Russia accused Ukraine on Wednesday of a failed attempt to assassinate President Vladimir Putin in a drone attack on the Kremlin citadel in Moscow and said it reserved the right to retaliate.
A senior aide to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Kyiv had nothing to do with the reported incident, which he said could be used by the Kremlin to justify a new attack on Ukraine.
“Two unmanned aerial vehicles were aimed at the Kremlin. As a result of timely actions taken by the military and special services with the use of radar warfare systems, the devices were put out of action,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
“We regard these actions as a planned terrorist act and an attempt on the president’s life, carried out on the eve of Victory Day, the May 9 Parade, at which the presence of foreign guests is also planned,” it said.
It said fragments of the drones were scattered in the Kremlin grounds but there were no injuries or damage.
Putin himself was safe.
“The Russian side reserves the right to take retaliatory measures where and when it sees fit,” the Kremlin added.
Video posted by Baza, a Telegram channel with links to Russia’s law enforcement agencies, showed a flying object approaching the dome of a Kremlin building overlooking Red Square and exploding in a burst of light just before reaching it. Seats could be seen set up for the Victory Day parade.
Other video posted on a neighbourhood internet group appeared to show a plume of smoke over the Kremlin spires filmed from across the Moskva River.
Reuters could not independently verify the videos.
Elsewhere, oil depots were ablaze in both southern Russia and Ukraine, as both sides escalated a drone war ahead of Kyiv’s looming spring counteroffensive.
Scores of firefighters battled a huge fire that Russian authorities blamed on a Ukrainian drone crashing into an oil terminal on Russia’s side of its bridge to occupied Crimea. A fuel depot in Ukraine was ablaze after a suspected Russian drone strike on the central city of Kropyvnytskyi.
An administrative building in Ukraine’s southern Dnipropetrovsk region was also hit by a drone and set on fire. Ukraine said it had shot down 21 of 26 Iranian-made drones in an overnight volley, shielding targets in the capital Kyiv where air raid sirens blared for hours through the night.
Ukraine’s Zelenskiy was greeted by cheering crowds in Finland’s capital Helsinki, where he arrived on a rare trip abroad to meet Nordic leaders who have been some of Ukraine’s strongest supporters.
Ukraine and Russia have both been launching long-range strikes since last week in apparent anticipation of Ukraine’s upcoming counteroffensive, which Zelenskiy said would begin soon.
After a lull of nearly two months, Russia began a new wave of long range attacks with missiles last Friday, including one that killed 23 civilians while they slept in an apartment building in the city of Uman hundreds of miles from the front.
Since then, a suspected Ukrainian drone strike caused a fire at a Russian oil terminal in occupied Crimea, Russia hit dozens of homes and an industrial enterprise in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, and blasts derailed freight trains in Russia’s Bryansk region adjacent to Ukraine two days in a row.
Moscow says its long range attacks have struck military targets, though it has produced no evidence to support this. Kyiv, without confirming any role in incidents in Russia or occupied Crimea, says destroying infrastructure is part of preparation for its planned ground assault.
In videos posted on Russian social media of the burning fuel depot near the Crimea bridge, flames and black smoke billowed over large tanks emblazoned with red warnings of “Flammable”.
“The fire has been classified as the highest rank of difficulty,” said Veniamin Kondratyev, governor of the Krasnodar region, adding that there were no casualties. People should remain calm, there was no need to evacuate the surrounding village and 188 firefighters were battling the blaze with foam.
In Ukraine, the governor of the central Kirovohrad region said three Russian drones had tried to hit an oil facility in the region’s main city Kropyvnytskyi. Prosecutors said a huge fire had broken out there.
Zelenskiy’s visit to Finland was just his fourth known trip abroad since Russia’s full-scale invasion. Leaders of Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden were also invited.
“The theme of the summit is Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the Nordic countries’ continued support for Ukraine, Ukraine’s relationship with the EU and NATO, and Ukraine’s initiative for a just peace,” Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto’s office said.
The Nordic countries have been among the strongest supporters of Ukraine since the invasion, with Finland and Sweden both applying to join NATO in response to a war Moscow claimed was aimed in part at blocking the alliance’s expansion.
Zelenskiy, who has also visited the United States, Britain, France, Poland and the EU’s headquarters in Belgium, is due in Germany on May 13.
Russia says it launched its “special military operation” to counter a threat from Kyiv’s relations with the West. Ukraine and its allies call it an unprovoked war of conquest by Moscow, derailed by a failed assault on the capital Kyiv early last year and Ukrainian advances in the second half of 2022.
Over the past five months, Ukrainian ground forces have kept mostly to the defensive, while Russia launched a huge, largely unsuccessful winter assault, capturing little new ground despite the bloodiest infantry combat in Europe since World War Two.
For its planned counterattack, Kyiv has been building up a force with thousands of fresh troops trained at Western bases and armed with hundreds of new Western-supplied tanks and armoured vehicles. Russia has dug in heavy fortifications along the length of the front line.