US claims Russia is planning false flag operation to justify invading Ukraine

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The United States alleged that Russia had already positioned saboteurs in Ukraine to carry out a “false flag” operation serving as a pretext for a Russian attack, which Washington says could begin in the coming month.

The allegations came the same day as a large-scale cyberattack on Ukrainian government websites, and amid new reports of Russian military hardware moving west from the Far East.

They follow a week of failed diplomacy with aborted talks in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna, which did nothing to defuse the crisis caused by the gathering of more than 100,000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian borders. Moscow has consistently portrayed the crisis as a military threat from Ukraine against Russia, without providing any evidence.

“We have information that indicates Russia has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “Agents are trained in urban warfare and the use of explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russian proxy forces.”

The allegation was echoed by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, who said Russia was planning “an operation designed to look like an attack on … Russian speakers in Ukraine, again as an excuse to enter “.

A US official claimed that disinformation on social media had been escalated well in advance, saying: “The Russian military plans to start these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and the end of mid February”.

Russian-language social media posts accusing Ukraine and its Western supporters of planning attacks appeared at the rate of 3,500 a day in December, a 200% increase from the daily average in November, the report said. responsible.

Related: Ukraine hit by ‘massive’ cyberattack on government websites

Ukrainian officials had claimed that the provocation could take the form of a violent incident at the Russian embassy or consulate, which Moscow could then blame on far-right Ukrainian extremists.

Presidential spokesman in Moscow Dmitry Peskov dismissed the claims as ‘unsubstantiated and completely unconfirmed’

On the same day as the allegations, Ukraine was hit by a “massive” cyber attack, the websites of several government departments, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education, have been taken down.

The hackers left a message on the Foreign Ministry’s website, according to reports. He said: “Ukrainians! … All information about you has become public. Be afraid and expect worse. It is your past, your present and your future.

Andriy Yermak, the head of the presidential office in Kyiv, said “virtually 90%” of affected websites were back online by mid-afternoon.

“Ukraine’s most strategic infrastructure was not destroyed by this attack. It is a very [well] protected,” Yermak told a meeting of the Kyiv Atlantic Council think tank. He said Ukraine was working with the United States and the United Kingdom to confirm who was behind the assault.

Earlier today, Ukraine’s Information Ministry said “early data suggests the attack was carried out by the Russian Federation.” The White House, however, could not immediately confirm this.

“We don’t have an attribution at this time,” a US official told reporters. “While we continue to assess the impact with Ukrainians, it appears limited so far, with websites coming back online. We will consult with our allies and partners, including Ukraine.

In a message to the Guardian, Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said: “Following a massive cyberattack, the website of the Foreign Ministry and other government agencies are temporarily unavailable.

He added: “Our specialists have already started to restore the work of the computer systems and the cyber police have opened an investigation.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, condemned the attacks. Borrell said the EU’s political and security committee and cyber units would meet to decide how to react and support Kyiv.

“We will mobilize all our resources to help Ukraine deal with this. Unfortunately, we knew it could happen,” he said. He added: “It is difficult to say [who is behind it]. I can’t blame anyone because I have no proof. But we can imagine.

Stoltenberg said NATO and Ukraine would sign an agreement on enhanced cyber cooperation in the coming days. Kiev would have access to NATO’s malware information sharing platform, he said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said the West must resist any Russian aggression. “We have to be very firm in our messages to Russia, that if there are attacks against Ukraine, we will be very tough and very strong and robust in our response,” she said. Sweden stands in solidarity with Kyiv, she added.

On Friday, there was more confirmation of the movement of Russian forces to Ukraine from across the country. The Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab analyzed footage posted on TikTok and other social media this month, which it said showed mobile Iskander short-range missiles and T-72 tanks being transported west from the Far East.

The Kremlin has demanded assurances that Ukraine and Georgia will never join NATO. He wants NATO to withdraw troops and equipment from its Eastern European member states and bring deployment back to 1997 levels, before NATO was enlarged.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would not wait indefinitely for a response. “We’ve lost patience,” he told a news conference. “The West has been driven by hubris and has escalated tensions in violation of its obligations and common sense.”

Yermak said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had proposed a three-way summit with Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in a bid to end the crisis.

“We are still awaiting the reaction from the Russian side, but our American partners accept our proposal with some interest,” Yermak said, warning of the potential cost of failure to prevent war.

“If this happens it will be a big tragedy and you understand it will be a big war because…most Ukrainian citizens will fight against the aggressors,” Yermak said.

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