The United States on Friday accused Russia of having “pre-positioned” agents in Ukraine to carry out an operation that could serve as a “pretext for an invasion” by forces from Moscow.
“Russia is laying the groundwork for the possibility of fabricating a pretext for an invasion, including through acts of sabotage and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces. in eastern Ukraine,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, detailing to the press what information Washington says it has.
“The Russian army plans to start these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could start between mid-January and mid-February”, she warned, estimating that such an attack could be accompanied by “widespread human rights abuses and war crimes” if diplomacy fails.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the intelligence was “highly credible.”
But the Kremlin immediately rejected accusations that were “gratuitous” and “supported by no evidence”.
The detailed accusations come after a series of high-level meetings between Westerners and Russians this week failed to defuse the risk of a new conflict in Ukraine.
US government warns for several weeks against the possibility that Moscow, which he accuses of having deployed nearly 100,000 soldiers on the Ukrainian border for a potential offensive, has previously created a “pretext” to take action.
False flag operations
President Joe Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said so again Thursday to the press, promising details of the findings of US intelligence — but adding that he believed the Kremlin had not yet made a final decision on a possible attack.
“We saw this strategy in action in 2014”, when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, “they are preparing this strategy again”, has warned Mr. Sullivan.
According to Jen Psaki, who provided the most detailed details to date on Friday, Washington “has information indicating that Russia has already prepositioned a group of agents to carry out false flag operations in eastern Ukraine”. “These agents are trained in urban guerrilla warfare and the use of explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russian-allied forces,” posing as Ukrainians, she added.
The Pentagon spokesperson explained that these agents could come from Russian “intelligence services, security services and even the army”.
Their forces are often “hybrid” to the point that “the boundaries are not necessarily very clear who they respond to specifically in these more covert operations,” argued John Kirby.
“Our information also indicates that Russian opinion leaders have already begun to create Ukrainian provocations in public media and social networks to justify Russian intervention and sow division in Ukraine,” continued Jen Psaki. By way of example, she cited an increase in language about an alleged “worsening of the human rights situation in Ukraine” and “increased activism by Ukrainian leaders”.
“These elements language also blame the West for escalating tensions” and “promote Russian patriotism to encourage domestic support for military action,” she said.
According to US intelligence, posts in Russian about these items on social media rose to about 3,500 posts per day in December, “a 200% increase from the November daily average.”
Jen Psaki also said that the United States was “concerned by the large-scale cyberattack” that targeted Ukraine on Friday. “We have not determined who is responsible at this stage,” she added, however.