The Biden administration had no foreknowledge of an impending drone attack on the Kremlin, four U.S. officials said, and a top official recommends caution when it comes to Moscow’s claims.
Russia said Wednesday that two drones flew overnight into the heart of Moscow to assassinate President Vladimir Putin, even though he wasn’t in the complex. Kyiv denies the allegation and officials said Ukraine had nothing to do with the attack. Instead, they insist it’s all a pretext created by the Kremlin to escalate its 14-month war.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he’d take anything coming from the Kremlin with a “large shaker of salt” during a conversation with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius on Wednesday.
Senior Biden administration officials are still working to confirm whether the suspected attack was ordered by Kyiv, conducted by a rogue pro-Ukraine group, or a false flag operation by Russia, two U.S. officials said.
If it was Ukraine, “we had no advance knowledge,” said one of the officials, who like others was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue. “We are looking into the report but aren’t able to confirm it or validate its authenticity,” said another.
Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee will be briefed by the administration at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. U.S. intelligence agencies didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Experts are skeptical that Ukraine would be brazen enough to try to kill Putin in the Russian capital. “The idea that this was an assassination attempt is absolutely ludicrous,” said Alina Polyakova, president and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C. “The Kremlin is a bunker and this looked like a makeshift drone that could only cause minimal damage.”
Mykhailo Polodyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said “Ukraine has nothing to do with drone attacks on the Kremlin.” Such a strike would only incentivize Moscow to send more missiles into Ukraine to terrorize the civilian population, he suggested. “Why would we need this? Where is the logic in that?”
But there have been mysterious attacks in recent months that question the level of Kyiv’s involvement. Intelligence suggests a pro-Ukrainian group damaged the Nordstream pipelines last year, though a Russian navy ship was near the energy throughway before the blast.
The U.S. also believes Ukraine orchestrated the killing of Daria Dugina, the daughter of a famous Russian nationalist. And there are multiple instances of Russian weapons depots, bridges and trains unexpectedly exploding.
But some are unperturbed even if it’s confirmed that Ukraine was behind a real drone attack. “After 14 months of deadly Russian strikes against civilian targets across all of Ukraine, the Kremlin whining about a drone strike that hits the Kremlin merits zero sympathy,” said retired Gen. Ben Hodges, the former chief of U.S. Army Europe.
Erin Banco and Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.