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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 435: Russia accuses Ukraine of a drone strike on the Kremlin

Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 435: Russia accuses Ukraine of a drone strike on the Kremlin
Article by: Zarina Zabrisky

Russia accuses Ukraine of a drone strike on the Kremlin, but likely staged the attack to mobilize its population. Russian shelling kills 21 civilians in Kherson Oblast.

Daily overview — Summary report, May 4

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, May 4, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. May 3, 2023. Source: ISW.

The four-hundred thirty-fifth era of širokomasštabnoí . armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine has begun.
The Russian Federation continues to disregard the laws and customs of war, uses terror tactics.
At night, May 4, 2023, the enemy again attacked with “shaheds” from the north (Bryansk region) and from the south – the east coast of the Azov Sea.
Occupiers used up to 24 Shahed impact drones. Destroyed 18 of these hit bpla.
Over the past day, the enemy fired 2 rockets and 68 air strikes, carried out 67 shelling from battalion jet systems. civilians were injured, destroyed and damaged private residential buildings and other civilian infrastructure.
The probability of further enemy missile and air strikes across Ukraine remains high.
The enemy continues to focus main efforts on the offensive in the Lymansky, Bakhmutsky, Avdiiv and Maryinsky directions – 40 enemy attacks were repelled. The fiercest battles are fought for Bakhmut and Mariinka.
In Volyn and Polísʹkomu directions, no signs of the formation of offensive groups have been detected. The training of the personal composition of Russian territorial troops is underway at the landfill of the Republic of Belarus.
Kharkiv Battle Map. May 3, 2023. Source: ISW.
In the Siversky and Slobozhanskomu directions, the opponent maintains a military presence in the border areas of the Russian Federation. During the past day, with artillery and mortars fired at the settlements of bučki chernihiv region; Novovasilivka, Rozhkovichi, Vorožba, Basivka, Junakivka, Miropillya and Zapsíllâ of Sumy region, as well as Sotnicʹkij Kozachok, Guriev Kozachok , Baranivka, Red Star, Strelecha, Gatishche, Vovchansʹkí Farms and Mykolaivka in Kharkiv region.
The enemy did not conduct offensive actions in the Kupyan direction. The enemy was fired by Popoli, Kamyanka, Figolivka, Novomlinsk, Dvoríchna, Zapadne, Lyman First, Kislivka, Krokhmalne and Berestove of Kharkiv region.
In the limansʹkomu direction, the opponent led unsuccessful offensive actions in the area of bílogorívki, in order to find weak places in our defense. Artillery shelling was experienced by Makíivka and Bílogorívka of Luhansk region and Torsk, Verkhnyokamianske and Spirne – Donetsk.
Donetsk Battle Map. May 3, 2023. Source: ISW.
In the Bakhmut direction, the enemy continues to lead offensive actions. Fights continue in the city of Bakhmut. In addition, over the past day, the opponent has been carrying out unsuccessful offensive actions towards the New York settlement. Vasyukivka, Orihovo-Vasilivka, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Yar, White Mountain, North and South, as well as New York of Donetsk region were affected by enemy shelling.
Bakhmut Battle Map. May 3, 2023. Source: ISW.
In the Avdiiv direction, the opponent was leading offensive actions in the area of Northern Donetsk region, he had no success. He shelled the settlements of Novokalinove, Berdyči, Avdííí чкиvka, Lastočkine, Northern, Tonenʹke, Karlivka, Netajlove and Pervomajske.
In the Mariinka direction, the opponent is trying to improve the tactical position. Numerous enemy attacks in the areas of Mariinka and Novomykhaylivka have been reproduced. Krasnogorivka of Donetsk region also suffered the shelling.
In the Shakhtarsʹkomu direction, the enemy fired at the settlements of Vugledar, Bogoyavlenka, Novoukraí роnka, Prečistívka, Zolota Niva and Shakhtarsʹke Donetsk region.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. May 3, 2023. Source: ISW.
The opponent continues to conduct defensive actions on Zaporizhzhia and Kherson directions. Launched a missile strike on the city of Zaporozhye and an air strike on Kizomisu of Kherson region. The artillery fired at the settlements of Vremivka, Novosilka and Novopil of Donetsk region; Gulyaypole, Mala Tokmachka, Novodanyilivka, Orikhiv, Novoandriivka and Kamianske of Zaporizhzhia region; Kapulivka in Dnipropetrovsk region; Red Lighthouse, Tokarivka, Antonivka, Kizomis and the city of Kherson. Civilians have been killed.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. May 3, 2023. Source: ISW.
Compulsory passportization of Ukrainian citizens in the Genichesky district of the temporarily captured Kherson region continues. Russian occupants are constantly putting pressure on locals, threatening deportation and confiscation of property, limiting movement between settlements. To people with Ukrainian passports a pokazove biased attitude on the part of the zagarbnikív.
The Defense Forces aviation struck 13 strikes in the focus areas of the personnel warehouse, as well as 4 strikes on the enemy’s anti-aircraft missile complexes over the past 24 hours.
Missile troops and artillery units over the past day struck the occupier’s focus area, a radio-electronic fighting station, 3 artillery units at the firing positions, 3 warehouses of ammunition and fuel and lubricant, as well as an enemy anti-aircraft missile complex.
In total, last day, our defenders eliminated 650 Russian occupants, destroyed 5 tanks, 17 combat armored vehicles and 16 artillery systems. In addition, the enemy lost 3 jet fire systems, 4 air defense vehicles, 21 vehicles and 7 special equipment units.

