Smoke rising near Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, last week.Credit...Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Days after declaring victory in Bakhmut, the Wagner private military company has started to withdraw its fighters from the ruined city in eastern Ukraine and will be replaced by regular Russian troops, the group’s leader, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, said in a video released on Thursday.

The withdrawal, if confirmed, could open a new phase of the monthslong struggle for the city, testing whether the Russian Army can hold the hard-won ground against Ukrainian forces that have advanced on the city’s outskirts and are preparing to launch a broader counteroffensive.

Mr. Prigozhin announced the capture of Bakhmut on Saturday, a claim echoed by the Russian Defense Ministry, after one of the longest and deadliest battles of the war in Ukraine. He has said that his fighters, who had spearheaded the Russian assault on the city, now need to recover and to repair weapons and other equipment.

Ukraine has conceded that Russian forces control nearly the entire city and has said that its forces are shifting their focus to make it difficult for Russia to hold Bakhmut or move deeper into eastern Ukraine. On Thursday, a deputy Ukrainian defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said that Ukrainian troops controlled an area just southwest of Bakhmut and were trying to make further gains on the outskirts.

“In the Bakhmut direction, the enemy is trying to stop our advance on the flanks with artillery fire,” Ms. Maliar said. “Now the enemy is pulling up additional units to the flanks for reinforcement.”

Regular Russian Army units had replaced Wagner fighters in Bakhmut’s suburbs, Ms. Maliar added, while Wagner forces remained inside the city.

Mr. Prigozhin signaled that Wagner’s pullout would take several days, saying in a video statement published on the messaging app Telegram that all its troops would leave Bakhmut and head to training camps by Wednesday.

In an earlier statement this week, Mr. Prigozhin had said that, starting June 1, “not a single Wagner fighter will be at the forefront until we undergo re-formation, re-equipment and additional training.”

“We will get rest and get ready,” he said in the latest video. “And then we will receive a new task.”

In the video on Thursday, Mr. Prigozhin is shown visiting what he claims are Wagner positions in Bakhmut and telling his soldiers to hand over their positions to Russian troops.

“Leave them soap, but take away your toothbrushes,” he says. No Russian Army troops are seen in the roughly three-minute clip.

Mr. Prigozhin, a tycoon closely aligned with President Vladimir V. Putin, has been among the most vocal critics of Russian military leadership, accusing them of incompetence and corruption, although he has not criticized Mr. Putin.

He has apparently been emboldened by his mercenaries’ brutal effectiveness in Bakhmut, where ill-trained former prisoners mounted near-suicidal ground assaults against Ukrainian defenses. According to Mr. Prigozhin, 20,000 Wagner troops, half of whom were former convicts, died in Bakhmut, although a State Department spokesman said that was a significant undercount of Russia’s casualties in the battle. Ukraine, too, is believed to have suffered huge losses in the fighting.


A drone exploding over Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, on May 4. Russia has launched at least 12 aerial bombardments targeting the city this month.Credit...Gleb Garanich/Reuters

KYIV, Ukraine —Ukraine’s military said that it shot down dozens of Russian drones aimed at targets across the country before dawn on Thursday, while Russian officials said that they had thwarted an attack by Ukrainian aerial and maritime drones taking aim at the home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea.

The dueling drone battles came as Ukraine’s forces continued to prepare for an anticipated counteroffensive that Kyiv hopes will help them seize back territory taken by Russia.

Even as Russian forces have reinforced a maze of fortified defensive positions across hundreds of miles of farmland, fields and river banks in recent weeks, Moscow has also stepped up aerial bombardments to try to disrupt Ukrainian military preparations, according to Ukrainian officials and military analysts.

Ukraine has spent weeks targeting key Russian command and control centers, rail lines, air fields and other military installations across occupied territories with the apparent aim of limiting Moscow’s ability to move troops and equipment quickly and effectively.

This month, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine was “ready” to launch its long-anticipated counteroffensive but needed more time for Western weapons to arrive to prevent mass casualties. But Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said on Thursday that recent military actions were all part of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which he said would not be marked by a “single event.”

There are “dozens of different actions,” he said in a post on Twitter, to destroy the “occupation forces in different directions, which have already been taking place yesterday, are taking place today and will continue tomorrow.”

