A US official said Friday that Russia is planning to carry out acts of sabotage to create a pretext to invade Ukraine.
A Pentagon spokesman said Russian operatives were planning a “false flag” operation to allow Moscow to accuse Ukraine of preparing an attack. Russia has dismissed these claims.
The news comes after a week of talks between the United States and Russia aimed at defusing tensions.
Ukraine on Friday accused Russia of being behind a cyberattack on dozens of official websites.
Before the sites went offline, a message appeared warning Ukrainians to “prepare for the worst.” Access to most sites was restored within hours.
The United States and NATO condemned the attack and offered support to Ukraine. Russia has not commented on the hack.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby spoke to reporters on Friday about what he said are Russia’s plans.
“They have previously positioned a group of operatives to carry out what we call a false flag operation, an operation designed to look like an attack against them or Russian-speaking people in Ukraine as an excuse to enter (Ukrainian territory)” , He said.
The operatives would have been trained in urban warfare and the use of explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against pro-Russian rebels, US officials said.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said similar acts were being prepared against Russian troops stationed in the breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to these claims by saying they were unfounded and had not been “confirmed by anything.”
An unusual gesture by the US: analysis by Barbara Plett-Usher, BBC correspondent at the State Department
It is unusual for the United States to release such specific intelligence information.
But the Biden administration has clearly decided to try to preempt any Russian claims of Ukrainian belligerence by exposing an alleged strategy of sabotage and disinformation.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States wanted the world to know how an invasion might play out, because this scenario was the same one the Russians used in Crimea.
Kirby said the White House still believes there is time and space for diplomacy. And that he does not believe that President Vladimir Putin has made a final decision on whether to invade Ukraine.
The Russians deny having any such intention. But the United States is not sitting still while waiting for Putin’s next move. And he has threatened financial sanctions and other consequences if Russian troops push into Ukraine.
The US official’s comments come after a statement by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who told reporters that Russia was laying the groundwork to try to fabricate a pretext to invade Ukraine.
Russia has stockpiled weapons along with tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine, raising fears of an invasion.
US and Russian officials have been holding talks for the past week in a bid to de-escalate Ukraine, but little seems to have been agreed upon.
Russia denies it is planning to invade Ukraine, but seeks assurances against NATO’s eastward expansion, something Western countries say they cannot provide.
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