By Amer Madani, Noman Merchant and Vladimir Isachenkov
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. intelligence officials have determined that a Russian effort is underway to create an excuse for its troops to invade Ukraine further, and Moscow has already “false-flag” in eastern Ukraine. The operatives have prepared to conduct the “operation”, according to White House.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that intelligence findings suggest Russia is also laying foundations through a social media propaganda campaign that frames Ukraine as an offensive against Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine. Preparing for an imminent attack.
Saki alleged that Russia had already sent 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 proceed with an invasion.
“We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing an invasion of Ukraine that could result in widespread human rights violations and cause war crimes diplomacy to fail to meet its objectives,” Saki said.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby described the intelligence as “very credible”. A US official, who was not authorized to comment on the intelligence and spoke on condition of anonymity, said much of it was derived from intercepted communications and observations of people’s movements.
US intelligence findings, which were declassified and shared with US allies before being made public, predict a military offensive could begin between mid-January and mid-February.
Ukraine is also monitoring the possible use of propaganda by Russia. Separately, Ukrainian media reported on Friday that officials believed Russian special services were planning a possible false flag incident to provoke additional conflict.
The new US intelligence was unveiled this week after a series of talks between Russia and the US and its Western allies in Europe aimed at tackling the escalating crisis made little progress.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday that the US intelligence community has not assessed that the Russians, who have gathered nearly a million troops along the Ukrainian border, have decided to take military action.
But Sullivan said Russia was laying the groundwork for an offensive under false pretense if Putin decides to go that route. He said the Russians are planning “sabotage activities and information operations” that accuse Ukraine of preparing for its imminent attack against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
He said this is similar to what the Kremlin did in Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s jurisdiction since 1954.
The Crimean crisis came at a time when Ukraine was looking to strengthen ties with the West. Russia intensified propaganda that Ukrainian ethnic Russians were being persecuted in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has long been accused of using propaganda as a tactic against adversaries in combination with military operations and cyber attacks. According to a report by Stanford University’s Internet Observatory, in 2014, Russian state media tried to discredit the pro-Western protests in Kiev as “instigated by the US in collaboration with fascist Ukrainian nationalists” and the conflict between Crimea with Moscow. Promoted narratives about historical relationships.
Efforts to directly influence Ukrainians continued during the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, in which at least 14,000 people died. The Associated Press reported in 2017 that in the past the Ukrainian military had been receiving frequent text messages that they would be killed and that their children would be orphaned.
Nina Jankowicz, a global fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, said Russia’s propaganda efforts evolved between its annexation of Crimea and now. This time the Kremlin is driving an anti-Ukraine narrative, with top officials Belikoz making public statements, said Jankovic, author of “How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict.”
“The officials are setting the tone for the state media and they are just going with it,” she said.
So-called “troll farms” that post fake comments are less effective because social media companies have gotten better at stopping them, she said. Russian efforts on social media often play on existing doubts in Ukrainian society about whether the US will support Ukraine in the conflict and whether the West can be trusted, she said.
The US intelligence community has noticed a buildup on social media justifying interference by Russian influencers in Ukraine by emphasizing deteriorating human rights, suggesting rising extremism from Ukrainian leaders and blaming the West for rising tensions.
“We looked at this playbook in 2014,” Sullivan told reporters on Thursday. “They are redrawing this playbook.”
Russia, while maintaining that they do not plan to invade Ukraine, is demanding that the US and NATO provide written guarantees that the alliance will not expand eastward. The US has called such demands “non-starting” but said it is ready to hold talks with Moscow about a possible future deployment of offensive missiles in Ukraine and imposing limits on US and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned on Friday that Moscow would not wait indefinitely for a Western response, saying he expected the US and NATO to give a written reply next week.
Lavrov described Moscow’s demands for a binding guarantee that NATO would not embrace Ukraine or any other former Soviet nations, or deploy its forces and weapons there, as opposed to diplomatic efforts to defuse rising tensions on Ukraine. necessary for progress.
He argued that NATO deployments and exercises near Russia’s borders are a security challenge that must be addressed immediately.
“We have run out of patience,” Lavrov told a news conference. “The West is driven by pride and heightened tension in violation of its obligations and common sense.”
Isachenkov reported from Moscow. AP national security writer Robert Burns contributed reporting.