President Vladimir Putin has always operated within the confines of a tight security bubble, which has become even tighter and more isolated during the coronavirus pandemic. The Kremlin’s sprawling Red Fort, which Russian officials claimed was the target of a Ukrainian drone attack on Wednesday, contains both the president’s official residence and main office, making it the heart of that bubble.
The agency responsible for protecting the president, the Federal Guard Service — known by its Russian initials FSO — rarely confirms Mr Putin’s whereabouts or discusses his movements. Sometimes it closes the vicinity of the Kremlin, in particular Red Square, to the public.
Over the past few years, drones have been banned from flying over the Kremlin and the surrounding area. Security officers deploy special devices to drop any device in the vicinity.
When the Russians claimed to have taken two Ukrainian drones over the Kremlin — around 2:30 a.m. local time Wednesday, according to videos reviewed by The New York Times — Putin was at a sprawling compound about 20 miles to the west, spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov told reporters. The complex is located in the elite suburb of Novo-Ogaryovo, along the Moskva River.
Putin frequently travels between the compound and the Kremlin in a long motorcade. Wealthy neighborhood residents quietly grumble that the FSO is closing the road to other traffic while the president is passing by.
Russian media reports indicated that since the start of the coronavirus crisis, Mr. Putin has spent more time at the compound or another rural area northeast of Moscow, near Lake Valdai.
While the vast expanses of the Kremlin contain the official presidential residence, they are more ceremonial than functional. Mr. Putin has only recently publicly mentioned the existence of a private apartment which he claims he uses frequently — an unusual case for his discussion of his living arrangements.
“I have an apartment here, where I’ve been spending a lot of time lately, I work, and I spend the nights a lot,” he told reporters when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow at the end of March.
His main office and apartment are in the Senate Palace, a yellow-domed structure that was visible in a video showing what appeared to be a drone exploding. The palace also contains Catherine Hall, a towering blue-and-white circular reception room where Mr. Putin holds ceremonies, such as handing out state awards, and the same dome covers the presidential library.
The Kremlin Castle houses many tourist attractions, such as the Museum of Tsarist Artifacts and Jewelry, and a medieval Russian Orthodox Church where some of the Tsars are buried. It is also the central workplace of the presidential administration, although Mr. Putin’s closest advisers spend time working near his desk. The rest is in an office building outside the Kremlin walls.
Even when Mr. Putin appears to be in the Kremlin, he may not actually be there, according to a former FSO captain who defected. The Russian president has set up identical offices at multiple locations, all furnished and decorated the same in every detail, including matching desks and wall hangings, according to the former captain, Gleb Karakolov. Official reports sometimes described him as being in one place when in fact he was in another, Mr. Karakulov told the London-based opposition news outlet, The Center for Filesin early April.
Security measures around the Kremlin can jam other people’s websites, too. Since the advent of GPS, the signal near the castle sometimes disappears or is teleported to an airport more than 20 miles from Moscow. It is known that taxi prices jump accordingly, as if the passenger flew to the airport, and not to the center of Moscow.
Ivan Nikiporenko Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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