Putin Admits Moscow’s Air Defenses “Need Work” After Multi-Drone Attack

Moscow Drone Attack
Moscow Drone Attack
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President Vladimir Putin admitted today that Moscow’s air defense system still needs work to counter drone attacks, like the one that struck the Russian capital this morning. Russian authorities described the attack as the worst to hit the capital since the launch of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with some claims that it was the worst since World War II. Meanwhile, in Ukraine, Kyiv came under drone attack, too, with Russia launching three waves of strikes in the space of just 24 hours.

In an article from Zvezda, the official organ of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Putin said that “The air defense system of Moscow worked normally, satisfactorily. Although there is something to work on,” he admitted. Putin admitted that similar difficulties in dealing with drones had been encountered at Khmeimin Air Base, the Russian outpost in Syria, which came under drone attack on multiple occasions. Putin also stated that “It is understood what needs to be done to strengthen the capital’s air defense, and we will be doing so.”


No specific details were provided regarding what kinds of measures might be taken to bolster the counter-drone capabilities in the Russian capital, although it’s notable that the Pantsir air defense system has already begun to be deployed in the capital in recent months. Examples of the Pantsir appeared on top of at least two different government buildings in Moscow, including the Ministry of Defense’s headquarters in January. The Pantsir was supposedly put to effective use this morning.


Russian officials blamed Ukraine for this morning’s “terrorist” drone attack, although Ukraine has not acknowledged responsibility — by no means unusual for drone strikes and other military activities on Russian territory. “It is, of course, obvious that this is an attack by the Kyiv regime,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “And this must be absolutely clearly understood.”

A view of damage to the top floor of an apartment building after the drone attack in Moscow on May 30, 2023. <em>Photo by Evgenii Bugubaev/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images</em>
A view of damage to the top floor of an apartment building after the drone attack in Moscow on May 30, 2023. Photo by Evgenii Bugubaev/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

There is conflicting information about how many drones were involved and whether any reached their targets. According to Baza, a Telegram channel with links to the Russian security services, more than 25 Ukrainian drones were involved in the raid, while the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that eight drones were shot down or otherwise diverted from their intended targets. The news site RBC quoted a source as saying that “more than 10” drones had been shot down. Other official Russian accounts claim that all of the drones were destroyed by Russian air defense systems, without providing a definitive number.


Of these air defense systems, reports from Russia claim that five of the drones were shot down by the Pantsir system, while three were claimed to be defeated using unspecified “electronic counter-drone technology.” Reports that Russia may have used electronic countermeasures to jam or disrupt GPS and/or GLONASS satellite signals in the wider Moscow area cannot be confirmed.


There are so far no reports of any fatalities due to the drone strikes, although Moscow’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin confirmed that two people had been injured and several apartment blocks needed to be evacuated. Eyewitness accounts from southwest Moscow describe loud explosions and the smell of petrol, around 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. local time. Videos posted to social media appear to show at least one drone being shot down, leaving a plume of smoke.


In terms of damage, which can be the result of falling debris (from both drone and intercepting missile) as well as a targeted drone hit, Russia’s Investigative Committee stated that minor damage had been caused by “several” drones falling on buildings in Moscow. Meanwhile, RBC reported that three buildings had been hit by drones: two near the prestigious Leninsky Prospekt in the south of the capital, and a third in the town of Moskovskiy, close to Vnukovo Airport. None of the capital’s airports were closed as a result of the attacks.


Other targets seem to have been located in one of the most affluent parts of the Russian capital, namely the Rublyovka area in the west, where Putin and other significant Russian figures have homes. One senior Russian politician said that three of the drones were brought down over the Rublyovka suburb, Reuters reports.


Putin himself was reportedly in the Kremlin at the time of the attack and is said to have been briefed on the situation.


Predictably, Russian officials responded with fury to what amounts to a significant escalation in Ukraine’s campaign of drone strikes.

“You will either defeat the enemy as a single fist with our Motherland, or the indelible shame of cowardice, collaboration, and betrayal will engulf your family,” warned politician Maxim Ivanov. He described the raid as the most significant since World War II and that it reflected a “new reality” in the conflict.


Another Russian lawmaker, Alexander Khinshtein, said that “The sabotage and terrorist attacks of Ukraine will only increase.” Khinshtein also made a call to “radically strengthen defenses and security measures, especially in terms of countering drones. This includes finally passing the necessary laws.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, also weighed in, with a typically fiery statement, seen in the tweet below. Among others, he called upon officials from the Russian Ministry of Defense to “Get your ass out of the offices you’ve been put in to defend this country.”


Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak denied any direct involvement from Kyiv in the strikes on Moscow but did say that “we are pleased to watch.” He also predicted more of such raids to follow.


This is not the first time that Ukrainian (or pro-Ukrainian) elements have launched drone strikes against Moscow.

In a dramatic incident earlier this month, a pair of drones targeted the Kremlin in what Russian authorities said was an attempt to assassinate Putin, although that didn't seem to be the case, at least based on where they ended up. Regardless, this was a hugely symbolic target, especially coming in the run-up to Victory Day on May 9. Kyiv also denied any involvement in that attack, although U.S. intelligence believes Ukraine was responsible, according to a report in the New York Times. You can read our original coverage of the attack here.

Meanwhile, in Kyiv, the Ukrainian Defense Forces today said they had shot down more than 20 Iranian-made Shahed drones. The drone attack on Kyiv was part of a wider series of Russian strikes across the country, which left four dead and 34 wounded, according to Ukrainian authorities.

