Zelensky denies Ukraine sent drones to hit Putin, Kremlin
(Bloomberg) -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied Russian allegations that his government organised an attack on Vladimir Putin’s residence in the Kremlin by a pair of drones.
“We don’t attack Putin or Moscow. We fight on our territory,” Zelensky told a news conference in Helsinki, told a news conference in Helsinki, adding that the Kremlin was probably trying to distract Russians from its failures on the battlefield. The drone claim comes less than a week before President Putin is scheduled to attend the annual Red Square military parade to celebrate the Soviet triumph in World War II.
Russia earlier said it averted an attack by the drones against the Kremlin in Moscow Tuesday night, blaming the attempt on Ukraine without providing evidence. Putin wasn’t in the Kremlin at the time of the attack, his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said, according to RIA Novosti.
Still, the Kremlin called the assault “an attempt on the life of the president,” saying Russia “reserves the right to take retaliatory measures when and where it considers necessary.”
The drones were disabled and crashed in the Kremlin without causing injuries or damage, the presidential press service said in a statement. There was no way to immediately verify the alleged attack.
If confirmed, even a failed strike on a complex that for centuries has symbolized Russian official power would be a dramatic step in bringing the threat of war home to the country. Since Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Russian missiles and drones have repeatedly struck the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and other cities, killing thousands of civilians. Air-raid sirens rang out across the country Wednesday evening.
In Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “I can’t in any way validate” the Russian claims. He said he takes all Kremlin allegations with “a very large shaker of salt.”
At the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said “it is really too early to tell” whether there’s any truth to Russia’s claim, but she said Russia has a history of “false flags.”
“Since the beginning of this conflict, the United States is certainly not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders,” she said. “We’ve been very clear from here about that.”
A spokesman for the European Union’s foreign policy arm said the EU is “seeking more information about what actually happened.”
Peter Stano, the spokesman, said “the alleged drone attacks must not be used as a pretext for further escalation of Russia’s continued aggression outside of its borders.”
Russian state television appeared to play down the drone report, sticking largely to other news Wednesday afternoon. There was no explanation for why it took about 12 hours from the time of the alleged attack for the Kremlin to comment.
But the Kremlin’s claim drew angry responses from Russian politicians. Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, said legislators will “demand the use of weapons which are capable of stopping and destroying the Kyiv terrorist regime.”
Sergei Mironov, a senior pro-Kremlin legislator called for “a real war” in retaliation in a Twitter post that included a video of a flying object exploding on the roof of the Senate Palace just off Red Square. That clip couldn’t immediately be verified.
“This can’t be left without some kind of demonstrative response,” said Ruslan Pukhov, a Moscow-based military expert. “There will be a missile or bomb strike on some symbolic target.” He noted that defending against the small drones allegedly used against the Kremlin is “practically impossible.”
Denis Fedutinov, a drone expert in Moscow, said the craft can fly at low altitudes, making them hard to shoot down. Even without doing any damage, the attack showed “the vulnerability of the Russian side.”
Despite the alleged attack, Peskov said Putin will participate in the Red Square military parade on May 9.
The Kremlin claim comes amid rising security worries ahead of the holiday and a planned Ukrainian offensive. About a dozen cities around Russia have canceled parades and other public activities for May 9, citing unspecified security concerns. Many canceled fireworks.
Shortly before the Kremlin statement was released, Moscow city authorities issued an order banning the use of drones in the capital, state-run Tass news service reported. The region around the capital announced a similar ban later.
Starting last year, Russia deployed anti-aircraft weapons in and around the capital to step up protection. In recent months, there have been several reports of drones of various sizes crashing in regions outside Moscow.
Russia has blamed Ukraine for a string of sabotage and other attacks around the country since the invasion. Kyiv hasn’t officially taken responsibility, however.