The United States fears Russia is preparing an invasion of Ukraine to fabricate a pretext for war if diplomacy fails, the White House said on Friday.
Talks between the United States, its European allies and Russia ended in a deadlock this week, with no plans to meet again on the issue. deployment of tens of thousands of troops by Russia along the Ukrainian border. A cyber attack against Ukraine has further fueled tensions.
A White House National Security Council spokesman said it was not yet clear who was responsible for the cyberattack, but that President Joe Biden had been briefed on it.
“We are in contact with the Ukrainians and have offered our support as Ukraine investigates the impact and nature and recovers from the incidents. We do not have an attribution at this time,” the spokesman said.
Biden has warned of dire economic consequences for Russia if Russian President Vladimir Putin launches an invasion of Ukraine. Russia denies its plans to attack Ukraine and has demanded NATO stop its eastward expansion and accept legally binding security guarantees, demands the United States and NATO have rejected.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the United States is concerned that the Russian government “is preparing for an invasion of Ukraine that could result in widespread violationss of human rights and war crimes if diplomacy does not achieve its objectives”.
“As part of its plans, Russia is laying the groundwork for the option of fabricating a pretext for the invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations, accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack on Russian forces in the eastern Ukraine,” Psaki said.
The Russian military “plans to start these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could start between mid-January and mid-February,” he said.
Psaki said it was up to Putin to determine the way forward, expecting a harsh response from the United States if he launched an invasion.
“If they decide that they want to engage in diplomatic talks and dialogue, we are very open to it and we hope that they will do so. But ultimately it’s a decision for them to make,” he said.
“False flag operation”
A US official said the United States has information indicating that Russia has already positioned a group of operatives to carry out “a false flag operation” in eastern Ukraine.
“The agents are trained in urban warfare and the use of explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official also said there are signs that “Russian influencers are already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that, if history is any guide, it would be difficult to see such activities without the knowledge of senior Russian leaders.
Asked if the US military would continue to support Ukrainian forces with security assistance in the event of a Russian invasion, Kirby said, “We have provided and will continue to provide security assistance to Ukraine to help them better defend themselves.”