The official said the United States had evidence that the militants had been trained in urban warfare and in the use of explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russian proxy forces.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the Department of Defense had reliable information indicating that Russia had “pre-equipped a group of operatives” to carry out an “operation designed to look like an attack on them or on Russian-speaking people in Ukraine” in order to create a cause for it. possible invasion.
The allegations were repeated by a statement issued by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, on Friday, which stated that the Russian special services were preparing for provocations against Russian forces in an attempt to threaten Ukraine. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan hinted at the intelligence during a briefing with reporters Thursday.
“Our intelligence community has developed information, now downgraded, that Russia is laying the groundwork for the option to fabricate the pretext of invasion,” Sullivan said.
“We saw this evidence in 2014. They are preparing that evidence again.”
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement, Friday, that “the military units of the aggressor country and its satellites are receiving orders to prepare for such provocations.”
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, denied that Moscow was preparing for provocations in Ukraine.
“So far, all these statements are baseless and nothing has confirmed them,” Peskov said.
The discovery by US intelligence comes after a week of diplomatic meetings between Russian and Western officials regarding Russia’s build-up of tens of thousands of troops along the Ukrainian border. But the talks failed to yield any breakthroughs, as Russia would not commit to de-escalation and Moscow’s demands – including that NATO never accept Ukraine into the alliance – were not a start, US and NATO officials said.
A number of Ukrainian government websites were hit by a cyber attack on Friday, a development European officials warned would escalate tensions over Ukraine further.
The US official said the Biden administration believed Russia could prepare for an invasion of Ukraine “which could lead to widespread human rights abuses and war crimes if diplomacy fails to achieve its goals.”
“The Russian army plans to start these activities several weeks before the military invasion, which may start between mid-January and mid-February,” the official said. “We saw this evidence in 2014 with Crimea.”
Kirby said Putin likely had first-hand knowledge of false Russian agents who could serve as a pretext for an operation in Ukraine.
“If the past is a precursor, it’s hard to imagine that these kinds of activities could take place without the knowledge, if not authorization, of higher levels of the Russian government,” Kirby told reporters on Friday.
The official said the United States has also seen Russian influencers direct Russian publics to intervene, including emphasizing accounts of deteriorating human rights in Ukraine and the hardening of Ukrainian leaders.
The official noted that, “During December, Russian-language content on social media covering all three of these narratives rose to nearly 3,500 posts per day, 200 percent more than the daily average in November.” )”.
Officials from the United States, NATO and Europe held high-stakes meetings this week with Russian officials. At the conclusion of the three meetings on Thursday, the two sides came out with a pessimistic view. The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister indicated that the talks had reached a “stalemate” and did not see any reason to continue these talks, while a senior US official warned that “the drums of war were beating loudly” following the diplomatic sessions.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia believes that NATO will increase its activity along its border with Ukraine if Moscow does not comply with the West’s demands.
“While our proposals are aimed at reducing military confrontation, and pacifying the general situation in Europe, the exact opposite is happening in the West. NATO members are building their strength and aviation. In the territories directly bordering Ukraine, “the volume of exercises in the Black Sea has increased several times recently,” Lavrov said. “.
Ukrainian government websites have been attacked
Andrey Yermak, a Zelensky aide, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has invited President Joe Biden and Putin to hold trilateral talks to discuss the security situation.
On Friday, a number of Ukrainian government websites, including the Foreign Ministry, were targeted in a cyberattack with threatening texts warning Ukrainians to “fear and wait for the worst.” The Ukrainian government said it appeared Russia was behind the attack.
A US National Security Council official said President Joe Biden was briefed on the attack. The official said the United States had no backing for the attack yet but would “provide Ukraine with all the support it needs to recover.”
The Pentagon said it was too early to attribute the attack, though Kirby noted that “this is part of the same kind of playbook that we’ve seen from Russia in the past.”
The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, condemned the cyber attack, warning that it was contributing to the “already tense situation” in the region.
Chernobyl: Tour Ukraine’s Nuclear Wasteland
When asked whether Russian state or non-state actors were behind the attacks, Borrell replied that while he didn’t want to “point the finger,” there was “a certain possibility where they came from.”