Russia reported Ukraine attempted to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin in a drone attack.Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied involvement in the attack, saying his country didn’t possess weapons capable of such strikes.No matter who was behind the assignation attempt, which could have been fabricated by the Kremlin, Putin could use the incident to justify future military action against Ukraine, according to some observers. Russia on Wednesday said Ukraine attempted to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin in a drone attack on the Kremlin. But even if Kyiv wasn’t behind the alleged attack, there is belief that Putin could use the incident to escalate the war in Ukraine.
Videos began circulating on social media of an object exploding into a cloud of smoke over the Kremlin. The Russian government issued a statement saying its military services had taken out two attacking drones in what it called “a planned terrorist attack and an assassination attempt targeting the president.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky soon denied any involvement during a press conference in which he said his forces were busy “defending our villages and cities.” He also said that “[w]e do not have enough weapons even for this.”
Not only do many people believe Ukraine wasn’t behind the attack, but there has been some talk that the drone attacks may have been fabricated by Russia. No matter what the truth may be, there is a belief that Putin could use the alleged strike as justification for Russia increasing its military efforts in Ukraine.
Local residents look at a car burning after a shelling in a street of Kostyantynivka, Donetsk region on May 3, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Attacks like the one pictured in Donetsk could soon become more common if Russia uses Wednesday’s alleged assassination attempt on Russian President Vladimir Putin as justification for an escalation in the war.
Doubts About Russia’s Drone Reports”It is not clear where these drones—if that is what they were—came from,” George Mason University Schar School of Policy Mark N. Katz told Newsweek.
“Even if they were armed, the possibility of pinpointing Putin’s location within the Kremlin complex was pretty low,” Katz added. (Russian state media reported Putin was working at his Novo Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow during the incident.)
Prior to the alleged drone strike on Wednesday, Russian state media had reported last week on other drones being found near Moscow, including one allegedly loaded with explosives.
Following last week’s reports, retired U.S. Army Major John Spencer told Newsweek that he felt it would be “a great disadvantage for Ukrainians to strike Moscow and sway the Russian population to be for the war in Ukraine.”
Spencer, who is the chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Madison Policy Forum, said the drones found near Moscow could have been sent by individuals or groups within Russia that are opposed to the war in Ukraine. (Illya Ponomarev, a former Russian lawmaker, told CNN he believes the drones brought down over the Kremlin were the work of Russian partisans.)
Others, like Guy McCardle—managing editor of the Special Operations Forces Report (SOFREP)—said last week’s drone reports sounded like “typical Russian propaganda” concocted to drum up support for the war. The same has been said of Wednesday’s reports.
Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister of Russia who is now a fierce critic of Putin, told the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 News that the drone assassination claims were also propaganda used by the Russian government “to strengthen the regime.”
“In Moscow, they can use it to strengthen the regime.”
Russia’s claims that Ukraine attempted to use a drone to assassinate Vladimir Putin are ‘propaganda’ to tighten the government’s grip on power, says country’s former PM, Mikhail Kasyanov.https://t.co/sSIhATnMDr
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) May 3, 2023
Putin Could Use Incident as Cause for RetaliationThe Wednesday incident at the Kremlin—no matter what actually happened—”may be used by the Kremlin to justify a ‘retaliatory’ Russian strike on Ukrainian leadership targets,” according to Katz.
The Kremlin has already hinted at this possibility. In its Wednesday statement, the Russian government said that “Russia reserves the right to take countermeasures wherever and whenever it deems appropriate.”
Top Russian officials have already called for retaliation. Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of Russia’s lower house of Parliament, wrote on Telegram, “We will demand the use of weapons capable of stopping and destroying the Kyiv terrorist regime.”
Soon after Volodin posted his comments, Dmitry Medvedev—the former president of Russia and current deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council—also called for action in a Telegram post.
“After today’s terrorist attack, there are no options left other than the physical elimination of Zelensky and his clique,” Medvedev wrote.
Could Ukraine Have Been Behind the Strike?David Silbey, an associate professor of history at Cornell and director of teaching and learning at Cornell in Washington, told Newsweek he doesn’t discount the idea Ukraine could have tried to take out Putin with drones.
“Decapitation strikes are not uncommon in warfare. The U.S. started the 2003 Gulf War with an attempt to take out Saddam Hussein. There have apparently been a number of assassination attempts on Zelensky during this war,” Silbey said.
He continued that Wednesday’s strike could have been “a genuine attempt by the Ukrainians to take out Putin and hopefully have him replaced by someone who isn’t as committed to the Russian war effort.”
“Even if it doesn’t succeed, the Ukrainians might figure, it’s still a bold statement about how close they can get to him,” Silbey said.
How the Kremlin Could Spin the Drone StrikesSilbey said the Kremlin report could also be “a Russian false flag operation designed to be used as an excuse to justify some kind of escalation,” though he wasn’t sure what form that would take.
“The assassination of Zelensky? They’ve tried that already. Nuclear weapons? The same logic of deterrence with nuclear weapons still applies. Mass strategic bombing of Ukrainian cities? Potentially more plausible,” he said. “The missile strikes so far have been nasty but not at the level of a sustained bombing campaign. The thing is that I don’t know if the Russians have the capacity for it.”
Katz said he feels Russia’s to the alleged drone strike may be more direct.
“A desperate Putin may be hoping that knocking out Zelensky could be Russia’s best hope for causing political chaos in Ukraine and weakening its war effort,” he said.