The Russian air force suffered its worst day of losses in 14 months on Saturday after two fighter jets and two helicopters crashed in mysterious circumstances.
Russian Telegram channels kept updating the tally of aircraft that had crashed in Russia’s Bryansk region near the border with Ukraine.
The Russian ministry of defence did not immediately comment on the crashes, several of which were caught on camera.
In the absence of an official explanation for the crashes, aviation analysts and Russian military bloggers speculated that they had either been brought down by friendly fire or Ukrainian air defences or shot out of the sky in an aviation ambush laid by Ukraine.
Some commentators even suggested the warplanes could have crashed as a result of sabotage.
Moscow-based Kommersant newspaper reported that all four aircraft had been part of a coordinated attack on Ukraine.
“The fighters were supposed to deliver a missile and bomb attack on targets in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine, and the helicopters were to back them up, picking up the Sukhoi crews if they were shot down by enemy fire,” it said.
Fighterbomber, a pro-Russia Telegram channel with close links to Russia’s air force, said that this was the highest number of Russian aircraft downed in a single day “since March last year”.
Russia is believed to have lost four warplanes in a single day in early March, and its forces suffered even heavier aircraft losses at the start of the invasion.
One video on Telegram apparently showed the burning wreck of one of the helicopters crashing near a village.
Nine airmen die in the crashes
Russian media reported that nine airmen had died in the separate crashes, which involved two Mi-8 helicopters, an Su-34 fighter jet and an Su-35 fighter jet.
At least one of the helicopters was an Mi-8 MTPR-1 variant, which carries sophisticated equipment that jams enemy missile-defence systems, analysts said.
The Russian military reportedly only had 20 of these specially kitted-out helicopters in its inventory.
Like the rest of its military, the Russian air force has performed poorly since the Kremlin ordered its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Despite outnumbering Ukraine’s air force, Russia’s air force has failed to dominate the skies.
Last year, several Russian fighter jets crashed in Russia and last month, at least one bomb fell off a Russian warplane above the city of Belgorod, near Ukraine.
It landed near a busy road, damaging buildings but not killing or injuring anybody.