The United States has information that the Russian government is planning a false flag operation to justify an invasion of Ukraine, a government official said Friday.
“We have information that indicates that Russia has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine. The operatives are trained in urban warfare and the use of explosives to commit acts of sabotage against Russian proxy forces,” the official said, confirming a CNN report.
“Our information also indicates that Russian influencers are already beginning to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify Russian intervention and sow division in Ukraine,” the official said. “For example, Russian officials and influential actors are emphasizing stories about deteriorating human rights in Ukraine and increased activism by Ukrainian leaders.”
Rarely does the U.S. government release real-time intelligence information publicly, especially on a high-value target like Russia, a longtime adversary of the United States. The unusual disclosure came as the Biden administration sought to preempt Russian tactics, which in previous conflicts have obscured the facts and made it harder for the United States and its allies to hold Moscow accountable.
For weeks, as concerns grew over a possible Russian invasion, US national security officials publicly warned that Russia was likely to spread false information about ongoing diplomatic efforts to cover their tracks and try to dig deeper. a rift between the United States and its NATO and European countries. allies.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday during her daily briefing that intelligence shows Russia is “laying the groundwork for the possibility of fabricating a pretext for invasion.”
PSAKI added that the Russians seem to be following the same playbook they used when they took over Crimea.
“We have seen this before, until 2014, just to see it through sabotage activities and information operations, accusing Ukraine of planning an imminent attack on Russian forces,” Psaki said. She added that an invasion by Russia now “could result in widespread human rights abuses and war crimes if diplomacy fails to achieve its goals.”
The comments came hours after Ukraine was hit by a massive cyberattack warning its citizens to expect the worst. Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters it was too early to say who might be behind the attack, but Russia had been behind similar strikes in the past.
PSAKI said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the attack and the United States had “offered its support as Ukraine investigates the impact and recovers from the incidents.”
Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops on its neighbors’ border. The Russian government has denied plans to attack Ukraine, but on Friday released footage of more forces deployed in the region. Russian officials have met with their American, European and NATO counterparts over the past week as they seek to defuse tensions between the two countries. But following those talks, the Biden administration said it believed a Russian incursion into Ukraine remained a real possibility.
The drumbeat of war is ringing loudly, a senior US diplomat has said.
The Biden administration plans to arm Ukrainian insurgents, who would essentially wage a guerrilla war against Russian forces, if Russia invades Ukraine, a senior US official and former US official confirmed to NBC News. Such a move would be in addition to the administration’s ongoing commitment to supply arms to the Ukrainian government.
Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told a State Department briefing this week that “we have provided Ukraine some $450 million in defensive lethal support in all sorts of categories this year.”
Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told a virtual briefing hosted by think tank Atlantic Council that they still hoped to reach a diplomatic resolution. He said Zelenskyy spoke to Biden about possible trilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
We were still waiting for a reaction on this, I think, from the Russian side, Yermak said. “But our American partners are taking our proposal with some interest.”
A White House official told NBC News that the Biden administration is “consulting with allies and partners, including Ukraine, to determine next steps, and we are in communication with the Russians.”
“We believe diplomacy is the best way forward,” the official said, and “we stand ready to continue to engage in good faith to advance security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia chooses a different path and further invades Ukraine, we are also prepared to impose significant costs on Russia, as well as on our allies and partners.”
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday at a White House press briefing that the intelligence community had information pointing to a Russian false flag operation in Ukraine, but had “no assessed that the Russians had definitely decided to adopt a military course of action”. He added that it was certainly true that the threat of military invasion was high.
Andrea Mitchell contributed.
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