Ukrainians Were Likely Behind Kremlin Drone Attack, U.S. Officials Say

US officials say the drone attack on the Kremlin earlier this month was likely orchestrated by one of Ukraine’s special military or intelligence units, the latest in a series of attacks. covert action against Russian targets worries the Biden administration.

US intelligence agencies do not know which unit carried out the attack, and it is unclear whether President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine or his top officials were aware of the operation, although some officials believe Mr. Zelensky did not know.

The agencies reached their preliminary assessment in part through intercepted communications in which Russian officials blamed Ukraine and other communications that Ukrainian officials say they believe their country responsible for the attack, in which two drones flew on May 3 towards the Kremlindoes little damage.

US officials say their level of confidence that the Ukrainian government directly authorized the Kremlin drone strike is “low” but that it is because intelligence agencies do not have evidence yet. specifically identify which Ukrainian government officials, units or agents are involved.

The attack appeared to be part of a series of activities that made officials in the United States – Ukraine’s largest supplier of military equipment – uncomfortable. The Biden administration fears the risk of Russia blaming American officials and retaliation by expanding the war beyond Ukraine.

US intelligence agencies see an emerging picture of a loose coalition of Ukrainian units able to conduct limited operations inside and outside Russia, using their own personnel. or partners working under their direction. Officials said some of these missions could have been carried out with little, if any, oversight from Mr. Zelensky.

In addition to the drone strike, US officials say they believe Ukrainians are responsible for the attack. assassinate the daughter of a famous Russian nationalist, the murder of a pro-Russian blogger and some Attack on Russian town near Ukraine borderThe most recent happened on Monday.

American officials have similar views the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines – has shipped natural gas from Russia to Europe – is the work of pro-Ukrainian agents whose relationship to the Ukrainian government is still unknown.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, described their assessment broadly, but would not share details of the intercepts. Representatives for the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

Although the drone attack cause less damageit punctures the sense of security and invincibility that the Kremlin has sought to portray inside Moscow despite the chaos it has created with the war in Ukraine.

The ability of US intelligence agencies to determine responsibility for attacks on Russian targets is complicated by the way Ukraine organizes its security services, which have secret responsibilities. confidential, overlapping, and sometimes competing.

For example, the Security Service of Ukraine, the General Intelligence Service and the Ukrainian military each have their own special forces units.

They operate with varying degrees of professionalism and oversight, and sometimes they compete for resources and attention within the Ukrainian system. U.S. officials are unsure how closely these units work together, if any, by design — as part of a containment system to prevent Russian spies from knowing about their activities — either due to mistrust between services, or both.

Screenshot from the video showing the drone explosion near the dome of the Senate Palace.Credit…Ostorozhno Novosti, via Reuters

Some US officials initially considered the possibility that the drone strike on the Kremlin could have been carried out by the Russian government in a “fake flag” campaign designed to provide Moscow with an excuse to attack the Kremlin. conflict escalation.

But after the attack, the United States intercepted communications in which Russian officials overheard the discussion of the incident and the results of Moscow’s preliminary investigation into what took place. In those internal discussions, Russian officials appeared surprised by the drone intrusion and blamed Ukraine. US officials said this intelligence helped convince them that the attack was not carried out by the Russians.

Dara Massicot, a military analyst at RAND, said: “Watching how the Kremlin reacts shows me that this is an embarrassment and surprise for them, not a deliberate misstep. “. “The attacks also undermined perceptions of Moscow’s ability to monitor space and that the Kremlin is safe — these are important perceptions they want to uphold.”

The United States has also blocked Ukrainian conversations in which officials say they believe their country is responsible for the attack. But these officials do not seem to know who in the Ukrainian system may have planned or executed it.

U.S. officials say that some of Ukraine’s secret agents operate largely independently and without direct supervision from Zelensky or his top deputies. Officials say they do not believe Mr. Zelensky signed off on all of the covert operations and the extent to which he knew about them in advance is unclear.

Instead, US officials said they suspect that Mr Zelensky and his top aides set common parameters for the covert operation, leaving decisions about who to target and who to target. what for the security agencies and their agents. In doing so, Mr. Zelensky and his top aides can deny knowing about them.

US officials have repeatedly warned Ukraine against launching large-scale attacks inside Russia, citing the risk of escalation. They also often dismiss the effectiveness of attacks, which they see as a distraction from the most important battle: Kiev’s campaign against Russian forces in southern and eastern Ukraine.

US officials have also publicly denied allowing or encouraging cross-border attacks and said they do not support the use of American device in such activities. The Biden administration does not want Moscow to think that the United States is complicit in the attacks.

The authorities’ concerns that Russia would use nuclear weapons, or expand the conflict outside Ukraine, have at least so far abated, and Ukrainians continue to conduct covert operations on the ground. Russian soil despite US reservations.

While covert attacks appear to have had little effect on the course of the conflict in Ukraine, they have demonstrated Kyiv’s ability to penetrate deep within Russia. U.S. officials said the goal of the operations could be to lift Ukrainians’ morale and puncture the aura of invulnerability that surrounds President Vladimir V. Putin.

Ukrainian military leaders are sometimes reluctant to share information with the United States about war plans, fearing that Russian spies or others will know about them, making it difficult for Ukraine to surprise its enemies than. Ukrainians are particularly tight-lipped about their covert activities.

The drone attack on the Kremlin took place at dawn on May 3, a few days before Russia celebrated Victory Day, marking Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

The first drone caused a small fire; The second drone exploded while the two men were inspecting the roof for damage caused by the first, but they did not appear to be injured. Russian officials said the drones were intercepted and destroyed before they could cause injury.

A New York Times analysis of the attack video showed the drone had a wingspan of about 8 feet. US officials believe the two drones involved were launched from a short distance, in or near Moscow. The drones, according to senior military officials, carry a limited amount of explosives, suggesting the Kremlin blasts are more of a shock value than a real threat.

Russian officials quickly went public with the incident, calling it a Ukrainian plot to assassinate Putin. Russia promises retaliatory measures and have hit Ukraine with frequent salvoes of rockets, although it is unclear whether the escalation was a direct response to the drone strike.

On the day of the drone attack, Zelensky publicly denied responsibility, insisting Ukraine was fighting on its territory and holding weapons to defend Ukraine, not attack Moscow. “We are not attacking Putin,” he said.

A shadowy network of Russian partisan groups has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks, including the one on the Kremlin. But US intelligence agencies have found no evidence that such groups are responsible for the activities, and some US intelligence officials suspect that any anti-Putin resistance forces are involved. What sense is operating inside Russia.

Christiaan Triebert, Riley Mellen And Michael Schwirtz contribution report.


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