For those following the conflict up close, it should come as no surprise that “unidentified” drones struck the Kremlin. We assess that the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attack on the Kremlin was conducted by Ukrainian Military Intelligence (HUR) and reject the theory of a “false flag” orchestrated by the Russian government. Since the beginning of 2023, there were several indicators that a drone strike on Moscow was imminent.


The series of “mysterious” attacks inside Russia took an interesting turn in 2023. In the past months, there has been a trend of one-way drones (OWD) creeping increasingly closer to Moscow – unsuccessfully, until now.

Most crashed in Moscow’s immediate vicinity, likely due to malfunctions, navigation errors, or “soft” interceptions. At least one drone seems to have crashed due to flying too low, hitting the trees while trying to avoid radar detection.

Examples of armed drones that crashed near Moscow:

  • 6 Feb, Kaluga (180 km to Moscow), drone identified as the Soviet-era Tu-141.
  • 28 Feb, near Gazprom station in Kolomna district (90 km to Moscow), drone likely Ukrainian-made UJ-22.
  • 1 March, Gubastovo (80 km to Moscow)
  • 23 April, forest near Noginsk (40 km to Moscow), drone likely UJ-22.
No alt text provided for this image
Photo of the UJ-22 crashed near Noginsk forest shared by the Baza Telegram channel

In terms of capability, Ukraine has several options to strike targets deep inside Russia from standoff range, especially since Moscow is only 450 km from northeastern Ukraine.

One example is the mysterious long-range drone (likely OWD, range unknown) that Ukroboronprom announced that it completed several stages of testing in January 2023.

There are also the Ukrainian-made UJ-22 (can reach 800 km range in autonomous mode) and the Soviet-era Tu-141/143 (modified as OWDs), one of which appears to have crashed near Kaluga. However, Ukrainian services could also forward position their drones inside Russia and launch them from within range of their targets.


Aware of the rising threat level to Moscow, the Russian military deployed air defenses in and around Moscow in the past months. The Russians have positioned Pantsirs on highrises and set up new S-400 nests around the capital, among other measures.

No alt text provided for this image
Pantsir S-1 on a highrise in Moscow
No alt text provided for this image
S-400 site outside of Moscow in March 2023 (drone footage from the Insider)

Despite this, low-observable munitions such as stealthy cruise missiles, loitering munitions, or OWDs can penetrate most air defenses if their RCS is small enough, fly slow and low, use terrain as cover, and exploit human factors, etc.


The timing of the attack is crucial. There was a growing buzz in Ukraine that something was being prepared for the upcoming “Victory Day” parades on 9 May 2023 in Russia. As a result, some border regions canceled their festivities, but not Moscow.

We initially expected that Ukraine would concentrate all efforts to strike Moscow for the first time on 9 May (as likely the Russians also expected). However, conducting a strike prior to the much-anticipated event could have increased the chances of success due to a lower level of alert and readiness. 


As for why Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the attack: a covert action is designed to remain deniable and denied for various reasons.

In Ukraine’s case, these are: denying the enemy official right to retaliation, not being seen as an aggressor, safeguarding modus operandi and assets, allied disapproval, etc.

It is for the same mix of reasons that Ukraine never claimed any attack inside Russia. Ukraine didn’t even claim responsibility for the Kerch Bridge bombing, for which it has pretty good grounds (an illegal construction on internationally recognized Ukrainian territory used to support the war on Ukraine), or for the recent strikes on Engels Airbase (used by bombers that strike Ukrainian cities).

Even though Budanov (head of Ukraine’s Military Intelligence) couldn’t help but tease that he thinks the unclaimed strikes “will continue” and go “deeper and deeper” in an interview on 1 Jan 2023.

No alt text provided for this image
Screengrab from an ABC interview with Budanov

Nevertheless, the right people got the message: Ukraine can prosecute any target in Russia, including the Kremlin.


It is no secret that the U.S. and the West do not officially encourage or support Ukraine’s deep strike campaign in Russia. In fact, the leaked docs show that the U.S. disapproved of many operations and even convinced Ukraine to postpone strikes on Moscow on 24 Feb 2023, the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

If Kyiv goes public about the strikes, it may risk alienating its allies, including the U.S. and Western Europe (who are constantly worried about how Russia might react).

The best outcome for Ukraine is for its strikes to succeed but under complete deniability. Even better if Russian partisans, “potential putschists,” or even the Kremlin is blamed, sowing distrust and instability at the heart of the enemy.


Some have called the timing of the eyewitness videos into questioning. This report will not delve into recreating the circumstances of the attack and the subsequent reasoning for eyewitnesses late at night as @GeoConfirmed has already delivered a cohesive assessment on this issue.

However, in summary, there were two drone attacks (at 2:27 AM and 2:43 AM local time). The first drone, which crashed on the eastern side of the dome- this is not seen from the eyewitness’s perspective. The explosion likely woke people up in the dead of night. Naturally, the rattled residents picked up their phones and started filming the conundrum at the Kremlin.

No alt text provided for this image
First done strikes approaches from the east at 2:27 AM (filmed by local CCTV)

The second drone struck the dome just as security personnel – the two individuals climbing the dome – were inspecting the damage caused by the first drone. 

No alt text provided for this image
Second drone strike at 2:43 AM (filmed by eyewitness)


The strike is 100% symbolic. It goes to show Ukraine’s unlimited reach in Russia and ability to prosecute any target it desires, shattering the Putin’s regime illusion of safety. The attack is an unprecedented and catastrophic embarrassment for Putin.

The timing is everything: the Victory Parade on 9 May and the upcoming Ukrainian counter-offensive- the latter is still pending further lethal aid deliveries, including ammunition, the ground to settle, and other factors.

It was not an attempt at assassination. In fact, one of Ukraine’s political objectives in this war is to bring Putin in front of a tribunal and be judged for war crimes and attempted genocide. Kyiv wants legal prosecution for Russian decision makers, regardless of how unlikely that may be seem.

DISCLAIMER: This report first appeared on Linkedin on 4 May 2023. 

Founder of T-Intelligence. OSINT analyst & instructor, with experience in defense intelligence (private sector), armed conflicts, and geopolitical flashpoints.