Ukraine Situation Report: Plot To Steal A Tu-22M3 Backfire Thwarted Russia Claims

Russian authorities say they foiled another Ukrainian attempt to convince a pilot to pilfer a Tu-22M3 Backfire-C bomber.

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed that Ukrainian special services, plotting with “special services of NATO countries,” tried to get a pilot to “hijack” the bomber and take it to Ukraine.

The unnamed NATO countries were involved in the “preparation and implementation” of the plot, according to the FSB, which provided no proof.

“Ukrainian intelligence intended to recruit a Russian military pilot for a monetary reward and the granting of Italian citizenship, and to persuade him to fly and land a missile carrier in Ukraine,” the FSB claimed.

The official Russian TASS news agency reported that as a result of intelligence gathered in the operation, Ukraine’s Ozernoe Air Base was struck. No date or proof was provided. The Kyiv Post reported that the “only known attack at that base, home to Ukraine’s 39th Tactical Aviation Brigade, was on Feb. 27, 2022, during the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion.” NASA’s Fire Information For Resource Management System (FIRMS) showed no indication of a fire on Monday.

A satellite image shows no fires at the Ozerne Air Base in Ukraine. FIRMS

This is at least the second time Ukraine has been accused of trying to lure a Russian pilot into stealing a Backfire bomber, a long-range, nuclear-capable jet has been heavily engaged in Ukraine, primarily launching Kh-22/Kh-32 series (AS-4 Kitchen) supersonic standoff cruise missiles.

Ukrainian authorities have acknowledged how a bizarre plot to purloin a Tu-22M3 – as well Su-34 Fullback and Su-24 Fencer strike aircraft – in the summer of 2022 backfired.

Tu-22M3 Backfire C bombers have been targeted for hijacking by Ukraine before. Alexander Beltyukov via Wikimedia

An undisclosed number of Ukrainian service members were charged with treason, the Ukrainian State Security Service (SBU) announced last year in the wake of that incident. 

The charges were brought because after investigating the incident, Russia gained enough intelligence to launch a “massive missile attack” on Ukraine’s “Kanatove airfield on July 23, 2022,” the SBU said. It killed a commander, wounded 17 airmen, destroyed two fighter jets and caused “significant damage” to the airstrip and several buildings, SBU stated in a release. SBU added that the plot was unauthorized.

Ukraine was successful in getting a Russian pilot to hijack his Mi-8AMTSh Hip combat transport helicopter in August 2023. That move ultimately did not work out for Maxim Kuzminov, who flew the aircraft across the border.

His body was discovered in February, on the car park ramp below an apartment block in Villajoyosa, in the Alicante region on the Spanish Mediterranean coast. Reports claimed he was murdered by unknown gunmen who fired 12 shots.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

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Despite ongoing bloodshed, there was little territory exchanged across the frontlines.

  • Kharkiv Oblast: Ukrainian forces recently advanced during tactical counterattacks north of Kharkiv City amid continued fighting to the north and northeast, according to the latest assessment from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). “Geolocated footage published on July 6 shows that Ukrainian forces recently advanced northwest of Hlyboke (north of Kharkiv City) while counterattacking in the area. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces recaptured positions on Korolenko and Soborna streets within central Vovchansk,” ISW stated.
  • Luhansk: There were no confirmed territorial changes despite a reported Russian advance along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line on July 7.
  • Donetsk: The Siversk direction continued to be a focus of Russian attempts to advance with no confirmed frontline changes. However, they likely advanced up to the eastern bank of the Siverskyi-Donets Donbas Canal within Chasiv Yar. Russian forces also pushed toward Toretsk and reportedly advanced northwest of Avdiivka and west and southwest of Donetsk City on July 7, with no frontline changes reported.
  • Zaporizhzhia: There were no positional changes despite continued fighting in the western part of the oblast.
  • Kherson: Fighting continued along the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast on July 7, but there were no confirmed changes to the frontline. 

At least 37 people have been killed and another 170 wounded in a massive Russian missile attack across Ukraine, officials say.

Around 10 a.m. local time, Russian cruise and ballistic missiles, arriving in waves and from several different directions, began slamming into Kyiv, according to local authorities.

While at least seven districts in the capital were struck, the “biggest tragedy for Kyiv and all of Ukraine is the destruction of the building of the Okhmadyt Hospital,” Serhiy Popko, head of the KMVA, said on Telegram Monday. “A rescue operation is underway here. Children and staff are being evacuated to other communal medical facilities in Kyiv.”

Okhmadyt is Kyiv’s largest children’s hospital. Videos show widescale damage, blood-soaked medical personnel sifting through the rubble for survivors, and blood-splattered destroyed hospital rooms where young patients were being treated.

