Drones On Moscow: Vladimir Putin On The Defensive Like Never Before
In another scenario, Putin could be bragging about Russia's control of Bakhmut after nearly a year of fighting, and the bombing of the Ukrainian Intelligence’s headquarters, which was recently acknowledged by Kyiv. But instead he must retreat to the ultimate home front after drone attacks in the capital.
PARIS — In February of last year, when Russian President Vladimir Putin dubbed his invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation,” he was telling Russians that it would be over quickly. Now, 15 months later, drones are striking apartment buildings in Moscow, bringing a whiff of war to inhabitants of the Russian capital, who had so far thought they’d been spared.
The psychological shock is far greater than the military impact.
It is a symbol of the failure of the Russian president’s Ukraine campaign. Pro-war nationalist bloggers were quick to criticize the lack of air defense, which allowed the drones to strike Moscow. But if they had really wanted to taunt the government, they could have compared it with the performance of the Ukrainian air defense which, thanks to Western equipment, knocks down most of the Russian drones and missiles fired at Kyiv.
In the same vein, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary outfit Wagner and rival to Russia's military commanders, commented on his Telegram channel: “The people have a right to ask these questions," and, in a message aimed at the military establishment, added a pointed note: “May your houses burn."
Russia finally has a success to brag about — but Ukraine keeps the initiative
The impact of the Moscow strikes is first and foremost political, which was undoubtedly the goal of those who sent this swarm of drones. Ukraine has denied all responsibility, just like the previous incursion, of a drone shot above the Kremlin.
Putin briefly reacted yesterday, claiming, without any proof, that the Russian air defense had worked as intended. He accused Kyiv of wanting to “terrorize” — his word — the population of Moscow. Surely, this is a cynical statement from a man who has been bombing Ukrainian cities for weeks — and particularly recently, including the capital.
The paradox is that Vladimir Putin is now on the defensive, even though he can finally brag about a few military successes: in Bakhmut, where Russian forces pushed Ukrainians out of the city after nearly a year of fighting, and the bombing of the Ukrainian Intelligence’s headquarters, which was recently acknowledged by Kyiv.
But Ukraine still manages to keep the initiative, between a recent marine drone attack in the Black Sea, the incursion of Russian rebels in Belgorod, inside Russia, and now, drones on Moscow.
A "No Drone Zone" sign in Zaryadye Park near the Kremlin.
High stakes for Ukraine
By multiplying these operations on many different fronts and in many different ways, the Ukrainian army is covering its tracks as it prepares a counteroffensive. This attack has been the object of so much speculation in the past weeks that it was necessary to confuse the enemy so that they cannot know where the Ukrainian army will strike.
Ukraine is playing for high stakes with this counteroffensive.
The tactic worked well last year: Kyiv said for weeks that an attack was being prepared in Kherson, in southern Ukraine, only to retake entire swathes of the north-east territory. It will be hard to pull that off twice.
Ukraine is playing for high stakes with this counteroffensive, which is being prepared in an important international context. European leaders meet this week in Moldova, probably with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky himself. And a NATO summit, at the beginning of July in Vilnius, Lithuania, will be a key date for the future of the conflict. Weapons deliveries, security guarantees and political coordination: Ukraine will want to arrive in Vilnius in a position of strength — and it will all play out first on the field of battle.
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