Reverting to a familiar “playbook,” Russia is plotting a pretext to invade Ukraine, a “false flag” operation that would justify its actions despite a week of intense U.S.-Russia negotiations that apparently failed to move Moscow away from a scheme of regional aggression, U.S. officials said Friday. The White House said that Moscow is using social media to disinformation Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that wants to join Western alliances. This would portray Ukraine as an aggressor and should be controlled.
“We’re concerned that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine, which could lead to widespread human rights violations as well as war crimes, should diplomacy fail in their goals,” Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary, said Friday. She stated that the pretext was sabotage and disinformation campaigns.
On Friday, Ukraine reported cyberattacks on about 70 government and other websites, shutting them down temporarily. Although it was not clear who was behind the attacks, a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesky suggested that the incidents were part of an effort to “destabilize” Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg promised Ukraine access to the alliance’s malware information sharing platform.
Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and occupied its Crimean peninsula following a similar series of propaganda efforts. Moscow also supports separatist rebels fighting the government forces in eastern Ukraine, which has resulted in thousands of deaths.
In recent months, Russia has amassed some 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine and moved heavy weaponry in behind the manpower. During the week, there were live-fire drills.
“We have seen this playbook before,” Psaki stated.
Citing fresh U.S. intelligence reports, Psaki said Russia has already dispatched operatives trained in urban warfare who could use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s proxy forces — blaming the acts on Ukraine — if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides he wants to move forward with an invasion.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby described the intelligence as “very credible.” The intelligence findings suggested that a military invasion could begin between now and mid-February, experts said, in part with a view toward a deepening winter that freezes the muddy plains between the two countries and makes it easier for Russia to move heavy equipment into Ukraine.
The dire allegations about Moscow’s intentions, which came from across the administration — the State Department and Pentagon as well as the White House — marked a jarring coda to what had been a week of relatively civil if inconclusive diplomatic sessions involving the U.S., Russia, NATO and most of Europe.
Senior U.S. diplomats’ meetings with Russian officials in bilateral venues, as well as with other NATO and European allies, made little evident progress toward easing tensions.
Putin insists that Washington agree that Ukraine never be allowed to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a “nonstarter” for the U.S. and the alliance, which insist that any nation that wants to be a part of NATO be all