The White House on Friday warned of a Russian "false flag" operation in eastern Ukraine that could be used as a pretext to invade the country.
Russia has amassed forces on the Ukrainian border for months and issued a series of demands that Western leaders have so far rejected. The White House has joined a growing chorus of voices saying that the Kremlin may be looking for pretexts to invade the country further.
"We have information that indicates Russia has already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine," said top Biden administration spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia's own proxy forces."
She further warned of an accompanying social media misinformation campaign that now averages 3,500 social media posts a day, up 200% from the rate in November. The effort is similar to what Russian President Vladimir Putin directed ahead of the 2014 invasion of Ukraine's Crimea region, Psaki added.
The United States met Russia in three different venues this week in Geneva, Brussels, and Vienna to try to de-escalate the crisis caused by Russia's massive military deployment on Ukraine's border.
The U.S. offered to discuss reciprocal measures limiting missile deployments and military exercises in Eastern Europe but didn't budge on any of Moscow's major demands to end NATO expansion. And by week's end, the result was a "dead end," according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who said in a Russian TV interview there are "no grounds" for any more talks.
Separately, multiple websites associated with the Ukrainian government were hit with a cyberattack on Friday, leaving them temporarily unavailable.
The cyberattack included a warning on the affected websites — belonging to government agencies such as the seven ministries, the Treasury, the National Emergency Service, and others — that read, in part: "Be afraid and expect the worst. This is for your past, present and future."
The White House is deeply worried about where the situation is headed.
"We're concerned the Russian government is preparing for an invasion in Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives," said Psaki. "As part of its plans, Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for invasion."
Russian actors are already beginning to orchestrate false Ukrainian provocations to justify a "Russian intervention," according to the White House, and sowing division within Ukraine.
"These media narratives also blame the West for escalating tension, highlighting humanitarian issues in Ukraine that Russian intervention could solve and promoting Russian patriotism to encourage domestic support for military action," said Psaki.
Original Location: White House warns of Russian 'false flag' operation in Ukraine
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