“Intensive destruction of enemy logistics is also a counteroffensive,” he added.

Ukrainian military actions are deliberately shrouded in confusion to try to keep the Russian forces off-balance. Military analysts have said that Kyiv will most likely use the fog of war, deliberate feints and active deception to help maintain an element of surprise for offensive actions that have been openly telegraphed for months.

But at some point, Ukrainian ground forces will need to break through Russian lines and infantry soldiers will have to reclaim land if Ukraine is to drive Russian forces out of vast swaths of occupied territory in the east and south.

Where, when, and how the Ukrainian military will try to do that remains a tightly guarded secret known to only a small group of senior leaders, Ukrainian officials have said.

Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy intelligence chief, said that disrupting Russian military movement in Crimea was essential to the Ukrainian campaign.

“Their reinforcements and the redeployment of troops, the supply of ammunition and equipment in the occupied territories all go through Crimea,” he told the German publication Welt in an interview published on Thursday.

Crimea holds enormous symbolic and military value for the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, who seized the peninsula in 2014 and has described it as a centerpiece of what he sees as Russia’s national restoration.

The Kremlin-installed governor of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said on Thursday that multiple Ukrainian drone attacks had been thwarted across the territory.

The Russian-appointed governor of the Crimean port of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, said that two aerial drones had been shot down with small arms and that several maritime drones had been disabled using electronic warfare tools that jammed their signals.

The claims could not be independently verified.

At the same time, Russia also continued an aerial bombardment, including at least the 12th assault aimed at the capital, Kyiv, this month alone. Explosions echoed across the city through the night as drones were shot out of the sky during an attack that lasted some three hours.

“The enemy continues to use attack tactics in several waves, with intervals between groups of attacking drones,” the Kyiv regional military administration said in a statement. “This is how the Kremlin’s army is trying to achieve its goals, including exhausting our antiaircraft defense.”

Mykola Oleshchuk, commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, said that air defenses had shot down “36 out of 36” Iranian-made Russian attack drones.


A drone image of the destruction in Bakhmut taken while embedded with the 93rd Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian Army. The leader of the Wagner military group said his forces had begun to withdraw from the city on Thursday.Credit...Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The capture of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut by the Wagner paramilitary group has given Moscow a rare, albeit very costly, victory. But it has also exposed the Russian Army’s dependence on a brutal combat force commanded by an unpredictable leader.

The announcement by that leader, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir V. Putin, that Wagner forces would begin withdrawing from Bakhmut has raised questions about the future of the group — and about whether Russia’s military can hold the city, especially if Ukraine begins its long-anticipated counteroffensive that could further stretch Moscow’s forces.

“Now the Russian General Staff will have to find enough reserves to fill the resulting gap,” Dmitri Kuznets, a war analyst for Meduza, a Russian news website, said in response to written questions. “This is in addition to fending off the Ukrainian offensive, which will also require a significant number of reserves.”

Mr. Prigozhin said Thursday that his fighters would “get rest and get ready,” before receiving “a new task” to perform in Ukraine. It is not clear how many Wagner troops remain in Bakhmut. American officials estimated in December that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 10,000 experienced volunteers and 40,000 former prisoners who were granted pardons in exchange for military service.

For many supporters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Wagner group, with its harsh discipline and agile decision-making, has become a model for what the Russian Army, plagued by cumbersome bureaucracy, should look like.

Mr. Prigozhin has criticized Russia’s military leadership repeatedly. But Wagner and the Russian Army are also dependent on each other. While Mr. Prigozhin has some of the best assault troops fighting on the Russian side, the defense ministry holds vastly more weapons supplies, much to Mr. Prigozhin’s recent frustration.

In Ukraine, the Wagner group has sometimes served as an emergency force for Russia, engaging in battle when the situation appeared desperate. Weeks into the Russian invasion, Wagner troops helped capture the eastern town of Popasna, eventually allowing Russia to make further advances in the Donbas region. And Wagner’s grueling, bloody campaign in Bakhmut also allowed regular Russian forces to focus elsewhere, including on training additional troops and fortifying defenses.

Mr. Prigozhin signaled on Thursday that Wagner forces would rest and retrain after leaving Bakhmut, “and then we will receive a new task.”

