Russia 'may stage fake attacks on own troops' as war in Ukraine 'just days away'
Vladimir Putin may stage fake attacks on Russia's troops to justify an invasion of Ukraine, US officials have claimed.
Moscow has already prepositioned operatives to conduct “a false-flag operation” in eastern Ukraine, according to the White House, and it's feared this could give Russia's troops an excuse to invade.
The operatives are reportedly trained in urban warfare and could use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces — blaming the acts on Ukraine — if Putin decides he wants to move forward with an invasion.
A false flag operation is a disguised act with the intention of blaming another party.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US intelligence community has not made an assessment that the Russians, who have massed some 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, have definitively decided to take a military course of action.
But Mr Sullivan said Russia is laying the groundwork to invade under false pretences should Putin decide to go that route. He said the Russians have been planning “sabotage activities and information operations” that accuse Ukraine of prepping for its own imminent attack against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
One US official said on Friday the intelligence findings show Russia is also laying the groundwork through a social media disinformation campaign that frames Ukraine as an aggressor that has been preparing an imminent attack against Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine.
“We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion in Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives,” the official said.
The Russian military "plans to begin these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February," the official said.
The United States warned the threat of a Russian military invasion was high as Moscow vowed dialogue was hitting a dead end.
The Kremlin has insisted on US guarantees that the west will bar neighbouring Ukraine from joining NATO and roll back decades of alliance expansion in Europe.
The United States has called the demands "non-starters".
It comes after government websites were hit with a devastating cyber attack on Friday in which officials were issued a chilling threat to "be afraid and expect the worst."
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said it was not yet clear who was responsible for the cyber attack but that President Joe Biden had been briefed on it.
"We are in touch with the Ukrainians and have offered our support as Ukraine investigates the impact and nature and recovers from the incidents. We don't have an attribution at this time," the spokesperson said.
It follows months of troops build-up by Russia close to Ukraine’s border, with 126,000 assault personnel now amassed close to the frontline.
A 250 mile-long frontier of trenches, artillery and assault troops has dug on both sides - with Ukraine forces defending.
They are backed by tanks, artillery, armoured infantry fighting vehicles and as many as 30 assault and landing ships and boats primed for an amphibious attack.
The frontline which runs through contested Ukrainian territory of Luhansk and Donestk is threatened by pro-Russian separatists bolstered by regular and special forces from Russia.
Biden has warned of severe economic consequences for Russia if Putin launches an invasion of Ukraine. Russia denies plans to attack Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned on Friday that Moscow would not wait indefinitely for the Western response, saying he expects the US and NATO to provide a written answer next week.
Mr Lavrov described Moscow’s demands for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other former Soviet nations, or station its forces and weapons there, as essential for the progress of diplomatic efforts to defuse soaring tensions over Ukraine.
He argued that NATO's deployments and drills near Russia’s borders pose a security challenge that must be addressed immediately.
“We have run out of patience,” Mr Lavrov said at a news conference. “The West has been driven by hubris and has exacerbated tensions in violation of its obligations and common sense.”