Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has denied that his country was responsible for an alleged drone attack on the Kremlin that Russia says was an attempt to assassinate President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking on a visit to Finland, Zelensky denied any involvement in the attack, saying that his country does not attack Putin or Moscow, but is defending its villages and cities.
Unverified footage circulating online shows smoke rising over the Kremlin in central Moscow early on Wednesday. A second video shows a small explosion above the site’s Senate building, while two men appear to clamber up the dome. The Russian president’s office said defenses downed two drones overnight, which it claimed targeted Putin’s residence in the Kremlin.
The Russian presidency described the incident as “a planned terrorist act and an assassination attempt on the president”. Officials said two drones targeting the complex had been disabled using electronic radar assets, and that President Putin had not been in the complex at the time of the alleged attack.
However, Ukraine has said that the Russian accusations are a pretext for massive attacks on its territory, and the US is treating the Russian claims with caution. Meanwhile, Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, told the BBC that the incident indicated Russia could be “preparing a large-scale terrorist provocation” in Ukraine.
It remains unclear how Russia will respond, as some officials have already called for tough action. Russian generals have warned many times of harsh responses to any strikes on Russian territory, but it is unclear whether Russia has the capacity to carry out meaningful retaliatory strikes, or whether this incident will lead to any significant escalation on the battlefield inside Ukraine.
The incident has also raised questions about how well-protected the Russian president is, and the effectiveness of Russian air defenses. The Kremlin is said to have placed anti-aircraft systems on Moscow rooftops in the vicinity of key buildings, as it is concerned that Ukraine, or those sympathetic to Ukraine, may attempt to carry out aerial attacks on high-value targets.
In the meantime, Moscow’s mayor announced a ban on unauthorized drone flights over the city, and several Russian cities have scaled back this year’s Victory Day celebrations, citing security reasons and attacks from pro-Ukrainian forces. Explosions and fires have occurred in Russia in recent weeks.