A drone attack on the heart of Moscow will have a “psychological impact” on a paranoid Vladimir Putin and “sow confusion and doubt” among the public, say experts.
An exclusive neighbourhood in the Russian capital, where the Russian president has an official residence, came under attack from drones early on Tuesday morning in a series of strikes on wealthy city suburbs.
Mr Putin accused Ukraine of trying to “intimidate Russia” and Russian citizens with attacks on residential buildings, saying the attack was “clearly a sign of terrorist activity”.
Ukraine has denied responsibility.
But the conflict shift to within Russian territory has been viewed as a significant one which will be serious blow to Mr Putin.
“If I were Putin I would be very worried today,” said Tyler Kustra, Assistant Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham.
He told i: “What started off a three-day war to painlessly seize Ukraine has become a quagmire with Ukrainian forces showing that they can strike at the Russian capital.
“These attacks mean Putin has to be just as worried about defending his own territory as taking Ukraine land.
“Further, the psychological impact of these raids – both on Ukrainian moral and Putin’s mind – should not be underestimated.”
He believes the attack demonstrates Ukraine’s capability of striking Moscow and can be seen as an overture to a counteroffensive, putting Putin “on the backfoot”.
“This [from the Ukrainians] is the ground-laying, the paranoia and the fear you want to instil,” he said.
The Russian president, who has previously been described as “pathologically afraid for his life”, claimed the attack was aimed at “civilian targets” and air defences would be bolstered in the city.
The extent of Putin’s paranoia about his own personal safety emerged last month when a former senior Russian security officer, who defected last year, revealed details of the president’s daily life in an interview reported in The Guardian.
Gleb Karakulov said the Russian leader surrounds himself with an impenetrable barrier of quarantines and travels with firefighters, food testers and engineers.
Russia’s defence ministry said eight drones sent by Kyiv and targeting civilians were shot down or diverted in Moscow on Tuesday.
Although Telegram channel Baza, with links to the security services, said more than 25 were involved.
Moscow’s city’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin said two people had been injured, one of them hospitalised.
Earlier this month, two drones exploded over the Kremlin in an attack Russia also blamed on Kyiv and said was aimed at Mr Putin.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential aide, denied responsibility for the latest raid, saying, “we are pleased to watch and predict an increase in the number of attacks” but added “we have nothing directly to do with this”.
Professor David Lewis from the University of Exeter, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said: “The attacks [on Moscow] signal the most significant attempt yet by Ukraine to bring home to Russians the reality of the conflict and to respond to Russian missile attacks on Kyiv.
“It is the latest in a series of attacks over several months by Ukraine inside the Russian Federation, including drone attacks, assassinations, and cross-border raids, but this drone attack on Moscow demonstrates a new scale and ambition.”
He believes Ukraine is likely to continue similar actions inside Russia to accompany its counter-offensive against Russian forces in Ukraine. “Its aim is to sow confusion and doubt among the Russian public and divert Russian resources to defend the homeland,” he said.
He said Tuesday’s attack was “unlikely to have a major impact on the course of the Ukrainian counter-offensive” in military terms, but did “demonstrate Ukraine’s growing ability to challenge Russia on its own territory”.
The Moscow attack came as Kyiv was targeted for a third consecutive night from more than 20 kamikaze drones.
Eleven people were hurt and a 33-year-old woman died on her balcony when debris from a destroyed Russian projectile hit a Kyiv high-rise, officials said.
Russia has attacked Kyiv 17 times in May with drones or missiles, mostly at night.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Monday: “Russia wants to follow the path of evil to the end, that is, to its defeat, because evil cannot have any other end but defeat.”