By Yiping Hou; Image by BBC
On the morning of May 3rd in New York Time, the Moscow Kremlin News Bureau published a statement, claiming that on midnight of May 3rd in Moscow time, two drones intended to attack the Kremlin but were shot down by the Russian electronic weapon system and crashed inside the Kremlin palace. The Kremlin claimed that the incident didn’t cause any fatalities or major financial loss. However, it accused the Ukrainian military of initiating the attack, which it defined as “purposeful terrorist activity”. The Russian state also pointed out that the aim of the operation is to assassinate the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin emphasized that Putin wasn’t injured by the attack, and neither will he make any changes to his schedule because of it. On May 3rd, according to his original plan, Putin met with Nizhny Novgorod Oblast governor Gleb Nikitin in Novo-Ogaryovo, an estate in the Odintsovsky District of Moscow Oblast west of the city of Moscow. Meanwhile, the Kremlin suggested that the annual Victory Day military parade scheduled on May 9th wouldn’t have any changes caused by the incident either. Additionally, the statement clarified that Russia reserves the right to take revenge “at the time and place it deems proper”.
Very soon after the issue of the threatening announcement from the Kremlin, on his visit to Finland, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky denied the accusation that Ukraine has planned and executed the drone attack. Zelensky claimed, “We don’t attack Putin or Moscow. We fight on our territory. We are defending our villages and cities.” Regarding his personal rival Putin, Zelensky added that Ukraine would leave the disposal of Putin to the court.
However, in the past, Ukraine already has a record of directing lone-wolf operations to attack Russian territory and refusing to take responsibility afterward, which lowers its credibility for the Russian state intelligence department. For example, based on the confidential documents recently leaked from the US military, on February 26th, the Ukrainian security department discovered that its staff broke the order to attack a Russian reconnaissance aircraft parked in an airport inside Belarus. Thus, the credibility of official claims made by the Ukraine government becomes questionable.
According to the analysis from Samuel Bendett, a Research Analyst in the Russian Studies Program with the Center for Naval Analyses’ International Affairs Group, based on the videotape, the drones involved in the incident are likely either the China-manufactured, 9500-dollar Mugin-5 or the UJ-22 independently developed by Ukraine. In fact, it wasn’t the first time claimed Ukrainian drones were spotted near Moscow. In early December 2022, an important air force base located 200 kilometers from Moscow was attacked by drones. In late February, a UJ-22 crashed around 100 kilometers southeast of Moscow. On April 24th, a UJ-22 reported to carry 17 kilograms of explosives was found 30 kilometers east of Moscow. Despite the denial from Ukraine, based on the trajectory of past drone invasions, every time the drone operated, it furthered its reach toward the Russian capital. Therefore, the Kremlin’s accusation against Ukraine can be validated to a certain degree.
However, the Kremlin’s statement is more likely an excuse to justify a potential strategic assassination attempt on Zelensky. After the drone crash, the Russian state immediately associated the incident with the personal security of President Putin, established the discourse of Ukraine initiating a terrorist attack, and set the stage for possible future retaliations. Realistically, it is almost ridiculous to deploy two relatively low-cost and offensively unspecialized drones in a mission to kill the president of Russia. From the unverified circulating videotape, the drones were shot down when flying slightly over the dome of the Kremlin before creating any substantiated threat. It is extremely unlikely that two drones were able to break through the entire Russian anti-air weaponry system to reach the building of the Kremlin yet shot down at the last second before it delivers the bomb. Furthermore, even if Putin was inside the building at the time of the attack, the drone had no vision of the interior structure of the building and couldn’t possibly accurately target Putin. With their highly limited offensive capacities, the attack would be carried out to no avail.
Lu, Chen. “Russia Claimed Two Drones Were Shot Down at the Kremlin. Ukraine Denies the Accusation of Assassinating Putin.” CaiXin, 3 May 2023.
Will Vernon in Moscow & Thomas Spender in London. “Kremlin Drone: Zelensky Denies Ukraine Attacked Putin or Moscow.” BBC News, 3 May 2023, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-65471904.
“Mi lian chu jia wen.” Migao News Diary, 4 May 2023.