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Russia accuses Ukraine of Putin assassination attempt

Russia accused Ukraine on Wednesday of attempting to assassinate President Vladimir Putin in a late-night drone attack on the Kremlin, vowing to take retaliatory action.

According to a statement from Putin’s press service, two Ukrainian drones attacked and crashed into the Kremlin overnight but were shot down by Russia’s military and secret services, which it said “acted in a timely fashion”.

The Kremlin described the incident as “a planned terrorist attack and attempted assassination of the president of Russia” ahead of the planned Victory Day parade on adjoining Red Square next Tuesday.

“Russia reserves the right to take retaliatory measures where and when it sees fit,” the Kremlin said.

If confirmed, the apparent attempt on Putin’s life and the acknowledgment from the Kremlin would mark an extraordinary admission of Russian vulnerability. It would also be one of Kyiv’s most daring strikes since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

However, Kyiv denied any involvement in the attack. “Ukraine has nothing to do with the drone attacks on the Kremlin,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak. He said the claims “clearly indicate the preparation of a large-scale terrorist provocation by Russia in the coming days”. 

Putin was not in the building at the time and was working instead from his residence outside Moscow, said his spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

The alleged attack comes as Moscow is braced for a Ukrainian counter-offensive aimed at recapturing lost territory, with dozens of explosions reported in Ukraine and near Russian-occupied Crimea early on Wednesday.

Russia had initially hoped to capture Kyiv in a blitzkrieg lasting a matter of days, but has found itself bogged down in grinding attritional warfare marked by a series of humiliating battlefield defeats.

In recent months, Ukraine has carried out audacious drone strikes behind enemy lines, targeting fuel depots and military bases, some of which were several hundred kilometres into Russian territory.

While it was not immediately clear on Wednesday whether the alleged attack actually happened, pro-Kremlin accounts on social media posted footage of what appeared to be a drone flying low over Putin’s residence, then exploding in a ball of flames.

Other videos showed what appeared to be anti-aircraft fire over the Kremlin’s golden-domed medieval churches late at night.

The Kremlin said Putin continued to follow his usual work schedule from his residence outside Moscow on Wednesday, and that no casualties or damage were sustained during the alleged attack.

Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow defence think-tank, said the drones could have been purchased commercially and outfitted with explosives.

He added that a Ukrainian group working covertly in Russia could have launched the drones from somewhere near Moscow, thus helping them to evade detection by flying them over a shorter distance. The small number of drones used suggested the attack was unlikely to be state-backed, he added.

Ukraine also has the capability to fly a drone all the way to Moscow, according to a Ukrainian engineer who builds drones to military specs.

“It’s not difficult to build a drone with an 800km range, aiming it is the difficult task,” he said.

Earlier this year, pictures emerged of two Pantsir air defence systems in the Kremlin, as well as others at the defence ministry’s nearby headquarters in Moscow. Russia also installed Pantsirs at Putin’s official home outside Moscow, a bucolic residence in the north of the country, and a ski resort near the Black Sea where he spends time, according to Russian independent media.

The Ukrainian engineer said the Russian air defences’ apparent failure to stop the drones may have been the result of visibility limitations at night.

“During the day, anti-aircraft systems use optical sights, so hitting a drone is easy, but at night they are not easy targets,” he added.

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