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Three key questions over the Moscow drone strike  

Welcome to Wednesday’s Early Edition from i.

It was the most serious strike on Moscow since Nazi attacks during the Second World War, one Russian politician dramatically said. Yesterday, three drones hit buildings in the exclusive neighbourhood of Rublyovka in the Russian capital, where Vladimir Putin has an official residence. At least five others were shot down or disabled, Russian authorities said, and called it a “terrorist attack”. However, Ukraine denied any involvement. “Of course, we enjoy watching and predicting an increase in attacks,” Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak said. “But of course, we have nothing to do directly with it.” It’s not the first time Moscow has suffered a drone attack – just weeks ago two targeted the Kremlin in what Russia said was an attempt to kill Vladimir Putin. But experts say the latest assault “demonstrates a new scale and ambition” by Kyiv. What is going on, and what questions does it raise? We’ll take a look after the news.

 Today’s news, and why it matters

Dozens of technology experts are warning that artificial intelligence could lead to the extinction of humanity — even though many of these experts led AI to its current state. A statement from the Centre of AI Safety aims to “open up discussion” about “concerns about some of advanced AI’s most severe risks” which it says people find difficult to voice. “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war,” it says.

ITV bosses are set to face a televised grilling by MPs over their response to the Phillip Schofield revelations next Tuesday. MPs are likely to question bosses over when they first heard reports about the “unwise but not illegal” affair between former This Morning host Schofield and a much younger man – and the effectiveness of ITV’s internal investigation which found no evidence of the relationship.

Thérèse Coffey has been accused of excluding environmental groups from a crisis meeting on saving the River Wye on the day it was officially labelled as in decline. The “roundtable” organised by Defra brought together local and national politicians, farmers and the Welsh Government, but several environmental groups that have been critical of the Government were not invited.

People who were awarded government contracts under a controversial “fast track” process during the pandemic could be called to give evidence to the Covid inquiry, i understands. The inquiry has set up an investigation into government procurement during the early stages of the pandemic, when billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was spent on PPE to curb the virus in hospitals and care homes.

There are still “questions that need to be answered” about the origins of the Covid pandemic, the UK Government has said, after China’s former most senior scientist insisted the lab leak theory could not be ruled out. The Department for Health and Social Care called for a review into the origins of the pandemic to “ensure we are better prepared for future pandemics”.

Home Office staff could go on strike to try and stop the UK deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, a union leader has said. Paul O’Connor, of the Public and Commercial Services union, said he was “ruling absolutely nothing out in terms of responses to look after the welfare of our members”.

Tory party sources have hit back at the suggestion Boris Johnson could be on manoeuvres to try to run in his former constituency of Henley in the next election. The ex-PM is rumoured to be contemplating ditching his current seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in favour of the safer constituency of Henley, Oxfordshire – where he was the MP until 2008.

Three key questions over the Moscow drone attack:

What’s Ukraine’s strategy? Kyiv has denied involvement, but defence experts believe that the use of drones could be employed as part of a “psychological” offensive against Russia,. It’s also one that would divide the attention of its military campaign, by having to switch or stretch the focus of its defence forces to include protecting domestic targets. Justin Crump, a military veteran and chief executive of intelligence risk firm Sibylline, told i the latest strikes suggested Ukraine could be playing Russia at its own game. “Russia highlighted this path with the Iranian drones and, of course, is now somewhat reaping the whirlwind in return, at least psychologically, even if the actual damage from Ukrainian attacks is a fraction of what Moscow is currently trying to let loose on Kyiv,” he said. Mr Crump said it was likely that “sabotage, infiltration and drone operations” would continue, in part to “keep Russia’s defences spread out and off-guard, distracting decision-making and helping create opportunities for Kyiv to exploit.” Read the full piece here. Other experts have pointed to the affect the latest strike is likely to have had on Vladimir Putin. “If I were Putin I would be very worried today,” Tyler Kustra, assistant professor of politics and international relations at the University of Nottingham, told i. “These attacks mean Putin has to be just as worried about defending his own territory as taking Ukraine land. Further, the psychological impact of these raids – both on Ukrainian morale and Putin’s mind – should not be underestimated.” Professor David Lewis, from the Royal United Services Institute in London, said the attacks were the “most significant attempt yet by Ukraine to bring home to Russians the reality of the conflict and to respond to Russian missile attacks on Kyiv. It is the latest … including drone attacks, assassinations, and cross-border raids, but this drone attack on Moscow demonstrates a new scale and ambition.” Read that piece, here.

