Explosions Over the Kremlin Set Off Dueling Accusations

Russia accused Ukraine of launching drones at the Kremlin aimed at killing President Vladimir V. Putin. The Ukrainian president denied the claim, and officials in Kyiv warned that Russia could use it to launch “a large-scale terrorist provocation.”

Two explosions occurred 15 minutes apart over the Kremlin early Wednesday, video footage verified by The New York Times showed, in an incident that set off a flurry of accusations and escalated tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Russia claimed the Ukrainian government had orchestrated a drone attack, describing it as a deliberate attempt to strike President Vladimir V. Putin’s residence that was foiled by Russian “electronic warfare systems.” Russia did not release any evidence to show that Ukraine was behind the explosions.

Ukraine denied any involvement, asserting that Russia had manufactured the incident to distract attention from Ukraine’s looming counteroffensive. An attack in the heart of Moscow would represent an audacious move by Kyiv, with the potential to create serious repercussions.

On Wednesday, U.S. intelligence agencies were still trying to determine what happened, according to two American officials briefed on the situation. U.S. officials have in the past voiced concern about Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil, concerned they could provoke Moscow without having a direct effect on the battlefield.

Kyiv is readying tens of thousands of soldiers for its counteroffensive and stepping up strikes aimed at weakening Russian forces. Mr. Putin is preparing to preside over a major military parade in Red Square next Tuesday, on Russia’s main patriotic holiday — the May 9 celebration of the Soviet Union’s World War II victory over Nazi Germany.

Whatever the provenance of the explosions, it was clear that the Kremlin had made a deliberate choice to publicize the incident. About 12 hours after the blasts, Mr. Putin’s press service issued a rare, five-paragraph statement alleging that the “Kyiv regime” had used drones to carry out an unsuccessful “attempt on the life of the president.” Mr. Putin’s spokesman said the president was not in the Kremlin when the explosions occurred, at around 2:30 a.m. Moscow time.

If the explosions were indeed a drone attack, the penetration of central Moscow’s air defenses would represent the latest embarrassing failure by a Russian military that has struggled throughout the 14-month war. Either way, the incident could serve as a pretext for Mr. Putin to launch new strikes on Ukraine, as happened after the fiery attack on Russia’s bridge to Crimea last October.

Ukraine, for its part, has largely maintained a policy of deliberate ambiguity over whether it has played a role in attacks inside Russia. In this case, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, directly denied responsibility.

“We don’t attack Putin or Moscow,” he told the Nordic broadcaster TV2 during a visit to Finland. “We fight on our territory. We’re defending our villages and cities. We don’t have enough weapons for these.” Dealing with Mr. Putin, he added, would be left to an international tribunal.

Here are the latest developments:

  • The Kremlin statement said that drones had targeted the Russian president’s official residence, calling it “a planned terrorist attack and an attempt on the life of the president.” Russia reserved the right to retaliate, it said.

  • Shortly after the Kremlin issued its statement, air raid alarms wailed across the Kyiv, but the alert was lifted within an hour and a half. Russian drones have targeted the city three of the last six nights.

  • Besides Mr. Zelensky, other Ukrainian officials categorically denied Russia’s claim. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, suggested in a statement to The New York Times that Russia would use the claim to launch a “large-scale terrorist provocation” against Ukraine in the coming days.

  • There have been a string of drone strikes and acts of sabotage on Russian territory since Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, including a car bombing outside Moscow that killed the daughter of a prominent pro-war Russian commentator last August. Ukraine denied involvement in the car bombing at the time, but U.S. intelligence agencies believe that parts of the Ukrainian government authorized the attack.

  • Ukraine appears to be intensifying attacks on Russian military strongholds before an expected counteroffensive. Explosions hit targets in and near occupied Crimea overnight. In the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, a 58-hour stay-at-home order has been imposed because of threats posed by Russian forces, a Ukrainian official said.

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