Russia closes Moscow's Red Square on New Year's Eve for first time, amid security concerns

People crossing Red Square, with the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower (right) and St. Basil's Cathedral in the background.
People crossing Red Square, with the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower (right) and St. Basil's Cathedral in the background.PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - Moscow's Red Square, traditionally a place where people gather to ring in the New Year, will be closed to revellers on Dec 31, the city authorities said on Monday (Dec 28), amid mounting security concerns.

This year, the police will turn back everyone showing up at the square for the countdown to midnight sounded by the chimes on the Kremlin's tower clock, Moscow security chief Alexei Mayorov was quoted as saying on city hall's website.

The official reason given for the unprecedented closure of the square, one of Russia's top tourist attractions, was the filming of a live concert for state-run Channel One television that only a select audience will be allowed to attend.

Mr Mayorov said the police would tell anyone else that wants to join in "that Red Square is closed for an event and that there are a lot of other places around where people can have a wonderful time".

 
 

Speaking to Kommersant radio former lawmaker Alexander Klyukin said the surprise move was "the same as closing off Times Square in New York".

Moscow has introduced a raft of tighter security measures since the terror attacks in Paris in November.

The attacks added to the nervousness caused by the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt's Sinai in late October, killing 224 people in what Moscow says was an act of terror.

"It's not a secret that Moscow is a desired target for an attack by international terrorists," Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said earlier this month.

Metal detectors manned by security guards have been installed at the entrances to shopping centres and parking lot attendants have been given permission to check the trunks of suspicious vehicles.

In other measures, Russia's main television tower Ostankino was sealed off with barbed wire this month, additional CCTV cameras have been installed in pedestrian areas of Moscow and the police now patrol metro stations with sniffer dogs.