White House: Russia prepping pretext for Ukraine invasion

Source: Associated Press

US intelligence officials have determined a Russian effort is underway to create a pretext for its troops to further invade Ukraine, and Moscow has already prepositioned operatives to conduct “a false-flag operation” in eastern Ukraine, according to the White House.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Saturday 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.

Psaki charged that 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.

“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,” Psaki said.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby described the intelligence as “very credible.” A US official, who was not authorised to comment on the intelligence and spoke on condition of anonymity, said much of it was gleaned from intercepted communications and observations of the movements of people.

The US intelligence findings, which were declassified and shared with US allies before being made public, estimate that a military invasion could begin between mid-January and mid-February.

Ukraine is also monitoring the potential use of disinformation by Russia. Separately, Ukrainian media on Saturday reported that authorities believed Russian special services were planning a possible false flag incident to provoke additional conflict.

The new US intelligence was unveiled after a series of talks between Russia and the US and its Western allies this week in Europe aimed at heading off the escalating crisis made little progress.

The Russians, while maintaining they don’t plan to invade Ukraine, are demanding that the US and NATO provide written guarantees that the alliance will not expand eastward.

The US has called such demands nonstarters but said that it’s willing to negotiate with Moscow about possible future deployments of offensive missiles in Ukraine and putting limits on US and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned on Friday that Moscow wouldn’t wait indefinitely for the Western response, saying he expects the US and NATO to provide a written answer next week.

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,” 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.”