Explosions rocked the area around one of Russia’s largest military hubs before dawn on Thursday, as Russian officials said that air defenses shot down two drones in the southern region of Rostov, home to a command center for Moscow’s forces in Ukraine.
The source of the drones was not immediately clear. The Ukrainian military had no immediate comment, in keeping with its standard practice about blasts in Russia, although Ukrainian officials in recent weeks have said that such strikes are a legitimate way to fight Russia’s invasion.
The southern city of Rostov-on-Don, where at least one of the explosions occurred, is home to Russia’s southern military headquarters and is a key command center for its forces in the war. Russian news outlets posted a series of videos showing an explosion in the center of the city, but it was not clear what caused the blast. The Russian Defense Ministry said that drone attacks in other regions were thwarted.
Vasily Golubev, the regional governor of Rostov, said that Russian air defenses had shot down two drones overnight and that falling debris had damaged cars and buildings, leaving one person injured. One drone fell in the city center, he said in a post on the Telegram messaging app, listing an address that is across the street from the military headquarters. Another was shot down outside the city in the western part of the region, he added.
Rostov-on-Don was briefly occupied by Russian mercenary fighters when Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, launched a brief armed rebellion against the Russian military’s top brass in June. Mr. Prigozhin died in a plane crash in late August.
Although it does not always claim responsibility, Ukraine has stepped up assaults inside Russia in recent weeks, employing a variety of weapons to strike military targets across the country. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has described the strikes as a “fair and just” bid to take the war home to Russia.
Last week, a wave of exploding drones targeted six Russian regions, including at an airfield near the border with Estonia, a NATO member, where military cargo planes were damaged. In recent days, the airports around Moscow have had to temporarily suspend flights nearly every morning because of drone activity.
The developments are a sign, analysts say, that even as Kyiv has begged Western allies to supply long-range weapons, its own arms makers have built a homegrown arsenal that is capable of hitting Russian territory at great distance by land, air and sea.
Frederick B. Hodges, a retired lieutenant general and former top U.S. Army commander in Europe, said that the strikes inside Russia have a cumulative effect, possibly hurting the economy and heightening tensions in a Russian military command already unsettled by the fallout from Mr. Prigozhin’s short-lived mutiny and setbacks in the war in Ukraine.
“You can be sure people are getting chewed out,” he said in an interview before the blasts in Rostov. “There is going to be a lot of turmoil in the command structure.”
He added that Russia’s air defense systems, largely designed to counter NATO air power, have the ability to limit the impact of the strikes. But he said that Kremlin’s war planners may have to reposition aircraft and redeploy military assets to counter the growing Ukrainian threat.
“Those have to come from somewhere, so there is going to be a loss of protection somewhere,” he said.
Strikes in Russian territory have not caused nearly as much damage as Moscow’s deadly attacks on Ukrainian cities. Russia attacked Izmail, a port city on the Danube River, with drones for the fourth time in five days, Oleg Kiper, the head of the region’s military administration, said early Thursday. The local prosecutor’s office said that two people were injured.
Erin Mendell, Constant Méheut and Valeriya Safronova contributed reporting.
— Marc Santora reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine