President Vladimir V. Putin has long operated within a tight security bubble, which became even tighter and more isolating during the coronavirus pandemic. The sprawling Red Fortress in the Kremlin, which Russian officials claimed was the target of a Ukrainian drone strike on Wednesday, contains both the president’s official residence and his headquarters, making it the heart of this 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. It sometimes closes areas adjacent to the Kremlin, especially Red Square, to the public.
In the past few years, drones have been banned from flying over the Kremlin and its surroundings. Security officers deploy special devices to subdue anyone nearby.
When the Russians claimed to take down two Ukrainian drones over the Kremlin — around 2:30 a.m. local time Wednesday, according to videos reported by The New York Times — Mr. Putin was in a sprawling area about 20 miles to the west, his spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters. The compound is located in the elite suburb of Novo-Ogaryovo along the Moscow River.
Mr. Putin often travels between the building and the Kremlin in a long motorcade. The wealthy residents in nearby compounds quietly complain that the FSO closes the road to other traffic while the president is in transit.
Russian news media have suggested that since the start of the corona crisis, Mr Putin has been spending more time at the property or in another rural spread north-east of Moscow, near Lake Valdai.
While the Kremlin’s vast grounds contain the official presidential residence, it is more ceremonial than practical. Only recently did Mr Putin publicly mention the existence of a private apartment, which he claimed to use frequently – an unusual example of him discussing his living conditions.
“I have an apartment here where I have spent a lot of time lately, worked, stayed overnight very often,” he told reporters when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow in late 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 the presentation of state awards, and the dome itself covers the presidential library.
The Kremlin fortress houses various tourist attractions, such as a museum of tsarist artifacts and jewels and a medieval Russian Orthodox church where some tsars are buried. It is also the central meeting place for 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 be there, according to a former FSO captain who defected. The Russian president has established identical offices in several locations, all furnished and decorated alike in every detail, including matching desks and wall coverings, according to the former captain, Gleb Karakulov. Official reports have sometimes described him as being in one place when he was actually in another, Mr. Karakulov told a London-based opposition media outlet, the Dossier Center, in early April.
The security measures around the Kremlin can also obscure the locations of others. Since the advent of GPS tracking, the signal near the fortress sometimes disappears or is teleported to an airport more than 20 miles outside of Moscow. Taxi fares have been known to jump accordingly as if the passenger was traveling to the airport, not central Moscow.
Ivan Nechepurenko contributed with reporting.