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Russia Fires Drones and Missiles at Kyiv After Kremlin Explosion

The Kremlin complex sits in the center of Moscow, and contains the Russian president’s official residence and main office.Credit…Yuri Kochetkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Vladimir V. Putin has long operated within the confines of a tight security bubble, which became even tighter and more isolating during the coronavirus pandemic. The sprawling red fortress of the Kremlin, which Russian officials claimed was the target of a Ukrainian drone attack on Wednesday, contains both the president’s official residence and his 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, F.S.O. — rarely confirms Mr. Putin’s whereabouts or discusses his movements. It sometimes closes areas adjacent to the Kremlin, particularly 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 down any in the vicinity.

When the Russians claimed to take out two Ukrainian drones above the Kremlin — around 2:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday, according to videos reviewed by The New York Times — Mr. Putin was at a sprawling compound about 20 miles to the west, his spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters. The compound is in the elite suburb of Novo-Ogaryovo, along the Moscow River.

Mr. Putin travels frequently between the compound and the Kremlin in a lengthy motorcade. The rich residents of nearby compounds grumble quietly that the F.S.O. closes the road to other traffic while the president is in transit.

Russian news media reports have suggested that, since the start of the coronavirus crisis, Mr. Putin has spent more time at the compound or at another rural spread northeast of Moscow, near Lake Valdai.

President Vladimir V. Putin’s motorcade approaching the Kremlin in March.Credit…Natalia Kolesnikova/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

While the vast grounds of the Kremlin contain the official presidential residence, it is more ceremonial than practical. Only recently did Mr. Putin publicly mention the existence of a private apartment that he claimed to use frequently — an unusual instance of him discussing his living arrangements.

“I have an apartment here, where I have been spending a lot of time lately, working, spending nights very often,” he told reporters when President Xi Jinping of China visited Moscow at the end of March.

Both his main office and his apartment are in the Senate Palace, a yellow domed structure that was visible in video footage showing what appears to be a drone exploding. The palace also contains Catherine Hall, a soaring blue and white circular reception room where Mr. Putin holds ceremonies, such as handing out state awards, and the dome itself covers the presidential library.

The Kremlin fortress holds various tourist attractions, like a museum of czarist artifacts and jewels, and a medieval Russian Orthodox church where some czars are interred. It is also the central working venue of the presidential administration, although only the closest advisers to Mr. Putin spend time working near his office. The rest are 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 F.S.O. captain who defected. The Russian president has established identical offices in multiple locations, all furnished and decorated the same in every detail, including matching desks and wall hangings, according to the former captain, Gleb Karakulov. Official reports have sometimes described him as being in one place when he was actually somewhere else, Mr. Karakulov told a London-based opposition news outlet, the Dossier Center, in early April.

The security measures around the Kremlin can obfuscate others’ locations, too. Since the advent of GPS tracking, the signal in the vicinity of the fortress sometimes disappears or is teleported to an airport more than 20 miles outside Moscow. Taxi fares have been known to jump accordingly, as if the passenger traveled to the airport, not central Moscow.

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

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