May 4, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Sana Noor Haq, Ivana Kottasová, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer, Leinz Vales, Tori B. Powell and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:09 a.m. ET, May 5, 2023
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5:14 p.m. ET, May 4, 2023

Here's what we know so far about the alleged Kremlin drone strikes

From CNN's Rob Picheta, Anna Chernova and Allegra Goodwin

The Russian flag flies on the dome of the Kremlin Senate building, where the roof shows what appears to be damage from the recent drone incident, in Moscow, Russia, on May 4.
The Russian flag flies on the dome of the Kremlin Senate building, where the roof shows what appears to be damage from the recent drone incident, in Moscow, Russia, on May 4. (Stringer/Reuters)

The tight ring of security that surrounds the seat of the Russian presidency was punctured in dramatic fashion by what appeared to be two attempted drone strikes in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Many details about the incident remain murky. Here’s what we know – and the questions that remain:

What happened? Moscow said the alleged attack took place in the early hours of Wednesday. Two “unmanned aerial vehicles” were intercepted and destroyed before they caused any damage or injury, the Kremlin said. The Russian president was not in the building at the time, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Videos then emerged on social media appearing to show the incident. CNN analysis of these videos supports Moscow’s claim that two drones were flown above the Kremlin.

Who's saying what? The Kremlin blamed Ukraine, describing the purported drone attack as an “attempt on the President’s life.” On Thursday, Russia also claimed the US was involved in the attack. Both allegations drew sharp denials from Kyiv and Washington.

Who else could be responsible? One possibility is that the incident was the work of Russian partisans – as claimed by former Russian lawmaker Ilya Ponomarev who's linked with militant groups in Russia. Others speculate that the incident could have been a false flag operation to either rally the public or escalate Russia’s military mobilization. US officials have also said they were still assessing the incident, and had no information about who might have been responsible.

What happens next? Moscow already launched a wave of missiles at Kyiv following the incident, a move in line with its playbook after previous flashpoints in the war. And messages written on Russian drones launched at Odesa overnight read “for Moscow” and “for the Kremlin,” according to the Ukrainian military, an apparent reference to the alleged attack.

US and Ukrainian officials have in the past warned that Russia has planned so-called “false flag” attacks along Russia’s border with Ukraine as a pretext for military escalation and Russia has also been embarrassed in recent months by symbolic incidents, such as the sinking of the guided-missile cruiser Moskva. Moscow is also looking to project strength by following through with its planned Victory Day parade. Peskov reiterated that the parade would go ahead as planned.

But while Russia has on occasion used missile bombardments around Ukraine to show its anger following flashpoints in the conflict, the ground fighting in eastern Ukraine has been bogged down in stalemate for months and it appears unlikely that Wednesday’s incident will have a material impact on momentum.

3:03 p.m. ET, May 4, 2023

Russia denies deploying military equipment and explosives at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

From CNN's Mariya Knight

A motorcade transporting the International Atomic Energy Agency  expert mission, escorted by the Russian military, arrives at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant on March 29.
A motorcade transporting the International Atomic Energy Agency expert mission, escorted by the Russian military, arrives at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant on March 29. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters/FILE)

Russia has dismissed claims that it deployed military equipment and explosives at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate accused Russia of placing weapons, explosives and military equipment in one of the power plant’s units. The Inspectorate said it received the information during its weekly meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency representatives a day earlier.

“In the event of an emergency situation at the Zaporizhzhia NPP with a potentially possible release of radioactive substances into the environment, the consequences will be felt not only by Ukraine — but they will also have a cross-border nature,” the inspectorate said. 

It called on the international community “for a consolidated and decisive response to the actions of the aggressor country.”

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russian-appointed military-civilian administration in occupied Zaporizhzhia, called the claims “a lie.”

“We do not use the nuclear power plant as a military facility — this has already been proven by everyone and confirmed more than once,” Rogov told Russian state news agency TASS. 

Where things stand at the facility: Russian forces continue to control the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, but the plant is still physically operated by Ukrainian staff. The plant has frequently been disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid due to intense shelling in the area, raising fears of a nuclear accident.

3:14 p.m. ET, May 4, 2023

Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials will meet in Istanbul to discuss grain corridor, official says

From CNN's Isil Sariyuce

Technical personnel from the United Nations, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine will meet in Istanbul on May 5 to discuss the grain corridor, Turkish Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar said Thursday.

