Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat International (ISI) has detected an “irregular presence” of Russian TU-160 and TU-95 strategic bombers deployed to the Olenya Airbase near Finland.
According to satellite images taken by the firm, four TU-160s were detected on August 21rst and three TU-95s were detected on September 25th. There were no strategic bombers present at the airbase on August 12th.
“Through ongoing Patterns-of-Life, the system indicates that Engels air base is the possible departure point of the strategic bombers detected in Olenya airbase,” the report read.
Engels air base is home to Russia’s only strategic bombers stationed near Ukraine and is the home base for the 121rst Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment (121 TBAP) that flies the TU-160s and TU-95.
The bombers, capable of carrying cruise missiles and strategic nuclear weapons, have been active in the Ukrainian war since Moscow invaded in February. Throughout the war against Ukraine, the Russian Air Force has been unable to gain air superiority and has lost numerous aircraft.
According to The Drive, the regiment was awarded the honorific title of ‘Guards’- a prestigious title for Russian military units- for “mass heroism shown by the regiment’s personnel in combat operations.”
While it is unclear why the bombers have been moved to the airbase, it comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to threaten the West that he could use strategic nuclear weapons, including after he announced a partial mobilization in the country, saying that “this is not a bluff.”
Olenya airbase is located on the Kola Peninsula near Murmansk. It houses Russia’s Northern Fleet and a significant number of arms and military hardware, including tactical and strategic nuclear weapons.
According to 2020 data released under the New START arms reduction treaty between Moscow and Washington, Russia has declared 1,447 deployed strategic warheads and has the capacity to deploy “many more than 1,550 warheads on its modernized ICBMs and SLBMs, as well as heavy bombers, but is constrained from doing so by New START.
The airbase is also a major Russian airbase which an enormous strike capacity that would send a signal to the United States and NATO. The base is also out of range of Ukrainian weaponry which have been striking Russian airbases with weaponry delivered by Washington and other European nations.
Ukraine’s military intelligence spokesperson Vadym Skibitsky said in an interview with The Guardian on Tuesday that Kyiv assesses the threat of Moscow using tactical weapons against the country as “very high.”
According to Skibitsky, the tactical strikes would likely target locations along the front lines where there is a high number of people, equipment, as well as command centers, and critical infrastructure.