Military Updates

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst.

Four Russian UAVs downed in southern Ukraine – Air Force Command. Air defense units of Ukraine’s Air Command South have shot down four Russian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on 3 May as of 17:00, the Air Force Command reports. According to the command, those were two Lantset loitering munitions, one Merlin-VR UAV, and one “operational-tactical level” drone. The air defenses have reportedly destroyed them in Kherson and Mykolaiv oblasts.

Russian milbloggers seek to frame any Russian ops as delaying Ukrainian counteroffensive – ISW. In its latest Russian offensive assessment, the US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War says Russian reactions to a claimed strike against a vehicle carrying Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces Commander Maj-Gen Ihor Tantsyura suggest Russian ultranationalists seek to frame any Russian operations as delaying potential Ukrainian counteroffensive actions.

Russia shifts cruise missile strikes from energy to military and industrial infrastructure – UK intel. In its latest intelligence update, the UK Defense Ministry says both recent Russian missile strikes against Ukraine – on 28 April and 1 May – focused on military, industrial, and logistical infrastructure, possibly shifting away from targeting the Ukrainian energy grid.

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 21 of 26 Russian Shahed drones during nighttime attack. In the early hours of 3 May, Russian forces launched two attacks of loitering munitions on Ukraine using the Iranian-supplied Shahed-series kamikaze drones. The Ukrainian Air Force Command reports that air defenses destroyed 21 of 26 launched munitions. The drones that slipped through the defenses hit an administrative building in Dnipro, and a fuel facility in Kropyvnytskyi.

According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 48 hours):

  • On 3 May 2023 a fire broke out at a Russian fuel depot in Volna on the Russian mainland side of the Kerch Strait, close to the Crimean bridge. It was initiated by a suspected drone strike.


  • This follows a pattern of Russian fuel storage sites being damaged since the start of the year, with fuel depots in occupied Ukraine and the Russia-Ukraine border regions remaining particularly vulnerable to attack.


  • The disruption to the fuel storage and distribution network will likely force adjustments to Russia’s military refuelling operations to mitigate targeting.


  • Russian adjustments could include deploying additional protection measures at fuel storage sites, as seen in Tuaspe in Russia, or relying on infrastructure in less threatened regions.

Losses of the Russian army 

Losses of Russian Army. Source: Euromaidan Press.


Russian shelling kills 21 civilians in Kherson Oblast. According to Human Rights Commissioner of the Ukrainian Parliament Dmytro Lubinets, on 3 May, 17 civilians were killed and 26 injured in Russian shelling that targeted residential buildings, bus and railway stations in Kherson Oblast.


Railway explosion derails another freight train in Russia. A railway explosion derailed a freight train in Bryansk Oblast, Russia, for the second time in two days, Russian news media RIA Novosti reported. An “unidentified explosive device” caused a blast on railroad tracks near the Snezhetskaya railway station, according to the governor of the Bryansk Oblast Alexander Bogomaz.

Ukraine calls to pressure Russia over jailed Crimean journalists. According to Tetiana Pechonchyk, the head of the board of the Ukrainian Human Rights Center Zmina, 15 Crimean journalists have been imprisoned in Russia and occupied Crimea. As per her, the list of the Kremlin’s prisoners includes Vilen Temerianov, Ernes Ametov, and Iryna Danylevych, who were sentenced on “politically motivated charges” a year ago.


Canada sends demining equipment worth over USD 16 million to Ukraine. Ukraine has received the first batch of demining equipment from Canada, according to the Embassy of Canada in Ukraine. The equipment worth over $16 million, which includes vehicles to clear farmland, will help Ukraine restore its food security.