Are there signs it could be a tactic by Russia? The idea that the drone attack could be a false flag operation is a neat theory. As we know, Ukraine has denied involvement. But that also happened earlier this month, when two drones targeted the Kremlin. Russia called that incident a “planned terrorist attack” by Ukraine, one which intended to kill President Vladimir Putin, and also accused the United States of being behind it. A number of attacks have happened within Russia recently, including the assassination of military blogger Maxim Fomin in a St Petersburg cafe, and a series of drone attacks on Russia-occupied Crimea. But it could still leave the door open for other actors. Internal Russian resistance groups opposed to the war, potentially operating with assistance from Ukrainian intelligence could be behind the strike. A report in The New York Times recently said that US intelligence officials believe one of Ukraine’s special military or intelligence units were likely to have orchestrated the Kremlin attack, as part of a series of covert operations. But it’s unclear where the orders might have come from, with suggestions that Volodymyr Zelensky’s office was not aware of the plan.

Were UK drones used? Earlier this month, Rishi Sunak committed the UK to providing Kyiv with hundreds of new long-range attack drones after talks with Volodymyr Zelensky. However the UK is confident that none of the battle equipment it donated to Ukraine was used in a drone attack on Moscow on Tuesday, Downing Street indicated on Tuesday. But their 200km range does not appear to go far enough for Ukraine to use the drones to strike Moscow from within its own borders, and asked if the Government was confident that UK equipment was not used, the Prime Minister’s spokesman replied: “Yes.” There’s also no suggestion that US-made drones were used in the attacks. Read the full story here.

A specialist inspects the damaged facade of a multi-storey apartment building after the reported drone attack in Moscow (Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)

Around the world

A spy satellite launched by North Korea aimed at monitoring US military activities has crashed into the sea. The launch sparked a false alarm in South Korea and in Japan. Pyongyang says it will attempt a second launch as soon as possible.

A group of around 50 migrants say they were tear-gassed by French security forces after failing to cross the Channel to the UK on a small boat, according to reports provided to a charity. The group, which included some children, were reportedly on their way back to makeshift camps in the Pas-de-Calais region. Video footage allegedly taken at the scene shows people wearing red lifejackets appearing to suffer the after-effects of tear gas.

When a freak waterspout on Lake Maggiore sank a boat filled with secret agents on Sunday evening, killing four people, it was clear that unusual weather conditions had caused the incident. However, an ongoing investigation suggests that human error may have also contributed to the tragedy.

Actor Al Pacino is reportedly set to become a father again at the age of 82, according to showbiz website TMZ. It said his girlfriend, 29-year-old Noor Alfallah, is eight months pregnant, and that a representative for Mr Pacino had confirmed the news.

 Watch out for…

 the American economy being saved from the brink, as a bill to suspend the $31.4trn US debt ceiling is due to go to the House of Representatives on Wednesday for a full vote. 

 Thoughts for the day

The Conservatives have fallen for the price fixing fallacy that almost obliterated the Romans. In considering pressuring supermarkets into placing caps on the price of food, Downing Street could be repeating another doomed experiment, warns Mark Wallace.

I’m paying £500 a month on my student loan when I should be saving for childcare or retirement, explains Vicky Spratt.

MDMA could soon be a medicine – it would be groundbreaking for those with depression. The drug has potential in other mental health problems too, writes professor David Nutt.

MDMA used to be a popular and legal aid to therapy in the USA, and may soon be approved by regulators as a medicine (Photo: Getty)

Culture Break

Nobody won in the Succession finale – but Shiv lost everything. We should have seen it coming. Shiv has never once been on the ball or made the right decision; she has been consistently played by the men she surrounds herself with, writes Emily Baker.

Matthew Macfadyen as Tom and Sarah Snook as Shiv in the hit series (Photo: HBO)

The Big Read

Have breakfast in London, lunch in Brussels, dinner in Amsterdam and wake up in Berlin. The new European sleeper train is part of a renaissance of “hotel on rail” services on the Continent, Benjamin Butterworth discovers.

Benjamin Butterworth on the new European Sleeper (Photo: Supplied)


Women’s World Cup 2023: The 7 big calls Sarina Wiegman has to make for England’s squad. England have to replace injured trio Leah Williamson, Fran Kirby and Beth Mead before heading to Australia and New Zealand, writes Katherine Lucas.

The big calls Sarina Wiegman has to make for her World Cup squad (Photo: Getty)

Something to brighten your day

Record-breaking plumes of water vapour have been observed shooting out of a tiny Saturnian moon, which has almost all of the ingredients that you need to support life as we know it on Earth. The blast of vapour from Enceladus contained particles of ice and organic chemicals, and reached nearly 6,000 miles into space. “We were really impressed [by] how big and extended it was,” a planetary scientist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said. “We were not sure what to expect.”

Previous observations of the moon have spotted water vapour plumes, carrying ice particles (Photo: Getty Images)

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