Officials from the United States and Ukraine claim that Russia is preparing a false flag operation as a pretext for a large-scale incursion into Ukraine.
A US official that spoke to CNN on Friday said that Washington has evidence that Russia has prepositioned operatives in Eastern Ukraine in preparation for the false flag attack. The operatives, trained in urban warfare, are planning to use explosives in a series of sabotage attacks on Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass region, justifying a large-scale Russian invasion.
In particular, the official noted an increase in Russian influence campaigns on social media aiming to build support among Russian internet users for an intervention, with narratives used including the deterioration of human rights in Ukraine and increased militancy from Ukrainian leaders. According to the official, posts using those narratives in December had increased in number by 200% compared to the month before. Such activity, the official said, would have been planned to take place several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February.
The claims follow comments by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan that the US intelligence community has “developed information, which has now been downgraded, that Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating the pretext for an invasion”. At a Thursday media briefing, he added:
“We saw this playbook in 2014. They are preparing this playbook again and we will have, the administration will have, further details on what we see as this potential laying of the pretext to share with the press over the course of the next 24 hours.”
Ukraine’s military intelligence service also reported on Friday that Russian special services were preparing a “provocation” against an arms depot in Moldova’s Transnistria region controlled by Russian forces based in the breakaway region. Russian forces have been deployed as peacekeepers in the landlocked region bordering Ukraine, ever since the end of the war in 1992 that resulted in its de facto independence from Moldova.
The accusations follow a series of inconclusive talks between the United States and Russia that ended on Thursday, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov claiming that they had reached a “dead end” due to the US and NATO refusing to entertain Russian demands that Ukraine be blocked from NATO membership. Similarly, US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Michael Carpenter said following the final meeting that preparations needed to be made for a possible escalation, warning that “the drumbeat of war is sounding loud and the rhetoric has gotten rather shrill”.
In recent days, the Conflict Intelligence Team has noted the movement of various armored vehicles belonging to units of Russia’s Eastern Military District westward by rail, with personnel spotted alongside them in videos uploaded to social media. The open source investigators note that the trains have already been seen west of the military district, suggesting an “unusual redeployment”.