Kyiv, Ukraine What happened above the vermilion walls of the Kremlin early Wednesday could have been a dream come true for many Ukrainians, who have been suffering for more than a year at the hands of the invading Russian forces.
What better demonstration of Ukraine’s resilience than a drone strike on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s residence in the medieval fortress that has become the seat of government, a centuries-old symbol of Russia’s imperial power that stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean?
But analysts told Al Jazeera that the details of the attack, which Russia blamed on Washington and Kiev without providing any evidence, remain unclear and unverified.
Both the United States and Ukraine have denied those allegations, while the European Union warned Moscow not to use the apparent attack as a reason to further escalate its brutal war.
Wednesday around 2:30 am [23:30 GMT on Tuesday]a small drone flying from the south crashed into the dome of the Senate Palace, an 18th-century building that serves as Putin’s official workshop.
A video shared on the Telegram messaging app that appears to have captured the incident shows that a collision sparked a fire and a plume of smoke was visible in central Moscow.
About 15 minutes later, another drone flying from the east crashed into the roof of the palace. Two men were seen climbing the ladder leading to the palace.
Russian officials said Putin was not in the building at the time.
There were no casualties, but a roof was slightly damaged.
Raining drones on Russia
In recent months, Ukraine has used drones of all shapes and sizes, from modernized Soviet-era aircraft to small civilian drones to attack military supply lines, weapons and fuel depots, cargo trains and power stations across western Russia.
One of the July attacks targeted an airfield near a town on the Volga River, about 400 miles east of the Ukrainian border. The base was home to Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic bombers that had launched ballistic missiles at Ukrainian cities.
Several drones crashed in the Moscow region without causing much damage, but spreading panic among even the most patriotic of Russians.
Ukraine routinely denies responsibility for the attacks, sometimes mockingly referring to them as “smoking in the wrong places” or attributing them to the “UFO landings”.
And while Moscow or regional officials almost immediately announced and denounced each attack, it took Russia 12 hours to mention the drone attack on the Kremlin.
A wave of anger
“The Kremlin considers the attempted attack by the Kiev regime to be a pre-planned terrorist attack and an assassination attempt against the Russian president,” it said Wednesday afternoon through the state news agency Tass.
It highlighted the timing of the attack — just days before the May 9 parade on Red Square in front of the Kremlin to celebrate the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.
Under Putin, the May 9 celebrations have become the largest annual public event, a series of quasi-religious ceremonies between early May and June designed to demonstrate Moscow’s “messianic” role in saving humanity from Nazism.
Critics point to ‘victory hysteria’
Russian leaders and state-backed media often compare the ongoing war with Ukraine to World War II, calling the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “neo-Nazi junta”.
“Russia reserves the right to respond to the attack on the Kremlin when and with whatever is necessary,” the Kremlin statement said.
A Ukrainian observer said the attack is beneficial to the Kremlin’s efforts to round up war-weary Russians.
“This is a perfect version for the Kremlin because the Kremlin is a symbol, and the whole thing fits the ‘victory hysteria,'” Igar Tyshkevich, an analyst from Kiev, told Al Jazeera.
The Kremlin will immediately use the media buzz about the attack to justify a new wave of mobilizations of Russian men and a tougher crackdown on critics, he said.
“There will be a law enforcement component with searches, arrests and prosecution of dissidents,” he said.
An exiled Russian opposition activist agreed.
“An attack on the Kremlin, a sacred site, should appeal to patriotic feelings, emphasize that the Russian army is ‘defending their nation’s freedom and independence,'” Sergey Bizyukin, a publicist who fled the western city of Ryazan, told Al Jazeera. .
“This is yet another justification of mass killings in Ukraine by Russian law enforcement and motivation [urging Russians] to volunteer on the front lines and for reservists to silently endure the associated hardships and limitations,” he said.
A Ukrainian observer says the attack could have been organized by the “aggressive” faction in the Kremlin.
“This is an attempt by an aggressive Kremlin tower to push Putin towards radicalization,” Kiev analyst Aleksey Kushch told Al Jazeera.
He compared the attack to the Reichstag fire in Germany in 1933, organized by Adolf Hitler’s nascent National Socialist party to justify the persecution of opponents and Jews.
The drone strike “is equivalent to promoting narratives about ‘political Ukraine’ that, in the opinion of the ideologues of the warlike Kremlin tower, must be destroyed, like communism and Judaism in Germany,” Kushch said.
Putin is ‘quiet’
The attack was the first on the Kremlin since World War II, Russian media reminded their audience on Wednesday evening.
“The attack is clearly demonstrative,” said a news anchor on Kremlin-controlled Channel One. “Kyiv provokes an escalation, but this time this provocation is of a higher level.”
Putin’s press office said that Putin remained calm.
“You know, in such complicated, extreme situations, the president is always calm, collected and precise in his assessments and in the orders he gives,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who accused the White House of ordering the attack. .
“Decisions about such actions and terrorist attacks are not made in Kiev, but in Washington. Attempts to deny them in Kiev and Washington are absolutely ridiculous,” Peskov said.
Zelenskyy’s spokesman was adamant that the drones were not Ukrainian.
“Ukraine uses all its resources to liberate its own territories, not to attack others” [territories]said Serhiy Nikiforov.
He also stressed that the explosions were perfectly timed for the May 9 celebration.
“What happened in Moscow is a clear escalation leading up to May 9,” he said. “An expected trick from our enemy.”