An apparent drone attack on the Kremlin this week has sparked fears of an escalation in Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine.
On Wednesday night, two remotely-operated devices flew towards the domed roof of the Kremlin before being shot down by Russian air defences, exploding but harming no one.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
After the incident, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin declared that flying drones by private citizens was now banned in Moscow.
Russia said the United States masterminded the attack, claiming Ukraine carried it out.
Washington and Kyiv have denied responsibility, insisting that Ukraine’s war efforts are purely defensive.
According to the Ukrainians, it was either the work of Russians opposed to the government of President Vladimir Putin – “local resistance forces” – or it could have been a false-flag operation staged by Moscow.
But the Kremlin and its supporters are adamant a “terrorist attack” has been attempted, aimed at assassinating President Vladimir Putin.
“Attempts to disown this, both in Kyiv and in Washington, are, of course, absolutely ridiculous. We know very well that decisions about such actions, about such terrorist attacks, are made not in Kyiv but in Washington,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
Although Putin was not in the Kremlin at the time, Peskov boasted that “in such difficult, extreme situations, the president always remains calm, collected, clear in his assessments”.
“It is primarily the creators and curators of the Kyiv regime in Washington, London and NATO in general who are to be held accountable for Kyiv’s actions,” Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “They were the ones who destroyed Ukraine’s legitimate government, placed opportunists and thugs at the helm, gave them money and weapons, as well as a feeling of all-permissiveness and impunity, plus a political cover-up and military support.”
It is worth noting that according to reports in Western media, US officials have been unhappy at attacks carried out within Russia itself.
Security expert Mark Galeotti, writing in The Spectator last month, said it is “clear that the West – or at least the United States – is working hard to try and restrain the Ukrainians from actions that risk escalation, but not always with full success”.
Calls for response grow
Former President Dmitry Medvedev, who cultivated an image of a liberal reformer during his time in power from 2008 to 2012 but now exhibits hawkish tendencies, suggested that Russia assassinate President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as payback.
“After today’s terrorist attack, there are no options left other than the physical elimination of Zelenskyy and his clique,” he wrote on Telegram.
Calls for reprisal were echoed on Russian TV screens.
On his show Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, which airs on the state-owned channel Russia-1, the eponymous pro-Kremlin host mused about terminating the Black Sea grain deal, an agreement to allow Ukraine to continue safely shipping grain through Turkey, as well as killing Zelenskyy, who was in Finland lobbying for more Western military support at the time of the alleged attack.
“What’s important is not that the Kyiv regime is a terrorist regime and should be recognised as such,” Solovyov told his audience and the panel.
“There can be no negotiations with this regime, in my opinion, including the grain deal. After today, there can be no negotiations in any format with this leadership…. International terrorist Zelenskyy ran off to Finland. He knew what was in the works.
“That’s why he ran off to Finland, so there wouldn’t be an immediate retaliatory strike. He is so scared, he is such a pathetic coward, that he decided to stay there longer … Zelenskyy would go to Germany for sure in order not to go to Ukraine, because he thinks we won’t whack him in Germany. He believes we won’t whack him in Finland. He couldn’t care less about what happens to Kyiv. A cowardly, nasty, lying beast.”
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of state-run news channel RT, dismissed Ukraine’s claims of a false flag, tweeting to her 545,000 followers that had the incident been “a cunning plan by Moscow” then “the situation would now look completely different”.
Among liberals who are outspoken against the war and Putin, few believed it was an actual assassination attempt and many were also sceptical about the false-flag theory.
Speaking to the Latvia-based news site Meduza, political scientist Kirill Shamiev said the drone attack may be part of the “formative phase” of Ukraine’s long-promised counteroffensive, aimed at destabilising the political situation in Russia and drawing resources, such as air defences, further away from the front line and towards Moscow.
He noted that drones have also been used to take out Russian fuel depots and other targets of military importance.
Kirill also questioned why, given public anxiety about the war, the Russian high command would greenlight a false-flag operation that would make them feel less safe.
For their part, Ukrainian officials have denied responsibility for any wartime attacks in Russia, though they often make mocking statements when the invading country appears vulnerable.
Yulia Latynina, a columnist for Novaya Gazeta, a once-independent Russian newspaper now operating from exile in Europe, said suggestions of an assassination attempt were “ludicrous”.
“Is a drone crashing into the dome of the Grand Kremlin Palace an attempt on Putin? Did Putin spend the night there, under the dome?” she asked.
Next Tuesday, Russia will mark its World War II victory with a parade through the neighbouring Red Square, which Peskov said would go ahead as planned with tightened security. The public event holds huge significance for Putin’s Russia.
“War, as has been known since the time of Sun Tzu, is a path of deceit, and on the eve of an offensive, this is most true,” Latynina wrote.