Russia uses ‘Arctic Tu-95s’ and a Caspian Sea route against Ukraine

The recent attack on Ukraine, which occurred on February 7, has unveiled the tactical strategy that the Air Force [VKS or RuAF] of the Russian Federation is employing. They have decided to deploy combat aircraft from an Arctic base, specifically the Russian airbase named Olenya. This base is strategically positioned on the Kola Peninsula and falls within the Russian Arctic Circle. Notably, it stands as one of Russia’s premier intelligence bases and houses the long-range aviation arm of the Russian military. 

Russia has lifted Tu-95 strategic missile bombers into the air
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Satellite imagery from February 6 has further revealed intriguing tactics. It appears that nine Tu-95 bombers launched from Olenya, charting an attack route against Ukraine that took them over the Caspian Sea and the Saratov region. Interestingly, additional satellite images from the following day, February 7, unveiled that six of the nine Tu-95s had returned to Olenya. The other three, however, had been relocated, with the likelihood being that they were moved to other bases. 

The most recent satellite images, acquired on February 7, are also shedding light on the situation. Alongside the Tu-95s, the Air Force has deployed no less than eight Tu-22M3 strategic bombers. Furthermore, the Tu-134UBL, a training and combat air laboratory, has also been sent out.

“From the North”

The participation of combat aviation from Olenya is a tactic utilized to impede a potential Ukrainian counterstrike. Ukraine lacks the resources required for Kyiv to hit the base, positioned 92 km south of Murmansk. 

It looks like the Russian Federation is gearing up to allocate a larger part to the Northern Military District in the war with Ukraine. BulgarianMilitary.com reminds us that the Russian Ministry of Defense revealed its plans in 2024 to employ the aviation resources of the Northern Fleet to “monitor” activities over the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. 

Russia uses 'Arctic Tu-95s' and a Caspian Sea route against Ukraine
Photo credit: The Barents Observer

Even though NATO’s presence in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans is not directly linked to the war in Ukraine, Moscow is determined to safeguard the base, employing weekly reconnaissance missions via Tu-142 anti-submarine aircraft. This too has been officially declared by the Russian Ministry of Defense. As per Russian strategies, one Tu-142 is slated to spend at least eight hours airborne, traversing a distance of roughly 8,000 km.

Why will Olenya be used against Ukraine?

It could be argued that the Ukrainians have inadvertently contributed to the Russian Aerospace Forces’ decision to use the Olenya base for cruise missile attacks against Ukraine. BulgarianMilitary.com has followed satellite images relating to this development for the last 12 months. 

In the winter of 2022 and spring of 2023, Olenya emerged as a major hub, continuously receiving reinforcements in the form of bombers. 10 Tu-95s found their new homes in the hangars and on the runways of this base. Interestingly, this strategic relocation took place shortly after a successful attack by Ukrainian drones on the Russian Engels-2 base, an event we previously reported on. In response, Russia made the calculated move to deploy some of its most valuable combat aviation assets a considerable distance away, at least 1,800 km from Ukraine.

Russian VKS will receive modernized Tu-22M3M long-range bombers
Photo credit: The National Interest

What does Olenya offer?

Firstly, the deployment of tactical bombers at this airbase ensures Ruia’s security from Ukrainian attacks. Additionally, Olenya has successfully established substantial infrastructure. 

For instance, satellite imagery reveals several extensive weapons storage facilities located on and in the vicinity of the Air Force base. A facility of particular interest is the one situated a stone’s throw from the southern end of the 3,500-meter runway. Recent Sentinel-2 images have shown activity, while Google Earth images from the previous summer have presented detailed views of the infrastructure. 

This facility lies on a sideline from the main railway line of October, running from Petrozavodsk to Murmansk. Enclosed by high triple-tiered barbed wire, military freight cars can be seen lining up on the platform. Here, cruise missiles and warheads are unloaded and then transported to the airport warehouses. These weapons are prepared for the Tu-95 aircraft, each of which is believed to be capable of carrying four to six cruise missiles.

However, Ukraine “sees” Olenya

Only the distance between Ukraine and the airbase near Murmansk constitutes Moscow’s advantage. In reality, however, Ukraine observes the base’s activity, including the types and timings of plane departures. 

Worries in Japan! The Kremlin sent two 'Bear' bombers near Tokyo - Tu-95MS bombers
Photo by Sergei Fedichev

For instance, in the recent Russian assault on the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Lviv, Pavlovgrad, Poltava, and Kharkiv, the Ukrainian armed forces were alerted to the imminent attack, courtesy of intelligence and radar information from external sources. 

According to Ukrainian sources, airstrike alerts were activated at 6:00 a.m. on February 6. Simultaneously, the same Ukrainian sources assert that for three hours the Armed Forces of Ukraine tracked the flight and route of the group of Tu-95MS bombers that departed from Olenya. 

“The bombers originated from the Olenya Air Base south of Murmansk and launched their assault from a safe distance away from Ukrainian airspace. When they were hovering over the Saratov region and the Caspian Sea, the group of Tu-95MS initiated their lethal weapons payloads,” revealed the Ukrainian source.

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