US intelligence officials have stated that a Russian operation is under way to create a pretext for its troops to invade Ukraine further.
- US intelligence suggests Russia plans to attack its own forces and blame Ukraine
- The United States estimates that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is likely to begin between now and mid-February
- A cyberattack sprayed Ukrainian government websites with a warning to “be afraid and expect the worst”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said intelligence shows Russia is laying the groundwork for the invasion by planning a false flag incident and through a social media disinformation campaign portraying Ukraine as an aggressor.
“We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion of Ukraine that could result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes if diplomacy does not achieve its objectives,” Ms Psaki said.
A U.S. official, who was not authorized to comment and spoke on condition of anonymity, said much of the intelligence was taken from intercepted communications and observations of human movements.
The results, which were declassified and shared with U.S. allies before being published, estimate that a military invasion could begin between mid-January and mid-February.
Cyber attacks target the Ukrainian government
A cyber attack hit Ukraine on Friday, spraying government websites with a warning to “be scared and expect the worst”.
The attack hit hours after the security talks were concluded, with no breakthrough between Moscow and Western allies.
Ukraine’s security service said the preliminary results of an investigation suggest the involvement of “hacker groups linked to Russia’s intelligence services”.
It said that most of the sites had resumed operations and that the content had not been altered and that personal data had not been leaked.
Warnings about a false flag operation
Ukrainian media reported on Friday that authorities believed Russian special services were planning a possible false flag incident to provoke further conflict.
The US intelligence service supported this theory.
Ms Psaki accused Russia of already deploying operators trained in civil warfare who could use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces – and blame the actions on Ukraine – if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to go ahead with an invasion.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed such reports as based on “unfounded” information, Russian media reported.
Russia’s disinformation campaign
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday that the U.S. intelligence community has not made an assessment that the Russians, who have gathered about 100,000 soldiers at Ukraine’s border, have definitely decided to take military action.
But Mr Sullivan said the Russians had planned “sabotage activities and information operations” accusing Ukraine of preparing its own impending attack on Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
He said this was similar to what the Kremlin did in the run – up to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Black Sea Peninsula, which had been under Ukraine’s jurisdiction since 1954.
The US intelligence community has noted a build-up on social media of Russian influencers that justifies the intervention by emphasizing deteriorating human rights in Ukraine, suggesting an increased militancy of Ukrainian leaders and blaming the West for escalating tensions.
“They are preparing this playbook again.”
Russia demands that NATO not embrace Ukraine
The Russians, while insisting they do not plan to invade Ukraine, are demanding that the United States and NATO provide written guarantees that the alliance will not expand eastward.
The United States has called such demands non-launchers, but said it is willing to negotiate with Moscow on possible future launches of offensive missiles in Ukraine and to set limits on US and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned on Friday that Moscow would not wait indefinitely for the Western response, saying it expected the United States and NATO to provide a written response next week.
Sir. Lavrov described Moscow’s demands for binding guarantees that NATO would not embrace Ukraine or any other former Soviet nations, or station its forces and weapons there, as crucial to the progress of diplomatic efforts to curb rising tensions over Ukraine.
“We have run out of patience,” Mr Lavrov said at a news conference.
“The West has been driven by hubris and has exacerbated tensions contrary to its commitments and common sense.”
Reuters / AP