The last few weeks has seen a sharp uptick in hostilities between Russia and Ukraine. In recent days, Moscow carried out its largest lethal drone operation targeting Kyiv. Less than one week prior, the Kremlin vowed to avenge the alleged unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) barrage that struck the Red Square.
According to Russian state-media outlets, Ukraine launched the drone attack in an effort to assassinate president Vladimir Putin. Ukraine has vehemently denied masterminding this barrage, adding that his forces don’t attack Putin or Moscow.
However, frequent UAV barrages have struck Russian territory in recent months, which Kyiv has never claimed responsibility for. Even if Ukraine has conducted similar attacks in Russia previously, officials are doubtful that the country is behind the purported Kremlin incident.
Did Putin orchestrate the Kremlin attack?
U.S.-based UAV experts believe that the drones used in the alleged Putin attack may have actually originated from inside the country. According to Reuters, the Kremlin has set up extensive air defense systems surrounding Moscow and government structures due to fear and paranoia surrounding potential attacks.
For this reason, any Ukrainian-launched UAVs would have needed to evade thorough defense systems in and around the Russian capital- a situation that is not too likely.
The CEO and founder of the drone manufacturer BRINC told the news outlet that “It is surprising this drone was able to fly through all of Moscow up to the Kremlin without being detected and destroyed, the relatively small size and low altitude could help. If the drone was not utilizing GPS and not communicating with a ground control station, that would also harden it from jamming or spoofing techniques.”
What we know about the incident
Videos of the drone attack provided by Russian-state media outlets depict the “terror attack” that the Kremlin alleges.
In the footage, a UAV appears to fly toward the Kremlin’s domed roof. An explosion erupts and flames shoot up above the building. U.S. officials have not been able to confirm or validate the videos and remain skeptical of the incident. Some industry experts believe Putin could have orchestrated the attack to justify an escalation in violence against Ukrainian forces and civilians in addition to garner more public support for Moscow’s war effort.
Since the onset of Russia’s invasion, both sides have acquired massive quantities of foreign-produced lethal UAVs. Regardless of whether or not Kyiv actually perpetuated the Kremlin attack, the country certainly possesses the long-range capability to penetrate Russia.
In December, Ukrainian forces struck two Russian bases hundreds of miles from the border using modified Tu-141 surveillance drones. Editor of the Aviationist blog David Cenciotti noted that “Although Ukraine has not confirmed that its armed forces carried out the attacks, I think that the pre-emptive raids we have seen last year prove that Ukraine has the capability to launch long range attacks of that kind from within Ukrainian territory.”
Moscow has also been replenishing its UAV stock supply. In the most recent barrage to strike infrastructure in Ukraine,
Iranian-produced lethal drones were believed to be the weapons used by Russian forces. As Kyiv’s imminent counteroffensive approaches, an escalation in warfare will likely include the use of killer UAVs.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.