Russia may be planning to stage a false-flag attack inside Ukraine as a way to manufacture the justifications it needs to invade the country, U.S. intelligence revealed this week.
President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan revealed, during a Thursday White House press briefing that U.S. intelligence has uncovered evidence of a potential Russian plan to attack Russian forces already active within eastern Ukraine, blame the attack on Ukraine forces and use that attack as a justification to invade Ukraine.
“Our intelligence community has developed information — which has now been downgraded — that Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for an invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine,” Sullivan said.
An unnamed U.S. intelligence official also told CNN they have information to suggest Russia is moving a covert team inside Ukraine to stage a “false-flag” attack that could serve as the justification Russia is seeking to invade the country.
The official said the U.S. has evidence to believe Russian operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out sabotage attacks against pro-Russian elements already in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense also echoed claims of a potential Russian operation in a statement on Friday. Ukrainian officials said Russian special services are preparing provocations against Russian forces in an attempt to frame Ukraine.
A U.S. official told Axios that “Russian influence actors” have already begun spreading claims of Ukrainian provocations on social media, including “narratives about deterioration of human rights in Ukraine and the increased militancy of Ukrainian leaders.”
Sullivan said Russia used similar tactics during its 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.
“We saw this playbook in 2014. They are preparing this playbook again,” Sullivan said. “The administration will have further details on what we see as this potential laying of a pretext, to share with the press over the course of the next 24 hours.”
The warnings about a potential false flag operation come as around 100,000 Russian troops have been gathered near Ukraine’s border for months. Earlier this week, a report indicated Russia has also moved key attack and transport aircraft close to the Ukrainian border. Those aircraft could be used to attack defensive positions in support of a ground force. Their presence near the border could indicate Russia is closing in on a timeframe to invade.
Russian court documents that appeared to have been accidentally released last month also suggested Russian troops are already operating within Ukraine’s borders, in the eastern Donbas region, where there is an active pro-Russian separatist movement.