US intelligence officials have determined that a Russian effort is underway to create a pretext for its forces to further invade Ukraine, and Moscow has already hired agents to conduct a «false operation» in eastern Ukraine, according to the White House.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that intelligence findings show Russia is also paving the way with a disinformation campaign on social media that positions Ukraine as an aggressor preparing an imminent attack against Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine.
Ms. Psaki charged that Russia has already sent agents trained in urban warfare who could use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russian proxy forces – and blame Ukraine – if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides he wants to go ahead with the invasion.
«We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing to invade Ukraine, which could lead to widespread human rights abuses and war crimes if diplomacy fails to achieve its objectives,» said Ms. Psaki.
The White House did not provide details of how confident it was in the assessment. A US official, who was not authorized to comment on the intelligence and spoke on condition of anonymity, said much of the intelligence was obtained from intercepted communications and observations of people’s movements.
Ukraine is also monitoring the potential use of disinformation by Russia. Separately, Ukrainian media reported on Friday that authorities believed the Russian special services were planning a possible false flag incident to provoke additional conflict.
New US intelligence was revealed after a series of talks between Russia, the United States and its Western allies this week in Europe aimed at averting an escalating crisis that has made little progress.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday that US intelligence agencies have not assessed that the Russians, who have massed about 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, have definitively decided to take a military course.
But Sullivan said Russia is laying the groundwork for the invasion under false pretenses if Putin decides to go down this path. He said the Russians were planning «subversive activities and media operations» accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
This is similar to what the Kremlin did in the run-up to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea that has been under Ukrainian jurisdiction since 1954, he said.
The Crimean crisis came at a time when Ukraine was looking to strengthen ties with the West. Russia has ramped up propaganda that ethnic Russians are being oppressed in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has long been accused of using disinformation as a tactic against adversaries in conjunction with military operations and cyber attacks. In 2014, Russian state media attempted to discredit the pro-Western protests in Kiev as «stirred by the United States in cooperation with Ukrainian fascist nationalists» and promoted narratives about Crimea’s historical ties with Moscow, according to a report from Stanford University’s Internet Observatory.
The Russians, while emphasizing that they are not planning to invade Ukraine, are demanding that the United States and NATO provide written guarantees that the alliance will not expand eastward.
The United States described these demands as no rudimentary, but said it was ready to negotiate with Moscow about possible future deployments of offensive missiles in Ukraine and to place limits on US and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned on Friday that Moscow would not wait indefinitely for a Western response, saying he expected the United States and NATO to provide a written answer next week.
Lavrov described Moscow’s demands for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other former Soviet states, or deploy its forces and weapons there, as necessary to advance diplomatic efforts to defuse escalating tensions over Ukraine.
He argued that NATO deployments and exercises near Russia’s borders posed a security challenge that must be addressed immediately.
We have run out of patience,» Lavrov said at a press conference. “The West has been driven by arrogance and has exacerbated tensions in violation of its obligations and common sense.”
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