Russia accused Ukraine on Wednesday of attempting to kill President Vladimir Putin with a drone attack at the Kremlin, warning it would retaliate “anywhere and any time.”
Videos posted to Russian social-media accounts showed what appeared to be a small drone flying over the red brick walls of the Kremlin late at night before the object exploded in a burst of flame above the Kremlin Senate, which serves as one of Mr. Putin’s official working residences. In one of the videos, a small fire can be seen on the dome of the Senate building.
The Ukrainian government immediately denied involvement in the incident, which took place as its military is preparing for a long-anticipated counteroffensive aimed at liberating Russian-occupied territories. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office suggested the incident could be a false flag operation that Russia could use to justify some kind of escalation in the 14-month-old war.
Russia said two drones were involved in the alleged attack, both of which had been destroyed by air defences. The 70-year-old Mr. Putin – who reportedly was not in the Kremlin at the time of the explosion – was said to be unharmed.
The incident happened less than a week before Moscow is due to hold the annual Victory Day parade, which marks the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat at the hands of Soviet and Allied forces in the Second World War. The occasion is usually marked with a large military parade in the Russian capital, though the typical display of force will be harder to stage with much of Russia’s military deployed in Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the May 9 parade would go ahead as planned. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin immediately banned the use of drones over the Russian capital.
“We regard these actions as a planned terrorist act and an attempt on the President’s life, carried out on the eve of Victory Day, the May 9 parade, at which the presence of foreign guests is also planned,” the Kremlin press service said in a statement. “The Russian side reserves the right to take retaliatory measures where and when it sees fit.”
Mr. Zelensky, speaking during a Wednesday visit to Helsinki where he met with Nordic leaders, denied any Ukrainian role. “We don’t attack Putin or Moscow. We fight on our territory. We’re defending our villages and cities.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, wrote on Twitter that, “Russia is clearly preparing a large-scale terrorist attack.” The claimed attempt on Mr. Putin’s life gives the Russian Federation “grounds to justify its attacks on civilians,” Mr. Podolyak said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was working to verify what had actually happened. “I’ve seen the reports. I can’t in anyway validate them. We simply don’t know,” he said, adding: “I would take anything coming out of the Kremlin with a very large shaker of salt.”
Mr. Putin’s allies needed no convincing, with several issuing immediate calls for Russia to retaliate against Ukraine in dramatic fashion. Vyacheslav Volodin, who chairs Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament, the Duma, called for the Kremlin to designate the Ukrainian government as a terrorist entity and to “destroy” it.
“There can be no negotiations with the Zelensky regime,” Mr. Volodin wrote on his Telegram channel. “We demand the use of weapons capable of stopping and destroying the Kyiv terrorist regime.”
Mr. Volodin’s call was an apparent reference to Russia’s arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, which is the largest in the world but which has sat unused while Russia’s conventional military has become bogged down in Ukraine, losing much of the territory it gained early in the war.
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy head of the country’s Security Council, said the alleged assassination attempt on Mr. Putin “leaves us no option but to physically eliminate Zelensky and his clique.”
Drones have played a central role in the conflict since the start of the invasion that Mr. Putin ordered in February, 2022. On Wednesday, large fires were burning in both Russian-occupied Crimea and the central Ukrainian city of Kropyvnytskyi after suspected drone strikes on oil refineries. Russia has accused Ukraine of involvement in a series of drone attacks deep inside Russian territory, including a February incident that saw a drone crash in Kolomna, 135 kilometres southeast of Red Square.
Russia, meanwhile, launched another wave of Iranian-made explosive drones at Ukraine overnight on Tuesday. The Ukrainian military said 21 of 26 Shahed drones were shot down by the country’s air defences, although one drone struck an administrative building in the central city of Dnipro.
Separately, 16 people were reported killed in the southern city of Kherson on Wednesday as Russian artillery shells struck a supermarket and a railway station.