Fear and Frustration in Moscow as Air Defense Systems Deployed

The installation of air defense systems in the center of the Russian capital in recent weeks has been met with fear and anger from locals – as well as some indifference – as concerns appear to be growing over Ukraine’s military ability to attack deep into Russian territory. to fall.

“Some people are panicking, some are annoyed, and some of my neighbors consider this a military escalation,” said a Muscovite who lives near the Losiny Ostrov (Elk Island) National Park in northeast Moscow, near where a air defense battery. Reportedly deployed.

“People are angry that there is no official information.”

At least five anti-aircraft missile systems have been sighted in Moscow in recent weeks, appearing in parks and on buildings as the war in Ukraine – now in its 11th month – creeps closer to the Russian capital.

They include what appears to be a Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air system on the roof of the Defense Ministry headquarters, a few kilometers from the Kremlin, and an S-400 anti-aircraft system near the Timiryazevskaya metro station in the north of the capital. .

The installation of these systems amid fears that Ukraine, equipped with advanced weapons from its Western allies, could attack Moscow.

In Losiny Ostrov, workers began clearing a piece of forest for the battery on New Year’s Day, according to the Muscovite who asked for anonymity to speak freely.

Another air defense system was spotted last week near Taganskaya metro station in central Moscow.

“When I first read reports about Moscow’s air defense systems, I thought it was fake news. And then I saw that air defense system on a nearby building when I was standing on my balcony,” a woman who lives near Taganskaya told The Moscow Times.

“I was surprised. When I was about to go to bed that day, there were fireworks — I got up a few times to make sure everything was okay,” she added. “It was really scary.”

Losiny Ostrov National Park (Elk Island).

Losiny Ostrov National Park (Elk Island).

While the appearance of the military equipment has raised concerns among some local residents, others said they were unconcerned about the possibility of Ukrainian attacks — or said they were too frustrated to follow news of the war.

“We understand that they will protect the center of Moscow and the Defense Ministry,” said Vera, who lives in an apartment near the Defense Ministry headquarters.

“We mind our own business and just wait for it to end.”

“I’m just tired of being nervous,” said another Muscovite, asking for anonymity.

Pantsir-S1 systems — which provide protection against a variety of weapons, including those launched from aircraft and ground-launched missiles — have also apparently been deployed in recent weeks near President Vladimir Putin’s official residence in Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow and in the Novgorod regionaccording to media reports.

No officials have yet commented on the air defense systems and Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to say on Friday whether Russia was preparing for an attack on the capital.

But the Russian Defense Ministry said during the weekend it held an exercise on repelling airstrikes in the Moscow region.

“Ukraine has the technical ability to send drones that can reach Moscow; the question is why those drones could not be intercepted by the Russian air defense systems en route from Ukraine to Moscow,” military expert Yury Fedorov told The Moscow Times.

The Moscow systems are “a signal that Russian air defenses are in a deplorable state,” he added.

The deployment of air defense batteries in the Russian capital appears to be successful shortly afterwards drone attacks at airports in the Russian regions of Saratov and Ryazan – some 600 kilometers from the frontline in Ukraine – attributed to Kiev.

But the visibility of the new anti-missile defense systems may also serve a propaganda purpose, as Russian forces continue to deliver mediocre results on the battlefield.

According to the US-based Institute for the Study of War, one of the goals of deploying such equipment in densely populated urban areas was likely “to generate incendiary images that portray the war as a greater threat to the Russian public”.

There was a lot of news about the appearance of the air defense systems shared by influential pro-war bloggers on the messaging app Telegram.

A Pantsir-S1 on the roof of the Ministry of Defense headquarters in Moscow.

A Pantsir-S1 on the roof of the Ministry of Defense headquarters in Moscow.

“One of the tasks is completely technical: the deployment of modern air defense systems capable of intercepting drones,” political expert Ivan Preobrazhensky told The Moscow Times.

“And since this deployment is impossible to hide, it is done as publicly as possible, so that Russian people will not feel calm at home.”

However, it seems likely that the deployment will also irk Moscow residents, especially as it is common knowledge that successful interceptions by such air defense batteries can pose risks to those on the ground below.

“We all understand that fragments of missiles would fall on nearby buildings,” said the Muscovite who lives near Losiny Ostrov.

Others stressed that Russian officials have repeatedly accused Ukraine of causing civilian casualties when Ukrainian systems intercepted Russian missiles.

Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said accused Ukrainian air defense for the destruction of a residential building in the Dnipro in Ukraine that killed 46 people.

“Lavrov complained about the installation of air defense systems in residential areas in Ukraine – now the same is happening in Moscow,” said a Muscovite who lives near the Taganskaya metro where such a system was recently installed.

“I think it’s absurd.”

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