The Kremlin accused Ukraine of attempting to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday evening with targeted drone strikes. Putin was not in the Kremlin at the time of the “terrorist act,” according to Russian officials. How will Putin respond and how will this impact the war in Ukraine?
The Putin Attack: What We Know
Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti that retaliation for the alleged attack should be expected. However, zero independent verification that the drone attack actually occurred has been presented. The Ukrainian president denied carrying out the drone barrage, stressing that its forces do not attack Putin or Moscow: “We are fighting on our territory, defending our villages and cities,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told reporters during a visit to Helsinki on Wednesday.
“They will invent escalatory schemes every day.” The Moscow news Telegram channel released footage of the incident hours after it allegedly occurred, causing some analysts to question the authenticity of the claim. The circulated video appears to show smoke rising above buildings. A second video also circulated on social media appears to show a drone exploding in a fiery crash near the Senate Palace in the Kremlin. Both videos have yet to be independently verified.
Ukraine Believes Moscow is Bluffing
Ukrainian officials believe that the Kremlin could be using this phony drone attack as an excuse to wage increased assaults in the country. The ongoing battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is considered to be the bloodiest conflict in the fourteen-plus month invasion so far. As bodies on both sides continue to pile up, news that Ukraine will soon launch its highly anticipated counter-offensive is spreading. In the upcoming months, an influx of advanced Western main battle tanks is set to be delivered to Ukraine’s front line. M1 Abrams, Leopards, and Challengers are among the armored vehicles predicted to alter the trajectory of Ukraine’s success in Bakhmut and in the larger war. Perhaps the Russian president is hoping to incite a greater response from Ukraine now, before the arrival of more Western sophisticated equipment.
Could This Alleged Incident Spark an Uptick in Violence?
If Russia were to carry out a “large-scale terrorist provocation” in Ukraine, Zelenskyy would be more inclined to launch its counter-offensive earlier. The president recently noted that this operation would not wait for the delivery of all the promised Western military equipment and aid, however, some industry experts don’t believe this to be true. “I would have really wanted to wait for everything that was promised,” Zelenskyy told Finnish, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian journalists. “But it happens that the terms (of weapons deliveries and counteroffensive), unfortunately, do not coincide a little bit. And, I will say frankly, we pay attention to the weather.”
According to Ukraine’s presidential adviser, the alleged drone incident could be an indication that Moscow is preparing for a “large-scale terrorist provocation” in Ukraine. Mykhalio Podolyak told the BBC that while attacking the Kremlin was not logical for Ukraine, such an incident would enable Moscow to justify additional offensive operations that target civilians in Ukraine. Last weekend, Russia launched two missiles targeting a residential building in the central Ukrainian city of Uman. Among the 23 victims slain in the attack were six children. This was not the first time Moscow carried out attacks targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and probably won’t be the last.
The U.S. is Even Doubtful of the Kremlin’s Accusation
The alleged drone incident would mark a significant escalation in the ongoing war if accurate, with Ukraine attacking the backbone of Russian power in its own territory. For this reason, in addition to Moscow’s purported air-defense systems and heightened security in the Kremlin, makes the incident unlikely to have occurred the way Russian officials have described. Perhaps we should all take the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s advice and consider Moscow’s accusation with a “very large shaker of salt.”
MORE: Why Putin Fears the M1 Abrams Tank
MORE: I Went to War in the Leopard 2 Tank Ukraine Wants
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.