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Russia says Ukraine tried to attack the Kremlin in an attempt to assassinate Putin

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Ukrainian officials are denying involvement in an alleged drone attack on the Kremlin.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Russia's accusing Ukraine of attempting to use a pair of drones to assassinate President Vladimir Putin. Video emerged online showing explosions in the center of Moscow, above the Kremlin.

MARTÍNEZ: But who did it and how? That is now the subject of a fierce debate between Russia and Ukraine. Here to break it all down, we're joined by NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, facts are a bit thin right now, but we can at least talk about some motives. So why wouldn't Ukraine be the most likely suspect?

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Well, they certainly seem to be, A. we keep seeing these increasingly brazen attacks, some up to a couple hundred miles inside Russia. Almost all of them are carried out with drones. And Ukrainians have been speaking openly about the possibility of drones that could reach Moscow. This includes comments by the military intelligence chief who said recently that Ukraine was close to developing a drone that could reach Moscow, more than 300 miles away. And a Ukrainian tech entrepreneur has offered a half million dollars to anyone who could land a drone in Red Square, just outside the Kremlin walls.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, but Ukraine officially announced it's not us.

MYRE: Correct. Here's Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking yesterday during a visit to Finland.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: We don't attack Putin or Moscow. We fight on our territory. We are defending our villages and cities.

MYRE: Now, in the past, Ukraine has been very coy, neither confirming nor denying attacks inside Russia. So Zelenskyy's very direct denial is different than what we usually hear.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, then who else might be a suspect?

MYRE: Well, some Ukrainian officials have suggested, without evidence, that Russia may have staged this attack against itself. The Ukrainians say Russia is calling this an assassination attempt against President Vladimir Putin and could then use that accusation to carry out a major attack it was already planning to do. But so far, these are unfounded claims. And also, this attack on the Kremlin is hugely embarrassing for Russia. Putin launched this invasion last year with the expectation he would capture Ukraine and its capital in a matter of days. Now the headline is, Putin Survives Attack On The Kremlin.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. But, you know, the Kremlin has layers of security. So how could something like this happen in a place that's really so heavily guarded?

MYRE: Well, that's probably the question Russian security officials are pondering today. But we have seen repeated Russian security lapses in this war, particularly by the Air Force. And if we go back a couple decades, there's some history at this very spot. In 1987, when the Soviet Union still existed, a West German teenager, Mathias Rust, flew a small Cessna plane several hundred miles and touched down on the edge of Red Square. Now, he was promptly arrested, and shortly after that, several top Soviet Air Force officials lost their jobs.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Let's look ahead, though, and kind of think about what this latest attack on the Kremlin might mean on the battlefield in the coming days.

MYRE: So first, we're looking to see how Russia responds. Russia did fire more missiles and drones at Kyiv and other cities today, but a number similar to what we've seen in recent days. And then second, we were already looking for a major Ukrainian ground offensive. There's a strong sense that this campaign could begin very soon. And the focus is expected to be on southeastern Ukraine, where Russian forces are dug in.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thanks.

MYRE: Sure thing, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF EX0CORE'S "WHEN IN DARKNESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.