A few hours after Ukrainian kamikaze drones struck the proud towers of the Moscow City business centre, a Muscovite friend received a cold call from her insurance company. Would she like to upgrade her home insurance to include drone attacks, a chirpy salesman asked. Another couple of friends, out for a walk in the woods not far from Vladimir Putin’s country residence at Novo-Ogaryovo, were surprised to discover a pair of Pantsir-S1 mobile anti-aircraft batteries parked by the edge of a field, their warheads pointing warily towards Ukraine. A Muscovite journalist shares a new listing for bed space in an underground garage that he has converted into a bomb shelter.
In Russia’s capital, until recently cocooned from the consequences of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, this is the new normal.
Long-range drone strikes on Moscow began on 3 May when two small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) struck the roof of the Kremlin’s Senate Palace. In June, the elite dacha lands of Moscow’s Rublevskoye Shosse were hit; last month, so was a residential building just yards from the headquarters of the GRU military intelligence unit allegedly responsible for poisoning enemies of the state. Most recently, two UAVs slammed into the skyscraper in Moscow City that houses the Communications and Mass Media Ministry on consecutive nights. Implausibly, Russian officials have claimed that all these drones were in fact shot down and the damage was done by falling debris. But nobody quite believes them.
To the undisguised delight of pro-Ukrainian social media users, videos of the strikes often feature Muscovites screaming, swearing and generally panicking as the drones make their slow progress across the skies, followed by fireballs and loud detonations. After months of merciless Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities, those on Moscow feel like the most satisfying form of payback.