President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday accused Kyiv of seeking to “frighten” Russians after drones hit Moscow high-rises in the first such attack since the beginning of the Kremlin’s assault on Ukraine.
As drones struck in and around Moscow, Russian drones targeted Kyiv for a third straight day while Ukraine gears up for a major offensive against Russian forces.
Officials said no one was seriously injured in Moscow and there was only “minor” damage to residential buildings but some ordinary people said they never thought the Russian capital could be hit in this way.
“I somehow thought that all of this was somewhere far away, that this would not affect us, and suddenly this has become very close,” pensioner Tatyana Kalinina told AFP in southwest Moscow near one of the damaged residential buildings.
The Russian defence ministry said that eight drones were used in the attack, adding that five of them were downed and three disabled.
Putin said that Moscow’s air defence had worked in a satisfactory manner, noting that the attacks were Kyiv’s “response” to a Russian strike on Ukraine’s army intelligence headquarters.
He said Ukraine was trying to “frighten” Russians.
“We have spoken about hitting command centres (in Ukraine),” the Russian president said.
– ‘Frighten Russia’ –
“In response, the Kyiv regime has chosen a different path, the path of trying to frighten Russia, frighten the citizens of Russia and of strikes on residential buildings.”
Of the three drones that hit residential buildings, two crashed into high-rises located in Moscow’s affluent southwest, while a third damaged a residential building in a suburb.
The other drones fell outside Moscow. Some of the debris was found around 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Putin’s Novo-Ogaryovo residence.
One video shared on social media showed an explosion followed by a column of smoke rising into the sky.
This month two drones were intercepted over the Kremlin, but Tuesday’s attacks were the first time that unmanned aerial vehicles hit residential areas of Moscow, hundreds of kilometres from the front lines in Ukraine.
The raids are likely to be seen as a major embarrassment for the Kremlin, which has gone to great lengths to say the protracted conflict in Ukraine does not pose a threat to Russians.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said Kyiv had “no direct relation” to the attacks.
Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said two people had sought medical assistance but “no one has suffered serious injuries”.
– ‘No panic’ –
The residents of buildings damaged in the strikes were briefly evacuated.
On Profsoyuznaya Street, a residential building with a blown-out window was cordoned off by police but the atmosphere was calm, with children playing outside and locals walking their dogs, an AFP correspondent said.
Some of the residents were moved to a nearby school, where they drank tea and watched a Soviet-era movie.
Valentin Yemelyanov, a 50-year-old IT worker, who lives on the same street but closer towards the centre of Moscow, said there was “no fear or panic”.
“The damage is minimal,” he told AFP. He said he was “not surprised” by the drone attack, given the escalation of the conflict. “It is obvious that things are going this way.”
Muscovites told Russian journalists that a drone had also crashed into an apartment on the 14th floor of a high-rise on Leninsky Prospekt but did not explode.
In the Moscow suburbs, Maxim, a 40-year-old customs officer, said loud noises woke him and his wife at 4:00 am (0100 GMT). He said he had a number of security-related questions for the authorities including “why Russia’s borders are still open.”
– ‘Downplaying attacks’-
Political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya said it was astonishing to see that Russian authorities were “downplaying the significance of drone attacks on Russian cities.”
Since the start of Russia’s assault on Ukraine, drone attacks have hit targets outside Moscow, including military installations located far from the front.
Ukraine said it had downed 29 out of 31 drones, mainly over Kyiv and the Kyiv region in the latest Russian barrage — the third on the Ukrainian capital in 24 hours.
On Monday, Russia fired a barrage of missiles at Kyiv, sending panicked residents running for shelter in an unusual daytime attack following overnight strikes.
Predictably, many in Ukraine gloated over the drone attacks in Moscow.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said he could not understand why residents of Moscow continued to live peacefully when Russian forces are “terrorising” the capital of Ukraine.
Muscovites, he said, should feel “what it means to live in the conditions that Kyiv has lived in for the past one and a half years.”
Kyiv has been preparing a counteroffensive, although its timing and focus have been the subject of months of speculation.