Tue, May 30, 2023 2:06 PM
By SUSIE BLANN and JOANNA KOZLOWSKA, Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A rare drone attack jolted Moscow early Tuesday, causing only light damage but forcing evacuations as residential buildings were struck in the Russian capital for the first time in the war against Ukraine. The Kremlin, meanwhile, pursued its relentless bombardment of Kyiv with a third assault on the city in 24 hours.
The Russian Defense Ministry said five drones were shot down in Moscow and the systems of three others were jammed, causing them to veer off course. President Vladimir Putin called it a “terrorist” act by Kyiv.
The attack, while causing only what Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said was “insignificant damage” to several buildings, brought the war home to civilians in Russia’s capital. Two people received treatment for unspecified injuries but did not need hospitalization, Sobyanin said, adding that residents of two high-rise buildings damaged in the attack were evacuated.
Andrei Vorobyov, governor of the wider Moscow region, said some of the drones were “shot down on the approach to Moscow.”
Ukraine made no direct comment on the attack, which would be one of its deepest and most daring strikes into Russia since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than 15 months ago.
Putin said Moscow's air defense “worked in a satisfactory way,” but added it was “clear what we need to do to plug the gaps" in the system.
“The Kyiv regime ... attempts to intimidate Russia, Russian citizens and strikes at civilian buildings," he said during a public event. "It is, of course, a clear indication of terrorist activity.”
Putin charged that Ukraine launched Tuesday's attack in response to Russia striking Ukraine’s military intelligence headquarters in Kyiv over the weekend. But Andrii Cherniak, a Ukrainian intelligence representative, said the Kremlin’s forces failed to hit the building because its missiles were shot down.
Asked by The Associated Press whether there was high-level concern that the invasion of Ukraine was endangering Russian civilians, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said only that attacks on Russia reinforced the need to prosecute what the Kremlin calls the “special military operation.”
Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Endowment said the Kremlin’s policy is to play down the attacks, reflecting Putin's belief voiced more than once that the Russian people were patient enough to "understand everything and endure everything.”
Moscow residents reported hearing explosions before dawn. At one site of a crashed drone in Moscow southwest, police fenced off an area near a residential building and put the drone debris in a cardboard box before carrying it away.
At another site, apartment windows were shattered and there were scorch marks on the building’s front.
It was the second reported strike on Moscow since May 3, when Russian authorities said two drones targeted the Kremlin in what they portrayed as an attempt on Putin’s life. Ukraine denied it was behind that attack.
Last week, the Russian border region of Belgorod was the target of one of the most serious cross-border raids since the war began, with two far-right pro-Ukrainian paramilitary groups claiming responsibility. Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said a man was killed and two others were seriously wounded Tuesday by the Ukrainian shelling of a building hosting temporarily displaced residents of the region.
Officials in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar near annexed Crimea said two drones struck there on Friday, damaging residential buildings.
Other drones have reportedly flown deep into Russia multiple times. In December, Moscow claimed it had shot down drones that targeted military air bases in the Saratov and Ryazan regions in western Russia.
Ukrainian military analysts, though unable to confirm Kyiv had launched the drones against Moscow, said the attack may have involved UJ-22 drones, which are produced in Ukraine and have a maximum range of about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).
Analyst Oleh Zhdanov said some UJ-22s are capable of reaching “Moscow and beyond,” although he noted they can fly only half as far and carry half the payload of the Iranian-made Shahed drones used in the war by Russia.
Even so, Zhdanov told AP that “the myth has been dispelled” of the Russian capital’s invulnerability.
Since February, when a UJ-22 crashed 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Moscow, Ukrainian drones have repeatedly approached the Russian capital.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday the U.S. was still gathering information about the drone strike but reiterated that “as a general matter” the U.S. administration does not support Ukraine using American weaponry in Russian territory.
“We do not support the use of U.S.-made equipment being used for attacks inside of Russia,” she said. ”We’ve been very clear about that, and we’ll continue to do that. And we have been clear not just publicly but privately clear with the Ukrainians."
She declined to comment on whether administration officials have spoken to Ukraine officials about the Moscow incident.
Jean-Pierre also noted that Russia on Tuesday launched its 17th round of airstrikes on the capital of Kyiv this month, noting that “Russia started this unprovoked aggression, this unprovoked war against Ukraine."
A U.S. defense official said the drone strikes would not not affect the weapons aid packages the U.S. is providing Ukraine to include drone ammunition. The official said the U.S. has committed to supporting Ukraine in its effort to defend the country and Ukraine had committed to not using the systems inside Russia, so the aid would likely continue unchanged. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
Ukrainian officials said Tuesday's pre-dawn air raid on Kyiv killed at least one person, wounded 11 others and sent residents scrambling into shelters again.
At least 20 Shahed drones were destroyed by air defense forces in Kyiv in the latest attack. Overall, Ukraine shot down 29 of 31 drones, mostly in the Kyiv area, the air force said.
Before daylight, buzzing drones could be heard in the city, followed by loud explosions as they were taken down by air defense systems.
The heavy destruction in Kyiv contrasted with what was seen in Moscow. In the Ukrainian capital, burned-out cars, glass and debris littered the street outside a building where apartments were wrecked; in Moscow, only a few broken windows and scorched outer walls were evident, with repairs and repainting being done quickly to affected buildings.
A woman in Kyiv’s Holosiiv district was killed when she went onto her balcony "to look at drones being shot down,” Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a Telegram post.
A high-rise in the same district caught fire after being hit by debris either from drones or interceptor missiles. The building’s upper two floors were destroyed, and people were feared buried in the rubble, the Kyiv Military Administration said. More than 20 people were evacuated.
Resident Valeriya Oreshko told AP that even though the immediate threat was over, the attacks had everyone on edge.
“You are happy that you are alive, but think about what will happen next,” the 39-year-old said.
A resident who gave only her first name, Oksana, said the whole building shook when it was hit, advising others: “Go to shelters, because you really do not know where (the drone) will fly.”
Associated Press writers Vasilisa Stepanenko in Kyiv, Ukraine; David Rising in Bangkok; Tara Copp in Washington and Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed. Kozlowska reported from Tallinn.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine