May 4, 2023 - 10:00am

On 3rd May, Russia announced the downing of two drones over Moscow, with footage later showing one exploding over the Kremlin and causing a fire. Russia subsequently accused Ukraine of trying to assassinate President Vladimir Putin by targeting his residence, but Kyiv has denied any connection to the attack. 

Ukraine is an obvious suspect, particularly in light of comments made by the country’s military intelligence leader, Kyrylo Budanov, who said after the Engels airbase operation at the end of last year that such attacks would continue to take place “deeper and deeper” into Russian territory as the conflict progressed. Colin Clarke, the Director of Research at The Soufan Group, told UnHerd that if Ukraine was behind the attack, it was to send a message:

The drone strike is a way for Kyiv to demonstrate to the Kremlin just how badly it can hurt Moscow if it shifted to a no-holds-barred approach of taking the fight directly to Russian soil. Ukraine wants to offer Russia a proof of concept that, beyond its conventional prowess, Kyiv can wage an asymmetric campaign of sabotage and guerrilla-type warfare that will drive up the costs considerably for Putin.
- Colin Clarke

On the same day as the Kremlin attack, another apparent drone strike was carried out against a Russian fuel storage facility near the port of Taman, with one drone crashing in the vicinity of Kolomna in the Moscow Oblast, while another was shot down by air defences over the town of Feodosia in Crimea. 

Russia’s security problems do not stop there. Additionally, two Russian trains were derailed this week as a result of suspected sabotage activities against rail tracks. Investigators believe improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were detonated on Monday and Tuesday in Russia’s Bryansk region. And although the perpetrators are currently unknown, it is worth noting that Bryansk is where the pro-Ukraine Russian Volunteer Corps has been conducting cross-border operations. What’s more, in the two days leading up to the rail attacks a reported drone hit an oil depot in Crimea and caused a large fire, while power lines were blown up near Saint Petersburg.

Russia faces a multifaceted threat from Ukrainian reconnaissance and sabotage units, ideological Russian dissident elements fighting for Ukraine, and domestic partisans such as the anarcho-communist BOAK movement. These Russian partisan attacks are becoming more sophisticated, with BOAK’s tactics in particular having evolved over the course of the war. Previously, the group had been using simple incendiary devices and tool-assisted sabotage of Russian train tracks. Now, however, they are employing more developed IEDs, partly enabled by the close study of the technical details of railway infrastructure, as well as by the circulation of tradecraft manuals from other guerrilla groups. 

The Kremlin attack is just the latest incident in the surge of operations by Ukrainian forces and Russian anti-state actors. However, the strike on Russia’s centre of power is unprecedented in this war, and it will undoubtedly anger Putin, drawing pressure from the hawks to respond in a serious way. Already, Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and the country’s former president, has publicly called for the “elimination” of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his “clique” in Kyiv. Likewise, the chairman of the Russian Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, declared that “there can be no negotiations” with Zelenskyy, and urged the use of “weapons capable of stopping and destroying the Kyiv terrorist regime”.

Despite the media focus on the Ukrainian counteroffensive, there are other aspects to this war that could lead to significant escalation. These recent operations only give us a flavour.

Lucas Webber is the co-founder and editor of Militant Wire