Sunday 30 April – Sunday 7 May:

Adrian Olivier,

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, two drones targeted the Kremlin complex of buildings in Moscow, the attack being caught on camera. The first drone came from the west and exploded into the dome of the Senate Palace – which houses President Vladimir Putin’s office in the Kremlin – at 02:27 Moscow time. Around 15 minutes later, a second drone – this time flying in from the east – flew towards the same building and hit near a flagpole flying the Russian flag at the top of the dome. The Kremlin issued its response 10 hours later, in which it said the drone strike was a terrorist attack and attempted assassination attempt against President Putin launched by Ukrainian forces, and vowed Russian retribution against Ukrainian President Zelensky. “We view these actions as a planned terrorist attack and an assassination attempt targeting the President, carried out ahead of Victory Day and the May 9 Parade, where foreign guests are expected to be present, among others.” On Thursday, the Kremlin went further and accused Washington of having pulled the strings for the attack. They said the attack on the Kremlin was a “hostile act,” which Kiev could not have carried out without the knowledge of its Western “patrons”: “We will respond not with talk about whether or not this is a ‘casus belli.’ We will respond with concrete actions.” The Ukrainian government for its part has denied any involvement in a drone attack on the Kremlin – as has the United States which said it received no advance warning from Ukraine. During the attack, Zelensky was in Finland on a state visit. After news of the attack he postponed his return to Ukraine – perhaps fearing a Russian missile or bomb.

It is possible, maybe probable, that the controller of the drone had to be within line of site to direct the attacks. There has been much speculation in Western press about whether the attack was actually a Russian “false flag” attack – that the Russians droned themselves to drum up public support for an escalation of the war. The explosive charges on the drones were too small to do widespread damage – such as kill government officials or Putin himself – and create the impression that this attack was for show. Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military said “The simplest explanation is exactly what it looks like,” – that the attack was carried out by Ukraine, or at the very least orchestrated by Ukraine. The attack demonstrates that Russia is vulnerable – indeed the head of Ukraine’s armed forces General Valeriy Zaluzhny, has spoken explicitly of the need for Ukraine to probe Russia’s remoteness and its distant “centre of gravity”, which allows Russian citizens to not “perceive the losses, failures and, most importantly, the cost of this war”.

Later on Wednesday Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin announced a ban on launching unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) within city limits, with the exception of those used for “government purposes” in order to prevent “the unauthorised use of such UAVs, which could hinder the work of law enforcement agencies.” Shortly after this it was reported that St. Petersburg authorities instituted a similar drone ban and 40 other regions of Russia had instituted UAV bans. On Friday, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) he said “Russia reserves the right to take countermeasures wherever and whenever it deems appropriate.”

In the United States on Wednesday the Federal Reserve concluded its Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) and announced its 10th-straight interest rate hike by a further 25 basis points to a range of 5% to 5.25%. Many have seen the Fed hinting that it may pause the rate hikes as soon as next month, but Fed Chairman Powell has said it is too soon to say the rate-hiking cycle is over. In his press conference after the meeting Powell said that the Fed is “prepared to do more” with rate-hikes if needed, and officials did not decide at the meeting to pause on a rate hike at the June policy meeting, and what happens next on rates is a decision that officials will make on a “meeting-by-meeting” basis, Powell said. The Fed’s decision to raise rates on Wednesday was unanimous and was widely expected by financial markets. The Fed has raised interest rates 5 percent in the last 14 months and the employment rate is sitting at 3.5 percent. Job openings remain high at 1.6 available jobs for every job seeker, though there are indications of the labour market cooling. 

The European Central Bank (ECB) also announced a rate-hike and raised its key deposit – how much interest it pays on deposits – rate 25 basis points to 3.25% while lifting its refinancing rate – how much banks have to pay when they borrow money from the ECB – 25 basis points to 3.75%. 

