In the early hours of Monday, explosions were reported at a Russian airbase hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border. Engels-2, one of Russia’s largest airbases and home to the 21st & 184th Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiments, has been used to launch many of the Kremlin’s air strikes against Ukraine. It also houses bombers that are part of Moscow’s nuclear triad.
Videos of the explosions have been widely shared on social media, and often captioned with speculation rather than hard facts.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to media inquiries, stating, “I don’t have that information. I’ve just seen the media reports, but don’t have specific information. I can’t comment. I recommend you contact the defense ministry.”
News of the explosions was confirmed on the Russian Telegram channel, Baza, which regularly posts insider information about the country’s government and military. According to reports on the social media platform, a drone was found on the base’s runway – which suggests that Ukraine may have carried out a raid on the military facility.
“An unknown drone attacked an airfield in the Saratov region. Two people were hurt,” Baza reported. “According to preliminary data, on the morning of December 5, an unknown aircraft crashed on the runway of the local airfield. As a result, two aircraft were damaged. Two people were also injured and were taken to the hospital.”
Another explosion occurred early Monday at the Dyagilevo military airbase near Ryazan, a city less than 150 miles from Moscow. According to reports, the explosion involved a fuel truck, and it is believed both attacks were synchronized acts of sabotage.
Nothing has been confirmed at this point.
Yet, the fact that such news of the explosions, and that there is speculation it could be the result of an attack by Ukraine is especially noteworthy. Even as Moscow has clamped down on the media, this highlights how in the social media era it is impossible to stop the flow of information.
This is quite a change from how news was controlled in the Soviet era.
“Prior to Gorbachev’s glasnost’ (i.e. before mid-1986) the Soviet Union would in all likelihood have been very sparing with information in such circumstances,” explained Dr. Alexander Hill, professor of military history at the University of Calgary.
Social media has enabled anyone in Ukraine or Russia to offer nearly instantaneous reports in a way previously not possible – making it even harder for any regime to conceal that such explosions occurred.
“With social media that is powered by smartphones, recording eyes and ears are everywhere,” said technology industry analyst and social media pundit Roger Entner of Recon Analytics. “While censors in dictatorships try to contain and alter the truth, it still comes out. When we are all interconnected the truth travels quickly.”
What Are The Facts?
It isn’t just the truth that can spread around the world in a heartbeat. Social media also allows for misinformation to spread just as quickly.
“Please remember the bother that initial and inaccurate reports can cause – as the recent case of the probably Ukrainian air defense missile hitting Poland confirms,” added Hill, who specializes in Soviet military and political history.
As was the case with that Ukrainian missile that landed in Poland last month, killing two, initial media reports were wrong. While news organizations did update their coverage accordingly, social media is rarely “updated” and that makes it all too easy for speculation to become “fact,” even if it is wrong.
As there is a rush to post the news on social media, without much fact checking, there are questions that should be asked, including if drones were actually involved, and where did they launch from.
For now, speculation – not actual facts – is what is making the rounds online.
“Russia will come out with more – but it is only reasonable that they find out exactly what might have happened first,” said Hill. “However, let’s face it – the Ukrainian side is hardly open with information either.”
It is worth remembering, in war, the first casualty is the truth.