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There’s big problems with the way the Kremlin drone incident went down, and war experts say Russia ‘likely staged’ it

kremlin explosion drones ukraine russiaUnverified footage on social media appears to show an object flying over the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on May 3, 2023.


  • Much remains unknown about the drone incident above the Kremlin on Wednesday.
  • However, a US think tank has said it was “likely” a Russian false flag operation. 
  • Several commentators have cautiously noted the potential political benefits for Russia.

A US think tank said that Russia “likely” staged an alleged drone attack on the Kremlin as a false flag operation, with other observers noting how politically advantageous the incident would be for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia claimed that two drones — one of which was caught on camera exploding— were sent over the Kremlin as a “planned terrorist act and an attempt on the president’s life” early Wednesday. It accused Ukraine of the attack.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy quickly denied any involvement.

The Kremlin was largely unharmed in the incident, and Putin was not in the building at the time.

As military experts told Insider, many details of the incident — and ultimate responsibility for it — remain unconfirmed as of Thursday.

But US think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which produces a detailed daily situation update on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has said that “several indicators suggest that the strike was internally conducted and purposefully staged” by Russia.

Russia has bolstered its multi-layered air defenses around Moscow, making it “extremely unlikely” that two drones could get close enough to explode “just over the heart of the Kremlin in a way that provided spectacular imagery caught nicely on camera,” ISW said.

The think tank pointed to geolocated images of Russia installing advanced Pantsir surface-to-air missile defense systems around Moscow earlier this year.

Moscow and the central industrial district are defended by the 1st Air and Missile Defense Army, equipped with S-300 or S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, as Defense News reported. The Russian defense ministry is also working to further bolster these capabilities by year-end.

The highly coordinated public statements made immediately after the incident also suggest that it was no surprise to Russia, the ISW said.

Meanwhile, Russia’s much-hyped annual Victory Day celebrations are looming on May 9 — but have been pared back nationwide over security concerns.

Some observers have argued that the event could turn into a show of dissent against its invasion of Ukraine, as the BBC reported.

The Kremlin could use the drone incident to justify scaling them back even further, which would help it in “framing the war in Ukraine as directly threatening Russian observance of revered historical events,” the ISW wrote.

A 2017 image of two Pansir air defense systems, painted in white and grey, in Moscow.A 2017 image of two Pantsir-SA surface-to-air missile system during a parade in Red Square, Moscow.

Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Several commentators have speculated on the potental political benefits for Russia in staging such an attack, both domestically and on the international stage.

“Russia needs some sort of justification for why they are continuing to stay in Ukraine,” Dr Marina Miron, a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, told Insider, speaking hypothetically about the incident.

“And so this has a message for the domestic populace to say, ‘Look how dangerous Ukraine is. They’re even trying to kill Putin.'”

“The motives are all really in Russia’s favor,” an unnamed UK senior defense source told Sky News correspondent Tamara Cohen.

The source echoed Miron’s sentiments, saying that it would encourage “the public to rally round; excuse for more random and reckless bombardments; trying to gain sympathy for Russia over Ukraine.”

Russia also has prior form for false flag attacks, and is notorious for making demonstrably false claims around international incidents.

However, other theories — such as it being a warning signal from Ukraine, or the work of Russian dissidents — are far from closed off, experts told Insider.

Some commentators have said that Ukraine’s denial is undermined by the fact that several incidents on Russian territory have been attributed to Kyiv. 

Drone expert Dr James Patton Rogers hypothesized that the drones used could have been the Ukrainian UJ-22, which was likely used in a prior attempt on a Gazprom site near Moscow in February. He said the earlier strike could have been a test to feel out Moscow’s air defenses. 

The Russian Defense and Foreign Ministries did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

Read the original article on Business Insider