Experts have accused Russia of staging a false-flag operation to justify increased mobilization, with a warning that more such attacks could occur in the coming months.
“The alleged strike on Putin’s residence in the Kremlin is likely a false flag operation orchestrated by Russian intelligence and security services and authorized by Putin himself,” Rebekah Koffler, strategic military intelligence analyst and former DIA intel officer, told Fox News Digital.
Russian government officials on Wednesday claimed that Ukrainian forces attempted to kill President Vladimir Putin with a failed drone attack.
Video released by Russian media showed a small explosion over the president’s residence at the Kremlin compound, which officials say were attacks by two drones that were disabled by defense systems, with no injuries or damage to the residence reported.
Officials on Thursday then speculated that the U.S. may have been behind the alleged attack, with Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov saying, “We know that often it isn’t even Kyiv that determines the targets, but Washington.”
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby refuted the accusation, saying Peskov was “lying” about U.S. involvement and that Russia was making a “ludicrous claim.”
“The United States had nothing to do with this,” Kirby stressed. “We don’t even know exactly what happened here… but I can assure you the United States had no role in it whatsoever.”
“We neither encourage nor do we enable Ukraine to strike outside Ukraine’s borders,” Kirby said, adding that the U.S. also doesn’t endorse strikes on individual leaders, though he went on to call Putin the “aggressor” and urged the Russian leader to pull his troops out of Ukraine if he “really wants to see security on the continent,” Kirby told CNN.
Intelligence experts have been quick to respond, with a report from the Institute for the Study of War (IFSW) claiming that “Russia likely staged this attack in an attempt to bring the war home to a Russian domestic audience.”
“Several indicators suggest that the strike was internally conducted and purposefully staged,” the IFSW wrote. “Russian authorities have recently taken steps to increase Russian domestic air defense capabilities, including within Moscow itself, and it is therefore extremely unlikely that two drones could have penetrated multiple layers of air defense and detonated or been shot down just over the heart of the Kremlin in a way that provided spectacular imagery caught nicely on camera.”
“A strike that avoided detection and destruction by such air defense assets and succeeded in hitting as high-profile of a target as the Kremlin Senate Palace would be a significant embarrassment for Russia,” the IFSW added. “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.”
“The Kremlin immediately accused Ukraine of conducting a terror attack, and Russian official responses coalesced rapidly around this accusation,” the group concluded. “If the drone attack had not been internally staged it would have been a surprise event,” citing the Kremlin’s failure to generate such “timely and coherent” responses after the fall of Balakilya and Kherson City in Ukraine last year.
Koffler offered three hypotheses on why the Kremlin would look to stage a false-flag operation, including the ability to escalate the war further and to increase its mobilization efforts.
“The goal is two-fold: first, to provide justification to take the war on the next rung of the escalation ladder, i.e. to launch a massive, potentially decapitating strike on Kyiv, the seat of Ukraine’s government and Zelenskyy’s residence,” Koffler explained.
“Second, to justify future mobilization effort in Russia needed for the protracted war of attrition in Ukraine and rally all of the Russian population, including the small portion that are against the war, behind Putin,” she added.
“Putin’s message to the Russians is that Ukraine has struck at the very heart of Russia itself and everyone needs to be ready to go war to ‘repel’ the aggressor, which is Ukraine and the U.S. supporting it. Classic Putin’s playbook.”
The IFSW noted that “some Russian nationalist” military bloggers “seized on the Kremlin drone strike to call for Russian escalation” despite the country’s inability to carry out a further mobilization effort.
“This sect of milbloggers emphasized their own embarrassment at the Kremlin strike, comparing it to the humiliation of a single German civilian pilot landing a small aircraft near the Kremlin in 1987,” the IFSW said. “These milbloggers largely advocated against retaliatory military escalation on the grounds that this strike does not change the operational or strategic situation in the war, instead calling for a cautious response while acknowledging the sting of embarrassment over the strike.”
More worrying, the IFSW warned that the Kremlin may plan to carry out other false-flag operations and “increase disinformation” ahead of a planned Ukrainian counteroffensive to “increase domestic support for the war.”
Military analysts think Ukraine is targeting supply lines in the Russian rear while gearing up for a possible counteroffensive amid improving weather conditions and as it receives large amounts of weapons and ammunition from its Western allies.
In anticipation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive, Russian forces are focused on destroying logistical routes and centers of Ukraine’s armed forces with long-range strikes, Kyiv military officials say.
Fox News Digital’s Timothy H.J. Nerozzi and The Associated Press contributed to this report.