Mr. Kuznets said that if Wagner troops are redeployed in Ukraine, they would likely be sent to areas surrounding Bakhmut or in southern Ukraine, an area that could be a focus of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

While the Russian military leadership might prefer not to rely on Wagner for assistance again, he said, Moscow’s lack of sufficient troops makes Wagner’s eventual redeployment in Ukraine “inevitable.”


Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, in Moscow last month.Credit...Associated Press

As Russia vowed to respond “extremely harshly” to a rare, two-day border incursion by pro-Ukrainian fighters, the leader of Russia’s largest mercenary force warned that it faced further setbacks unless its ruling elite took drastic, and likely unpopular, measures to win the war.

“The most likely scenario for us in a special operation would not be a good one,” Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, said in a profanity-laced interview with a pro-Kremlin political observer published late Tuesday on the Telegram messaging platform. “We are in such a condition that we could lose Russia,” he continued, his speech laced with profanity. “We have to prepare for a very hard war that will result in hundreds of thousands of casualties.”

An oligarch closely allied with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Prigozhin has been ramping up pressure on Russia’s military leadership with bombastic diatribes on public internet platforms, and extending his criticism to the country’s moneyed elites.

He has been further empowered by his notorious mercenary force’s role in the recent conquest of Bakhmut, Russia’s first battlefield victory in months. However, Russian state media has kept his name out of its coverage of those events, showing how Russia’s propaganda machine has been hiding elite infighting and problems on the front line from the Russian people.

In the interview, Mr. Prigozhin called for total war — something Mr. Putin has carefully avoided, seeking to reassure his people that their lives will not be disrupted by the “special military operation” in Ukraine. That position has grown harder to maintain as the war drags on and Russian losses mount.

The Kremlin, Mr. Prigozhin said, must declare a new wave of mobilization to call up more fighters and declare martial law and force “everyone possible” into the country’s ammunition production efforts.

“We must stop building new roads and infrastructure facilities and work only for the war, to live for a few years in the image of North Korea,” he said. “If we win, we can build anything. We stabilize the front and then move on to some kind of active action.”

The alternative, he said, is more violence, but inside Russia, perpetrated by ordinary people fed up with elites, whom Mr. Prigozhin characterized as ignoring the reality of war but not doing enough to win it.

“The children of the elite smear themselves with creams, showing it on the internet, ordinary people’s children come in zinc, torn to pieces,” he said, referencing the coffins of dead soldiers, and adding that those killed in action had “tens of thousands” of relatives. “Society always demands justice, and if there is no justice, then revolutionary sentiments arise.”

Mr. Prigozhin said his Wagner force alone had lost 20,000 men during the war in Ukraine, half of whom had been recruited from prisons. Those convict fighters represent 20 percent of the total number of imprisoned convicts who joined the fighting force.

A State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, said that the United States considered Mr. Prigozhin’s number a significant undercount of his losses. Even so, it is significantly higher than the Russian Armed Forces’ losses that the Kremlin has acknowledged. While American estimates range significantly higher, the Russian government has admitted only the deaths of 6,000 soldiers — statistics last publicly shared in September.

Mr. Prigozhin’s comments in the interview came after an incursion into Russia’s Belgorod region by Ukraine-aligned militants. The fighters, ethnic Russians who seek Ukraine’s victory, apparently used U.S.-made armored vehicles, and instigated the fiercest fighting on Russian soil since the war started 15 months ago.

Mr. Prigozhin said Ukraine had “one of the strongest armies in the world” and added that the violence at the border reflected poor leadership at the highest level of Russian military. He has often singled out Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu as the object of his ire, and in the interview, Mr. Prigozhin defined his personal credo as, “I love my motherland, I serve Putin, Shoigu should be judged and we will fight on.”

In brief remarks during a meeting with colleagues on Wednesday, Mr. Shoigu offered no reaction to Mr. Prigozhin’s comments and maintained that Russia would “respond promptly and extremely harshly” to any further incursions by “Ukrainian militants.”

Many analysts and other observers marvel at Mr. Prigozhin’s regular diatribes against Russia’s elite in a society that is strictly controlled, and especially his targeted criticisms of Mr. Shoigu.

