The claim by the Ministry of Defence on Tuesday came as Ukrainian media cited intelligence sources linking a spate of recent strikes on air bases deep inside Russia with saboteurs.
The MoD highlighted the destruction of a Tupolev Tu-22 supersonic bomber on Saturday at the Soltsy-2 air base south of St Petersburg, some 400 miles from the Ukrainian border, saying it was “unlikely” that the drone which hit the plane could have been launched from Ukraine.
“The Russian Defence Ministry said that a copter-style uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) was responsible for the attack,” the MoD said.
“If true, this adds weight to the assessment that some UAV attacks against Russian military targets are being launched from inside Russian territory. Copter UAVs are unlikely to have the range to reach Soltsky-2 from outside Russia,” it added.
Russia’s defence ministry admitted the Soltsy-2 air base, situated in the Novgorod region, was attacked on Saturday but has downplayed the extent of the incident.
Dramatic pictures published by Ukraine following the strike showed the Tu-22 bomber enveloped in flames.
Several open-source intelligence outlets have since verified the images and on Tuesday, the BBC’s Russian Service released fresh satellite imagery supporting the reports.
An image taken on Monday showed a patch of scorched earth in what appeared to be a parking spot for a warplane.
The Tu-22 model, which can travel at twice the speed of sound, has been used extensively to strike Ukrainian cities.
Ukraine does not have the capability to intercept such planes although its forces have proved repeatedly that they are able to shoot down the missiles it launches.
Ukraine’s military intelligence service (GUR) meanwhile claimed that the attack had been carried out by a drone launched from within Russia.
“Those drone operations were coordinated by the GUR, and they caused significant losses to the Russian air force,” an unnamed GUR official told The New Voice of Ukraine news website.
The official added that agents cooperating with the intelligence service had destroyed or damaged five Russian aircraft in recent days.
Separately on Tuesday, reports emerged that Gen Sergei Surovikin had been dismissed as the head of the Russian Air Force.
Gen Surovikin reportedly fell out of favour with the Kremlin over his alleged ties to the Wagner Group following its failed mutiny in June
Alexei Venediktov, the editor of the banned Ekho Moskvy radio station, posted an excerpt from a Kremlin decree which appeared to show Gen Surovikin had been dismissed from his post but will be retained in some capacity at the defence ministry.
The 56-year-old, also known as General Armageddon for his role in flattening the Syrian city of Aleppo, has not been seen in public since he recorded a video urging Wagner’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin to stop the group’s mutiny in June that lasted barely 24 hours before being aborted.