US to supply Ukraine with more weapons ahead of expected counteroffensive. The US is sending Ukraine about $300 million in additional military aid, including Hydra-70 aircraft rockets, ammunition for HIMARS, and artillery and mortar rounds. According to the Pentagon, the new military package also includes:

  • 155mm howitzers
  • Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missiles
  • AT-4 and Carl Gustaf anti-armor weapon systems
    Small arms and small arms ammunition
  • Demolition munitions for obstacle clearing
  • Trucks and trailers to transport heavy equipment
  • Testing and diagnostic equipment to support vehicle maintenance and repair
  • Spare parts and other field equipment

New Developments

Freedom of speech in Ukraine has improved despite Russia’s war, World Press Freedom Index shows. According to the World Press Freedom Index, which evaluates the environment for journalism in 180 countries and territories, in 2023, freedom of speech in Ukraine has improved. Despite the war, Ukraine has risen in the press freedom ranking from 106th to 79th place due to the economic stabilization of most media outlets and the spirit of national unity, which has reduced the oligarchs’ hold on the media.


  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  May 3, 2022:

Russia accused Ukraine of conducting a drone strike against the Kremlin on May 3. Social media footage circulated on May 3 shows a drone detonating near a flagpole on top of the Kremlin Senate Palace building in Moscow as two unidentified people climbed up the dome of the building.[1] The Kremlin accused Ukraine of orchestrating “a planned terrorist attack” with the intent of assassinating Russian President Vladimir Putin and clarified that Putin was not at the Kremlin at the time of the attack and was therefore unharmed.[2] Ukrainian officials, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, stressed that Ukraine did not conduct the attack.[3]

Russia likely staged this attack in an attempt to bring the war home to a Russian domestic audience and set conditions for a wider societal mobilization. Several indicators suggest that the strike was internally conducted and purposefully staged. Russian authorities have recently taken steps to increase Russian domestic air defense capabilities, including within Moscow itself, and it is therefore extremely unlikely that two drones could have penetrated multiple layers of air defense and detonated or been shot down just over the heart of the Kremlin in a way that provided spectacular imagery caught nicely on camera. Geolocated imagery from January 2023 shows that Russian authorities have been placing Pantsir air defense systems near Moscow to create air defense circles around the city.[4] A strike that avoided detection and destruction by such air defense assets and succeeded in hitting as high-profile of a target as the Kremlin Senate Palace would be a significant embarrassment for Russia. The Kremlin’s immediate, coherent, and coordinated response to the incident suggests that the attack was internally prepared in such a way that its intended political effects outweigh its embarrassment. The Kremlin immediately accused Ukraine of conducting a terror attack, and Russian official responses coalesced rapidly around this accusation.[5] If the drone attack had not been internally staged it would have been a surprise event. It is very likely that the official Russian response would initially have been much more disorganized as Russian officials scrambled to generate a coherent narrative and offset the rhetorical implications of a clear informational embarrassment. The Kremlin has notably failed to generate a timely and coherent informational response to other military humiliations not of its own making, including the falls of Balakliya and Kherson City in September and November 2022.[6]

The rapid and coherent presentation of an official Russian narrative around the strike suggests that Russia staged this incident in close proximity to the May 9th Victory Day holiday in order to frame the war as existential to its domestic audience. The Kremlin may use the strike to justify either canceling or further limiting May 9th celebrations, actions that would likely augment the information effort framing the war in Ukraine as directly threatening Russian observance of revered historical events. ISW has previously assessed that Russia is employing an array of measures to frame the war in Ukraine as existential to Russia’s domestic audience and to prepare for wider societal mobilization.[7]

Some Russian nationalist milbloggers seized on the Kremlin drone strike to call for Russian escalation in the war despite the fact that Russia currently lacks the military capability to do so. Many pro-war milbloggers, including ardent nationalist and former Russian officer Igor Girkin, criticized the Kremlin for allowing Ukraine to cross multiple Russian “red lines” with no adequate retaliation and called for Russia to escalate in response, including by targeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian decision-makers.[8] This sect of milbloggers emphasized their own embarrassment at the Kremlin strike, comparing it to the humiliation of a single German civilian pilot landing a small aircraft near the Kremlin in 1987.[9] Other Russian milbloggers, including those with close Kremlin affiliations, criticized the high degree of outcry in the Russian information space.[10] These milbloggers largely advocated against retaliatory military escalation on the grounds that this strike does not change the operational or strategic situation in the war, instead calling for a cautious response while acknowledging the sting of embarrassment over the strike.[11] This messaging from pro-Kremlin milbloggers could support the assessment that the purpose of this false-flag attack was to justify increased mobilization measures rather than any sort of escalation.

