Wednesday August 17, 2022

Russia planning ‘false-flag’ operation to justify Ukraine invasion

January 15, 2022

WASHINGTON: Russia has 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 on Friday.

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 "laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for an invasion."

"We have information that indicates Russia has already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine," a US official said Friday, on condition of anonymity.

"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 ramped up a disinformation campaign on social media, including posts that accuse Ukraine of rights violations and the West of provoking tensions.

"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 official said.

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. "We saw this playbook in 2014. They are preparing this playbook again," Sullivan said.

The US official said that the Biden administration believes Russia could be preparing for an invasion into Ukraine “that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives.”

“The Russian military plans to begin these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February,” the official said. “We saw this playbook in 2014 with Crimea.”

The US has also seen Russian influence actors begin to prime Russian audiences for an intervention, the official said, including by emphasizing narratives about the deterioration of human rights in Ukraine and increased militancy of Ukrainian leaders.

“During December, Russian language content on social media covering all three of these narratives increased to an average of nearly 3,500 posts per day, a 200% increase from the daily average in November,” the official noted.

The US, Nato and European officials held high-stakes meetings this week with Russian officials. At the end of the three meetings on Thursday, both sides came away with a pessimistic outlook.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister suggested the talks had reached a “dead-end” and saw no reason to continue them, while a senior US official warned that the “drumbeat of war was sounding loud” following the diplomatic sessions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Russia believes Nato will increase its activity along its border with Ukraine if Moscow doesn’t obey the West’s demands.“While our proposals are aimed at reducing the military confrontation, de-escalating the overall situation in Europe, exactly the opposite is happening in the West.