Russia Sees Drone Strike on the Kremlin as Ukrainian Attempt at Putin

One problem: The Russian strongman was working from his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow.

A view of the Kremlin at Moscow, May 3, 2023. AP

Considering the setting — the floodlit fortress of the Kremlin by night — a drone attack that Moscow promptly blamed on Ukraine seemed almost cinematic, but in reality and though apparently no damage was caused, it upped the ante in a multipronged war more than a year after Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

Russian authorities accused Ukraine of attempting to assassinate President Putin with twin drone strikes, though video footage shows only what appears to be a single drone grazing a Russian flag atop a domed rooftop, causing a small explosion. 

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Mr. Putin was not at the Kremlin at the time of the attack, which occurred around 2:30 in the morning. Mr. Peskov told the state-backed RIA Novosti news agency that the Russian president was working from his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow. 

The attack occurred just a week before Russia’s annual Victory Day on May 9. That is when Russia celebrates the Soviet victory in World War II, generally with a large military parade on Red Square.

While the Kremlin in a statement said Russian security forces had “disabled” the drones before they actually struck, whether that is accurate could not be independently confirmed. According to the Kremlin’s website, debris from the drones was dispersed over a portion of the grounds of the Kremlin, which is the seat of the Russian government.

An aide to President Zelensky said, “We have no information about the so-called night attacks on the Kremlin,” but Moscow wasn’t buying that, instead categorizing the incident as “a planned terrorist act and an attempt on the life of the President of the Russian Federation.” The Kremlin also said that Russia retains the right “to take retaliatory measures where and when it sees fit.”

Another adviser to Mr. Zelensky, Mykhailo Podolyak, was cryptic, declaring on social media that “as for the drones over the Kremlin. It’s all predictable….”

That much is true. From Russian-occupied Crimea to the Russian regions of Belgorod, Bryansk, and beyond, there has been an uptick in cross-border counterstrikes against Russian targets in recent months, often involving drones. Ukraine typically denies involvement in attacks that occur within the borders of Russia, but with the attack on the very symbol of Russian power risks pushing that policy of strategic ambiguity to the brink. 

Washington has been cool on Ukraine’s alleged counterstrikes beyond the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine itself. Last week the Washington Post reported that Ukraine called off “mass strikes” inside Russia, Moscow included, at Washington’s request. 

Those strikes were to have been timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion. The newspaper reported that according to a CIA report the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, “agreed, at Washington’s request, to postpone strikes.”

According to some reports, Mr. Zelensky had to intervene to rein in Mr. Budanov. London’s Spectator cited an unnamed senior American official who said the 37-year-old Mr. Budanov “at times seems more interested in hurting Russia than winning the war.”

In any case, “postponing” strikes is not at all the same thing as calling them off indefinitely. 

The Sun reached out to the Department of State for clarification and reaction to reports of the strikes on the Kremlin but by the end of the business day in Europe had not received a reply. 

As robust as President Biden has been in giving financial and materiel support to Ukraine, there is little doubt that Washington has tried to restrain the country from taking actions deemed by some as too escalatory for comfort. The concern factors into everything from not giving Ukraine certain kinds of  long-range weapons to, reportedly, warnings that Kyiv should not undertake attacks like the one in which the daughter of a Russian imperialist ideologue, Alexander Dugin, was assassinated last August. 

A former British prime minister, Boris Johnson, has nevertheless advocated for giving Ukraine more powerful weapons, but at London too there are countervailing currents. The British ministry of defense has previously stated that a direct strike against Russia in occupied Crimea would be construed by Mr. Putin as a “direct threat” that would make him “probably respond with everything he’s not dared use yet.”

This all raises the question: Is a strike by a drone, which is after all an unmanned electronic contraption and not a fighter jet, a direct attack or a distraction? It might depend on the kind of drone

It also might depend on where exactly a drone strikes. This time it was no random oil depot, but the dead center of Moscow. For Vladimir Putin, a pair of drones reaching the Kremlin, even if the damage was light, has got to be hitting pretty close to home. 

The New York Sun

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