Russia accused Ukraine on Wednesday of a failed attempt to assassinate President Vladimir Putin in a drone attack on the Kremlin citadel in Moscow, and threatened to retaliate.
Kyiv denied any role in the reported incident, with a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy calling it a sign that the Kremlin was planning a major new attack on Ukraine.
Shortly after the Kremlin announcement, Ukraine reported alerts for air strikes over the capital Kyiv and other cities.
“Two unmanned aerial vehicles were aimed at the Kremlin. As a result of timely actions taken by the military and special services with the use of radar warfare systems, the devices were put out of action,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
“We regard these actions as a planned terrorist act and an attempt on the president’s life, carried out on the eve of Victory Day, the May 9 Parade, at which the presence of foreign guests is also planned,” it said.
It said fragments of drones were scattered in the Kremlin grounds but there were no injuries or damage.
Putin himself was safe.
“The Russian side reserves the right to take retaliatory measures where and when it sees fit,” the statement said.
Video posted by Baza, a Telegram channel with links to Russia’s law enforcement agencies, showed a flying object approaching the dome of a Kremlin building overlooking Red Square, exploding in a burst of light just before reaching it.
Other video posted on a neighborhood internet group showed a plume of smoke over the Kremlin’s gold domes. Reuters could not independently verify the videos.
In comments sent to Reuters, Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said Kyiv had nothing to do with the incident: “We do not attack the Kremlin because, first of all, it does not resolve any military tasks.”
Podolyak said the accusation, along with a separate announcement that Russia had caught suspected saboteurs in Crimea, “clearly indicates the preparation of a large scale terrorist provocation by Russia in the coming days”.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the influential speaker of Russia’s parliament, demanded the use of “weapons capable of stopping and destroying the Kyiv terrorist regime” in response to the alleged drone attack on the Kremlin.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in remarks quoted by the Washington Post, said Washington was unable to validate reports of the drone strike, but that he would regard anything coming from the Kremlin “with a very large shaker of salt”.
Elsewhere, oil depots were ablaze in both southern Russia and Ukraine, as both sides escalated a drone war ahead of Kyiv’s promised spring counteroffensive against Russian forces that swept into Ukraine last year.
Scores of firefighters battled a huge conflagration that Russian authorities blamed on a Ukrainian drone crashing into an oil terminal on Russia’s side of its bridge to occupied Crimea. A fuel depot in Ukraine was ablaze after a suspected Russian drone strike on the central city of Kropyvnytskyi.
An administrative building in Ukraine’s southern Dnipropetrovsk region was also hit by a drone and set ablaze. Ukraine said it had shot down 21 of 26 Iranian-made drones in an overnight volley, shielding targets in Kyiv where air raid sirens blared for hours through the night.
Sixteen people were killed by Russian shelling in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, 12 of them in Kherson city, on Wednesday, the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office said. Russian forces have regularly shelled the city from parts of the region occupied by Russia.
Ukraine and Russia have both been carrying out long-range strikes since last week in apparent anticipation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive, which Zelenskiy said would begin soon.
Moscow says it has struck military targets, though it has produced no evidence to support this. Kyiv, without confirming any role in incidents in Russia or Crimea, says destroying infrastructure is preparation for its planned ground assault.
Burning fuel near Crimea bridge
In videos posted on Russian social media of the burning fuel depot near the Crimea bridge, flames and black smoke billowed over large tanks emblazoned with red warnings of “Flammable”.
In Ukraine, the governor of the central Kirovohrad region said three Russian drones had targeted an oil facility in the region’s main city Kropyvnytskyi. Prosecutors said a huge blaze had broken out there.
Zelenskiy visited Finland on Wednesday, his fourth known trip abroad since Russia’s full-scale invasion. Leaders of Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden also attended his visit. Zelenskiy said his goals were to beef up Ukraine’s military and secure an eventual place in the NATO alliance.
In Brussels, European Union countries finalized a 1-billion-euro ($1.1 billion) scheme to jointly buy ammunition and missiles for Ukraine after weeks of wrangling.
Russia says it launched its “special military operation” to counter a threat from Kyiv’s relations with the West. Ukraine and its allies call it an unprovoked war of conquest by Moscow, derailed by a failed assault on the capital Kyiv early last year and Ukrainian advances in the second half of 2022.
Over the past five months, Ukrainian ground forces have kept mostly to the defensive, while Russia launched a huge, largely unsuccessful winter assault, capturing little new ground despite the bloodiest infantry combat in Europe since World War Two.