The Kremlin has lashed out at Kyiv in the wake of Moscow being targeted by a large-scale drone attack for the first time since its invasion of Ukraine began.
The incident exposes just how far Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine 15 months ago has come home to roost. Residents of some the capital’s most exclusive neighbourhoods awoke to the sound of explosion as Moscow and its outskirts came under attack from the drones, which may have numbered close to 30.
The Russian president appeared on state television to decry the attack, blaming Kyiv for trying to “intimidate Russia, Russian citizens” and claiming that the attacks were focused on “residential buildings”. Mr Putin also admitted that while Moscow’s air defence “worked in a satisfactory way” it is “clear that our task is to plug the gaps” in the system.
He labelled the drone volley a “terrorist attack” and claimed it was in response to what he described as an attack on a Ukrainian command centre in recent days but provided no evidence. “We have spoken about hitting command centres [in Ukraine]… In response, the Kyiv regime has chosen a different path”.
Ukrainian officials denied they were involved in the attack. Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak rejected the idea that Kyiv was directly involved but said Ukraine was enjoying watching the events and predicted an increase in such attacks.
“Regarding the attacks: of course we are pleased to watch and predict an increase in the number of attacks. But of course we have nothing directly to do with this,” Mr Podolyak said.
Mr Putin claimed that Ukraine was “provoking us into responding in kind”. Russia is already doing so – Moscow has stepped up its own barrage on Kyiv in recent weeks, hitting the capital17 times in May with drones or missiles, mostly at night. That includes a third assault on the city in 24 hours early on Tuesday. Kyiv said four people died around Ukraine, with 34 wounded – including two children.
But Tuesday marked only the second time the Russian capital had come under direct fire, after an apparent drone strike on the Kremlin earlier this month that Moscow also blamed on Kyiv and said was tried to claim was meant to kill Mr Putin. Kyiv denied being involved in that too.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said eight drones were shot down or diverted with electronic jammers on the approach to Moscow in the latest incident. Although Russian media close to the security services wrote that more than 25 drones participated in the strikes. It blamed the government of Volodymyr Zelensky and “reserves the right to take the harshest possible measures in response”.
Two people were injured in the Moscow attack, Russian officials said, while some apartment blocks were briefly evacuated, according to Moscow’s mayor.
Russian politicians said that among the areas hit was the exclusive Rublyovka suburb, where Mr Putin has a residence, as well as numerous other members of Russia’s political and business elite.
Alexander Khinshtein, a prominent member of Russia’s parliament from the ruling United Russia bloc, said three drones had been downed over three Rublyovka villages, one of which is located just 10 minutes’ drive from Mr Putin’s residence at Novo-Ogaryovo.
Rublyovka contains a collection of gated communities in the forests west of Moscow – it once boasted some of the world’s highest property prices. Beyond Mr Putin, former president Dmitry Medvedev and the current prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, have been reported to own homes in Rublyovka.
Residents across Moscow said they heard loud bangs followed by the smell of petrol. Some filmed a drone being shot down and a plume of smoke rising over the Moscow skyline. “It’s flying right over our house!” yelled one man as he filmed a video of a drone gliding over suburban Moscow.
A number of staunchly pro-war politicians used the strikes to attack the Russian Defence Ministry for allowing the drones to enter the capital’s airspace and said that Moscow needed to increase its own strikes on Kyiv. One Russian politician, Maxim Ivanov, claimed the Moscow drone strikes were the most serious assault on the capital since the Second World War, saying no citizen could now avoid “the new reality”.
“The sabotage and terrorist attacks of Ukraine will only increase,” Mr Khinshtein, who called for a radical strengthening of defences, said. “Do not underestimate the enemy!”
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group who have been at the centre of some of the fiercest fighting of the invasion in eastern Ukraine hit out at the political elites in Rublyovka as being out of touch with the war on the ground and insufficiently committed to the war. Mr Prigozhin has been a constant thorn in the side of the Russian Defence Ministry and the country’s military chiefs, repeatedly using his forces’ position at the centre of the symbolic battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut to complain about the lack of ammunition and support for his troops – and generally how many mistakes he believes officials are making around strategy.
In an expletive-filled statement posted on Telegram by his press service, Mr Prigozhin blamed the drone strikes on senior military officials living in the suburb. “Why the f*** are you allowing these drones to fly to Moscow? Who gives a s*** that they are flying to your homes on Rublyovka! Let your houses burn,” he said.
While the strikes unnerved some Muscovites, Olga, who said she lived near to the site of one of the drone collisions on Profsoyuznaya Street, told Reuters that the strikes “logical, to be expected… what else were we waiting for?”
Ukraine’s Western allies – who are sending advanced weaponry to Ukraine as it prepares a long-anticipated counteroffensive to regain territory that Russia has taken during its invasion – said they were monitoring the drone attack.
The UK’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, said that Ukraine “does have the legitimate right to defend itself. It has the legitimate right to do so within its own borders, of course, but it does also have the right to project force beyond its borders to undermine Russia’s ability to project force into Ukraine itself.”
The White House said it was still gathering information on the reports of drones striking in Moscow, while reiterating that Washington did not support attacks inside Russia.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report