U.S. officials hear chatter among Ukrainian officials who blame each other Drone strikes the Kremlin Earlier this month, the U.S. assessed that a Ukrainian group might be responsible, sources familiar with the intelligence told CNN.
The intercept included speculation by some members of the Ukrainian military and intelligence bureaucracy that Ukrainian special operations forces conducted the operation.
The chatter, along with other communications intercepted by Russian officials blaming Ukraine for the attack and wondering how it happened, led U.S. officials to consider Ukrainian groups as possibly behind the May 3 incident. That morning, two drones flew towards the Kremlin’s Senate Palace and hit the top of the building.
However, the U.S. has not been able to reach a firm conclusion on who was responsible and can only assess with low confidence that Ukrainian groups may have been behind the incident, officials said. U.S. officials also believe it is unlikely that senior Ukrainian government officials, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, ordered the attack or knew about it in advance.
Recent U.S. intelligence reports assess that Russian officials privately speculate, as they have publicly, that Ukraine was behind the attack, leading officials to believe that the incident was likely not a state-sponsored false-flag operation to Give Russia an excuse to further escalate the war on Ukraine.
A source familiar with the intelligence said the Kremlin had also made some internal security adjustments in response to the attack, but declined to give details. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said publicly after the incident that the city’s air defenses would be strengthened.
Sources told CNN that the drones that struck the Kremlin appeared to be small and had relatively light payloads, which may be why they did not trigger Russian air defenses. It was unclear whether they would have enough range to fly from Ukraine to Moscow.
Zelensky speculated earlier this month that the attack may have been a false flag operation and denied that his country was behind it.
“Russia has no victories to report,” he told reporters in Helsinki, Finland, earlier this month. “Therefore, [Russian President Vladimir Putin] Some unexpected action has to be taken, like a surprise drone attack. ”
The Ukrainian military said Moscow fired a wave of missiles at Kiev after the incident, using drones with “For Moscow” and “For the Kremlin” signs.
“We did not attack Putin,” Zelensky added. “We leave it to the courts.”
U.S. officials do not believe it was an attempt to assassinate Putin. Peskov said that it is known that Putin did not spend much time in the Kremlin and that he was not in the building when the incident happened.
U.S. officials still haven’t ruled out multiple possibilities, including that non-state Ukrainian or Russian actors in Russia carried out the operation. That could include Russians sympathetic to Putin wanting to boost their support for him.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency referred Zelensky’s comments in Helsinki to CNN.
It’s not the first time the U.S. has observed Ukrainian officials blaming each other after mysterious attacks on Russian targets, such as the car bombing that killed Darya Dugina and the suspected truck bombing of the Kerch bridge linking Russia to Crimea, the sources said .
The United States also has intelligence that Ukraine has previously considered attacking Russia. Classified Pentagon documents leaked online earlier this year showed the CIA urged Ukraine’s military intelligence chief to “postpone” an attack on Russia on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Another U.S. intelligence report, from Signals Intelligence, said Zelensky in late February “recommended the use of drones to attack Russian deployments in the Rostov region of Russia” because Ukraine did not have long-range weapons capable of reaching that far.
U.S. officials have consistently said they discourage Ukraine from launching cross-border attacks on Russia.
During a visit to Washington earlier this month, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley claimed there was no new information on who carried out the attack, but added that, broadly speaking, “the Ukrainians were defending themselves.”
“They need to protect themselves in an effective way,” Cleverly said in response to questions from CNN. “They are the victimized party to this, and we should never lose sight of that. To effectively protect themselves, they do have to respond by using force. But always make sure it is thoughtful, proportionate, and supportive of their greater broadly aimed and not counterproductive in any way.”