Russia “likely staged” the alleged drone strike on the Kremlin, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
The US-based think-tank claimed Russia itself was behind the incident, calling it an attempt to “bring the war home to a Russian audience and set the conditions for a wider societal mobilisation.”
“Several indicators suggest that the strike was internally conducted and purposefully staged,” it wrote in a briefing published on Thursday.
Footage circulating on social media shows what appears to be a drone exploding near a flagpole on top of the Kremlin Senate Palace on Tuesday night, with two unidentified people climbing on top of the building.
Russia said Vladimir Putin was unharmed as he was not in the building at the time.
The Kremlin first claimed the incident was a Ukrainian assassination attempt against Putin, promising retaliation for the supposed “terrorist attack”.
However, it pointed the finger at the US on Thursday, claiming the Pentagon was the architect of the assault – though did not provide any evidence to support this.
“The efforts of Kyiv and Washington to deny any responsibility are totally ridiculous,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov at a briefing. “Decisions on such attacks are not taken in Kyiv, but in Washington. Kyiv is only doing what it is asked to do.”
“Washington must understand that we know this.”
The White House responded by accusing the Kremlin of “lying”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied his country was involved in the incident, which has sent shockwaves through Russia.
“We are fighting on our territory, we are defending our villages and our cities”, he said during a surprise visit to Finland. “We are not attacking Putin or Moscow. We don’t have enough weapons for that.”
The White House previously said it could not “confirm the authenticity” of Russian reports it foiled the attack.
Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration is “aware of the reports” but “unable to confirm the authenticity of them at this time”.
“And so I don’t want to get into speculation from here about what happened,” she said.
If confirmed, the purported drone attack would be a significant escalation in the 14-month conflict, with Ukraine taking the war to the heart of Russian power.
Debris from the unmanned aerial vehicles fell on the grounds of the seat of Russia’s president but caused no damage, a statement on the Kremlin’s website said.
A video published overnight on a local Moscow news Telegram channel, filmed across the river from the Kremlin, appeared to show smoke rising over the buildings.
According to the text accompanying the video, residents at a nearby apartment building reported hearing bangs and seeing smoke at around 2:30 am local time.
Euronews could not authenticate the clip.
Numerous security experts and international observers have cast doubts on Moscow’s story, with some suggesting it may have been staged for international viewers.
They questioned why Russia would want its own people to know it could not intercept a small drone until the very last minute.
“I have some serious question[s],” tweeted Former Swedish Prime Minister, Carl Bildt. “Is it really realistic – if the drone was from far away – that no air defence could have intervened until right above the Kremlin itself?”
In its briefing, the ISW noted that Russia has recently beefed up its domestic air defences, including over Moscow.
“It is therefore extremely unlikely that two drones could have penetrated multiple layers of air defence and detonated or been shot down just over the heart of the Kremlin in a way that provided spectacular imagery caught nicely on camera,” it wrote.
They added that the Kremlin’s “immediate, coherent, and coordinated response that the attack was internally prepared in such a way that its intended political effects outweigh its embarrassment.”
Russian authorities said the attack occurred overnight but presented no other evidence in support of their claim. Nor did officials say why it took more than 12 hours to report the incident.
A close advisor to President Zelenskyy, Mikhail Podolyak, said the Kremlin’s claims would provide a pretext for Russia “to justify massive strikes on Ukrainian cities, on the civilian population, on infrastructure facilities” in the coming days.
On Wednesday afternoon, some 16 people were killed in a massive Russian airstrike on the Ukrainian city of Kherson.
The alleged attack prompted immediate calls in Russia from pro-Kremlin figures to carry out assassinations against senior leaders in Ukraine.
9 May parade will go ahead as scheduled
The Kremlin claimed the attack was planned to disrupt Victory Day, which Russia celebrates on 9 May to commemorate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. Foreign dignitaries are expected to attend the Moscow event.
Shortly before the news about the alleged attack broke, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin issued a ban on using drones in the Russian capital, with an exception for those launched by authorities.
Sobyanin did not offer any explanation, saying it would prevent the “illegal use of drones that can hinder the work of law enforcement.”
Elsewhere, Russia used Iranian-made drones during its third attack on Ukraine’s capital city in six days.
Explosions were heard in Kyiv and elsewhere during the night as Ukrainian air defences shot down 21 of the Russian drones, Ukraine’s Air Force Command said.
No damage or casualties were reported