Russia has alleged a drone attack on the Kremlin, but Kyiv denies involvement. Here’s what we know
The tight ring of security that surrounds the seat of the Russian presidency was punctured in dramatic fashion by what appeared to be two attempted drone strikes in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
But until the Kremlin chose to publicize the incident around 12 hours later, social media footage of the incident had gained little attention.
Why Russia decided to reveal the security breach is unclear. But in a five-paragraph statement on Wednesday, the Kremlin made the incendiary claim that the drones were an assassination attempt launched by Ukraine on the the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Kyiv forcefully denied the claim.
Kyiv was bombarded with missiles in the hours following Russia’s claims, in keeping with Putin’s historic willingness to strike Ukrainian cities after any alleged act of provocation.
Many details about the incident remain murky. Here’s what we know – and the questions that remain.
Moscow said the alleged attack took place in the early hours of Wednesday. Two “unmanned aerial vehicles” were intercepted and destroyed before they caused any damage or injury, the Kremlin said.
The Russian president was not in the building at the time, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
Videos then emerged on social media appearing to show the incident. CNN analysis of these videos supports Moscow’s claim that two drones were flown above the Kremlin.
A video that appeared to show smoke rising from the Kremlin surfaced on a Telegram channel at 2:37 a.m. local time Wednesday. The first reports of the incident citing the Kremlin came via Russian state media TASS and RIA around 2:33 p.m. local time – around 12 hours later.
Shortly after the first media reports, another video appearing to show the moment a drone exploded above the Kremlin began circulating widely on social media. In the video, the apparent drone seems to fly towards the building’s domed roof, followed by what looks like a small explosion.
In this video, two people appear to be climbing on the dome holding flashlights, and can be seen ducking down just before the moment of the explosion. The people climbing the dome are not present in the first of these videos, but appear in the second, suggesting they were responding to the fire caused by the first drone at the time the subsequent drone appeared.
The Kremlin blamed Ukraine, describing the purported drone attack an “attempt on the President’s life.”
In a statement, the Kremlin said, “We view these actions as a planned terrorist attack and an assassination attempt,” adding that “Russia reserves the right to take countermeasures wherever and whenever it deems appropriate.”
On Thursday, Russia also claimed the US was involved in the attack. “Undoubtedly, Such decisions, the definition of goals, the definition of means – all this is dictated to Kyiv from Washington,” Peksov said.
Both allegations drew sharp denials from Kyiv and Washington.
“We don’t attack Putin or Moscow,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a news conference in Helsinki on Wednesday.
“We fight on our territory, we are defending our villages and cities. We don’t have enough weapon[s] for this. That’s why we don’t use it anywhere [else],” Zelensky said. “We didn’t attack Putin. We leave it to tribunal,” he said.
John Kirby, the National Security Council’s Coordinator for Strategic Communications, called Russia’s allegation that the US directed Ukraine to carry out such an attack “ridiculous.”
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said it the US did not know who was responsible. “I would take anything coming out of the Kremlin with a very large shaker of salt,” he told a Washingon Post event on Wednesday.
If Ukraine wasn’t the perpetrator, one possibility is that the incident was the work of Russian partisans – as claimed by a former Russian lawmaker linked with militant groups in Russia.
Ilya Ponomarev told CNN’s Matthew Chance that “it’s one of Russian partisan groups,” adding that “I cannot say more, as they have not yet publicly claimed responsibility.” Ponomarev, who lives in exile in Ukraine and Poland, was the only Russian MP to vote against the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and has since been included on a list of terrorist suspects, according to the Russian authorities.
According to Ponomarev, members of partisans group inside Russia are usually “youngsters, students, residents of large cities. I am aware of the partisan activity in approximately 40 cities across Russia,” he told CNN.
US officials have also said they were still assessing the incident, and had no information about who might have been responsible. Whatever the truth, any admission of a security breach at the heart of the Kremlin is remarkable.
Moscow already launched a wave of missiles at Kyiv following the incident, a move in line with its playbook after previous flashpoints in the war.
And messages written on Russian drones launched at Odesa overnight read “for Moscow” and “for the Kremlin,” according to the Ukrainian military, an apparent reference to the alleged attack.
US and Ukrainian officials have in the past warned that Russia has planned so-called “false flag” attacks along Russia’s border with Ukraine as a pretext for military escalation, including Russian claims ahead of last year’s full-scale invasion that Ukraine was sending “saboteurs” over the Russian border.
Moscow is also looking to project strength by following through with its planned Victory Day parade. Peskov reiterated that the parade would go ahead as planned.
But while Russia has on occasion used missile bombardments around Ukraine to show its anger following flashpoints in the conflict, the ground fighting in eastern Ukraine has been bogged down in stalemate for months and it appears unlikely that Wednesday’s incident will have a material impact on momentum.