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04/05/2023 | Analysis: Did Ukraine try to assassinate Vladimir Putin?

Joseph Fitsanakis

The Ukrainian military and paramilitary forces are both interested in, and capable of, carrying out strikes inside Russia. In 2023 alone, there have been dozens of apparent acts of sabotage in European Russia, which have damaged bridges, disrupted railway transportation systems, and rendered weapons depots unusable.

 

OFFICIALS IN UKRAINE HAVE vehemently denied allegations by the Kremlin that the Ukrainian government tried to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin using two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). A statement by the Russian government said that the Kremlin, which serves as the official residence of the Russian president in Moscow, came under attack by two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the early hours of Wednesday. According to the statement, the UAVs were shot down 16 minutes apart. The first UAV allegedly exploded mid-air at 2:27 a.m. local time over the old Senate building, which is located on the eastern side of the Kremlin. At 2:43 a.m. a second UAV exploded over the Kremlin, sending debris flying across the courtyard of the heavily fortified complex.

There were no injuries or material damages, according to the Russian Federal Protective Service, which is responsible for the protection of high-ranking state officials and government facilities, including the Kremlin complex. Within hours, Russia openly placed blame on the government of Ukraine for the alleged attack and claimed that it had been intended to kill President Putin. A subsequent statement praised the Russian armed forces for thwarting the alleged attack on Putin’s life with “timely actions”. Meanwhile, government officials in the United States said that the White House “had no foreknowledge of an impending drone attack on the Kremlin” and urged that Moscow’s allegations be treated with skepticism.

UKRAINE IS CAPABLE OF STRIKING INSIDE RUSSIA

The Ukrainian military and paramilitary forces are both interested in, and capable of, carrying out strikes inside Russia. In 2023 alone, there have been dozens of apparent acts of sabotage in European Russia, which have damaged bridges, disrupted railway transportation systems, and rendered weapons depots unusable. This week alone, a fuel depot in Russia’s Krasnodar Krai was extensively damaged by a fire, which local authorities claimed was caused by a kamikaze UAV attack. About 1,500 miles north in Bryansk Oblast, near Russia’s border with Belarus, two trains were derailed by blasts that, according to news reports “appeared to be separate but identical incidents”. Ukraine denies involvement in these incidents, but military observers remain suspicious.

Meanwhile, investigative work by news outlets such as The New York Times suggests that Ukrainian paramilitary units may have been behind acts of sabotage in Western Europe, and even assassinations of pro-Putin figures inside Russia. Some of these attacks —if that is indeed what they were— may have been carried out by teams of cover human operatives. Others may have been carried out by mechanical means, including UAVs. Certainly, the Ukrainian military has never been shy about its effort to develop a strong long-range strike capability using UAVs. There is also some evidence that it may have carried out at least one UAV-enabled attack near Moscow in recent months. It therefore stands to reason that Ukraine is both willing and able to launch strikes inside Russia.

 AN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT?

Yet, despite Ukraine’s noted intentions and capabilities, there are elements in the alleged UAV attack on the Kremlin that discredit the Kremlin’s assassination claims. The footage released by the Kremlin shows two flying objects —likely UAVs— that appear small in size. The subsequent explosions also show that the payloads they were carrying were too small to seriously damage a reinforced structure like that of the Kremlin. The idea that a couple of quadcopter-style UAVs could penetrate a thick-walled military fort and reach an elusive and well-guarded human target is simply absurd.

Furthermore, few building complexes in the world are as heavily guarded as the Kremlin, which is essentially a fortified military compound. In addition to the constellations of advanced anti-aircraft systems that encircle the complex, the latter is also protected by radar-based counter-UAV systems, which can detect, track and disable UAVs. They do this by jamming their control signals and using directed energy to disable them. They can even take over their command-and-control functions through a form of signals hacking. In fact, it is almost certain that the two UAVs —if that is what they were— that flew over the Kremlin last Wednesday were effectively neutralized using radar-based counter-UAV systems.

It is also worth noting that Vladimir Putin was not in the Kremlin when the attack happened. Having spent much of Tuesday in St. Petersburg, the Russian leader was staying the night at his Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, a presidential compound located eight miles west of the Kremlin. As others have suggested, the Ukrainian government, as well as its allies in the West, closely monitor President Putin’s daily whereabouts. Had they wanted to kill him, they would have launched an attack on Novo-Ogaryovo, which is far less fortified than the Kremlin. They would also have used an entire fleet of large-size UAVs that can carry truly lethal payloads —such as the UJ-22, which the Ukrainian military employs with some regularity.

At the same time, the view expressed in some quarters that this may have been an urban-guerrilla-type attack by anti-Putin forces inside Russia, seems highly improbable. The Russian opposition to Putin, such as it is, has virtually no history of armed resistance of any note. Some have entertained the possibility that this could have been part of a false-flag operation by the Kremlin, designed to enrage the Russian population and give Vladimir Putin the political capital he needs to pursue his military assault on Ukraine with renewed energy. But that seems equally implausible. The Russian leader’s mystique rests on a self-styled image of macho invincibility. The idea that his life might have been endangered by an armed assault at the very seat of power in Moscow does not comport with that carefully curated image.

SOME POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS

All things considered, it is unlikely that the UAV attack on the Kremlin was a serious attempt on Vladimir Putin’s life. But it could still have been an attack against Russia and an attack perpetrated by the Ukrainians. It could easily have been carried out by Kyiv in order to assess the Kremlin’s defenses against UAV-enabled attacks. It could also have been aimed at illustrating the weakness of Russian anti-aircraft defenses, and to make the Russian leader seem week and unable to defend the very seat of his power in Moscow. By succeeding in reaching the Kremlin with UAVs, Kyiv could also be showcasing its ability to launch armed attacks against targets that are located many hundreds of miles inside Russia, while also ridiculing Russian air defenses.

One rather plausible explanation was offered by Dr. Marina Miron, a military strategist with the Centre for Military Ethics at King’s College London. Miron told the Business Insider that the attack could be “interpreted as a sort of warning” to Moscow by Kyiv. In other words, this attack deliberately involved only a couple of UAVs with limited payloads, and was primarily designed to make create some unease among Kremlin officials. But the message it carried with it may be that the next attack could be more precise, involve larger payloads, or even “a swarm of drones”, Miron said. If that were to occur, we would undoubtedly enter a new and unprecedented phase in this truly unpredictable conflict.

Intelnews.org (Estados Unidos)

 



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