After the meeting of the delegations, deputy ministers will gather next week in Istanbul, Akar said. The grain corridor deal is set to end on May 18 and talks aim to extend it.

“The impression we have received from the meetings and speeches is that these works will result in a positive outcome. We work for it, we strive for it,” the official said.

A meeting of deputy ministers had originally been announced for May 5 but Akar said "the necessity of holding a meeting" with the technical personnel before the other meeting had emerged.

2:21 p.m. ET, May 4, 2023

Kyiv air defense forces shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle, authorities say

From Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was shot down by Kyiv air defense forces, the city's military administration said Thursday evening on Telegram.

"During the recent air alert, an unmanned aerial vehicle was spotted over Kyiv city. The object was shot down by air defense forces. There is no information on casualties or damage to housing or infrastructure," Kyiv City Military Administration said, adding that further information is being clarified.

There were explosions and a fire in the Solomianka residential district of Kyiv city, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a Telegram post, adding that it could be debris from the UAV. Emergency services are on the scene, according to Klitschko. 

"In Solomianka district, rescuers are localizing a fire in a 4-story building. The area of the fire is 50 square meters (538 square feet)," he added. "No one has sought medical help so far."

1:42 p.m. ET, May 4, 2023

Air raid alerts sound in Kyiv as CNN team hears explosions

From Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Josh Pennington

Air raid alerts went into force for a short period on Thursday evening in Kyiv, according to CNN's team on the ground.

CNN's team in the Ukrainian capital heard explosions during the air raid alerts, which sounded like the city's air defense systems were in action. 

1:54 p.m. ET, May 4, 2023

Russia violated rights of deported Ukrainian children, according to new report from security experts 

From CNN's Jorge Engels

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that “a large number” of Ukrainian minors have been “displaced” to Russia and Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine, and Moscow "manifestly violated" the interests of these children, according to its report released Thursday.

The report looked into the alleged Russian deportation of Ukrainian children since the start of the war in February 2022.

Though the team of experts were not able to determine the exact number of children Russian forces deported, “the fact of a large-scale displacement of Ukrainian children does not seem disputed by either Ukraine or Russia,” the report said. 

Ukrainian officials told OSCE experts they estimated the number of “kidnapped” children to be between 200,000 and 300,000. 

“Numerous and overlapping violations of the rights of the children deported to the Russian Federation have taken place. Not only has the Russian Federation manifestly violated the best interests of these children repeatedly, it has also denied their right to identity, their right to family, their right to unite with their family as well as violated their rights to education, access to information, right to rest, leisure, play, recreation and participation in cultural life and arts as well as right to thought, conscience and religion, right to health, and the right to liberty and security,” the OSCE Moscow Mechanism mission of experts wrote to the OSCE Permanent Council in their report. 

The report also found that the three most common reasons for the organized displacement of children are, "the evacuation for security reasons, the transfer for the purpose of adoption or foster care, and temporary stays in the so-called recreation camps,”

The team of experts led by Professor Veronika Bílková, Dr. Cecilie Hellestveit and Dr. Elīna Šteinerte found that Ukrainian children taken by Russian forces “are exposed to pro-Russian information campaigns often amounting to targeted re-education.”

“The Russian Federation does not take any steps to actively promote the return of Ukrainian children. Rather, it creates various obstacles for families seeking to get their children back,” the experts added.

The report “further exposed the abhorrent actions carried out at the behest of the Russian leadership, said Deirdre Brown, UK Acting Ambassador to the OSCE. “The report indicates figures in the several thousands, with the true figure likely to be far higher."

��Russia’s intention is clear. It is attempting to forcibly and permanently alter the demographic makeup of Ukraine,” Brown added.

In late March 2023, the United States and 44 other countries in the OSCE invoked a special mechanism to investigate alleged human rights violations by Russia during its war in Ukraine, “particularly with regard to the forced transfer and deportation of children by the Russian Federation.” 

According to the US and several European governments, Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration has carried out a scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, often to a network of dozens of camps, where the minors undergo political reeducation.  

The International Criminal Court (ICC) earlier in March issued arrest warrants for Putin and another Russian officials related to this reported forced deportation. 

The OSCE does not have the authority to legally punish Russia if it finds evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but their facts can be given to other bodies that do have that authority. Both Russia and Ukraine are members of the 57 nation OSCE. 

Russia has previously denied it is doing anything illegal, claiming it is bringing Ukrainian children to safety.

