Despite heavy defeats in Ukraine and counter-attacks with drones on Russian military bases, Kremlin chief Putin is undeterred in his belligerence. Once again he compares himself to a tsar and underlines supposed successes. Before Hero’s Day on Friday, the Kremlin already has sparkling wine.

In his war against Ukraine, Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin is now clearly swearing in the Russians to a possibly “long process”. Almost every day, the 70-year-old has to accept that counterattacks from the Ukrainian side with drones or other weapons are now hitting the infrastructure that is important in Russia for the military and energy supply. But despite a few failures, Putin is celebrating with champagne in the Kremlin on Thursday – and smiling away at the setbacks.

The images of fires and clouds of smoke, which could be seen again on Thursday in Belgorod near the Ukraine border, are considered devastating for the Kremlin’s image of Russia’s inviolability.

Military experts stress that after its attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, Russia apparently no longer has a monopoly on such destruction. Ukraine is now doing the same thing – and is thus also tying up attack potential in Russia, they say. Explosions and impacts occur not only in the Russian regions of Kursk, Bryansk and Belgorod, which border Ukraine, or on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea annexed by Moscow. The attacks have now reached hundreds of kilometers into Russian territory.

Only on Monday were two Russian military airfields attacked by drones, one in the town of Engels in the southern Russian region of Saratov and one in central Russia’s Ryazan near Moscow. Strategic bombers used in past missile attacks on Ukraine are stationed in Saratov. The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that Soviet-made Tu-141 “Strisch” (German: Segler) drones were used for the strikes – with a range of up to 600 kilometers.

As is so often the case, Ukraine does not admit to these attacks, but at most hints at involvement through malicious comments. “Let it burn,” wrote the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Andriy Yermak. The signal from Kyiv: nothing in Russia should be safe anymore.

The attack deep in the Russian hinterland does not come as a complete surprise. The prototype of a combat drone called Sokil-300 (German: Falke-300) was presented by the Kiev development office Lutsch in 2020. In October, the state-owned armaments company Ukroboronprom announced that it would soon be producing combat drones with a range of 1,000 kilometers and a payload of 75 kilograms.

“I very much hope that before the new year we can surprise the enemy a lot,” Ukroboronprom manager Oleh Boldyriev told Ukrainian television’s Unified News program at the time. “We have no advantage in artillery and I’m afraid we never will have one,” said the armaments expert. Hence the concentration on armed drones with a long range. This would also enable the capital Moscow, about 600 kilometers away, to be reached.

Ukraine has long been demanding longer-range offensive weapons from the United States and other NATO countries in order to push back Russian troops. The West is hesitating, also because it wants to prevent the war from escalating further through attacks on Russia. Last but not least, Moscow has repeatedly warned of such a new dimension in the war. But it is also clear that Russia has so far had little to counter the Ukrainian attacks.

Commentators critical of the Kremlin have also long been surprised that Putin hasn’t taken the attacks as an opportunity to hit back even harder. The attacks are seen as a shame, especially for the air surveillance and anti-aircraft defense of the proud nuclear power.

Of course, Putin has repeatedly complained about strikes against Russian territory and used them as a pretext for rocket attacks in Ukraine. However, he has still not set in motion the army of millions, from the army to the national guard to the combat troops of the Ministry of the Interior. Rather, he just emphasized again that there should be no further mobilization of reservists.

However, Putin relies on his confidant, the businessman Yevgeny Prigoschin, who, with his paramilitary group “Wagner”, lets volunteers and prisoners fight in Ukraine. Ahead of Heroes of the Fatherland Day, which is celebrated on Friday, Putin celebrated with champagne in the Kremlin on Thursday that Russia is continuing its fight despite the “noise in the West” about the war.

The day before, at a meeting with officials, the President smiled away the many failures of the invasion. Russia has grown by new areas, he said, referring to the annexed Ukrainian regions. “This is an important result for Russia.” And he once again drew parallels between himself and Tsar Peter the Great, who was still fighting for access to the Sea of ​​Azov. Putin now proudly said that under him it had now become a Russian inland sea.

Kremlin critics commented that Putin had made it abundantly clear that his war was about land grabs and empire restoration. They published video clips on social networks of Putin’s statements, who said at the beginning of the war that Russia would not occupy Ukrainian territories. One of many lies, as has been widely emphasized.

But Putin’s violent annexations are well received by Russia’s pro-Kremlin military bloggers and ultra-nationalists. They not only praise the latest personnel decisions in the army and the advance in individual parts of the Donbass, but also – like Western experts – see the winter primarily as an opportunity for Russia to reposition itself and to produce missiles and ammunition. Accordingly, there could be a new major offensive in the spring.