Ambulances rushed to evacuate the injured.

Many children had to be treated on the street after the attack.

A baby was found under the rubble and taken away by ambulance as ambassadors from different countries arrived on the scene.

Svitlana Lukianchuk, a 30-year-old pediatrician, was among those killed in the hospital strike.

All told, at least 19 people died and 53 were injured,” in attacks across the capital, Popko said.

The Russians used Kh-101 air-launched cruise missiles to attack the medical facility, he added.

After the attack, evidence was reportedly found showing Kh-101 debris.

Another 10 Ukrainians were killed and 31 injured in a missile strike on the city of Kryvryi Rih, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown.

There were several missile strikes there, including on an administration building of a local industrial firm, the head of city administration, Oleksandr Vilkul, said on Telegram.

In addition to Kyiv and Kryvryi Rih, Zelensky said on Twitter that Dnipro, Slovyansk, and Kramatorsk were also attacked.

“Apartment buildings, infrastructure, and a children’s hospital have been damaged,” he said. “Russia cannot claim ignorance of where its missiles are flying and must be held fully accountable for all its crimes. Against people, against children, against humanity in general. It is very important that the world does not remain silent about this now, and that everyone sees what Russia is and what it is doing.”

Zelensky also called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) to address the attacks. The UNSC will meet tomorrow, Reuters reported.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemned” the Russian strikes, his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said, according to Reuters. Guterres found the attack on the children’s hospital and another medical facility “particularly shocking,” Dujarric said.

“Directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects is prohibited by international humanitarian law, and any such attacks are unacceptable and must end immediately,” he said.

During the attack, Ukrainian forces were able to shoot down 27 of 35 Russian missiles, the Ukrainian Air Force stated. It was unable to destroy a Zircon cruise missile. Russia began to use the Zircons, supposedly a true hypersonic cruise missile, back in February. You can read more about that here.

Despite the attack on a children’s hospital and elsewhere, the Biden administration is maintaining its stance against the use of U.S-supplied weapons to hit airfields deep inside Russia that house aircraft launching missiles hitting Ukraine. The use of those weapons is allowed just over the border with Kharkiv.

“There is no change in our policy,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday. “So the president, several weeks ago, gave guidance to Ukraine that they can use U.S.-supplied weapons to strike targets just over the border. That’s still the case.”

Kirby added that Ukraine can expect announcements of additional military aid during the NATO Summit that begins tomorrow in Washington D.C.

“The United States and several of our allies will have several big announcements at this week’s summit, and the NATO alliance will announce significant new steps to strengthen its military and political partnership with Ukraine, to help Ukraine continue to defend themselves today and to deter Russian aggression,” he said.

The front lines of this conflict can be seen from space. These before-and-after satellite images posted by American Enterprise Institute spokesman Brady Africk, show the absolute devastation as a swath of Ukraine between the opposing forces is utterly obliterated.

Russia is losing troops at a tremendous pace.

“The most recent data, published on July 5th by Mediazona and Meduza, two independent Russian media outlets, suggest that Russia’s death toll has crossed 100,000, with 106,000-140,000 dead by June 21st,” according to The Economist. “Much of their analysis is based on inheritance records and obituaries on social media and in other outlets. (Their data since February 6th, however, is based on trends, as their access to official records has been disrupted.) Their number is broadly consistent with other recent sources: officials in France recently put the total at 150,000 by May, and BBC Russia reckons that at least 113,000 Russians had died by June.”

The Economist estimated there are also upwards of more than 750,000 war wounded as well.

“Russia’s losses in Ukraine since 2022 dwarf the number of casualties from all its wars since the Second World War combined,” the news outlet postulated.

The European Union is unable to produce as much 155mm artillery ammunition as it projected, affecting promised deliveries to Ukraine, a journalistic investigation found.

The EU’s artillery shell output “may be less than half as large as public estimates by senior EU officials indicate,” Schemes and its partners in a journalistic investigation reported on Monday.

“The finding is a result of months of reporting by Schemes – the investigative unit of [Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s] RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service – and other outlets in a consortium of European media on shell production,” the outlet reported.

Beyond capacity concerns, EU nations gave Ukraine “half as many shells as it has promised, with significant delays,” Schemes found, citing “interviews with ammunition producers, buyers, government officials, policy advisers, and defense experts in EU member states and Ukraine.”

On Monday, Zelensky and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk met in Warsaw, where they signed a new security agreement.

Poland will consider providing Ukraine with at least one additional squadron of MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters – at least 14 jets – Zelensky said on his website Monday. It also enables Poland to shoot down Russian aerial threats heading over its territory.

