Russia has accused Ukraine of attempting an overnight drone attack on the Kremlin with the aim of killing President Vladimir Putin, the most dramatic charge Moscow has levelled against Kyiv since its war on its neighbour began. The allegation was made on Wednesday by the Russian government and reported by several state news agencies.
Putin was not in the building at the time and there was no material damage to the Kremlin, Russian officials said, as they warned of their right to retaliate.
“The Kremlin has assessed these actions as a planned terrorist act and an assassination attempt on the president on the eve of Victory Day, the May 9 Parade,” state news outlet RIA reported, adding Putin had not changed his schedule and was working at his Novo Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied the accusations, saying his country had not attacked Moscow or its president.
“We don’t attack Putin, or Moscow; we fight on our territory,” Zelenskyy told a news conference in Helsinki. Senior Ukrainian presidential official Mykhailo Podolyak also told the Reuters news agency that Kyiv had nothing to do with the alleged incident.
In a tweet, he suggested Russia’s claims were a false flag, saying, “Russia is clearly preparing a large-scale terrorist attack”.
Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian defence analyst who served as a senior research officer in the Soviet Academy of Sciences, told Al Jazeera that if the Kremlin’s accusations were true, it would be difficult to “say which kind of drones were used”. “At nighttime, Putin doesn’t appear to be in the Kremlin. He goes there for working hours and doesn’t live there,” he added.
Felgenhauer said that in retaliation, it was possible that Russia could order its forces in Ukraine to attack the presidential offices in central Kyiv. Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Russian Duma and a Putin ally, called for “destroying the Kyiv regime”, adding:, “no negotiations can take place with the regime of Zelenskyy.”
Video appears to show attempted attack
Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian minister of internal affairs, said Russian partisans were likely to have been behind the alleged attack. “Information appeared that the drone on the Kremlin was launched by Russian partisans from Moscow region,” he wrote on Twitter. The Kremlin did not present any evidence from the reported incident, and its statements included few details.
An unverified video circulating on Russian social media showed pale smoke rising behind the main Kremlin Palace in the walled citadel after the purported incident. The video was posted in the early hours of Wednesday on a group for residents of a neighbourhood that faces the Kremlin across the Moskva River and picked up by Russian media, including the Telegram channel of the military news outlet Zvezda.
The alleged incident came as Ukrainian forces prepare for a counteroffensive they hope will liberate territory from Russian occupiers, more than a year after Putin ordered a full-scale invasion. Ukraine’s Zelenskyy is currently in Finland and plans to travel to Germany, as he calls for more military support from Kyiv’s Western allies.
A recent series of apparent attacks in Russia have served as a reminder that the country is exposed to enemy blows. They have hit as Moscow gears up for the May 9 celebrations, when Russia marks the Soviet victory over the Nazis in what has become a central event for Putin’s rule.
On Wednesday, dozens of firefighters were battling a huge fire that Russian authorities blamed on a Ukrainian drone crashing into an oil terminal on Russia’s side of the bridge it built to occupied Crimea. Meanwhile, an explosion caused a second freight train to derail in the Russian region of Bryansk bordering Ukraine.
Russia also accused Ukraine of attacks in December on an air base deep inside Russian territory that houses strategic bomber planes equipped to carry nuclear weapons. In February, a drone crashed in Kolomna, about 110km (70 miles) from the centre of Moscow.
Ukraine has typically declined to claim responsibility for attacks on Russia or Russian-annexed Crimea, but Kyiv officials have celebrated such assaults with cryptic or mocking remarks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the parade in Moscow was going ahead as expected with “no changes to the plans”, according to news agencies.
Also on Wednesday, Moscow’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced a ban on unauthorised drone flights over the Russian capital. Sobyanin did not cite a reason for the ban, saying only that it would prevent the “illegal use of drones that can hinder the work of law enforcement”.
A lawmaker who represents Crimea in Moscow, Mikhail Sheremet, told Russian state media that the Kremlin should order a missile attack on Zelenskyy’s residence in Kyiv in retaliation for Wednesday’s alleged incident.