May 31, 2023 - 5:00pm

While Russia has spent weeks bracing itself for Ukraine’s counteroffensive to be unleashed on the front line, it is now facing an escalation of violence on its own territory. 

This morning, drone attacks on oil refineries sparked fires in Russia’s Krasnodar region. Meanwhile, the governor of Belgorod reported that four people had been injured in a “massive strike” on the town of Shebekino, with several buildings also damaged. In recent days, he has repeatedly complained of Ukrainian shelling of the town. 

These are merely the latest assaults on Russia’s border regions. On 22nd May, two anti-Kremlin and pro-Ukraine partisan groups, the Liberty of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, launched a daring cross-border raid from Ukraine into Belgorod. While Russia claimed to have killed over 70 insurgents in quelling the assault, the leader of the Russian Volunteer Corps, Denis Kapustin, promised more attacks. Aside from bringing the war to Russia and causing disquiet among its domestic population, such incursions work in Ukraine’s favour by forcing the Kremlin to enhance its military presence in these areas, diverting men and resources away from the front line just before the crucial Ukrainian counteroffensive. 

Along with incursions on the border, in recent days there has been an intensification of violence deeper in the heart of Russia. Drone strikes in the capital are now increasing in terms of both the scale of the attacks and the boldness of the targets. 

Following a hit on the Kremlin on 3rd May, Russia claimed that at least eight drones caused minor damage and injured two people in residential areas of Moscow on Tuesday, the first time the city has been targeted by multiple drones since the start of the war. Three were downed over the prestigious Rublyovka suburb, home to numerous members of the political elite and even a residence belonging to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

For its part, Ukraine’s leadership has distanced itself from the attacks but done nothing to deny that this trend may develop further. Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said that, while his country “has nothing directly to do” with the drone assault on Moscow, it was “pleased to observe and predicts an increase in the number of attacks”. 

The Russian government has not taken the latest incident lightly. Attacks in the capital destroy Putin’s carefully cultivated aura of invincibility and make Russia’s defences appear weak. Having striven to shelter the Moscow elite from the impact of the war, not least by recruiting disproportionately in poorer and more rural areas, Putin is likely to be especially aggravated by any actions which force Muscovites to confront the reality of the war and so risk exacerbating elite opposition to the invasion. 

As such, it is unsurprising that the Russian President described the attacks as “a sign of terrorist activity” and made ominous nuclear threats, adding that that the perpetrators are “provoking us into responding in kind”. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry has asserted its “right to take the harshest measures in response” to the assault. 

Eager not to be left out, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, took to Telegram yesterday to respond to the Moscow drone attacks by threatening that “we will show what revenge is in the full sense of the word”. More specifically, he proposed the introduction of martial law in Russia, urged the country’s military to strike “at the places of accumulation of terrorist leaders until nothing remains” and claimed that Russia will “knock on the doors of Germany and Poland”. 

While Kadyrov’s threats may suffer from an excess of ambition, he has clearly understood that recent weeks have seen an unprecedented intensification of the conflict as Ukrainian-aligned forces take the fight to Russian soil. The war has escalated, but far from the front line.