U.S. intelligence officials said that the drone attack was part of a series of covert Ukrainian military or intelligence operations on Russian soil that have made the Biden administration uncomfortable as the U.S. continues to prop up the European country, The New York Times reported. Video footage showed two drones crashing near the Kremlin earlier this month, but the attack caused little to no damage, and Putin was not at the Kremlin at the time of the strike.
After initially wondering if Russia conducted the drone attack as a “false flag” operation, the U.S. intercepted Russian communications indicating the country was surprised by the attack.
“Watching how the Kremlin has responded suggests to me this was an embarrassment and surprise for them, and not a deliberate false flag,” said Dara Massicot, a military analyst at RAND, according to the Times. “The strikes also undermine the perceptions of Moscow’s air space surveillance capabilities and that the Kremlin is secure — these are important perceptions they would like to maintain.”
U.S. intelligence also intercepted Ukrainian officials saying their country was responsible for the attack, but they appeared to have no knowledge of who within the Ukrainian government planned it.
Officials had “low” confidence that the Ukrainian government authorized the drone attack, and some officials said they did not believe President Volodymyr Zelensky was aware of the covert operation. Russia initially blamed Ukraine for the attack and then singled out the U.S., accusing Ukraine’s most powerful ally of giving Kyiv the go-ahead to conduct the operation.
“We are well aware that decisions on such a level of terrorist attacks are made not in Kyiv, but in Washington,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to NBC News. “Kyiv only does what it is told to do.”
The U.S. quickly denied any claims that it was in any way behind an attack on Russia’s capital.
“Mr. Peskov is lying, obviously. It’s a ludicrous claim. The United States had nothing to do with this. We don’t even know exactly what happened here,” National Security spokesman John Kirby told CNN. “I can assure you the United States had no role in it whatsoever.”
If Ukraine was behind the drone attack as U.S. intelligence officials believe, it would mark at least the third attack on Russian soil that the U.S. believes Ukraine is behind. Last year, the daughter of a prominent Russian blogger was killed in a car bombing, and in recent weeks, pro-Ukrainian forces have attacked Russian towns, appearing to use American-made tactical vehicles in their incursions.
The bold invasions into Russian territory have alarmed the Biden administration, the Times reported. President Biden has handed over armored vehicles, long-range missiles, and billions of dollars to help Ukraine fight the Russians. The president is also preparing to approve the shipment of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine from other allies.
Tim Pearce contributed to this report.