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Ukrainian attacks on Russian cities raise pressure on Putin


Highlights: Residents of the affected areas demand the Kremlin protection of the army, but the president keeps his agenda intact. Moscow — including the Kremlin — and other Russian territories have been bombed in recent weeks. The Kremlin believes it still has the situation under control, but that doesn't mean Putin, the man who sparked the war in Europe, doesn't dare a dangerous escalation if his power is threatened. "The situation is heating up, it is very similar to that of February and March 2022," says one resident.

As the border between the two countries burns, life in Moscow continues unchanged. Residents of the affected areas demand the Kremlin protection of the army, but the president keeps his agenda intact

Moscow — including the Kremlin — and other Russian territories have been bombed in recent weeks. To say this phrase would have been unthinkable a year ago. At least without imagining that these attacks would trigger a nuclear war. However, Vladimir Putin, the image of a tough president par excellence, has not altered his agenda while Ukrainian attacks inside his country intensify. The inhabitants of the border regions beg their president to move troops from the front to protect them, but the Russian leader has not made any change of direction, nor has he addressed the nation or convened an emergency Security Council. And in Moscow, the target of several symbolic light drone strikes, the biggest lament today is the deluges of its early summer days. The Kremlin believes it still has the situation under control, but that doesn't mean Putin, the man who sparked the war in Europe, doesn't dare a dangerous escalation if his power is threatened.

"Of course I sleep, like everyone else. Unlike some that you may know well, I try not to stop doing sports. This helps me to work," the Russian president said with a smile during a medal presentation as the border settlement of Shebekino, in Belgorod, burned under Ukrainian bombs on June 1. Putin did not award any military in that act, it was a videoconference with families to whom he awarded the Order of the Glory of the Fathers. He also talked about cheeses with them.

A few days earlier, on May 30, a wave of drones fell on Moscow, the most serious attack on the city since two aircraft exploded over the Kremlin on May 3. "The anti-aircraft system worked, but there are things to work on," the president replied on Tuesday before comparing the Russian capital with its Khmeimim air base in Syria. Putin was not due to meet with his Security Council until June 2, and it was nothing more than a routine weekly meeting where he asked his subordinates to reinforce "internal political security."

Far from Moscow, on the border with Ukraine, where this Saturday increased by at least seven dead plus the list of civilians killed under bombing, the situation is seen differently. "There is no sense of security, people are nervous because they feel in danger. The neighbors ask that the army come to the region now, "says by phone from Belgorod to EL PAÍS a Russian cameraman who prefers to remain anonymous.

The passage to the Shebekino area remains closed by the military. "The attacks were punctual before. The bombing has intensified in recent days. Day after day, night and into the morning, every few hours," adds this source. "It's clear that anti-aircraft systems don't shoot everything down. And nobody understands that the saboteurs manage to enter," he said, referring to the skirmishes fought with Ukrainian-backed reconnaissance units on May 22.

In addition, the region regrets the media coverage received. The Rossiya-24 channel, for example, only devoted 23 seconds of its news to the skirmishes, and all the information is channeled by the authorities without giving voice to the complaints of those affected. "People are asking for the same treatment as the separatist areas of Donetsk and Luhansk," says the source, who is shared by other residents.

"This is a nightmare"

"It's a nightmare what's happening here," a mother of three from the city of Belgorod who also prefers anonymity told this newspaper. "The situation is heating up, it is very similar to that of February and March 2022," he says in comparison to the start of the invasion of Ukraine. We try not to panic, but my car tank is full," he said, adding that he plans to leave his children with his family in St. Petersburg.

Other Russian children have already had to leave their homes. According to regional authorities, more than a thousand children have been evacuated from the districts of Shebékino and Gráivoron, the areas that Kiev has chosen to bring to Russian soil the direct clashes between troops this last month. To deny their link, as Moscow did with separatists in the Donbas war in 2014, Ukrainian operations are carried out by two paramilitary groups of Russian ultranationalists opposed to the Kremlin, the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Russian Freedom Legion.