In Damascus on Wednesday Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi arrived for the first Iranian presidential visit in 13 years to the war-torn country. Syria – an Arab state – was excluded from all international Arab organisations and diplomatic relations were severed between other Arab countries when the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. Since then Iran has been Syria’s main ally, supporting the country – along with Russia – in the reconquest of most of Syria’s pre-war territories. In recent months, Syria has been making diplomatic overtures to other Arab nations and relations have been thawing. The Iranian president is in Damascus to ensure that ties between the two countries remain ironclad as Raisi will not tolerate a diminishment of the Iranian position in the country. Iran controls various Shia militias in the country amounting to tens of thousands of soldiers and has spent up to $30 billion supporting the Syrian regime and has no intention in allowing Arab states – especially Saudi Arabia – to reduce its influence in the region. Despite the recent diplomatic rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Saudis want to bring Syria back into the Arab fold of the League of Arab States (LAS). The move would also bolster the influence of the Arab Persian Gulf monarchies on Syria and in return give Syria diplomatic legitimacy. Iran on the other hand sees Syria as a strategic foothold in the region through which it can supply its proxies in Lebanon and target Israel (which it has vowed to destroy). It is no exaggeration to say Syrian President Bashar al Assad is only in power because of Iranian support. Iran will want to collect on its debts. 

On Thursday the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) began its two-day foreign ministers meeting. Russia and China founded the SCO in 2001 as a counterweight to American alliances across East Asia to the Indian Ocean. The group includes the four Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which Russia considers its backyard as well as India and Pakistan. Iran is expected to join the organisation later this year. The SCO leaders will have their summit from July 3-4 in New Delhi. 

On Friday the leader of Russia’s Wagner Group – a mercenary group which has a global footprint, notably in Africa and Ukraine – said he will withdraw his troops from the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on 10 May because of ammunition shortages, in a video which showed him walking amongst the corpses of his men. However, he stressed that the withdrawal would only occur after May 9 when Russia celebrates Victory Day in the Second World War. This follows previous threats to leave the city after claiming that the Russian Ministry of Defence was starving the group of artillery ammunition – a clear sign of the factionalism within the Russian military. “Shoigu! Gerasimov! Where is the… ammunition?… They came here as volunteers and die for you to fatten yourselves in your mahogany offices.” Wagner has had tens of thousands of casualties in the last 9 months – with 10,000 of its largely prisoner-soldiers being killed in the city. Wagner will “transfer positions in the settlement of Bakhmut to units of the defence ministry and withdraw the remains of Wagner to logistics camps to lick our wounds”. This comes ahead of the expected Ukrainian counter-offensive – which Prigozhin believes could come as soon as 15 May – and may be an attempt to retreat and let Kadyrov’s Chechens – who are expected to take over the fighting in Bakhmut – take the blame for future failures. It remains unclear what will truly happen – Prigozhin, who is considered a publicity seeker (he has no direct line to Putin and thus appeals to the Russian public), has previously not followed through with his threats, dismissing them as merely jokes. Hours after his announcement, Russia bombed the city with incendiary white phosphorous weapons – which burn anything they touch – as perhaps a last ditch attempt to force the Ukrainians out of the city. Russian forces have used incendiary weapons previously in Bakhmut – and in the wider conflict – but the bombing was heavy. 

On Saturday King Charles III was crowned King of the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth nations in a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey in the presence of about 100 world leaders, the royal family and 4,000 British and Commonwealth troops in a two hour service watched by millions. His wife Camilla was crowned queen. In the biggest ceremonial event in 70 years – since Elizabeth II’s coronation – the Archbishop of Canterbury placed the 360-year-old St Edward’s Crown on Charles’s head in a ceremony that has endured for more than a thousand years. The Coronation has been held at Westminster Abbey for at least the last 900 years since the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror. King Charles III is a direct descendent of William the Conqueror and is the 39th monarch to be crowned there. His mother Queen Elizabeth II was crowned there in 1953. Gun salutes were fired at the Tower of London and across the capital, the nation, in Gibraltar, Bermuda and on ships at sea. 

In the week ahead:

Russia will hold its annual Victory Day celebrations in Red Square to mark victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War on Tuesday. 

Read more at Adrian’s Substack – or Twitter @MIASubstack