The official said the US has evidence that operatives are trained in urban warfare and use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the Defense Department had credible information indicating that Russia may have carried out an “operation designed to look like an attack on them or on Russian-speaking people in Ukraine”. Created a “group of operators”. a possible attack.
The allegation echoes a statement issued on Friday by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, which said Russian special services are preparing provocations against Russian forces in an attempt to trap Ukraine. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan hinted at intelligence during a briefing with reporters on Thursday.
“Our intelligence community has developed information, which has now been downgraded, that Russia is laying the groundwork for alternatives to fabricate an attack,” Sullivan said on Thursday. “We looked at this playbook in 2014. They are reworking this playbook.”
Ukraine’s defense ministry said in a statement on Friday that “the military units of the offending country and its satellites receive orders to be prepared for such provocations.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Moscow was preparing provocations in Ukraine.
“So far, all these statements are baseless and nothing has been confirmed,” Peskov said.
The US intelligence discovery comes after a week of diplomatic meetings between Russian and Western officials over the gathering of tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s border. But the talks failed to achieve any success, as Russia would not commit to de-escalating and US and NATO officials said Moscow’s demands – in which NATO never accepted Ukraine into the alliance – were non-starters. Was.
Several government websites in Ukraine were hit by cyberattacks on Friday, a development European officials warned would escalate tensions on Ukraine.
‘We saw this playbook’
The US official said the Biden administration believes Russia may be preparing for an invasion of Ukraine “which could result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes if diplomacy fails to meet its objectives.” “
“The Russian military is planning to launch these activities several weeks before the military offensive, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February,” the official said. “We saw this playbook with Crimea in 2014.”
Kirby said Putin had direct knowledge of Russian false-flag operatives that could be an excuse for an operation in Ukraine.
“If the past is prelude, it is difficult to see that such activities can be carried out without the knowledge, if not the impression, of very senior levels of the Russian government,” Kirby told reporters on Friday.
The US has begun to prime Russian audiences for interference by Russian influence actors, the official said, including emphasizing the narratives about the decline of human rights in Ukraine and the rising extremism of Ukrainian leaders.
“During December, Russian-language content covering all three of these stories on social media increased to an average of about 3,500 posts per day, 200% higher than the daily average in November,” the official said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Russia believes NATO will increase its activities along its border with Ukraine if Moscow does not accede to the demands of the West.
“While our proposals are aimed at reducing military confrontation, the overall situation in Europe is exactly the opposite that is happening in the West. NATO members are building their strength and aviation. In areas that are directly related to Ukraine. Adjacent to the Black Sea, recently the scale of the exercises has increased manifold,” Lavrov said.
Ukrainian government websites vulnerable to cyber attacks
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has invited President Joe Biden and Putin to hold three-way talks to discuss the security situation, Zelensky’s aide Andrey Yermak said, according to Ukrainian state media outlet Ukrainform.
A US National Security Council official said President Joe Biden has been informed of the attack. The official said the US had no charge yet for the attack, but “will provide Ukraine with everything it needs to recover.”
The Pentagon said it was too early to attribute the attack, although Kirby said, “It is a piece of the same kind of playbook that we have seen from Russia in the past.”
European Union’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell condemned the cyberattack, warning that it contributed to an “already tense situation” in the region.
Asked whether Russian government or non-governmental actors were behind the attacks, Borrell replied that although he did not want to “point fingers”, “there was a definite possibility where they came from.”
CNN’s Michael Conte, Katharina Krebs, James Frater, Joseph Atman, Anna Chernova and Niamh Kennedy contributed to this report.