“He is playing a very dangerous game,” one wealthy Moscow-based businessman said of Mr. Prigozhin in an interview with The New York Times in late March, asking for anonymity to discuss a prominent Kremlin-connected individual. “If he doesn’t stop, he will wind up like Aleksei Navalny.” Mr. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition politician, is now in poor health in a penal colony.

But Wagner’s recent victory in Bakhmut after a grueling monthslong battle has given Mr. Prigozhin political carte blanche, said Dmitri Oreshkin, a Russian political scientist and Kremlin critic.

“You are given everything, permission to break the law, to take people from prisons without asking anyone’s permission, to kill those people if you don’t like them for discipline,” Mr. Oreshkin said about the terms of the deal between Mr. Putin and Mr. Prigozhin. “If he had not brought this victory, he would have been torn apart” by the elites he has been disparaging.

“For him it was a matter of life and death.”

Milana Mazaeva contributed reporting.

A correction was made on 

May 24, 2023

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the first name of the spokesman for the State Department. The spokesman is Matthew Miller, not Mark.

How we handle corrections


Members of the Free Russia Legion in northern Ukraine on Wednesday.Credit...Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times

NORTHERN UKRAINE — Fresh from leading a military incursion across Russia’s border, commanders of anti-Kremlin armed groups taunted the Russian Army on Wednesday for its slow response and threatened Moscow with more to come.

Russia, they told reporters at a news conference in a forest in northern Ukraine near the Russian border, should brace for further cross-border assaults, warning that any section of the frontier could be vulnerable.

By Wednesday, the incursion was over, the fighters said, and the news conference back in Ukraine seemed intended as a victory lap to highlight weaknesses in the Russian military and to try to shape the narrative of the fighting.

Military analysts suggested the cross-border attack this week was aimed at forcing Russia to divert troops for border defense from the front in southeastern Ukraine ahead of a planned Ukrainian counteroffensive, and to embarrass President Vladimir V. Putin’s government.

Images verified by The New York Times showed armored vehicles with Ukrainian markings driving in the Belgorod region of southern Russia and smoke from explosions billowing over farm fields. Two groups calling themselves armed Russian opposition organizations, the Free Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, claimed responsibility.

The raid was the most disruptive, direct ground assault on Russian territory during the war, staged from an area of northern Ukraine that the Ukrainian Army freed from Russian occupation last spring. Kyiv denied directing the assault and said only Russian citizens crossed the border in the raid.

The commanders and soldiers stood, toting machine guns, some with camouflage fabric bands pulled over their faces, in front of an armored personnel carrier that they said they had captured and driven out of Russia. That could not be independently confirmed.

They called the two-day incursion a success. “We saw the military and political leadership of Russia are absolutely not prepared” for an attack, the commander said. “When it came to action, everything fell apart.”

Analysts of Russian politics said the attack could stir discontent over Russian military capabilities among the country’s pro-war groups but could also help Mr. Putin with a rally-around-the-flag effect. Already, the Kremlin has said that the raiders had abandoned American-made military vehicles inside Russia, and Moscow can use the far-right histories of some of the raiders to bolster its largely false claim to be fighting Nazis in Ukraine.

The Kremlin, eager to discredit the renegade Russians, dismissed them on Wednesday as neo-fascists.

One commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps, Denis Kapustin, is a known far-right extremist. The Anti-Defamation League has said that he was involved in the Mixed Martial Arts world in Europe and that he has trained younger members of the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany. At the news conference on Wednesday, he introduced himself to reporters by his call sign, White Rex.

Asked about his ultranationalist ideology Mr. Kapustin described himself as right wing and said that his views were “traditionalist” and “patriotic.”

Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, called the raid a terrorist act. “In response to similar action by Ukrainian fighters, we will respond in an operational manner and very harshly,” he told a gathering of security officials in Moscow, Russian media reported on Wednesday.

The Ukrainian military, he said, had been aware of the groups’ intentions ahead of the raid, helped in the planning, and provided gasoline for vehicles and medical care for wounded soldiers.

“Everything we do within the state borders of Ukraine we obviously coordinate with the Ukrainian military,” he said. “Everything we do, every decision we make, beyond the state border, is our decision.”

