Russia accuses Ukraine of attempt to kill Putin with drones

Officials in Moscow rage after alleged Ukrainian attack on the Kremlin, but Kyiv denies responsibility.

A still image taken from video shows a flying object exploding in an intense burst of light near the dome of the Kremlin Senate building during the alleged Ukrainian drone attack in Moscow, Russia, in this image taken from video obtained by Reuters May 3, 2023. Ostorozhno Novosti/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT.

A still image taken from a video that apparently shows a flying object exploding in an intense burst of light near the dome of the Kremlin Senate building [Ostorozhno Novosti/Handout via Reuters]

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 the 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 that Putin had not changed his schedule and was working at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow.

Moscow has vowed the parade will go ahead, amid calls for a tough reaction against Ukraine.

Ex-President Dmitry Medvedev called for the “elimination” of Zelenskyy. “We will demand the use of weapons capable of stopping and destroying the Kyiv terrorist regime,” said Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Russian Duma and Putin ally.

The Investigative Committee of Russia, which probes major crimes, said in a statement it had opened a “criminal case on terrorism.”

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, Finland. “We defend our villages and cities.”

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.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced doubt about the allegations. “I’ve seen the reports. I cannot validate them, we simply don’t know,” he said at an event in Washington, DC. “I would take anything coming out of the Kremlin with a very large shaker of salt.”

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.

Volodin 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 platform for residents of a neighbourhood that faces the Kremlin across the Moskva River. It was 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.

Sabotage attacks

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.

A general view shows the Kremlin in Moscow
The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia [File: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies