Returning to a familiar “playbook”, Russia is preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine, a “false flag” operation that would justify its actions despite a week of intense US-Russian negotiations that apparently failed to move Moscow away from a plan of regional aggression. , U.S. officials said Friday.
The White House also said Moscow is using social media to mount a disinformation campaign that paints Ukraine, a former Soviet republic interested in joining Western alliances, as an aggressor who would attack Russia and must be tamed.
“We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion into Ukraine which could lead to widespread human rights violations and war crimes if diplomacy fails to achieve its objectives,” the press secretary of the company said on Friday. the White House, Jen Psaki.
She said laying the pretext included sabotage activities in addition to disinformation campaigns.
On Friday, Ukraine reported cyberattacks on around 70 government and other websites, shutting them down temporarily. It was unclear who was responsible, but a senior official of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky presented the incidents as part of efforts to “destabilize” the country.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has 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 is also backing separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine fighting government forces, a simmering conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands of Ukrainians.
In recent months, Russia has mustered some 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine and moved heavy weapons behind the troops. There have been reports of live fire exercises over the past week.
“We’ve seen this playbook before,” Psaki said.
Citing new US intelligence reports, Psaki said Russia had already sent agents trained in urban warfare who could use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s proxy forces – accusing Ukraine of such acts – if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides he wants to go ahead with an invasion.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby called the intelligence “highly credible.” Intelligence findings suggest a military invasion could begin by mid-February, experts said, in part ahead of a deepening winter freezing 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 the Pentagon as well as the White House — marked a shocking coda to what had been a week of relatively civil, if little, diplomatic sessions. conclusive involving the United States, Russia, NATO. and most of Europe.
Meetings of senior US diplomats with Russian officials in bilateral venues, as well as with other NATO and European allies, have made little obvious progress in easing tensions.
Putin insists Washington agrees that Ukraine will never be allowed to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a ‘failure’ for the United States and the alliance, which insists that any nation wishing to join of NATO be allowed to apply.
The Russian president is also asking NATO to withdraw its growing presence in Eastern Europe. Putin’s overarching goal, analysts say, is to try to retain some control over events in the former Soviet Union, encompassing now independent countries such as Ukraine.
“I think his goal is definitely to keep the United States and NATO out of what he sees as Russia’s sphere of influence, the former Soviet states,” said German Marshall resident Liana Fix. Fund in Washington, about Putin, a former KGB. agent.
After taking part in meetings this week with Russian and European officials, a senior US diplomat said he thought war seemed more likely than ever.
“Right now we are facing a European security crisis,” US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Michael Carpenter told a news conference. “The drumbeat of war rings out loud and the rhetoric has become rather strident.”
Jake Sullivan, the Biden administration’s national security adviser, provided insight into growing concerns over Russia on Thursday, saying that while Putin’s ultimate plans may not yet be clear, Moscow was clearly laying the groundwork. for the invasion.
Some analysts have suggested that Russia’s willingness to engage in talks this week was a feint, a gesture to portray willingness to engage when diplomacy was not the real intention.
“Putin has already calculated the risk of going as far as Ukraine,” Fiona Hill, a leading Russia expert and former National Security Council official, said in a podcast for the Center for a New American Security. “He wouldn’t threaten him if he wasn’t ready to do something and deliver.”
Russia said during the talks this week that it had no intention of invading Ukraine. But he also remained adamant about his position and said he wanted the United States to respond in writing to a series of requests.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that his government would not wait forever.
“We’ve lost patience,” Lavrov told a news conference. “The West has been driven by hubris and has escalated tensions in violation of its obligations and common sense.”
Moscow and Washington, as well as many European states, have agreed that it is possible to discuss the issues of missile deployment and the transparency of military exercises – but on little else, and not on the central question of the sovereignty of Ukraine.