Russian Air Defenses Stretched Thin as Putin Defends Prized Palace: Report

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Russia’s air defenses in the city of St. Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad region are stretched thin as President Vladimir Putin has pulled the majority of his resources to defend his prized residence at Lake Valdai, a Russian Telegram channel reported.

The VChK-OGPU outlet, which purports to have inside information from Russian security forces, said on Sunday that, according to its source, recent drone attacks on St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region are due to an “acute shortage of technical means for detecting small air targets and mobile air defense missile systems capable of shooting them down.”

Russia’s Pantsir-S1 air-defense systems “were deployed to protect a ‘particularly important’ facility in Valdai,” the Telegram channel said.

A Russian Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft defense system on December 16, 2015. Russia’s air defenses in the city of St. Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad region are reportedly stretched thin.
PAUL GYPTEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine launched a drone attack on January 18 on a St. Petersburg oil terminal. It marked the first time a drone had targeted Putin’s home region, Leningrad, since the full-scale war in Ukraine began. One of the drones launched in that attack flew over Putin’s Valdai residence, RBC Ukraine reported, citing a source in the special services.

Putin’s residence in Valdai is located in between Russia’s Tver and Novgorod regions, some 250 miles away from the Kremlin.

“After the start of the war, almost all of the Pantsirs were sent to protect a ‘strategically important’ facility in Valdai, where the residence of the President of the Russian Federation is located, some went to the combat zone and one complex was ‘lost’ in 2023, due to an accident in the Leningrad region,” the VChK-OGPU outlet said.

Newsweek couldn’t independently verify the report and has contacted Russia’s defense ministry for comment by email.

Agentstvo, an independent Russian-language investigative media outlet, reported in January 2023 that a Pantsir-S1 air-defense system was placed close to the residence following drone attacks inside Russian territory. It described the home as “a place of personal leisure for Putin, his relatives and friends.”

Newsweek was told by self-exiled former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man before he fell foul of Putin, that in July 2023, the Russian president fled Moscow to his Valdai residence during a mutiny led by the now-dissolved Wagner Group.

Another Ukrainian drone attack near the city of St. Petersburg overnight on Sunday struck a major gas export terminal—the Ust-Luga—causing a huge fire. Ukraine’s Security Service claimed responsibility for that attack, the Kyiv Post reported.

“The successful assault on this terminal not only inflicts substantial economic harm on the enemy, disrupting their revenue streams for the war in Ukraine, but also disrupts the logistical chain of fuel essential to the Russian military,” a source told the publication.

“This move strategically hampers the occupiers’ ability to sustain their forces, marking a significant setback in their ongoing aggression,” it added.

The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, in its latest analysis of the conflict in Ukraine said that Moscow is “reforming the Leningrad Military District with the expressed intent to prepare for a potential future conventional war against NATO and may be arranging military assets in a way to posture along the border with NATO members.”

Ukrainian strikes in the region may prompt Russian forces to reposition short-range air defense systems along the expected flight routes of Ukrainian drones to defend potential targets of strategic value, the think tank said.

“Russian forces using short-range systems such as the Pantsir may not be able to cover all important potential targets in Leningrad Oblast without bringing additional systems into the area, and continued Ukrainian strikes in deep rear areas in Russia may thus increase pressure on Russia’s air defenses overall,” the ISW added.

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