Video footage verified by The New York Times shows what appear to be two drones exploding minutes apart above the Kremlin early Wednesday, in what Russian officials claim was a Ukrainian attack, which Ukraine denies.
Videos show two aerial objects flying toward the domed roof of one of the compound’s buildings, with one coming from the south and the second approaching 15 minutes later from the east. Both exploded, and one caused a brief fire, though it is unclear if the explosions happened on impact or just prior.
Samuel Bendett, an expert on autonomous military systems in the Russian Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses, a federally funded organization in Arlington, Va., said that if the objects were drones, it was not possible to determine where they were launched based on the direction of the attack, as their trajectory could have changed as they neared the Kremlin.
Russia said that it downed the drones, that the damage from the explosions was minimal and that no one was injured. Mr. Bendett said that it was unclear from the videos whether the objects exploded as planned or were shot down by air defenses. He added that one of them appeared to be “sizable.”
Mr. Bendett said a drone attack by Ukraine would have been undertaken primarily for psychological effect, to show that even the Kremlin was not safe.
Footage of the aftermath of the attacks was published by a local Moscow Telegram channel. Later, TV Centre, a Russian news outlet, posted videos of both explosions, including the moments of detonation above the Kremlin.
While there have been drone attacks in Russian territory since Moscow invaded Ukraine more than a year ago, a strike on the Kremlin by Ukraine would be a significant escalation. Current and former U.S. officials told The Times that the explosions could be a false flag operation carried out by Russia, but that it was too soon to know. Officials said U.S. intelligence agencies were still trying to determine what happened.
The Russian presidential press service said it regarded the explosions as a “planned terrorist act and an attempt on the life” of President Vladimir V. Putin. In a statement, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, strongly denied responsibility for the explosions, saying that Ukraine does “not attack targets on the territory of the Russian Federation.”
The domed Kremlin structure houses the Russian Senate, as well as Mr. Putin’s office and an apartment he sometimes stays at, along with a ceremonial hall and the presidential library. Russian officials said that Mr. Putin was at his compound in a Moscow suburb about 20 miles from the Kremlin at the time of the explosions.
Flying drones over the Kremlin was already banned. Some 12 hours after video of the incident began spreading online, Moscow’s mayor announced on Telegram a ban on the launch of drones in the entire city.
Christina Kelso contributed video production.