12:45 p.m. ET, May 4, 2023

Analysis: Alleged drone attack offers Kremlin a chance to rally Russians in support of Putin

Analysis by CNN's Jill Dougherty

A still image taken from video shows a flying object exploding in an intense burst of light near the dome of the Kremlin Senate building during the alleged Ukrainian drone attack in Moscow, Russia, in this image taken from video obtained by Reuters on May 3.
A still image taken from video shows a flying object exploding in an intense burst of light near the dome of the Kremlin Senate building during the alleged Ukrainian drone attack in Moscow, Russia, in this image taken from video obtained by Reuters on May 3. (Ostorozhno Novosti/Reuters)

This week's alleged drone attack on the Kremlin has handed Moscow an opportunity to rally Russians to support President Vladimir Putin against those who would harm him.

Ukraine officials immediately warned the attacks might be exploited by Russia to launch even more vicious assaults on Ukrainians, and Putin's forces have already unleashed their worst attacks on Kyiv in a year, according to the Ukrainian military.

Throughout its history, Russia — and the Soviet Union before it — has used “false flag” operations, carrying out aggressive actions while blaming its enemies.

In 1999, just months before Putin was elected president for the first time, Russia was hit with a wave of apartment bombings that killed more than 300 people. Then-Prime Minister Putin cited the bombings to justify launching the Second Chechen War.

His tough approach helped him win the presidency, but suspicion still lingers about who really was behind the bombings.

In the case of the alleged drone attacks, the Putin regime has already spent the past year blaming Kyiv, NATO and the United States for the war in Ukraine. Does it really need another excuse to try to kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky?

That isn’t stopping former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now vice chair of Russia's National Security Council, from claiming it is time to “physically eliminate” Zelensky.

“There are no options left other than the physical elimination of Zelensky and his clique,” Medvedev wrote on Twitter, where he posts frequently. “He is not even needed to sign the act of unconditional capitulation. Hitler, as you know, did not sign it either.”

Medvedev neglected to note that Russia tried, and failed, to eliminate the Ukrainian president in the initial stages of the full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Read more here.

11:56 a.m. ET, May 4, 2023

US ambassador visits detained American Paul Whelan at Russian prison camp

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy visited Paul Whelan on Thursday— her first visit to the detained American since taking up the post in Moscow earlier this year.

"His release remains an absolute priority," the US Embassy in Moscow said on Twitter. 

Whelan is serving out his prison sentence at a prison camp in Mordovia, an eight-hour drive from Moscow.

Background on Whelan's case: The American citizen, who also holds Irish, British and Canadian citizenship, was detained in Russia in December 2018 and later sentenced to 16 years in prison on an espionage charge, which he strongly denies. 

In an interview with CNN in December, Whelan described the prison camp as "better than most in Russia because it's mostly foreigners held here, but the conditions are extremely bad."

Although Thursday was Tracy's first in-person visit, she has spoken by phone with Whelan in the past. The US government was unable to secure Whelan's release last year when they brought home two other wrongfully detained Americans: Trevor Reed in April and Brittney Griner in December.

Other detained Americans: Whelan is one of two Americans still in Russia who has been designated as wrongfully detained. The other, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, was imprisoned more than a month ago.

Read more here.

12:00 p.m. ET, May 4, 2023

US doesn't have information it needs to assess alleged Kremlin drone attack, top intelligence official says

From CNN's Michael Conte

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on "worldwide threats" at the Capitol in Washington, on May 4.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on "worldwide threats" at the Capitol in Washington, on May 4. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The United States still does not have information needed to provide an assessment on this week's alleged drone attack on the Kremlin, according to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

“You've seen the Ukrainian government deny their having engaged in this. And, at this stage we don't have information that would allow us to provide an independent assessment on this,” Haines said.

In an exchange with Sen. Tom Cotton at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Haines confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not “spend the night at the Kremlin all that much” and that Ukraine denied the attack, whereas in past attacks against Russia, Ukraine has been “ambiguous or silent about responsibility for the attacks.”

“Perhaps some grounds to think that maybe these claims are exaggerated,” Cotton said.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier said Russia’s claim that Ukraine tried to assassinate Putin with American assistance was likely “misinformation.”

Some background: CNN analysis of videos showing the incident support the Kremlin’s claim that two drones were flown above the government compound early Wednesday, but did not show evidence it was a Ukrainian attack.

Ukraine has flatly denied any involvement, saying it only strikes within its own territory and is not launching attacks in Russia. The White House has called the Kremlin's accusation that it was involved in an attempt on Putin's life "ridiculous."