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A drone attack in Moscow last week appeared to target the homes of Russian intelligence officers, the latest salvo in a psychological campaign against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime over its invasion of Ukraine, multiple sources familiar with the strikes said.
The drone assault Tuesday was the first on a residential area in the capital since Russian forces launched an invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
A senior U.S. official and a congressional staffer with knowledge of the matter said the drone strikes appeared aimed at what were believed to be the Moscow residences of Russian intelligence officers.
At least one of the apartment buildings hit in the drone strikes has ties to Russia’s SVR, the Foreign Intelligence Service, according to Strider Technologies, a Utah-based strategic intelligence startup that uses open-source data.
According to the Strider Global Intelligence team, the building was owned by a Russian state budgetary organization, which has held contracts with a military unit known to be a cover for the Foreign Intelligence Service.
It was not clear whether any SVR officer’s home was damaged or whether any Russian intelligence personnel were injured.
“This was not some random attack on a wealthy suburb,” said Eric Levesque, the chief operating officer and a co-founder of Strider Technologies. “The strike gets to the heart of the psychological warfare elements of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which for the first time is reaching Moscow neighborhoods.”
Russian authorities blamed Ukraine for the drone strikes, which they said involved eight unmanned aircraft and caused minor damage to several buildings. Ukraine denied any role in the attack but welcomed the news.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said last week that his country had “nothing directly to do” with the drone attacks but that it was “pleased to observe” them, and he predicted “an increase in the number of attacks.”
The drone strikes are the latest in a series of attacks on Russian soil that have raised difficult questions for the Biden administration, which has said consistently that it does not want to see weapons provided by Washington used in sabotage operations inside Russia. Other governments supporting Ukraine have expressed similar reservations.
It’s not clear what kind of drones were used or how they were obtained. Ukraine has used a variety of homemade and Western-manufactured drones in the war.
Asked to comment, a spokesperson for the National Security Council pointed to recent public statements from administration officials that the U.S. does not support Ukraine’s launching attacks inside Russia.
“We have communicated privately to the Ukrainians, as recently as last week or so, that we don’t want to see U.S.-supplied equipment used to strike inside Russia, that we don’t support attacks inside of Russia and that we are not going to change our policy about not enabling or encouraging those attacks,” John Kirby, an NSC spokesperson, told reporters last Wednesday.
“We have been nothing but consistent on this. And as the president has said himself, the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy himself has given us assurances that they respect those concerns. They understand them, and they appreciate them, and they respect them,” Kirby said.
Russia has come under attack inside its borders with increasing frequency in recent months, including by artillery and drone strikes targeting towns and villages near its border with Ukraine. A cross-border incursion into Russia’s Belgorod region from Ukraine last month ignited days of fighting before Russian forces were able to reassert control.
According to intelligence documents leaked to the Discord online gaming site this year, Ukrainian agents have pursued drone attacks inside Belarus and Russia, contrary to U.S. and Western wishes, NBC News has reported. Ukrainian leaders in Kyiv also have weighed striking other targets inside Russia, the leaked documents stated, citing U.S. intelligence reporting.
The drone strikes last week in Moscow brought the war in Ukraine to the streets of the capital, embarrassing Putin’s government. Pro-war Russian bloggers sharply criticized government officials, and the chief of the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, accused Russia’s military leaders of failing to defend the country against the unmanned aircraft.
In an expletive-ridden audio statement on his social media channels, he condemned the Russian Defense Ministry.
“The fact that they are flying to Rublyovka, to your home, to hell with it! Let your houses burn,” he said, referring to an upscale area of Moscow popular with Russian oligarchs. “And what do ordinary people do when drones with explosives crash into their windows?”
Before the attack last week, Russian authorities said two drones flew near the Kremlin and were shot down. Putin was not in the building, Russian officials said.