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

US officials said the drone attack on the Kremlin earlier this month was likely carried out by one of Ukraine’s special military or intelligence units, the latest in a series of covert operations against Russian targets that have dogged the Biden administration. Has made me anxious.

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

The agencies made their initial assessment partly through intercepted communications in which Russian officials blamed Ukraine and other communications in which Ukrainian officials said they believed their country was responsible for the attack. in which Two drones were flown towards the Kremlin on May 3.which causes little damage.

U.S. officials say their level of confidence that the Ukrainian government directly authorized the Kremlin drone strike is “low,” but that’s because intelligence agencies don’t yet have specific evidence. Find out which government officials, Ukrainian units or operatives were involved.

The attack appears to be part of a series of actions that have made officials in the United States — Ukraine’s largest supplier of military equipment — uncomfortable. The Biden administration is concerned about the risk that Russia will blame U.S. officials and retaliate by extending the war beyond Ukraine.

U.S. intelligence agencies see an emerging picture of a loose confederation of Ukrainian units capable of limited operations inside and outside Russia, either using their own personnel or partners acting under their direction. Some of those missions could have been carried out with little supervision from Mr. Zielinski, officials said.

In addition to the drone strike, US officials say they believe the Ukrainians were responsible. The murder of the daughter of a prominent Russian nationalist, Murder of a pro-Russian blogger And a large number Attacks in Russian towns near Ukraine borderThe latest of which occurred on Monday.

US officials see it the same way. Attack on Nord Stream pipelines — which transported natural gas from Russia to Europe — as the work of pro-Ukraine activists whose ties to the Ukrainian government have yet to be determined.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, described their analysis in broad terms, but would not share details of the intrusion. Representatives of the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

Although the drone strike caused little damage, it undermined Moscow’s sense of security and invulnerability despite the chaos created by its war in Ukraine.

The ability of U.S. intelligence agencies to determine responsibility for attacks against Russian targets has been complicated by the way Ukraine has organized its security services, which have secret, overlapping, and sometimes competing responsibilities. are

For example, the Security Service of Ukraine, the Main Directorate of Intelligence and the Army of Ukraine each operate in their own special forces units.

They operate with varying levels of expertise and oversight, and they sometimes compete for resources and attention in the Ukrainian system. U.S. officials are unsure if these units coordinate their activities, either by design — to prevent Russian moles from learning about their operations — or mistrust between the services. Because of, or both.

A screenshot of a video of a drone explosion near the dome of the Senate…Ostorozhno Novosti, via Reuters

Some US officials initially considered the possibility that the Kremlin drone strike may have been a “false flag” operation by the Russian government aimed at giving Moscow an excuse to escalate the conflict.

But after the attack, the United States intercepted communications in which Russian officials were heard discussing the incident and the results of Moscow’s initial investigation into it. In these internal discussions, Russian officials appeared surprised by the drone intrusion and blamed Ukraine. US officials said that this intelligence helped them to believe that the attack was not carried out by the Russians.

“The way the Kremlin has responded shows to me that this is an embarrassment and a surprise to them, not an intentional one,” said Dara Massicot, a military analyst at RAND, referring to the drone strike. “False Flag”. “The strikes have also damaged Moscow’s airspace surveillance capabilities and the Kremlin’s perception of security — key perceptions it wants to maintain.”

The United States also blocked talks with Ukraine, which officials said believed their country was responsible for the attack. But these officials appear to have had no idea who planned or executed it within the Ukrainian system.

U.S. officials say some Ukrainian intelligence operatives operate largely independently and without direct supervision from Mr. Zelenskyi or his top deputies. Officials say they don’t believe Mr. Zielinski signs off on all the secret operations, and it’s unclear how much he knows about them in advance.

Instead, U.S. officials said they suspected Mr. Zielinski and his top aides had masterminded the broad scope of the covert campaign, leaving it up to the security services and their operatives to decide who to target. And who to target? In doing so, Mr. Zielinski and his top aides can deny knowing about them.

U.S. officials have repeatedly warned Ukraine against launching high-profile attacks inside Russia, citing the risk of escalating tensions. They have also generally dismissed the effectiveness of the attacks, which they see as a distraction from the most important fight: Kiev’s campaign against Russian forces in southern and eastern Ukraine.

U.S. officials have also publicly denied enabling or encouraging cross-border attacks and have said they do not support the use of U.S. Equipment In such an operation. The Biden administration does not want Moscow to think that the United States is involved in these attacks.

Administration fears that Russia would use nuclear weapons, or escalate the conflict outside of Ukraine, have subsided, at least for now, and the Ukrainians have continued covert operations on Russian soil despite U.S. concerns.

While the secret attacks have so far had little impact on the conflict in Ukraine, they have demonstrated Kiev’s ability to penetrate deep into Russia. U.S. officials say the moves may be aimed at boosting morale in Ukraine and piercing the invulnerability surrounding President Vladimir V. Putin.

Ukrainian military leaders are sometimes reluctant to share information about war plans with the U.S., worried that Russian spies or others would learn about them, making it harder for Ukraine to surprise an enemy. Is. The Ukrainians have been particularly tight-lipped about their covert operations.

The drone attack on the Kremlin took place in the early hours of May 3, several days before Russia celebrates Victory Day, which marks Russia’s victory in World War II over Nazi Germany.

First the drone started a small fire. The second drone exploded while two men were inspecting the roof for damage already done, but were not injured. Russian officials said the drones were intercepted and destroyed before they could cause injuries.

A New York Times analysis of video of the attack showed the drones had a wingspan of about eight feet. US officials believe the two drones involved were launched from a short distance in or near Moscow. According to senior military officials, the drones carried a limited explosive payload, indicating that the blasts on the Kremlin were more of a shock than a real threat.

Russian officials immediately publicized the incident and said it was an attempt by Ukraine to assassinate Mr Putin. Russia promised retaliatory measures. and has been attacking Ukraine with regular missile barrages, although it is unclear whether the increase came in direct response to the drone strikes.

On the day of the drone strike, Mr. Zelenskiy publicly denied responsibility, saying Ukraine fought on its own soil, and kept its weapons in defense of Ukraine rather than attacks in Moscow. He said that we did not attack Putin.

A shadowy network of Russian extremist groups has claimed responsibility for several attacks, including attacks on the Kremlin. But U.S. intelligence agencies have found no evidence that such groups are responsible for the operations, and some U.S. intelligence officials doubt that there are any meaningful anti-Putin resistance forces operating inside Russia.

Christian Trebert, Riley Mellon And Michael Schwartz Cooperation reporting.

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