When it comes to the Russian reaction to the drone attack on Moscow, there must now be an understanding in the Kremlin that if you dish it out, you are going to have to take it. Russia’s regular bombardments of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities are now being met with counter-punches in Russia’s capital city.
For Muscovites, after 15 months of Vladimir Putin’s war rhetoric and assurances that his “special military operation” wouldn’t affect them, this is a decidedly different phase.
For Kyivans, by contrast, it is a welcome new element. They now know they can play offence, not just defence. While Moscow still has considerable ammunition at its disposal – it is not a level playing field between the two nations in that regard, even with Western backing – this will boost Ukrainian morale and sap that of Russia, accordingly.
Moscow will scream many a hypocrisy: murder, terrorism, call for revenge. But its bark is always worse than its bite. They can’t do worse than they are doing now without “going nuclear” and that would be disastrous for everyone.
Putin still tries to talk a good game and his Defence Ministry has threatened the “harshest possible measures” in retaliation. But Russia has long been comfortable in its museum of contradictory truths, even as the consequences of the invasion are being felt at home.
Little has gone to plan for Russia so far. The original one was for this to be all over within days. Then weeks or months. Then to freeze out Ukraine by destroying its infrastructure over winter. And now its own offensive has not achieved any significant gain. They can do little but sit and wait for Kyiv’s counteroffensive.
Russian families have seen their loved ones conscripted, they are worse off financially due to the squeeze on the Russian economy – and the need to put the government’s resources and reserves into the war effort – and now they are facing Ukrainian drone attacks.
The just-about-still-available social media cuts both ways in Russia. It is exploited by the Russian state of course, but it shows up the embarrassments too.
The Russian population fall into three segments: hardline nationalists who fully buy into the “righteousness” of Russia’s war – about 20 per cent. There is a much smaller percentage at the other end of the spectrum who correctly understand their own homeland is the villain. And there is a vast swathe of Russians between these two points: the agnostic, the ambivalent and the indifferent. They probably never really wanted war; but now that they’re in it – and under direct attack – they’d largely prefer their own nation to win it.
The latest attacks in Moscow are unlikely to push significant numbers of this majority into either of the other two camps. But at least they intuitively grasp that their country is in a compromised position.
But there is a medium-term problem for Russia too. The size of the financial pie Putin can spend on his citizens’ welfare is getting smaller as the war drags on. Sizable chunks are being taken out of Russia, militarily and financially. On balance, Russia’s supplies are being used up faster than new munitions can be produced.
The latest drone attacks on Moscow come as a shock to many, but it is also a sign for the city’s residents – and the nation at large – that things are not going “their way”. Insult is added to injury.
Ukraine is still making all the smarter plays.