KYIV, Ukraine — The Kremlin spokesman on Thursday accused the United States of ordering what Moscow alleges was an assassination attempt on President Vladimir Putin with two drones that were sent to attack the Russian president’s official residence.
John Kirby, the spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, said Peskov “is just lying.”
Kirby said that it was still not clear to Washington what had happened, but he bluntly rebutted Peskov’s claim. “I can assure you that there was no involvement by the United States in this, whatever it was,” he said during an appearance on MSNBC. “We had nothing to do with this. Peskov is just lying there, pure and simple.”
The exchange was the latest and perhaps toughest test of Washington’s effort to support Ukraine without coming into direct conflict with Russia. Russian officials’ increasingly aggressive statements have also heightened worries in Kyiv that Moscow is preparing to launch another major air assault against civilian targets behind the front lines, after a winter missile campaign that failed to destroy Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Ukrainian officials have denied any role in the alleged attack. Some have suggested that Russia staged the incident for domestic consumption to create a pretext for further escalating its war.
“How would Americans react if a drone hit the White House, the Capitol or the Pentagon?” asked Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the United States, according to the Russian news agency Tass. “The answer is obvious for any politician as well as for the average citizen: The punishment would be harsh and inevitable.”
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Thursday it was “extremely unlikely” that two drones could have avoided detection and reached the Kremlin, one of the most protected locations in Russia.
Air raid sirens and explosions could be heard in Kyiv again on Thursday evening as Ukrainian forces shot down a drone that could be seen flying above the center of the city.
Hours later, the country’s air force reported that the object was in fact a Turkish-produced Bayraktar TB2 drone belonging to Ukrainian forces that had “lost control” during a “scheduled flight.”
“Since the uncontrolled presence of [drones] in the sky of the capital could lead to undesirable consequences, it was decided to use the calculations of mobile fire groups,” the air force said in social media posts. “It’s a pity, but this is technology, and such cases happen.” No injuries were reported.
Peskov called the U.S. and Ukrainian denials they attacked the Kremlin “absolutely ridiculous.”
“We know that often it is not even Kyiv that determines the targets, but Washington determines them and then brings them to Kyiv so that Kyiv implements them,” he said. “Whether or not to divide all of this by two is up to them, but Washington should know that we know this clearly.”
Putin was not at the Kremlin, a walled compound in the center of Moscow, at the time of the alleged strike on the Senate Palace, which contains his official residence. Peskov said Putin was working there Thursday and protective measures, including air defenses, would be strengthened.
Peskov, asked why he had not mentioned the alleged attack during his briefing with reporters the day before, cited an “operational assessment.”
Moscow’s accusation against Washington came several hours after Russia launched a wave of self-destructing drones against Kyiv and the southern port city of Odessa overnight. Explosions rang out in the two cities.
Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv and across Ukraine at about 2:30 a.m. It was the third attack on the capital in four days, Serhiy Popko, head of the city military administration, said in a post on Telegram.
Of 24 drones launched by Russia, Ukraine’s air force said, 18 were shot down.
In Kyiv, Popko said, city air defenses shot down all drones. Debris fell on three districts in the city center, but no casualties were reported. In Odessa, Ukraine’s southern military command reported, air defenses shot down 12 of 15 drones. Three drones hit dormitories, the command wrote on Facebook, causing fires but no injuries. The Washington Post was unable to independently verify Ukrainian officials’ statements.
The command posted photos allegedly showing fragments of the drones with “for the Kremlin” and “for Moscow” scrawled on them.
Russian officials said the Kremlin was attacked early Wednesday. Two drones were shot down without any casualties, they said.
Video footage showed one of the drones exploding and hitting the dome of the Senate Palace and another exploding just above it.
Russian officials called the assault “a planned terrorist attack” and said they reserved the right to respond “when and where” they chose.
Kirby, appearing Thursday on a broadcast of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” said Washington was not involved. Ukrainian officials often complain that the United States has limited their ability to strike targets inside Russia by not providing additional longer-range weapons.
“We certainly don’t dictate to them the terms by which they defend themselves, or the operations they conduct,” Kirby said. “However, we have been clear with them publicly, and we have been clear privately, we do not encourage nor do we enable them to strike outside Ukraine.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday visited the International Criminal Court in The Hague, part of a trip during which he meet on Wednesday with Northern European leaders in Finland.
In March, the court issued an arrest warrant for Putin and another Russian official for the alleged abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children. At The Hague, Zelensky said the Russian leader “deserves to be sentenced for these criminal actions right here in the capital of the international law,” the Associated Press reported. He repeated a call for a special independent tribunal to try Russian officials for the crime of aggression.
Zelensky said he was “sure” that Putin would stand trial after Ukraine defeats Russia.
Russia, like the United States, does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, and the ICC does not try individuals in absentia.
Ukrainian forces appear to be successfully attacking other targets in Russia.
Officials in southern Russia said drones struck two oil refineries in the Krasnodar and Rostov regions overnight on Thursday, part of what the British Defense Ministry said was a pattern since the start of the year of attacks on Russian fuel storage sites.
Russian authorities said they have canceled parades for May 9 Victory Day celebrations in at least 21 cities. However, Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said that the Moscow parade to commemorate the end of World War II will proceed as usual and Putin will deliver his traditional address.
Fighting continued in eastern and southern Ukraine, officials in Kyiv said. Ukrainian forces continued to hold their positions against a Russian assault in the eastern city of Bakhmut.
In the southern region of Kherson, which Ukraine recaptured last November, about 23 people died and dozens were injured when Russian forces bombarded the main city and surrounding villages with artillery fire on Wednesday, the regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin said in a post on Telegram.
Zelensky posted photos of the aftermath. He said artillery hit a railway station, house, hardware store, supermarket and gas station.
Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.
One year of Russia’s war in Ukraine
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Deepening global divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on issues raised by the Ukraine war. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions haven’t stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.