October 1, 2023

‘One of the blasts shook our house’: Russians wake up to war at home

3 min read

Residents of the wealthy Rublyovka neighbourhood are used to a bit of noise. Home to sprawling gated villas of Russia’s political and business elites, including Vladimir Putin, the forested area west of Moscow is known for extravagant late-night parties and lavish fireworks displays.

But on Tuesday morning they were disturbed by something louder – the sound of drones exploding in the air.

“It was like boom, boom, boom, in pretty quick succession,” said Andrei, a businessman residing in Barvikha village in the heart of Rublyovka. “One of the blasts shook our house; it wasn’t something we have experienced before.”

Moscow and its outskirts came under attack by drones, just as Russia launched another deadly wave of airstrikes on Kyiv.

The defence ministry, which blamed the drone attack on Ukraine, said eight drones targeted the city overnight – but Russian media close to the security services wrote that the number was many times higher, with more than 25 drones participating in the attack.

One Russian official said at least two drones were shot over Rublyovka, an area that also houses Putin’s Novo-Ogaryovo state residence.

The drone attacks marked the latest incident exposing how Putin’s fateful decision to invade Ukraine 15 months ago has now brought the war home.

Members of the Russian Volunteer Corps and Freedom of Russia Legion hold a meeting with the media near the Russian border in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine.

Earlier in May, two drones flew over the Kremlin in a daring night-time raid, and last week a Ukraine-backed anti-Putin militia carried out a brief cross-border attack.

​​Some Muscovites who were awoken by the drones on Tuesday described the reported Ukrainian attack as a “logical” part of the war that the Kremlin continues to refer to as a “special military operation”.

“Everyone understands that if we fire at them, the attacks might come back to us,” said Dmitry, who was woken up on Tuesday morning by explosion sites while at his flat in the town of Odintsovo, near Rublyovka. He said he went to sleep after the strikes.

“Some people are upset but nothing can surprise me any more. Ukraine already hit the Kremlin before. This is a logical next step,” said a security guard in Zhukovka, an elite gated community near where the strikes took place.

For others, Tuesday’s drone barrage felt more frightening, perhaps offering a tiny and uneven glimpse into the daily terror experienced by Ukrainians as a result of Russian strikes. A female resident of one of the apartment blocks in Moscow that were struck described hearing a “powerful” explosion and feeling “scared.”

In stark contrast to Kyiv, Moscow has so far been shielded from the devastation that Putin’s invasion has inflicted

People spend time by a fountain in Moscow, Russia.

Polls have shown that many in the capital have stopped paying attention to the war, as restaurants and bars remain jammed with Muscovites eager to enjoy the warm weather.

This apparent apathy has frustrated some of the more aggressive pro-war supporters, who renewed their calls on Tuesday for a broader military and economic mobilisation, steps the Kremlin has so far chosen to avoid.

Predicting future Ukrainian strikes, Alexander Khinshtein, a senior member of Russia’s parliament, urged Russians to get used to “a new reality”.

But early signs indicate that the Kremlin appears keen to play down Tuesday’s attacks and project a sense of normality.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, said Putin had no immediate plans to address the country and claimed there was “no imminent threat to residents of Moscow and the Moscow region either”. Later on Tuesday, the Russian president praised Moscow’s air defence.

Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, based in Moscow, said the strikes came at a time when general anxiety in Russia about the war had been receding, despite widespread expectations in the west that Ukraine would soon launch a counter-offensive.

Kolesnikov cited data collected by the independent Levada-Center polling and research organisation that found 20% of Russians had said they had felt anxiety, fear or dread over the war in Ukraine, down from 47% last summer, when the Kremlin announced a partial mobilisation that drafted hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight in Ukraine.

But, Kolesnikov said, incidents like Tuesday’s drone attack could have a tangible impact on Russia’s attitudes towards the fighting in Ukraine.

“​​If the drone attack turns out to be not just an isolated incident, it will serve as a reminder that the hostilities are already in the capital and that Putin is not all-powerful,” he said. “This may sway public opinion somewhat in favour of starting peace negotiations.”

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