The incident exposes the extent to which Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine 15 months ago has come home to roost. Residents of some of the capital’s most exclusive neighbourhoods woke to the sound of explosions 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 had “worked in a satisfactory way”, it was “clear that our task is to plug the gaps” in the system.
He labelled the drone volley a “terrorist attack” and claimed it was carried out in response to what he described as an attack on a Ukrainian command centre in recent days, but he provided no evidence to support this assertion. “We have spoken about hitting command centres [in Ukraine],” he said. “... In response, the Kyiv regime has chosen a different path.”
Ukrainian officials denied any involvement. Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak rejected the idea that Kyiv had been directly involved in the attack, but said Ukraine was enjoying watching these events, and that he expected there to be more of them.
“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 capital 17 times in May with drones or missiles, mostly at night. That includes an assault early on Tuesday, the third on the city in 24 hours. Kyiv said four people had died across 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. Moscow blamed that, too, on Kyiv, and tried to claim it was an attempt to kill Mr Putin. As with this week’s attack, Kyiv denied any involvement.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence 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 stated that more than 25 drones had participated in the strikes. The defence ministry blamed the government of Volodymyr Zelensky, while the foreign ministry said that Russia “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 along with 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, and once boasted some of the world’s highest property prices. As well as 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 Ministry of Defence 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 that the Moscow drone strikes were the most serious assault on the capital since the Second World War, saying that no citizen could now avoid “the new reality”.
“The sabotage and terrorist attacks of Ukraine will only increase,” said Mr Khinshtein, who called for a radical strengthening of defences. “Do not underestimate the enemy!”
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, whose soldiers have been at the centre of some of the fiercest fighting of the invasion so far in eastern Ukraine, hit out at the political elites in Rublyovka as being out of touch with the conflict 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 strategic mistakes he believes officials are making.
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 the site of one of the drone collisions on Profsoyuznaya Street, told reporters that the strikes were “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 situation following the drone attack.
The UK’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, said that Ukraine “does have the legitimate right to defend itself”, adding: “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 drone strikes in Moscow, while reiterating that Washington did not support attacks inside Russia.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report