KYIV, UKRAINE - MAY 30: Utility worker walks near cars destroyed by a Russian drone explosion in central Kyiv, Ukraine on May 30, 2023. <em>Photo by Oleksii Chumachenko/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images</em>
KYIV, UKRAINE - MAY 30: Utility worker walks near cars destroyed by a Russian drone explosion in central Kyiv, Ukraine on May 30, 2023. Photo by Oleksii Chumachenko/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Of those casualties, one person was killed and four were injured in Kyiv overnight, where debris from a destroyed Russian drone reportedly hit a high-rise apartment, leading to a blaze. Officials said that more people may still be buried under rubble.

“Russia is trying to break us and break our will,” said Ihor Klymenko, Ukraine’s interior minister. “To deprive peaceful citizens of sleep and prevent us, the security and defense sector, from preparing to implement important tasks.

As well as launching three waves of drone strikes against the Ukrainian capital in 24 hours, Kyiv has been on the receiving end of major aerial bombardment in recent weeks. This month so far, Kyiv has been attacked 17 times. The increase in the ferocity of this campaign is thought to be connected to Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive, as a means of eroding civilians’ will to fight.

Ukrainian military infrastructure has also been targeted, however. Yesterday, Ukrainian authorities confirmed that an attack on an airfield in the Khmelnytskyi region, in western Ukraine, had damaged a runway and five aircraft.

At the same time, however, Ukraine is making increasingly effective use of Western-supplied ground-based air defense systems to protect it from aerial attack — at least according to claims made by officials in Kyiv.

“When Patriots in the hands of Ukrainians ensure a 100 percent interception rate of any Russian missile, terror will be defeated,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his televised address yesterday, pointing to the claimed effectiveness of U.S.-supplied Patriot air defense systems.

The Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat suggested that Patriot missiles were responsible for successfully bringing down Russian Iskander short-range ballistic missiles, which few previous Ukrainian air defense systems were able to tackle.


“I think you can guess,” Ihnat told Ukrainian television. “If Iskander-M missiles are intercepted, you can draw conclusions about the means that specifically targeted the objectives — ballistic targets.”

Today’s more extensive attacks on Moscow once again demonstrate that even the Russian capital can fall within Ukraine’s sights.


The Kremlin attack was met by a Russian promise of retaliation, although it remains to be seen how Russia will respond to today’s escalation. There are reports that Putin currently has no plans to make a special address to the Russian people.

For its part, it seems highly likely that Ukrainian officials won’t accept responsibility for today’s drone strike, although there is no lack of evidence of targets within Russian borders coming under attack by various means.

At this point, we don’t know what kind of drones were involved in today’s raid, although one video posted to social media purports to show a drone flying over the Russian capital with a straight wing mounted toward the rear of the fuselage and a characteristic unswept canard-type foreplane, with the powerplant driving a pusher propeller at the rear. A similar configuration has been seen on drones used in earlier attacks on Krasnodar in southern Russia, and reported by some as the Ukrainian-made Bober, a “kamikaze UAV” that was only officially unveiled a few weeks ago.


A report carried by Baza described a “previously unknown aircraft-type drone with an aerodynamic ‘duck’ design”. The ‘duck’ here is the Russian word for a canard design. According to Baza, this was confirmed by Russian official Alexei Rogozin, the son of Dmitry Rogozin, the former deputy prime minister.

According to Alexei Rogozin, this kind of drone has a wingspan of at least 13 feet and a range of between 250 and 620 miles. The cost of each such drone is estimated at $30,000 to $200,000, according to the same account. Interestingly, Alexei Rogozin claimed that electronic jamming is generally ineffective against these types of drones, which need to be shot down by guns or missiles.

The Ukraine Weapons Tracker account on Twitter, which uses open-source information to monitor weapons used in the Ukraine conflict, identifies another type of drone used in the Moscow attack and also in previous raids on Russian territory, stretching back to March of this year. This particular drone, the name of which remains unknown, is understood to be able to carry a KZ-6-shaped charge with four pounds of explosives over a range of between 370 and 620 miles.


There are also unconfirmed reports out of Russia that the attack may have involved Ukrainian-made UJ-22 drones, which have been used in previous attacks on Russian territory. While the actual drones used remain unconfirmed, it is certain that a mix was used, making the attack harder to defend against.


Similarly, we cannot say with any certainty where the various drones were launched from, although those we have seen seem to have consisted primarily of very long-range types intended to strike at great distances, meaning they could have been launched from inside Ukraine’s borders.

More broadly, there is a clear sense that attacks of this kind have been reaching ever closer to the Russian capital. We have, in the past, reported on other apparent attempts by Ukraine to strike near Moscow. On April 24, an explosives-laden drone, probably a UJ-22, was found a short distance from Moscow.


Back in February, another Ukrainian drone came within 70 miles of Moscow. You can read more about that in our coverage here.

While it remains to be seen what, if any, particular action Russia will now take in the wake of this attack, it seems clear that Ukraine is steadily expanding its ability to threaten Moscow. With Russian attacks on Kyiv still continuing at a high tempo, we’re potentially on the verge of a new period of this conflict, in which Russia and Ukraine use drones to target each other’s capital cities, potentially striking blows at the centers of power, as well as making powerful symbolic statements and psychological impacts.

Contact the author: thomas@thewarzone.com