WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration has determined that Russia is making efforts to create a pretext for its troops to potentially further invade Ukraine, and Moscow has already pre-trained operatives to conduct a “false flag operation” in eastern Ukraine, a U.S. official said. Friday said.
The administration believes Russia is also laying the groundwork with a social media disinformation campaign portraying Ukraine as an aggressor that is plotting an imminent attack on Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to discuss classified intelligence record data,
U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russia has already deployed operatives trained in urban warfare who could use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russian proxy forces, blaming Ukraine for these actions if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides he wants to continue. invasion. , the official added.
The official did not provide details on how the intelligence community came to that conclusion or how much they trust the assessment.
Ukraine is also monitoring Russia’s alleged use of disinformation. Separately, Ukrainian media reported on Friday that authorities believe Russian intelligence agencies are planning a possible false flag incident that could be seen as provoking additional conflict.
The new US intelligence was released following a series of talks between Russia, the US and Western allies this week in Europe aimed at preventing the crisis from escalating.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Thursday said the US intelligence community had not made an assessment that the Russians, who have amassed about 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, have finally decided to adopt a military course of action in Ukraine.
But Sullivan said Russia was laying the groundwork for an invasion under false pretenses if Putin chose to go that route. He said the Russians were planning “sabotage and information operations” that accused Ukraine of preparing its own imminent attack on Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
He said the move is similar to what the Kremlin did ahead of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula that has been under Ukrainian jurisdiction since 1954.
The Crimean crisis came at a time when Ukraine was increasingly seeking to strengthen ties with Europe and the West. Russia has stepped up propaganda about the oppression of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has long been accused of using disinformation as a tactic against adversaries, in conjunction with military operations and cyberattacks. According to a report by the Stanford University Internet Observatory, in 2014 Russian state media tried to discredit the pro-Western protests in Kiev as “instigated by the US in collaboration with fascist Ukrainian nationalists” and promoted narratives about Crimea’s historical ties to Moscow.
Efforts to directly influence Ukrainians appear to have continued during the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, in which at least 14,000 people have died. The Associated Press reported in 2017 that Ukrainian forces in the east constantly received text messages warning them that they would be killed and their children orphaned.
Nina Yankovic, a research fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, said Russia’s disinformation efforts evolved between the preparations for the annexation of Crimea and the present. This time around, the Kremlin appears to be pushing anti-Ukrainian narratives, with top officials making belligerent public statements, said Yankovic, author of How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict.
“The officials set the tone for the state media and they just work with it,” she said.
So-called “troll farms” that post fake comments are less powerful, she says, in part because social media companies have gotten better at handling them. According to her, Russia’s actions on social networks often play on doubts in Ukrainian society about whether the United States will support Ukraine in the conflict and whether the West can be trusted.
The U.S. intelligence community has taken notice of increased social media activity by Russian influencers who justify the intervention by highlighting the deteriorating human rights record in Ukraine, suggesting a rise in militancy among Ukrainian leaders, and blaming the West for escalating tensions.
“We saw this play in 2014,” Sullivan told reporters on Thursday. “They’re preparing this play again.”
The Russians, claiming they have no intention of invading Ukraine, are demanding written assurances from the US and NATO that the alliance will not expand eastward. The US has called such demands unfeasible, but has said it is ready to negotiate with Moscow about a possible future deployment of offensive missiles in Ukraine and about limiting US and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned on Friday that Moscow would not wait indefinitely for a response from the West, saying he expected the US and NATO to give a written response next week.
Lavrov described Moscow’s demands for mandatory assurances that NATO will not join Ukraine or any other former Soviet countries and deploy forces and weapons there as necessary to progress diplomatic efforts to defuse growing tensions around Ukraine.
He argued that NATO deployments and exercises near Russia’s borders were a security issue that needed to be addressed immediately.
“We have run out of patience,” Lavrov said at a press conference. “The West has been driven by arrogance and has escalated tensions in defiance of its commitments and common sense.”
Isachenkov reported from Moscow