US says Russia is preparing operations to justify Ukraine attack

An Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman, walks in a trench on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near to Avdiivka, Donetsk, southeastern Ukraine, on Jan. 9, 2022. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
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Jennifer Jacobs Bloomberg News (TNS)

The Biden administration believes Russian actors are preparing potential sabotage operations against Russian forces and fabricating Ukrainian provocations in social media to justify an intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified.

President Vladimir Putin’s government is laying the groundwork to justify an attack, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing offensive operations, according to the person.

As part of the plan, Moscow has prepositioned operatives trained in urban warfare and in using explosives possibly to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s proxy forces in or near Ukraine, the person said, adding that the plan would likely be set in motion if diplomacy with the U.S., NATO and key European nations fail.

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The news follows a cyber attack that downed a wide range of Ukrainian government websites on Friday. In previous incursions in Ukraine’s Crimea region and in Georgia, Russia was accused of ramping up disinformation campaigns and staging “false flag” events to justify its interventions. President Joe Biden has been briefed on Friday’s attack but the U.S. doesn’t yet have attribution for who was behind it, according to a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

Russia has rejected those charges, and says it has no plans to attack Ukraine.

With more than 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border, U.S. officials have long warned that Moscow could try to create a “false flag” event to justify an incursion. al,

“No one should be surprised if Russia spreads disinformation about commitments that have not been made, or if Moscow goes even further and instigates something as a pretext for further destabilizing activity,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday.

At briefings following three rounds of discussions with Russia this week, officials including Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Russia has little to fear militarily from its western neighbor.

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