WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration has determined a Russian effort is underway to create a pretext for its troops to potentially further invade Ukraine, and Moscow has already prepositioned operatives to conduct “a false-flag operation” in eastern Ukraine, a U.S. official said Friday.
The administration believes Russia is also laying the groundwork through a social media disinformation campaign by framing Ukraine as an aggressor that has been preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to discuss sensitive intelligence on the record.
U.S. intelligence officials have determined Russia has already dispatched operatives trained in urban warfare who could use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces — blaming the acts on Ukraine — if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides he wants to move forward with an invasion, the official added.
The new intelligence was unveiled after a series of talks between Russia and the U.S. and western allies this week in Europe aimed at heading off the escalating crisis made little progress.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Thursday said that the U.S. intelligence community has not made an assessment that the Russians, who have massed some 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border, have definitively decided to take a military course of action in Ukraine.
But Sullivan said Russia is laying the groundwork to invade under false pretenses 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.
He said that the move is similar to what Kremlin did in the leadup to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s jurisdiction since 1954.