The Ukrainian military, he said, had “wished us good luck” but not crossed the border into Russia, echoing what Ukrainian officials had said.

Another commander, who asked to be identified by the nickname Cesar, said Russia’s military had been slow to respond with reinforcements after the group drove armored personnel carriers across the border and attacked a border post. “The reaction was slow, panicked, disorganized and didn’t begin for hours,” he said.

Cesar said the Free Russia Legion had driven American-made armored vehicles but said they were not provided by the Ukrainian military. The group had bought them, he said. He said his group suffered losses in the fighting but declined to say how many soldiers had been killed or wounded.

White Rex said his group, the Russian Volunteer Corps, had not used any American-made vehicles in the assault.

The news conference organizers kept a strict time limit, lest the gathering be targeted by a Russian missile. After about 40 minutes, the soldiers drove away in pickup trucks and, with a rumble of a diesel engine, the armored personnel carrier they said they had captured.

Evelina Riabenko contributed reporting.


A photo released by the Russian government shows Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, left, with his Belarusian counterpart, Victor Khrenin, in Minsk, Belarus, on Thursday.Credit...Russian Defense Ministry

The Russian and Belarusian defense ministers on Thursday signed an agreement laying out how to store Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russian state media reported, as Moscow continues to use its nuclear capabilities to try to put pressure on the West.

The signing comes some two months after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said he would be able to position nuclear weapons in Belarus by the summer, a claim widely seen by analysts as bluster. There was no immediate sign that Russia was actually moving nuclear weapons to Belarus.

The Russian state news service, Tass, reported that Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, met with his Belarusian counterpart, Viktor Khrenin, in Minsk on Thursday. It cited the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that the two signed documents formalizing “the procedure for keeping Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons in a special storage facility” in Belarus.

Mr. Putin has repeatedly issued veiled threats of the use of nuclear weapons since launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. U.S. officials say they have seen no effort by Russia to move or employ its nuclear weapons, but worries remain.

It was not clear whether Mr. Putin would transfer nuclear weapons into Belarus, and he was vague on the timeline for any such move in his March comments. Even if Russia were to move some of its nuclear assets to Belarus, it would not seriously change the nuclear threat since Russia can already target a broad range of territory from within its own borders.

The New York Times


Credit...Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made a direct plea to the people of Iran, including those with influence in the government, to end their nation’s support for Russia, which has been using Iranian-made drones to attack Ukraine.

“Given that such strikes are ongoing,” he said in his nightly address on Wednesday. “I would like to appeal to the people of Iran directly.”

“When an Iranian drone kills a pregnant Ukrainian girl and her husband in their home,” he continued, “why do you, mothers and fathers in Iran, need this?”

Mr. Zelensky and Ukraine’s allies have accused Iran of supplying a long-range attack drone, the Shahed-136, to Russia since the start of the war last year. Iran has denied the allegation. The drones have become a mainstay of Russia’s near nightly attacks on Ukrainian cities, and Ukrainian forces say they shot down 36 of them on Thursday morning alone.

Ukraine’s relationship with Iran has long been stymied by Iran’s alliance with Russia, which illegally annexed Crimea after invading in 2014. The leaders of Iran and Russia both view the United States as an enemy and a threat to their grip on power.

It’s not the first time Mr. Zelensky has used his speeches to address the people of other countries directly. In a speech in the early days of the war, he asked the Russian people — in Russian — to oppose the war.

Relations between Iran and Ukraine deteriorated when two missiles fired by Iranian military forces downed a Ukrainian jetliner in January 2020, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board. Iran has said it was an accident.

The relationship soured further following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. A few months into the war, U.S. officials say, Iran supplied military drones to Russia. Iran denied the shipments, only admitting to sending drones to Russia before the war began. In December, Mr. Zelensky, in an address to Congress, accused Iran of conspiring with Russia by sending hundreds of drones, including the Shahed-136.

That weapon is launched from a truck, flies autonomously for up to 1,500 miles, dives toward its target and explodes on impact. Its slow speed and low altitude make it easy to target, British defense officials have said.


The U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford sailing toward Oslo on Wednesday.Credit...Victoria Klesty/Reuters

OSLO — An American aircraft carrier arrived on Wednesday in the capital of Norway for a four-day stay, a show of strength in northern Europe that seemed to irritate neighboring Russia, before beginning military exercises elsewhere in the country.

