Kremlin drone incident: Zelenskiy denies Russian claim Ukraine attempted to kill Putin

Ukraine president denies involvement, saying ‘we fight on our territory and defend our towns and cities’ after Kremlin blames Kyiv

Volodymyr Zelenskiy has denied Russian claims that Ukraine was involved in a drone attack on the Kremlin that was intended to kill the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

The Ukrainian president said on Wednesday: “We don’t attack Putin, or Moscow, we fight on our territory and defend our towns and cities.”

“We leave it to the tribunal,” he added.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that two drones had been used in the attack, but that they had been disabled by Russian defences. It has vowed to take retaliatory measures.

Hours later, air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv for the fourth time in seven days, and explosions were heard in the southern port city of Odesa. The US embassy in Ukraine warned its citizens in the country that there was an “ongoing heightened threat of missile attacks, including in Kyiv and Kyiv oblast [regions]”.

In a statement published on its website, the Kremlin stated it considered the attack a planned terrorist act and an attempt on the life of the president of the Russian Federation.

“Two unmanned aerial vehicles were aimed at the Kremlin. As a result of timely actions taken by the military and special services with the use of radar warfare systems, the vehicles were put out of action,” the Kremlin press service said. It said that debris from the drone “fell on the territory of the Kremlin”.

“There were no victims and material damage,” the Kremlin said, adding that “the Russian side reserves the right to take retaliatory measures where and when it sees fit”.

“The president was not hurt as a result of the terrorist attack,” the Kremlin said.

Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Putin was not in the Kremlin at the time of the attack. Peskov added that Putin would spend the day at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow.

The Ukrainian president, Volodomyr Zelenskiy, denied that Ukraine was involved in the attack. He said: “We don’t attack Putin, or Moscow, we fight on our territory and defend our towns and cities.”

“We leave it to the tribunal,” Zelenskiy added.

The Ukrainian president made his comments during a trip to Helsinki, where he also said Ukraine would launch a counteroffensive against Russian forces soon.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, also denied Ukraine’s involvement in the attack, saying it was the result of “local resistance forces”.

“Ukraine wages an exclusive defensive war and does not attack targets on the territory of the Russian Federation,” Podolyak said in a tweet.

“[The] emergence of unidentified unmanned aerial vehicles at energy facilities or on Kremlin’s territory can only indicate the guerrilla activities of local resistance forces. As you know, drones can be bought at any military store.”

Podolyak added: “Something is happening in RF [Russia], but definitely without Ukraine’s drones over the Kremlin.”

One unverified video circulating on social media showed what appeared to be smoke coming out of the Kremlin overnight. A second dramatic clip appeared to show the moment one of the drones hit the rooftop of the Kremlin Senate, an 18th-century mansion within the grounds of the Kremlin.

The Kremlin Senate reportedly houses the presidential administration, including Putin’s presidential office and his personal apartment.

Putin is understood to spend most of his time at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, although Peskov last week said that the president “occasionally” sleeps at his Kremlin apartment.

Several senior officials called on Putin to take retaliatory action.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said the overnight drone attack on the Kremlin left Moscow with no options but to “eliminate” Zelenskiy and his “clique” in Kyiv.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the chair of the State Duma, said the “Kyiv regime” should be labelled as terrorists and destroyed. “We will demand the use of weapons that can stop and destroy the Kyiv terrorist regime,” he added.

Russia has sustained a number of embarrassing drone attacks on its military bases and fuel depots over the course of the fighting, including in occupied Crimea. In a separate incident on Wednesday, a large fire at a fuel depot in southern Russia’s Krasnodar region broke out as a result of what local authorities said was a drone attack.

Ukraine typically declines to claim responsibility for attacks on Russia or Russian-annexed Crimea, though Kyiv officials have frequently celebrated such attacks with cryptic or mocking remarks.

If Kyiv or domestic opposition groups are responsible for the incident, it would once again expose vulnerabilities in the heart of Russia’s centre of power.

Samuel Bendett, a drone specialist with the Center for Naval Analyses in the US, said the video of what appeared to be the second drone raid suggested the craft had thin wings. That would point to an attack from a relatively sophisticated operator, he said, although not necessarily a state actor, using a drone such as a $9,500 (£7,500) Chinese-made Mugin-5.

Fixed-wing drones have longer ranges and flight times than simple and cheap quadcopters, and a craft such as a Mugin-5 can theoretically fly for seven hours at about 75mph (120km/h), making long-range operation possible.

Analysts speculated the drone could also have been a Ukrainian-made UJ-22, which has a similar speed and range, according to the manufacturer’s website, but the brief footage and difficulty expanding to a clear image meant any firm identification was impossible.

Russian drone experts speculated on whether the drone was launched from as far afield as Ukraine, theoretically possible despite the distances, or from somewhere close to Moscow.

A Russian drone expert, Alexei Rogozin, told a drone Telegram channel that the drone could have been controlled from “several kilometers” away by a pilot relying on the drone camera for navigation, rather than remote preset coordinates.

It may have also been equipped with anti-jamming devices, he added.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he has seen Kremlin reports of the drone attack but “can’t in any way validate them”.

“We simply don’t know,” Blinken told reporters. When asked about the US position on any possible attacks by Ukraine on Russia, he said: “These are decisions for Ukraine to make about how it is going to defend itself.”

The attack at the Kremlin came days before the 9 May Victory Day parade that marks the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. The Victory Day parade in Red Square, which is located next to the Kremlin, is a highly symbolic annual demonstration of military might in Russia, during which Putin traditionally gives a speech.

Before Wednesday’s drone attack, several regions in Russia scrapped their parades amid fears of Ukrainian strikes. The Kremlin said the parade would go ahead in Moscow despite the incident.

Earlier in the year, Russia installed missile systems designed to intercept aircraft and incoming missiles on top of several defence and administrative buildings in central Moscow.

“We’ll let you know in due time,” Putin’s spokesperson Peskov said when asked if Putin would return to the Kremlin on Thursday.


Pjotr Sauer and Dan Sabbagh

The GuardianTramp

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