Experts noted that deploying these bombers so close to NATO states would undoubtedly mean that NATO countries would have less time to intercept them.
With Russia’s continued use of its strategic bombers, including the Tu-95 and Tu-160, to launch conventional strikes in Ukraine, thesatellite images have revealed that there has been an unexpected increase in these bombers in northern Russianear the NATO border.
A new set of satellite images of Olenia airbase in Russia’s Kola Peninsula has revealed that some 16 strategic bombers have been deployed to the airbase near NATO countries Finland and Norway, the Barents Observer reported. The airbase is located in the closed town of Olenegorsk-2, an hour’s drive south of Murmansk.
The database currently hosts 14 Tu-5 bombers, two Tu-160 bombers and two Tu-22M bombers, in addition to other heavy transport aircraft, as seen in satellite images. Two Tu-160s are positioned at the southern end, while at all other locations 14 Tu-95s can be seen positioned side by side. Tu-22M aircraft are transferred to parking areas northwest of the airbase.
Last week, a high-frequency radio monitor that monitors Russian strategic air force operations recorded almost daily flights from the air base in Olenia. This covers combat missions bombing targets in Ukraine and training flights over the Murmansk region.
The bombers have typically been deployed to launch ranged missile attacks on Ukraine from Russian airspace. The Tu-160 can carry up to 12 Kh-55 series cruise missiles or an equal number of more modern Kh-101/102 variants. The Tu-95MS can carry eight Kh-101/102 or 16 Kh-55.
Previously, the runway at the Olenia air base was used by a small fleet of outdated Tu-22M supersonic bombers, MiG-31 interceptors and An-12 military transport aircraft. However, with Russia having launched an invasion of Ukraine last year, the airbase was used for forward deployment and launching attacks in Ukraine.
In the early morning hours of December 5, two Russian airbases that house the Tu-95 and Tu-160 bombers were attacked by a Tu-141 Stizh drone, which would have been modified and sent by Ukrainian troops to carry out this high-value attack. Although Kyiv officials have never claimed responsibility for the attack, they have made statements suggesting it was their “master plan”.
The drone traveled hundreds of kilometers from the Ukrainian border to Russia’s Saratov and Ryazan regions in the first demonstration of Ukraine’s long-range strike capability. The incident resulted in the loss of one Tu-95, which was then sent to repair hangars. The attack was a major setback for Moscow. However, more importantly, it revealed vulnerabilities in Russian air defenses, particularly Engels Air Base.
Shortly thereafter, the bombers were moved from Engels Air Base, just about 600 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, to other locations. Earlier, Ukrainian government sources claimed that at least six Tupolev Tu-95 “Bear” aircraft of the Russian Air Force (VKS) they had been transferred from the Engels-2 air base to the Sherysevo air base, located 6,000 kilometers from Ukraine.
As satellite images show, the airbase in Olenia was one of those places. The director of the Nuclear Intelligence Project, Federation of American Scientists, tweeted: “Following Ukrainian drone attacks on Russian bomber bases in southern Russia, Olenia Air Base on the Kola Peninsula has become an important haven for Russian bombers.”
The sudden movement of nuclear-capable bombers near NATO borders was alarming as Russia’s frequent nuclear rattles accompanied it. The concern was compounded by the fact that Russia’s central nuclear warhead repository, Bolshoi Ramosero, is believed to be just 10 kilometers from Olenia air base.
Experts noted that deploying these bombers so close to NATO states would undoubtedly mean that NATO countries would have less time to intercept them compared to when they fly out of Engels Air Base.