“For the first time among the bilateral security agreements already signed, the document enables the interception of missiles and drones in our country’s airspace fired in the direction of Poland,” the Ukrainian president stated on his official website. “Also for the first time, the security agreement provides for the creation of the Ukrainian Legion – personnel of the Security and Defense Forces of Ukraine to be trained in Poland, which will be open to Ukrainian citizens temporarily residing in Poland and other countries.”

The two leaders met a day before the NATO Summit kicks off in Washington D.C.

The U.S. has delivered four more patrol boats to the State Border Service of Ukraine, Ambassador Bridget Brink announced on Sunday. The U.S. had previously sent Ukraine over 70 coastal and riverine boats, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

A balaclava-clad Russian soldier recently inspected the remains of an Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short-range ballistic missile and Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG conventionally armed air-launched cruise missiles.

The official Russian RIA Novosti news outlet showed images of the soldier pouring over components of those munitions, including explosive submunitions contained in some ATACMS variants provided to Ukraine.

Ukraine has been using these ballistic and cruise missiles to devastating effect against Russia.

While the technology has been around for many years, having these items will give Russia greater insight into how they operate.

Like the U.S. and many other nations, Russia tries to learn how to reverse engineer as well as defeat captured adversary equipment through foreign material exploitation (FME) programs.

New images have emerged on social media of North Korean-made R-122 rockets for BM-21 Grad multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) in the hands of Russians. The first report of those munitions being used by Moscow’s forces began to emerge nearly a year ago.

It’s just the latest evidence of cooperation between North Korean despot Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who signed a mutual aid pact in Pyongyang last month. North Korea has also provided artillery shells and missiles to Russia. There are growing concerns that Russian expertise might be used to help with the further development of Pyongyang’s ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons — as well as other weapons and technologies.

There was also a report that Kim may send engineering troops to Ukraine to help the Russian war effort.

Both sides have been using so-called cope cages to provide a modicum of protection against drones. The video below shows a massive, camouflage-netting-covered boxy metal covering on a Russian tank. As you can see, while the main gun has a range of motion, the crew has limited visibility.

The Russians have kitted out one of their Chinese-made all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) with one of the wildest such adaptations we’ve seen yet. It looks like a batting cage on wheels. Ungainly at best and perhaps unwieldy while underway, its practicality is questionable.

Throughout this conflict, air defenses have been prime targets for Russia and Ukraine alike. The following video shows what appears to be a Russian Iskander-M ballistic missile strike on the position of Ukrainian S-300PS surface-to-air missile systems (SAM). A view of the system is captured by a drone hovering overhead, followed by a ball of fire, a plume of smoke, and an ensuing tentacle-like ammunition cookoff.

A Russian soldier is seen on drone video creeping against the wall of a house, then tossing an anti-tank mine into it through a window before running for safety. Seconds later, there is a massive explosion and the drone shows that the building was completely leveled. It is unclear what happened to the soldier, but the swath of destruction could well have enveloped him too.

It appears these two Russian soldiers were able to scurry to safety after each tossing an anti-tank mine into a Ukrainian-held building.

A large ammunition storage depot in the town of Sergeevka in Russia’s Voronezh Region was in flames after being struck by Ukrainian drones on Sunday, according to the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Telegram channel. The town is about 120 miles from the front lines.

The depot, covering an area of 9,000 square meters, reportedly housed “surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, tank and artillery shells, and boxes of small arms ammunition,” according to the Ukrainian Euromaidan Press media outlet. “These sources report that the facility was used to supply Russian troops engaged in combat operations in Ukraine.”

Russia appears to be an equal opportunity employer when it comes to sending troops into so-called meat assaults against Ukrainian positions. The video below shows a Russian soldier being chased by a First-Person View (FPV) drone, which explodes on him. A female Russian soldier is then seen tending to his wounds while attempting to ward off another one with her rifle. She is ultimately unsuccessful and a second FPV drone strikes the pair as they try in vain to cover. Both appear to have been killed.

The crew of this U.S.-donated M1A1 Abram tank apparently fared better. The following video shows a compilation of numerous FPV strikes on the tank, yet the crew reportedly survived.

An image emerged on social media earlier this month showing Russian soldiers killed during an unsuccessful attack in December. a closeup reveals one of those soldiers was toting a pre-WWI-era, bolt-action Mosin Nagant rifle. Though the Nagant remains a relevant sniper weapon when equipped with modern optics, the weapon was first introduced in 1891.

And finally, Ukraine’s Operational Command South released photos of some of its S-125 Pechora (SA-3 Goa) medium-altitude SAM system. The Pechora uses command-guided interceptors, the first version of which entered Soviet service in the early 1960s. 

That’s it for now.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.