The US has accused Russia of “lying” after it claimed Washington was behind a drone attack on the Kremlin this week, raising tensions ahead of an expected Ukrainian counter-offensive against Russian forces.
Russia also launched its own drones at Ukrainian cities overnight following the incident in Moscow in the early hours of Wednesday, which the Kremlin called a Ukrainian attempt to assassinate President Vladimir Putin.
Multiple explosions rocked Kyiv later on Thursday, with machine gun fire also heard, indicating Ukraine’s forces were firing skywards to intercept incoming drones. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said: “There was no involvement by the United States in [the Kremlin incident]. Whatever it was did not involve us . . . We had nothing to do with this.”
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has also strongly rejected any suggestion of involvement in the attack, in which Russia said it shot down two drones over a Kremlin building in the early hours of Wednesday morning, briefly causing some roofing to catch fire.
Military analysts in Moscow also suggested that a non-state group could be behind the attempt, using commercially available drones.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday said Russia saw the assault as a Ukrainian attack “dictated from across the ocean”.
“These decisions, the determination of targets, the determination of means, all of that is dictated to Kyiv from Washington. We are well aware of this,” Peskov told journalists.
“It is important that Washington clearly understands that we know this,” he added, “and that it understands how dangerous such direct involvement is in the conflict.”
Kirby said the statements were “false” and Peskov “is just lying”.
Alongside Ukraine’s president, a host of senior officials have also denied that Ukraine was behind the alleged attack on Moscow’s symbolic seat of power.
The Kremlin has said Putin was not in the building at the time. Asked about his reaction, Peskov presented the Russian leader as unperturbed and said the damage to the building was slight. “There are two burnt copper sheets that cover the dome, they will be replaced, if they have not already been replaced . . . There is no other damage.”
Videos of the attack shared online showed one drone exploding in a ball of flames as it crashed into the dome of the Kremlin and another exploding as it hit a flagpole flying the Russian tricolour.
Western governments have so far declined to assign responsibility for the incident. A White House spokesperson said on Wednesday that Russia had a history of “false flag” operations designed to discredit the enemy. She said the US had not encouraged or helped Ukraine to strike outside its own borders.
The apparent attack comes ahead of a potentially pivotal moment in Russia’s more than 14-month-long war against Ukraine, as Kyiv prepares to launch a counter-offensive aimed at liberating territory in the south-east.
In the early hours of Thursday, Russia launched drone attacks on Ukraine targeting major cities. Air raid sirens, then explosions shattered the silence overnight in central Kyiv. Wreckage showed the phrases “For Moscow” and “For the Kremlin” scrawled on the drones.
The Ukrainian air force said it destroyed 18 out of 24 Russian drones overnight, including all those targeting Kyiv. There was no serious damage or injuries, authorities said.
Of the 24 attack drones, 15 Shaheds targeted the Black Sea port of Odesa.
At the same time, several drones struck or attempted to strike targets in several Russian regions and cities near the Ukraine border overnight, according to local Russian officials.
In Rostov region, a drone crashed on the territory of the Novoshakhtinsk oil refinery causing minor damage, the governor said. A fire was reported early on Thursday at the Ilsky oil refinery in the southern Krasnodar region, the state news agency Tass reported, after an attack by four drones.
The governor of the Voronezh region said on Thursday air defences had shot down a drone. Another was hit over Belgorod, according to Mash, a media outlet with ties to Russia’s police. It shared a photo of the downed drone, which appeared to be a reconnaissance drone made to look like a toy shark.
Several Russian regions on Thursday announced restrictions on drone use, while some banned drones during military parades to be held in Russian cities on May 9 to commemorate the end of the second world war.
But Kremlin spokesman Peskov said the drone attack would not affect plans for Moscow’s May 9 Victory Day parade, including Putin’s participation.
Zelenskyy on Thursday visited the International Criminal Court in The Hague and called for a special tribunal to bring Russia to justice for its war in Ukraine. The court has issued arrest warrants for Putin and Russia’s children’s commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, over the removal of children from Ukraine to Russia.
Zelenskyy also held talks with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, who said there were “no taboos” when it came to military support for Ukraine. Zelenskyy was expected to push his host for more support, including western fighter jets.
Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz in Washington