Hundreds of people watched the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, the world’s largest aircraft carrier, enter the Oslo fjord in an Arctic region swelling with geopolitical importance.

It was the latest American foray into an expanse increasingly contested by Russia and China, which have partnered to promote expanded use of Arctic trade routes. As the war continued to rage in Ukraine, the arrival of the carrier amounted to a display of solidarity with NATO allies nearby and a visible element of deterrence to Russia, which shares a border with Norway of almost 125 miles.

The Russian Embassy said on its Facebook page Wednesday that “there are no questions in the north that require a military solution.” Since Russia, the embassy said, “poses no direct military threat to Norway, such demonstrations of power appear illogical and harmful.”

Jonas Gahr Store, Norway’s prime minister, said through a spokesperson that the carrier’s presence in Oslo transcends mere symbolic value. It also reflects, he said, the United States’ power at sea.

Historically, Norway has been slightly reluctant to allow a strong U.S. military presence, but its stance has slowly changed since Russia illegally seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. American Marines have trained on a rotational basis in Norway since 2017, buttressing their defenses against a resurgent Russia, and in 2018 U.S. troops joined 50,000 Allied Forces in the Trident Juncture, NATO’s largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Andreas Osthagen, a senior research fellow at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Norway and an expert on geopolitical issues related to the Arctic, called the trip part of a trend of the U.S. military engaging in the Arctic and North Atlantic, not only a response to Russian aggression in Europe, but also the increasing Chinese presence in the Arctic.

After its stay in Oslo, the carrier is scheduled to move along Norway’s coast into the Norwegian Sea, but the Norwegian Armed Forces did not say precisely where or for how long. The aircraft carrier, the armed forces said, will train with Norway’s military.

Henrik Pryser Libell


The Senate Palace within the Kremlin wall in Moscow in May, after two drones exploded near its dome in the early hours of the morning.Credit...Yuri Kochetkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

U.S. officials said the drone attack on the Kremlin earlier this month was likely orchestrated by one of Ukraine’s special military or intelligence units, the latest in a series of covert actions against Russian targets that have unnerved the Biden administration.

U.S. intelligence agencies do not know which unit carried out the attack and it was unclear whether President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine or his top officials were aware of the operation, though some officials believe Mr. Zelensky was not.

The agencies reached their preliminary assessment in part through intercepted communications in which Russian officials blamed Ukraine and other communications in which Ukrainian officials said they believed their country was responsible for the attack, in which two drones were flown on May 3 toward the Kremlin, causing little damage.

U.S. officials say their level of confidence that the Ukrainian government directly authorized the Kremlin drone attack is “low” but that is because intelligence agencies do not yet have specific evidence identifying which government officials, Ukrainian units or operatives were involved.

The attack appeared to be part of a series of operations that have made officials in the United States — Ukraine’s biggest supplier of military equipment — uncomfortable. The Biden administration is concerned about the risk that Russia will blame U.S. officials and retaliate by expanding the war beyond Ukraine.

American spy agencies see an emerging picture of a loose confederation of Ukrainian units able to conduct limited operations inside and outside Russia, either by using their own personnel or partners working under their direction. Some of these missions could have been conducted with little, if any, oversight from Mr. Zelensky, officials said.

In addition to the drone attack, U.S. officials say they believe the Ukrainians were responsible for the assassination of the daughter of a prominent Russian nationalist, the killing of a pro-Russian blogger and a number of attacks in Russian towns near the border with Ukraine, the most recent of which occurred Monday.

American officials similarly view the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines — which carried natural gas from Russia to Europe — as the work of pro-Ukrainian operatives whose ties to the Ukrainian government have yet to be determined.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, described their assessment in broad terms, but would not share the details of the intercepts. Representatives for the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

Though the drone attack caused little damage, it punctured the sense of security and invincibility the Kremlin has sought to portray within Moscow despite the chaos it has created with its war in Ukraine.

U.S. intelligence agencies’ ability to determine responsibility for attacks against Russian targets has been complicated by the way Ukraine has organized its security services, which have secretive, overlapping and sometimes competing responsibilities.

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