WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration accused Moscow on Friday of sending saboteurs into eastern Ukraine to orchestrate an incident that could provide Russian President Vladimir Putin with an excuse to order an invasion of parts or all of the country.
The White House has not released details of the evidence it has gathered to support his accusation, although one official said it was a combination of intercepted communications and monitoring of people’s movements. In an email, a US official wrote that “Russia is laying the groundwork for the option to fabricate a pretext for the invasion, including through subversive activities and media operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.”
Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, described the intelligence about the operation as “extremely reliable” when asked about it at a Pentagon briefing on Friday.
The US official who described the intelligence, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that the assessment concluded that “the Russian military plans to start these activities several weeks before the military invasion, which may start between mid-January and mid-February.” We saw this evidence in 2014 with Crimea.” Russia annexed Crimea, which is part of Ukraine, that year. It also sent military forces, operating without uniforms, to the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, where war was raging. .
The accusation came a day after the conclusion of a week of diplomatic meetings with Russia, which moved from Geneva to Brussels to Vienna, in an attempt to de-escalate the confrontation. But those talks ended without any agreement to withdraw the nearly 100,000 Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border, and without the United States or NATO agreeing to Moscow’s demands to withdraw all forces from the former Warsaw Pact countries that joined NATO.
The launch was clearly part of a strategy to try to prevent attacks by exposing them up front. But without releasing key intelligence — some of which was given to allies and shown to key members of Congress — the United States is opening itself up to Russian accusations that it has fabricated the evidence. In past years, Russia has repeatedly brought up the issue of the deeply flawed intelligence that the United States built to invade Iraq, as part of an effort to discredit the CIA and other US intelligence agencies as political agents.
The official said the US had “information indicating that Russia had indeed prepared a group of operatives to conduct a false operation in eastern Ukraine,” where Russian-backed forces were fighting a grinding war of attrition with the Ukrainian. governmental. The activists are “trained in urban warfare and in the use of explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russian proxy forces.”
Two other US officials said the US assessment was the result of a combination of interceptions and on-the-ground actions of certain individuals. That may explain the administration’s reluctance to declassify accurate information, for fear of alerting Russian agents whose movements are being tracked.
“This is a page from the Russian game book,” said one of the officials. “We are well aware that Russia will try to invent some pretext to carry out an attempted coup.”
A senior administration official said there were concerns that saboteurs or agitators could stage an incident in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, leading to a possible pretext for a coup. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced several months ago that he believed a coup attempt was underway, but it never materialized.
I understand the rising tensions around Ukraine
The American accusation also adopted disinformation operations, accusing it in the media of “Russian Influential actors have already begun to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify Russian intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine.” These include “emphasizing narratives regarding the deterioration of human rights in Ukraine and the increasing militancy of Ukrainian leaders,” the official said.
In his briefing, Mr. Kirby said that when “we’re talking about Russian agents, it can represent a mix of individuals within the Russian government, whether that’s from their intelligence communities, their security services or even their military”.
He said that the Russians often acted in ways that “it isn’t necessarily clear who specifically who is responsible for running some of these covert and covert operations.”
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