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Expressed by artificial intelligence.
Moscow took 12 hours to respond after an explosion lit up the dome of the Kremlin complex last Wednesday.
According to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, the security services needed time to investigate the incident.
But the Kremlin spin-docs have also worked overtime, no doubt.
On the eve of Victory Day – which traditionally celebrates the Soviet triumph over Nazi Germany, but has become emblematic of Russia’s current war against Ukraine – the Kremlin’s position at home is that the country is fighting a an enemy as powerful as it is diabolical.
This narrative is meant to capture the lack of success on the front lines after 14 months of fighting, while providing Russians with a sense of security that for them life will go on as usual.
But a series of mysterious incidents – including Wednesday morning’s explosion – reveal cracks in Russia’s front strength. The cancellation of some of the VE Day festivities is another sign that appearances are starting to slip.
The Kremlin eventually described the 2 a.m. incursion by two drones into the heavily guarded Moscow compound as an assassination attempt on President Putin by the “Kyiv regime.” It was in a press release on Wednesday afternoon, which also claimed the right to respond “where and when it sees fit”. Putin was not in the complex at the time. A day later, Moscow added the United States to its accusation of responsibility for the explosion.
“We know very well that decisions about such actions, such terrorist attacks, are not made in kyiv, but in Washington,” Peskov said Thursday.
kyiv and Washington vehemently deny any involvement.
Wednesday’s drone attack was the latest in a string of unexplained incidents on Russian soil in recent months, including a car bomb attack on an ultranationalist writer on Saturday – the third targeting of pro-war figures since the start of the invasion, killing two. There have also been a number of crashed drones, the derailment of freight trains and at least two fires at fuel depots in Crimea.
In all these cases, the Kremlin either downplayed the news or kept its distance.
So the fact that this time he chose to issue an official statement and point the finger at the United States, his main enemy, suggests that the Kremlin wants people to take notice. But to what effect?
Predictably, key Kremlin spokesmen demanded revenge. Former Russian President and current Security Council chief Dmitry Medvedev has called for the “physical elimination” of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“Maybe now things will start for real?” wrote Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Russian state-controlled TV channel RT.
But aside from the usual jingoisms, Russia’s main evening news programs did not broadcast the scenes of the drone explosion.
And yet, there remain more questions than answers.
The Kremlin is one of the best-protected sites in Russia, and it has been widely assumed that breaking through its air defenses is nearly impossible. Moreover, it is well known that Putin spends most of his time in other places.
This fueled speculation that the drone attack was actually a false flag operation staged by one of Russia’s own security services.
Possible motives could be an internal power struggle – although the security services are seen as a monolith, they are in fact sadly divided – or an attempt to dissuade the West from further arms deliveries to Ukraine, since the weapons are said to be used in strikes on Russian territory.
But an attack on the heart of power has a significant symbolic, if not physical, price. It was in the Kremlin’s Senate dome that Putin hosted the historic meeting with his security advisers that preceded the February 2022 launch of his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Its symbolism is undeniable.
Regardless of who is behind the incursion, it is less likely to produce a rallying effect around the flag than to raise eyebrows in the Kremlin’s own defense system.
Comparisons are made to when 19-year-old German Mathias Rust landed a Cessna plane near the Kremlin during the Cold War. The fact that he managed to cross the border unchallenged was a brutal humiliation for Mikhail Gorbachev. As a result, heads rolled among his defense staff.
The timing of last week’s incident doesn’t help either, just before the country puts on its usual display of military prowess for VE Day on May 9.
Even before Wednesday’s strike, the situation was tense. Avoiding the use of the word “war”, which has been banned, dozens of Russian cities have canceled their military parades so as not to “provoke the adversary”. The Immortal Regiment, a hugely popular procession of people carrying photos of loved ones who fought in World War II, has been cancelled. Some places have even canceled their fireworks.
On the one hand, such changes to an important national holiday could send the message that Russians are at war with, as the Kremlin puts it, “terrorists.” But the knife cuts both ways.
“In the current context, the cancellation of the parades will be seen as another sign that things are very bad,” Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter turned analyst, told the Echo Moskvy newspaper.
While avoiding mass gatherings in towns near the Russian-Ukrainian border may seem like a logical precaution, it’s less obvious for those thousands of miles away in Siberia.
Speech from Red Square
Some wonder aloud if some towns might just run out of military hardware for a parade. Or if they want to stop people from taking to the streets with photos of loved ones who died in Ukraine, offering insight into Russia’s wartime death toll.
For now, the most important military parade in Moscow – broadcast live on Russian state television – is still going on. But the tension in the capital is palpable.
Red Square was closed to the public for two weeks and the streets were barricaded.
Following Wednesday’s incident, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin immediately banned the use of drones, and dozens of other regions have since followed suit. Days in advance, Muscovites were already experiencing problems with their GPS signals.
Much will depend on Putin. His annual VE Day speech in Red Square is one of the few times when his whereabouts are known in advance.
After Wednesday’s security breach, some are wondering if he might reconsider.
But the optics of his absence would not be good, and the chances are slim that the Kremlin risks the psychological fallout.
And yet, the question of whether it is safe enough for the president to go out in public in central Moscow speaks louder than the sound of 10,000 men marching through Red Square.