The United States released the intelligence findings the day after National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Russia, which has amassed tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine, was “laying the groundwork for having the option to make a pretext for an invasion.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said US intelligence believed Russia could begin operations “several weeks” before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February.
“We have information indicating that Russia has already positioned a group of agents to carry out a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine,” Psaki told reporters.
“The operatives are trained in urban warfare and the use of explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces.”
Russia quickly denied the account, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling the US remarks “baseless.”
But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the intelligence information was “highly credible” and the classification had been downgraded to allow its release to the public.
He said Russian operatives could include intelligence agents, military elements and other security services.
“They often hybridize their staff to such an extent that the lines aren’t necessarily very clear,” Kirby told reporters.
Rise of misinformation
The accusations come as Ukraine was hit by a major cyberattack, prompting NATO to promise to step up cooperation with Kiev on online security.
Psaki said the United States was “concerned” about the attack, but stopped short of blaming Russia, saying the culprit had yet to be determined.
Psaki said that Russia, along with its alleged false flag preparations, had intensified a disinformation campaign on social media, including posts accusing Ukraine of rights violations and the West of provoking tensions.
“Our information also indicates that Russian influencers are already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations on state and social media to justify a Russian intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine,” he said.
The United States has repeatedly accused Russia of spreading conspiracies and disinformation on social media.
Psaki said Russian-language justifications for Moscow’s narratives about Ukraine on social media rose 200 percent in December to nearly 3,500 posts a day.
Sullivan, in his briefing with reporters, said Russia had used similar tactics in 2014 when it seized Crimea and backed an ongoing insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
“We saw this playbook in 2014. They’re putting this playbook together again,” Sullivan said.
The United States released the findings about the alleged false flag schemes after a week of talks with Russia to defuse tensions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied plans to invade Ukraine but has demanded security guarantees from the West, including promises not to expand NATO eastward.
Sullivan said Thursday that the United States preferred diplomacy but was prepared to “defend” allies and impose heavy economic costs on Russia if it invaded.
Russia stepped up its pressure on Ukraine in 2014 after an uprising toppled a government that had rejected pressure to draw the country closer to the West.
Since then, more than 13,000 people have been killed in the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
Source Credit: TheGuardian
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