The Kremlin may be planning to conduct other false flag operations and increase disinformation ahead of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in order to increase domestic support for the war. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on May 2 that Russian forces in Bryansk and Kursk oblasts received Ukrainian uniforms in order to conduct a false flag operation in border areas.[12] The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on May 3 that Russian forces may simulate a hostage taking and noted that “Storm” detachments of the Russian 13th Guards Tank Regiment (4th Guards Tank Division) and 1st Motorized Rifle Regiment (2nd Guards Motorized Rifle Division) of the 1st Guards Tank Army of the Western Military District arrived in Ivanivske in Kursk Oblast and Yamnoye in Bryansk Oblast.[13] The 13th Guards Tank Regiment suffered massive losses early in the war in Chernihiv Oblast and in fall of 2022 during the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast.[14] This report that elements of the 13th Guards Tank Regiment are in Bryansk or Kursk Oblast suggests that the regiment is not in Ukraine and is unready to return to battle. Russian milbloggers amplified a claim from state-run media outlet RT that Ukrainian forces are preparing a provocation against Transnistria and will attempt to enter Transnistria between May 9 and 15.[15] The Kremlin has previously attempted to portray Ukraine as an existential threat to Russia’s territorial integrity and to warn of supposed Ukrainian provocations to be conducted in Moldova.[16]

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin baselessly claimed on May 3 that the Ukrainian counteroffensive has already begun, likely in order to exploit information space anxieties and call for increased Russian military support for Wagner’s Bakhmut offensive. In an audio recording posted on May 3, Prigozhin says that he believes that Ukraine has already begun its counteroffensive and cited an increase in Ukrainian activity “along the perimeter” of the Bakhmut front.[17] Prigozhin also claimed that Wagner’s flanks, currently held by conventional Russian airborne (VDV) troops, are “not in the best way” and stated that he will not speculate on how reliable they are to maintain “politeness.”[18] Prigozhin’s comment on the state of the flanks is likely a thinly-veiled criticism of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and its ability to help Wagner hold Bakhmut and suggests that Prigozhin is blaming the MoD for being unable to hold off Ukrainian localized counterattacks in Bakhmut. Prigozhin concluded that he anticipates a more “active phase” of counteroffensive actions to begin in the next few days.[19] Prigozhin is likely using this claim to benefit from continued concerns in the Russian information space regarding a Ukrainian counteroffensive and to lobby for increased support for Wagner amid continued pleas for the Russian MoD to provide Wagner more ammunition for its offensive on Bakhmut.[20] ISW has observed no additional evidence to support Prigozhin’s claims and does not assess that a Ukrainian counter-offensive has begun around Bakhmut.

Russian forces conducted a Shahed-131/136 drone strike against Ukraine on the night of May 2 to 3. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on May 3 that Russian forces attacked Ukrainian territory from Bryansk Oblast and the southeast coast of the Sea of Azov with 26 Iranian-made Shahed-131/136 drones and that Ukrainian air defenses shot down 21 of the 26 drones.[21] The Kyiv Oblast Military Administration stated that Russian forces attacked Kyiv Oblast for the third time in six consecutive days.[22] Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Shahed drones also targeted Kirovohrad and Mykolaiv oblasts.[23]

Key Takeaways

  • Russia accused Ukraine of conducting a drone strike against the Kremlin.
  • Russia likely staged this attack in an attempt to bring the war home to a Russian domestic audience and set conditions for a wider societal mobilization.
  • The rapid and coherent presentation of an official Russian narrative around the strike suggests that Russia staged this attack in close proximity to the May 9th Victory Day holiday in order to frame the war as existential to its domestic audience.
  • Some Russian nationalist milbloggers seized on the Kremlin drone strike to call for Russian escalation in the war despite the fact that Russia currently lacks the military capability to do so.
  • The Kremlin may be planning to conduct other false flag operations and to increase disinformation ahead of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in order to increase domestic support for the war.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin baselessly claimed on May 3 that the Ukrainian counteroffensive has already begun, likely in order to exploit information space anxieties and call for increased Russian military support for Wagner’s Bakhmut offensive.
  • Russian forces conducted a Shahed-131/136 drone strike on the night of May 2 to 3.
  • Russian forces continued limited ground attacks near Kreminna.
  • Russian forces continued to make gains in and around Bakhmut and continued to conduct ground attacks on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • Russian forces conducted heavy air and artillery strikes against west (right) bank Kherson Oblast.
  • Russian officials continue to incentivize military service by providing social benefits to families of participants in the war.
  • The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed that it prevented a “terrorist” attack against three Crimean officials.
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