Why the drone attack on the Kremlin gives Vladimir Putin cover to deepen Ukraine war

“They’re trying to … rally people around this [alleged] Failed attack. It was really a patriotic mobilization,” he said.

That unity — possibly based on a combination of anger, fear and patriotism — could come in handy as Russia prepares for a long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive that Kiev hopes will see it retake swathes of territory.

After Putin’s office characterized the drone incident as an attempted Ukrainian assassination of the president – which Kiev denies – politicians across the Russian political spectrum have called for retaliation and for Moscow to prosecute more severely what it calls “special military personnel” in Ukraine. action”.

Last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited a missile-damaged area in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited a missile-damaged area in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.Credit: Associated Press

Some Western commentators have questioned whether Russia has options for escalation other than the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine — a scenario not even advocated by many hardcore Russian nationalist commentators.

But Moscow still has options — options that would be denounced as barbaric and illegal in the West — such as targeting the Ukrainian presidential administration and other government buildings in central Kiev and publicly attempting to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his team.

Former President Dmitry Medvedev and one of the most prominent pro-Kremlin TV commentators, Vladimir Solovyov, have both advocated for action following the drone incident. such actions.

One way the Kremlin has changed its tune on Ukraine to pave the way for such actions is by officially designating its operations in Ukraine as counterterrorism operations, something some nationalist politicians have been lobbying for.

Russia claims a Ukrainian drone struck the Kremlin's Vladimir Putin, but has offered no evidence.

Russia claims a Ukrainian drone struck the Kremlin’s Vladimir Putin, but has offered no evidence.Credit: Associated Press, Russian state media

It could also designate the Ukrainian government as a terrorist organization and its Western backers, such as the United States, as sponsors of terrorism — something Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, has spoken about.

“The Nazi regime in Kiev must be considered a terrorist organization. [It] No less dangerous than Al Qaeda,” Volodin said in a statement.

“Western politicians who supply weapons to the Zelensky regime should realize that they are not only sponsors of terrorist activities, but also direct accomplices of terrorist activities.”

Sam Green, co-author of a book on Putin and a professor at King’s College London, said the move could pave the way for Russian authorities to further tighten their repression at home.

“I’ll see if the Kremlin doubles down on terrorism and designates the United States and other countries as state sponsors of terrorism,” Green said.

“This would open up a host of new avenues for the prosecution of any Russian citizen with ties to a Western government, so would be a logical continuation of existing policy.”

Another option for Putin, though perhaps unpopular, is to order a new wave of military mobilization to recruit and train more soldiers for war. The legislation was recently updated to introduce electronic conscription notices and tighten loopholes after tens of thousands of conscription evaders fled abroad.


Incidents like drones can provide political cover.

What is certain is that under Russia’s highly centralized and controlled political system, Putin does not need other politicians to ask for revenge, and he can do whatever he wants.

But major policy shifts and decisions that may be unpopular with the broader public at home or condemned by Western nations do require some sort of disguise—even if critics find it flimsy or illegitimate—to explain and justify certain actions of.

An investigation into the drone incident is sure to uncover flaws in Russia’s own air defenses. That could be the trigger for a dismissal or a wider reshuffle if Putin wants it.


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