Their penetrations into Russian territory have been successful because the border is poorly defended. The real pulse of Kiev and Moscow is fought inside Ukraine, where the Russian high command has concentrated almost all its forces in a fortified line of more than 800 kilometers. And that has left security in the northern edge in the hands of civilian militias, conscripts and very few professional security forces.

The aim of the Ukrainian border skirmishes and bombings is to provoke panic and force the Kremlin to move part of its troops to its own territory. In this way, the pressure of the Russian population would help weaken its army in the face of the future Ukrainian offensive.

Videos of Belgorod citizens demanding the arrival of the Russian army have gone viral on the Internet. "I want to live like they live in other Russian cities. Shebekino is part of Russia and we are asking for help. We don't know who will protect us, why do we have to leave the city on our own? Why should we leave the land where we were born? Move the front line and save the Belgorod region," an 18-year-old student said in a recording broadcast on the Astra channel.

Putin's Menacing Plan B

The Kremlin claims to have the situation under control. Although classes in Belgorod have ended early and many of its companies have closed temporarily, life remains more or less the same in Moscow. The light drone attack was the talk of the talk on the day it happened, but, like the explosions over the Kremlin, there were no casualties or significant damage. In addition, the wave of drones targeted an elite neighborhood, Rubliovka, and Putin's official residence in Novo-Ogariovo. "What are you glad about? Don't Russians live there?" cried one of Russia's propaganda chiefs, Vladimir Solovyov, angrily, as he read the jokes of many Russians on the Internet about the incident.

Parks, restaurants and bars are still full in the capital, and in the subway people prefer to look at Instagram stories before the news on their mobiles. In the capital it is accepted with resignation that the war continues, although it is increasingly present in hundreds of recruitment posters and other propaganda slogans. "We are Russians, God is with us," reads a poster on the tourist Arbat Street. "Join your own", "A real job", "Be a man", are other slogans of the enlistment posters.

"Putin's plan is to wait for the end of the delivery of aid to Kiev and for internal political changes in Ukraine that lead it to sign a peace agreement," political scientist Tatiana Stanovaya, an expert at the Carnegie think tank — banned by the Russian authorities — and founder of the R. Politik think tank, said by telephone. "But if the sense of danger becomes too strong in public opinion, the authorities will have to mobilize their resources to respond, and this does not fit into the Kremlin's strategy."

Russian propagandists and authorities, from regional governors to Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, scrupulously toe the Kremlin's line and reiterate the same message over and over again: "Don't give in to panic." And every time there is a drone attack that does not destroy a refinery or a base, all official sources emphasize that the anti-aircraft systems "worked properly" and "the damage has been minor."

Except for the head of the Wagner mercenary company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who criticized the passivity of the Ministry of Defense, few dare to comment publicly on the current situation. Russia's Federal Security Service in December released a list of topics that are forbidden to comment on "for national security," and include not only state secrets, but also opinions on military deployment and troop morale. Perhaps this is the reason why the Russian military analysts contacted by EL PAÍS have politely declined to comment on the management of the attacks suffered on their territory.

This shift in the Kremlin's discourse clashes with that maintained by Putin before the setbacks of last autumn, when he lost much of the occupied territory. "Everyone should know that we have not started in earnest," Putin said on July 7, 2022. Two months later, when he announced his first mobilization, he resorted to his greatest order: "In the face of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country, we will use all means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people; This is not a bluff."

"I am on the side that we should always expect the worst from Putin," warns Stanovaya. "If he feels that there is a threat to Russia's presence in Ukraine or an invasion of Russian territory, and I speak of Crimea, sacred to Putin, he is capable of using nuclear weapons," she believes. "Putin is prepared if plan A doesn't work. In fact, escalation is plan B."

In the opinion of the expert, the Kremlin controls for the moment the unrest over the attacks on its territory, although this may pose a problem if they continue and the defeat on the front is greater. Its propagandists insist on reducing Kiev, Odessa, Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities to ashes.

Kiev knows the risks of its counteroffensive. In an interview published by The Wall Street Journalon Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged that he has ordered 50 Patriot anti-aircraft systems to protect his cities during his attack. To understand the dimension of this shield, the sum of all of them is worth about 50,000 million dollars, about 10,000 more than the entire annual budget of the Russian Ministry of Defense before the war.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-06-04

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