Remains of Russian missiles and drones, launched into Ukraine, in Kyiv on May 12, 2023.

Remains of Russian missiles and drones, launched into Ukraine, in Kyiv on May 12, 2023. (Kyiv City State Administration)

RIGA, Latvia — Millions of Russians got a notification on Wednesday from the country’s main government portal inviting them to download an app to report incoming drone attacks and other security incidents, which have become a nearly daily occurrence as the Kremlin presses on with its nearly 20-month invasion of Ukraine.

“Help in the fight against dangerous drones! The Radar app can be used to report suspicious drones or other terrorist emergencies,” the notification said. “You can help avoid the consequences of possible attacks.”

A similar app has operated in Ukraine for nearly a year, with residents aiding the country’s forces in tracing and preventing Russian drone and missile attacks that have devastated Ukrainian cities for months. This year, Ukrainian forces have grown more brazen in striking Russian territory.

The attacks have left six Russian border regions deeply unsettled and have even penetrated Moscow’s defenses hundreds of miles from the border. And now, they seem to have prompted pro-invasion activists to mimic wartime Ukraine’s technological know-how.

The Ukrainian app, called ePPO, which stands for “electronic air defense,” relies on a phone’s GPS and compass. To report a sighting, a user needs to point their device toward an incoming object and press a big red button - instantly alerting the military of its location.

Radar’s interface is almost exactly the same as that of ePPO. A user needs to point their phone toward an object, pick “drone,” “missile,” “explosion,” “diversion group” or “unknown,” and click send.

“All messages are immediately transmitted to the responsible government officials for processing,” according to Radar’s official description. “Citizens’ help in detecting aircraft is extremely important: the enemy’s weapons will be destroyed in a timely manner.”

The developers warn users before downloading that they are agreeing not to violate the law on “knowingly false denunciations of a crime,” which is itself a crime. The warning seems to anticipate the possibility of fake reports that could strain Russia’s military.

The Radar app was developed by activists with the All-Russia People’s Front, an organization created by President Vladimir Putin as an auxiliary to the governing United Russia political party.

Radar is available for Android users on Google Play and RuStore, a government-developed app marketplace, but not on the App Store, where applications must go through the Apple review process to be published. Instead, the organization developed a bot on the Telegram messaging app called Cyber Squad where iPhone users can send reports.

The Radar app was officially presented in mid-August with a relatively modest rollout. The developers said it was downloaded more than 50,000 times in the month since, and incoming reports helped Russia take down two drones over the Bryansk region that has seen a high concentration of shelling and strikes by unpiloted aerial vehicles, or UAVs, throughout the war.

“However, this is still not enough,” app developer Mikhail Kamyshev told state-run news agency Tass. “To protect our skies and create a dense network of rapid response to enemy UAVs, we need many more users. I urge all concerned Russians to install this application and take part in protecting the peaceful skies over our country.”

In late August, Russia came under one of the biggest drone assaults since the start of the invasion, with six regions affected, including Moscow. Several military transport planes were damaged in the city of Pskov, a few dozen miles from the border with Estonia.

Following the airport attacks, Mikhail Vedernikov, governor of Pskov, warned residents that “it’s difficult to predict the targets of attacks.” Vedernikov issued guidelines on what to do in case of a strike.

“No one can now guarantee that something won’t fly into a certain territory, be it Africa, the Arctic or Russia, this doesn’t matter - this is how the world works,” he said in a video address. “The Pskov region, unfortunately, is no exception and we also can’t exclude the activities of various diversion groups; this is the reality of today’s life.”

Vedernikov’s pessimistic tone in the address was a notable departure from the Kremlin’s assurances that the war, which it calls a “special military operation” would not disrupt the ordinary life of the country. Throughout Western Russia, residents have complained repeatedly about incessant drone strikes and mysterious fires and explosions.

On Sunday, Russian military officials said they prevented a coordinated Ukrainian attack in occupied Crimea, which the Kremlin invaded and illegally annexed in 2014. Officials said air defense systems shot down at least six drones targeting Crimea from different directions. Local officials said two drones targeted the Moscow region on the same day, disrupting air traffic in the capital with at least 30 flights delayed and several canceled.

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