The US has intelligence suggesting Russian operatives have been deployed to conduct a “false flag” attack in eastern Ukraine that will act as a signal for Moscow to invade its western neighbor, the White House said Friday.
Press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the operatives had been tapped to carry out “sabotage attacks” against Russian proxies in the region and added that Moscow’s “influence actors” had begun to “fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention.”
The Kremlin has kept thousands of troops in the area of the border between Russia and Ukraine for months in what the US and its western allies fear is a prelude to an invasion and annexation of additional territory.
On Thursday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told White House reporters that Russia was “laying the groundwork” for a possible invasion using the same “playbook” as for the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
While Sullivan cautioned that US intelligence agencies have not concluded the Russians have “definitively decided to take a military course of action in Ukraine,” Psaki said that an invasion “could begin between mid-January and mid-February,” resulting in “widespread human rights violations and war crimes.”
Late Thursday, a massive cyber attack hit Ukrainian government websites, displaying a message warning users to “be afraid and expect the worst,” Reuters reported.
The attack hit Ukraine’s foreign ministry, the cabinet of ministers and the security and defense council, according to the report.
The hack attacks bore a resemblance to other cyber-incursions by Russia-backed actors, but Psaki said Friday that she was “not going to speculate” about who was responsible.
“We will take necessary and proper steps, of course, to defend our allies, support our partners and support the Ukrainian people,” she said. “But we’re still assessing that at this point.”
The White House warning follows failed diplomatic talks in Geneva and Vienna earlier this week involving Russia, the US, and NATO officials. Moscow had requested that NATO cease its expansion into eastern Europe and prevent Ukraine from joining the Atlantic alliance, a demand the US has called a “non-starter.”
However, Washington has said it’s willing to negotiate with Moscow about possible future deployments of offensive missiles in Ukraine and putting limits on US and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe.
Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Friday that Moscow wouldn’t wait indefinitely for the Western response, saying he expects a written answer next week.
“We have run out of patience,” Lavrov said at a news conference. “The West has been driven by hubris and has exacerbated tensions in violation of its obligations and common sense.”
With Post Wires