Photos of the distinctive air defense system were posted on social media.
More 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 Novo-Ogarevo residence outside the capital, according to Russian news outlet Sirena, which released video and still images.
Russian military analyst Ruslan Leviev of the Conflict Intelligence Team, an independent group that analyzes open-source intelligence, said an S-400 air defense system would be installed in a park on Losini Island near Moscow, where trees had been cleared in recent days. Leviev spoke to Popular Politics, a YouTube channel associated with detained opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Asked on Friday whether the Kremlin feared airstrikes could be launched against Moscow, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov referred questions to the Russian Defense Ministry. “They are responsible for ensuring the security of the country in general and the capital in particular, so it is better to ask the Ministry of Defense about all the measures that are being taken,” said Peskov.
Russia’s defense ministry rarely responds to questions from Western media and did not respond to an emailed question on Friday. The range of the Pantsir-S1 defense system will cover much of central Moscow, including the Kremlin.
The deployment of the weapons follows criticism by Russian analysts of gaps in Russian air defenses after at least four Ukrainian strikes last month on military airfields deep inside Russia, three of them targeting Engels Air Force Base near Saratov, where Russia bases strategic long-range distance bombers. Another strike hit Diaghilev Air Base near Ryazan, about 114 miles southeast of Moscow.
“They seem to be drawing conclusions from the fact that Ukrainian drones have been flying to bases far behind the rear, such as those in Diaghilev and Engels,” Leviev said. “Apparently because of this fear, and in general because of Vladimir Putin’s fear of missile attacks, they decided to strengthen Moscow’s defenses in this way, because they understand very well that with such a broken Russian air defense along the border, apparently Ukrainian drones can theoretically reach and to Moscow”.
The December attacks showed Kyiv’s ability to strike deep into Russian territory as Ukraine continues to struggle to regain territory lost during Moscow’s full-scale invasion.
The Russian airstrikes followed a series of other surprise Ukrainian attacks that humiliated Moscow, including the bombing of a bridge connecting Crimea to Russia, strikes on the Saki airbase in Crimea and the sinking of the warship Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
Russia is beefing up the defenses of its capital as Putin prepares the Russian public for a long, difficult war against Ukraine and a prolonged confrontation with NATO.
Putin shifted Russia’s economy to a wartime footing, requiring companies to serve the war effort, and increasingly militarized Russian society, ramping up propaganda efforts in support of the war, amid rising frontline casualties and swirling rumors of a possible second, unpopular mass mobilization.
Since the beginning of the invasion, Putin has crushed his political opposition and Russia has suppressed opposition to the war by banning protests, restricting free speech and imprisoning critics.
On Tuesday, Putin ordered an increase in Russia’s military strength by more than 350,000 to a total of 1.5 million, although it is far from clear whether the country can muster enough volunteer contract soldiers to reach this goal.
After winter slowed their progress, Russian and Ukrainian forces are reported to be preparing new offensives, setting the stage for what could be a decisive phase in the war in the coming months.
The sight of anti-aircraft missiles in the center of Moscow is another sign of the normalization of war in Russian life.
As the invasion drags on, officials, including Putin, increasingly refer to it as a “war” waged by NATO against Russia, characterizing it, without evidence, as an existential battle for survival against greedy Western powers determined to dismember and absorb the Russian nation .
After the early December strikes on two Russian air bases, 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 much of its military equipment in Ukraine.
“There are gaps in our air defense system. American satellites see these gaps well. I don’t doubt it, neither do the specialists,” warned Knutov at the time.
Prominent Russian pro-war military blogger Alexander Kots, a journalist with the mainstream pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, wrote on his Telegram channel that the installation of air defense systems in the capital was a positive sign demonstrating that Russian authorities “understand that strikes against Moscow and the region are a matter of time.
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 it weren’t for the war, he added, such systems would be deployed far from Moscow, “but now Russia is a belligerent country and drones are coming to Russia, so that’s quite expected.”
As Western officials considered sending heavy battle tanks to Ukraine, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev warned on Thursday that nuclear powers like Russia cannot lose wars, and he threatened that Western efforts to support Kyiv could cause a nuclear attack war. It was the latest in a series of nuclear threats made by senior Russian officials.
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