Russia deploys air defenses in Moscow signaling fear of strikes on capital

Opinion

RIGA, Latvia — The Kremlin on Friday declined to comment on the recent deployment of air defense systems in and around Moscow as Russia seeks to close gaps in its defenses amid fears Ukraine could launch a bold and offensive attack on Ukraine. The capital of Russia.

Russia has deployed Panzer-S1 anti-aircraft defense systems over two government buildings in Moscow, including the Ministry of Defense on Frunzen Embankment and the District Ministry of Education on Teterinsky Road, independent Russian-language media reported.

Photos of the special air defense system were published on social networks.

Russian media outlet Sirena, which released the video and photos, said air defense systems were installed at several other sites in or near Moscow, including the Odintsovo district, about six miles from President Vladimir Putin’s residence in Novo-Ogarevo, outside the capital.

Russian military expert Ruslan Leviev of the Conflict Intelligence Team, an independent group that analyzes open-source intelligence, said the S-400 air defense system will be installed in a park on Losiny Island outside Moscow, which has been cleared of trees in recent days. Leviev spoke on Popular Politics, a YouTube channel linked to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov referred questions to Russia’s Defense Ministry when asked Friday if the Kremlin feared an airstrike on Moscow. “They are responsible for ensuring the security of the country as a whole and the capital in particular, so it is better to ask the Ministry of Defense about all the measures being taken,” said Peskov.

Russia’s Defense Ministry rarely responds to questions from Western media and did not respond to an emailed query on Friday. The range of the Pantsir-S1 defense system covers most of Moscow, including the Kremlin.

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The weapons deployment follows criticism by Russian experts of gaps in Russia’s air defenses after Ukraine carried out at least four strikes on military airfields on Russian territory last month, three of which targeted the Engels air base near Saratov. bombers. Another hit Diaghilev Air Base near Ryazan, 114 miles southeast of Moscow.

“They seem to be concluding that Ukrainian drones have flown to bases in the rear, such as those in Diaghilev and Engels,” Leviev said. “Because of this fear, and Vladimir Putin’s fear of missile attacks in general, they decided to strengthen Moscow’s defenses in this way, because they know very well that with such a leaky Russian air defense along the border, Ukrainian drones could be there. theoretically it can even reach Moscow.”

The attacks in December demonstrated Kiev’s ability to strike deep into Russian territory as Ukraine continues to struggle to regain territory lost during Moscow’s massive invasion.

The airstrikes in Russia followed other surprise attacks by Ukraine that humiliated Moscow, including the bombing of a bridge linking Crimea with Russia, a strike on the Saki air base in Crimea and the sinking of Russia’s Black Sea flagship, the Moskva warship. Fleet.

Russia is beefing up the defenses of its capital as Putin prepares Russian society for a long, difficult war against Ukraine and a protracted conflict with NATO.

Putin shifted the Russian economy to a wartime economy, required companies to serve the war effort, and intensified the militarization of Russian society as he campaigned for support for the war amid mounting losses at the front and rumors of a possible second war. unpopular mass mobilization.

Since the attack began, Putin has cracked down on his political opposition, and Russia has cracked down on opposition to the war by banning protests, restricting free speech and jailing critics.

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On Tuesday, Putin ordered an increase in Russia’s military strength by more than 350,000 personnel to a total of 1.5 million, although it is unclear whether the country will be able to recruit soldiers on a voluntary basis. to achieve that goal.

After their advance slowed over the winter, Russian and Ukrainian forces are each preparing for new offensives, paving the way for a decisive phase of the war in the coming months.

The sight of anti-aircraft missiles in the center of Moscow is another sign that the war in Russia’s life is returning to normal.

As the offensive drags on, officials, including Putin, call it NATO’s “war” against Russia, describing it as an existential battle for survival against greedy Western powers bent on dismembering and devouring the West. Russian nation.

After the strikes on two Russian air bases in early December, Russian military historian Yuri Knutov, director of the Air Defense Forces Museum, told state television that Russia had left holes in its air defense system when it sent most of its military equipment to Ukraine. .

“There are gaps in our air defense system. America’s satellites can see these gaps well. I don’t doubt it, experts don’t either,” warned Knutov at that time.

Popular Russian military blogger Alexander Kots, a reporter for the pro-Kremlin newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, wrote on his Telegram channel that the installation of air defense systems in the capital was a positive sign, saying that Russian authorities “understand that it is the need of the hour to strike against Moscow and the region.”

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Leviev said the newly installed air defense systems are a last resort in case a missile or drone manages to evade Russia’s external air defenses to reach Moscow. If there was no war, he said such systems would be located far from Moscow, “but Russia is a belligerent country now, and drones are coming into Russia, so that’s to be expected.”

As Western officials weigh sending heavy tanks to Ukraine, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev warned on Thursday that nuclear powers like Russia will not lose wars and threatened that Western support for Kiev could lead to nuclear weapons. war. It was the latest in a series of nuclear threats from senior Russian officials.

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