local prosecutors said.

Visiting Ukraine on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken hailed the “extraordinary resilience of the Ukrainian people” during his visit to a school in the northern Chernihiv region, where Russian forces have held hostages of Ukrainian civilians, including children. at the start of the war last year.

Earlier, Mr Blinken, who spent two days in Ukraine before leaving on Thursday evening, met border guards near Kiev as well as a bomb disposal team working to clear around 11 acres of unexploded ordnance scattered by an explosion . A day earlier, he had met with Mr. Zelensky and announced more than $1 billion in new military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

As limited as the incursions on Russian soil are, they could nevertheless have adverse consequences.

Even before the latest strikes, Frederick B. Hodges, former commander-in-chief of the US Army in Europe, said attacks inside Russia had a cumulative effect. They could hurt the economy, he said, and increase tensions within a Russian military command already unsettled by the Wagner mutiny and the setbacks of the war in Ukraine.

“You can be sure people are getting roughed up,” General Hodges said in an interview. “There’s going to be a lot of upheaval in the command structure.”

Russian air defense systems, designed largely to counter NATO air power, have the ability to limit strike effectiveness, he said, but Kremlin war planners may have to reposition their aircraft and redeploy their military assets to counter the growing Ukrainian threat.

“These have to come from somewhere, so there’s going to be a loss of protection somewhere,” General Hodges said.

Erin Mendell, Constant Meheut And Valeria Safronova contributed reports.