Russia has lodged a serious accusation against Ukraine, claiming that an attempted drone attack was orchestrated by Kyiv overnight with the intention of assassinating President Vladimir Putin. This allegation, deemed highly significant, was officially announced by the Russian government on Wednesday, May 3, 2023, and subsequently reported by various state news agencies.
Fortunately, Putin was not present in the Kremlin during the incident, and Russian officials emphasised that no physical harm was inflicted on the building. However, they sternly cautioned about their right to retaliate in response to the alleged attack.
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According to the Kremlin, the attempted attack was successfully thwarted, and the drones supposedly involved were eliminated. Video footage circulating on social media captured a sudden burst of light and a plume of smoke in a specific area of the Kremlin, which serves as the official residence of the Russian president and stands as an iconic symbol of power in Moscow.
At 2:37 a.m. local time on Wednesday, a video circulated on a Telegram channel, displaying smoke rising from the Kremlin. However, the first official reports regarding the incident from the Kremlin were released around 2:33 p.m. local time, approximately 12 hours later. Following these initial reports, another video quickly gained traction on social media, seemingly capturing the moment a drone detonated above the Kremlin. The footage shows the drone approaching the domed roof of the building, followed by a small explosion.
In the second video, two individuals can be seen using flashlights while climbing the dome. They then crouch down just before the explosion occurs. Interestingly, these individuals are not present in the first video, indicating that they may have been responding to the fire caused by the initial drone when the subsequent drone appeared.
According to state news outlet RIA, the Kremlin has labelled the incident as a planned terrorist act and an assassination attempt on the president, particularly significant as it occurred on the eve of Victory Day, the May 9 Parade. Putin, however, continued with his schedule and was working at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow. Moscow has asserted its determination to proceed with the parade despite calls for a strong response against Ukraine.
The Investigative Committee of Russia, responsible for investigating major crimes, announced the initiation of a criminal case on terrorism. Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian minister of internal affairs, suggested that Russian partisans were likely behind the alleged attack, stating on Twitter that there was information indicating the drone used at the Kremlin originated from the Moscow region.
The Kremlin has not provided any substantiated evidence regarding the reported incident, and their statements have been lacking in specific details. A video of uncertain authenticity has circulated on Russian social media, showing faint smoke rising behind the primary Kremlin Palace located within the fortified citadel, purportedly captured after the incident. This video was initially shared on a platform used by residents residing in a neighborhood facing the Kremlin across the Moskva River, eventually attracting the attention of Russian media outlets, including the military news channel Zvezda’s Telegram channel.
In the midst of Ukrainian forces preparing for a counteroffensive to reclaim territory from Russian occupiers, an alleged incident occurred, further highlighting Russia’s vulnerability to enemy strikes. These incidents coincide with the upcoming May 9 celebrations, a significant event marking the Soviet victory over the Nazis, which holds great importance in Putin’s regime.
Russia has also accused Ukraine of attacking an air base deep within its territory in December, housing strategic bomber planes capable of carrying nuclear weapons. In February, a drone crash occurred in Kolomna, located approximately 110km from Moscow’s centre.
Despite these developments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov affirmed that the parade in Moscow would proceed as planned, with no changes to the original arrangements. However, Moscow’s Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced a ban on unauthorized drone flights over the Russian capital, without providing a specific reason, mentioning only the prevention of “illegal use of drones that can hinder the work of law enforcement.”
Mikhail Sheremet, a lawmaker representing Crimea in Moscow, suggested retaliatory action by ordering a missile strike on Ukrainian President Zelenskyy’s residence in Kyiv in response to the alleged incident on Wednesday.
The blame game
On Thursday, Russia accused the United States of orchestrating a drone attack on the Kremlin, allegedly targeting President Vladimir Putin. Concurrently, Russian forces continued to launch combat drones at Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during a visit to the International Court of Justice (ICC) in The Hague, emphasized the need to hold Putin accountable for the war and expressed Ukraine’s intention to establish a new tribunal for this purpose. Zelenskyy clarified that Ukraine’s actions were focused on defending its own territory, rather than targeting Putin or Moscow.
A senior Ukrainian presidential official, Mykhailo Podolyak, denied any involvement in the alleged incident and suggested that Russia’s claims were part of a false flag operation, stating that “Russia is clearly preparing a large-scale terrorist attack.”
In response, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, although providing no evidence, accused Ukraine of carrying out the drone attack based on orders from the United States. The White House’s national security spokesman, John Kirby, dismissed Peskov’s claims as falsehoods, asserting that the United States neither encouraged nor facilitated Ukraine to conduct attacks beyond its borders. Kirby also stated that the exact details of the incident at the Kremlin remained unclear.
Peskov countered by asserting that attempts by Kyiv and Washington to distance themselves from the attack were absurd, claiming that decisions regarding such actions and terrorist attacks were made in Washington, not Kyiv.
Following the alleged drone attack on the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for President Putin, stated that an urgent investigation was underway. He emphasized that any response to the incident would be carefully considered and balanced.
Russia’s foreign ministry, in a separate statement, asserted that the alleged drone attack should not go unanswered. They claimed that it demonstrated Kyiv’s lack of willingness to seek a resolution to the 15-month-old war through diplomatic negotiations.
Accusing the United States of direct involvement in the conflict, Russia has claimed that Washington aims to strategically defeat Moscow. However, the U.S. denies these allegations, stating that its support for Kyiv is solely for self-defense and the restoration of Ukrainian territories unlawfully occupied by Russia.
Russia also accused Ukraine of previous attacks, including one in December on an airbase located deep within Russian territory. The base houses strategic bomber planes capable of carrying nuclear weapons. In February, a drone crash occurred in Kolomna, approximately 110km (70 miles) from Moscow’s centre.
While Ukraine typically refrains from claiming responsibility for attacks on Russia or Russian-annexed Crimea, Kyiv officials have sometimes responded to such incidents with cryptic or mocking remarks.
What could be possible after effect?
Moscow recently launched a series of missiles at Kyiv following a specific incident, which aligns with its historical pattern of behaviour during previous flashpoints in the on-going war. The Ukrainian military has reported that messages, reading “for Moscow” and “for the Kremlin,” were discovered on Russian drones deployed in Odesa overnight, strongly suggesting a connection to the alleged attack.
Both US and Ukrainian officials have previously cautioned about Russia’s potential use of “false flag” attacks along the Russian-Ukrainian border as a pretext for military escalation, as evidenced by previous Russian claims of Ukraine sending “saboteurs” across the border prior to last year’s full-scale invasion.
Recent symbolic incidents, including the controversial sinking of the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, have also placed Russia in an embarrassing position. Despite these events, Moscow intends to proceed with its planned Victory Day parade as a means to showcase its strength. However, the ground fighting in eastern Ukraine has been locked in a stalemate for several months, making it unlikely that Wednesday’s incident will significantly alter the current momentum.
Certain Russian officials have already called for decisive action in response to the incident, as an assassination attempt against the president would be an exceedingly grave matter. Although Russian military leaders have frequently warned of stern reprisals for strikes on Russian territory, it remains uncertain whether this incident will lead to a notable escalation in the on-going conflict.