The Biden administration believes Russian actors are preparing potential sabotage operations against Russian forces and fabricating Ukrainian provocations in social media to justify an intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine, according to a US official who asked not to be identified.
President Vladimir Putin’s government is laying the groundwork to justify an attack, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing offensive operations, according to the person.
As part of the plan, Moscow has prepositioned operatives trained in urban warfare and in using explosives possibly to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s proxy forces in or near Ukraine, the person said, adding that the plan would likely be set in motion if diplomacy with the US, Nato and key European nations fail.
The news follows a cyber attack that downed a wide range of Ukrainian government websites on Friday. In previous incursions in Ukraine’s Crimea region and in Georgia, Russia was accused of ramping up disinformation campaigns and staging “false flag” events to justify its interventions.
President Joe Biden has been briefed on Friday’s attack but the US doesn’t yet have attribution for who was behind it, according to a spokesperson for the National Security Council. Russia has rejected those charges, and says it has no plans to attack Ukraine.
With more than 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border, US officials have long warned that Moscow could try to create a “false flag” event to justify an incursion.
Russia on Friday strongly reaffirmed its demand that Nato doesn’t expand eastward despite the rejection of that by the military alliance amid a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine.
Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov warned that Moscow wouldn’t wait indefinitely for the Western response, saying he expects the US and Nato to provide a written answer next week.
EU foreign ministers on Friday warned Russia of a “robust” response, fearing that a cyberattack against Ukraine could prepare the ground for military action by Moscow against its neighbour.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has proposed three-way talks with Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “We are still waiting for the reaction on this, I think, from the Russian side. But our American partners take our proposal with some interest,” said the head of the president’s office, Andriy Yermak.