ISW: drone attack on Kremlin likely staged by Moscow to ‘bring war home to Russians’

Yesterday’s drone attack on the Kremlin was likely a false flag staged by Russia “in an attempt to bring the war home to a Russian domestic audience and set conditions for a wider societal mobilisation”, the US-based Institute for the Study of War believes.

Its experts note that Russian authorities have recently taken steps to increase Russian domestic air defence capabilities, including within Moscow itself. Geolocated imagery from January 2023 shows that Russian authorities have been placing Pantsir air defence systems near Moscow to create air defence circles around the city. “It is therefore extremely unlikely that two drones could have penetrated multiple layers of air defence and detonated or been shot down just over the heart of the Kremlin,” ISW believes.

The Kremlin’s immediate, coherent, and coordinated response to the incident suggests that the attack was internally prepared in such a way that its intended political effects outweigh its embarrassment, ISW says.

The Kremlin immediately accused Ukraine of conducting a terror attack, and Russian official responses coalesced rapidly around this accusation. If the drone attack had not been internally staged it would have been a surprise event. It is very likely that the official Russian response would initially have been much more disorganised, the ISW experts tend to think.

“The rapid and coherent presentation of an official Russian narrative around the strike suggests that Russia staged this incident in close proximity to the 9 May Victory Day holiday in order to frame the war as existential to its domestic audience,” reads the recent ISW assessment.

The Institute believes the Kremlin may use the strike to justify either cancelling or further limiting 9 May celebrations. ISW also notes that it has previously assessed that Russia is employing an array of measures to frame the war in Ukraine as existential to Russia’s domestic audience and to prepare for wider societal mobilisation.

Russia accused Ukraine of attempting a drone attack on Vladimir Putin’s office in the Kremlin yesterday. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov clarified that Putin was not in the Kremlin during the attack. The Russian side “reserves the right to take retaliatory measures where and when it sees fit,” the Kremlin added. The country’s Investigative Committee has initiated charges on the account of a terror attack. Ukraine’s authorities state that Kyiv has nothing to do with the drone attack.

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