The escalation of the war against Ukraine came to a head overnight as a furious President Vladimir Putin fired up to 24 attack drones against Kyiv. At the same time, 15 suicide UAVs also rained down on Odesa. In co-operation with other air defense units, “shot down 18 attack drones,” the Ukrainian Air Force said on Telegram on Thursday.
According to Ukraine’s Air Force Command, the “invaders launched up to 24 Shahed-136/131 attack drones from Russia’s Bryansk Oblast and the eastern coast of the Azov Sea,” it said in a statement. The invaders also fired up a few missiles, the air force added.
In other attacks, a fire broke out at an oil refinery in southern Russia’s Krasnodar region, with local authorities saying a drone strike caused it. And in occupied Crimea, Ukrainian troops shot down a Russian fighter jet as it tried to enter a base in the region.
Regardless of who was responsible for the attacks, they will likely lead to more and more embarrassment for Russia as Ukraine’s military develops its defenses against the threat. It will have to decide whether it is willing to risk its own life and limb to protect what it sees as the people’s interests or stick to a strategy that has already cost its forces millions of dollars in losses.
Moscow’s pro-war analysts said the incident was a significant escalation of the conflict, with Ukraine taking the war to the heart of Russia’s power structure. They said it was likely to trigger calls in Russia for assassinations of senior leaders in Kyiv, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
But some experts speculate the attack was not an assassination but a staged explosion designed to generate support for the Kremlin and the ongoing war against Ukraine. It would also demonstrate to the Russian public that their own country is not immune from attack – something that the Kremlin has been trying to do in its efforts to dissuade its citizens from supporting Ukraine’s fight for independence, according to Samuel Bendett, a specialist with the Center for Naval Analyses in the US.
A Tass news agency reported the alleged drone attack. It came just days before Russia was due to celebrate its Victory Day parade in Red Square on 9 May, marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. The Kremlin said the alleged attack was an attempt to disrupt the parade, which foreign dignitaries were expected to attend.
A pro-Kremlin telegram channel called VChK-OGPU, controlled by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, described it as an attempt to ‘eliminate’ Mr Zelenskyy. The channel did not say why it believed this to be the case, but Mr. Putin is known to have ordered the assassinations of opposition figures in Ukraine.
The Russian government has massively built up its air defenses around Putin’s palaces and residences, but this was the first time a drone penetrated them. The video, posted on social media, showed what appeared to be a drone flying above the Kremlin. The object, whose wings looked thin and likely not made by a state actor, was seen exploding above the domed roof of one of the buildings.