VLADIMIR Putin’s special forces hve put in place operatives trained in explosives to carry out a “false-flag” operation to create a pretext to invade Ukraine, a US official said.
The United States released intelligence findings the day after national security advisor Jake Sullivan said that Russia, which has amassed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, was “fabricating a pretext for an invasion”.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia could begin the operations “several weeks” before a military invasion, which could start between mid-January and mid-February.
They said: “We have information that indicates Russia has already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine.
“The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces.”
The official said Russia had at the same time ramping up a disinformation campaign on social media, including posts that accuse Ukraine of rights violations and the West of provoking tensions.
They added: “Our information also indicates that Russian influence actors are already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine.”
The United States has repeatedly accused Russia of spreading conspiracies and disinformation on social media.
The US official said Russian-language justifications for Moscow’s narratives on Ukraine on social media have jumped by 200 percent in December to nearly 3,500 posts per day.
Sullivan, in his briefing to reporters, said Russia had used similar tactics in 2014 when it seized Crimea and backed an ongoing insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
He said: “We saw this playbook in 2014. They are preparing this playbook again.”
The United States released the findings on purported false-flag plans after a week of talks with Russia to defuse tensions.
Putin has denied plans to invade Ukraine but has demanded security guarantees from the West, including promises not to expand NATO eastward.
Mr Sullivan said yesterday the United States preferred diplomacy but was prepared to “defend” allies and to 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 move the country closer to the West.
Our information also indicates that Russian influence actors are already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations
More than 13,000 people have since died in the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
“We’re facing a crisis in European security,” the US Ambassador to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Michael Carpenter said in a Thursday press briefing.
“The drumbeat of war is sounding loud and the rhetoric has gotten shrill.”
A top official in Poland, which borders Ukraine and Russia, has warned that World War 3 fears are growing, with rumbling tensions in Georgia, Armenia, and Moldova, as well as Ukraine.
“It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years,” Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said.
“For several weeks we have been faced with the prospect of a major military escalation in Eastern Europe.”
He went on: “We should focus on a peaceful resolution of the conflict in and around Ukraine.”