WASHINGTON — Russia has fielded explosives-trained operatives to conduct a “false flag” operation to create a pretext to invade Ukraine, a U.S. official said Friday.
The United States released intelligence findings the day after National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Russia, which has amassed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, was “setting the stage to have the possibility of fabricating a pretext for an invasion”.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 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 pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine,” the official said. “Agents are trained in urban warfare and the use of explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russian proxy forces.”
The official said Russia had meanwhile stepped up a disinformation campaign on social media, including posts accusing Ukraine of rights abuses and the West of causing tension.
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“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.
A Ukrainian soldier marches on the separation line of pro-Russian rebels, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 (AP Photo/Andriy Dubchak)
The Kremlin dismissed the complaint as “unfounded”.
“So far, all these statements are unfounded and have not been confirmed by anything,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the official TASS news agency.
The United States has repeatedly accused Russia of spreading conspiracies and disinformation on social media.
The US official said Russian justifications for Moscow’s stories about Ukraine on social media jumped 200% in December to nearly 3,500 posts a day.
Sullivan, in his briefing to reporters, said Russia used similar tactics in 2014 when it seized Crimea and supported an ongoing insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
In this image taken from footage provided by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense press service, Ukrainian soldiers use a US Javelin missile launcher during military exercises in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, January 12, 2022 ( Ukrainian Ministry of Defense Press Service via AP)
“We saw this playbook in 2014. They’re making this playbook again,” Sullivan said.
The United States released the findings on alleged false flag plans after a week of talks with Russia to defuse tensions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied plans to invade Ukraine but demanded security guarantees from the West, including promises not to expand NATO eastward.
Sullivan said Thursday that the United States prefers diplomacy but is prepared to “defend” its allies and impose major economic costs on Russia if it invades.
Russia stepped up its pressure on Ukraine in 2014 after an uprising toppled a government that had rejected pressure to bring the country closer to the West.
More than 13,000 people have since died in the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
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