ADDS ADDITIONAL COMMENTS FROM OFFICIAL, REMOVES REFERENCES TO REPORTS
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - Russia is preparing to use a group of operatives to carry out a false-flag operation it plans to use as justification for an invasion of Ukraine, a US official said on Friday.
The operation would consist of sabotage attacks that would target separatists in eastern Ukraine that Russia has been supporting since 2014, a US official told Anadolu Agency, citing intelligence the US has developed. The Russian operatives have training in explosives and urban warfare and have already been prepositioned, according to the official.
"The United States is concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion into Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives," the official said.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan alluded to the situation during a briefing with reporters on Thursday when he said the US intelligence community has information indicating "Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for an invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations."
"We saw this playbook in 2014. They are preparing this playbook again. And the administration will have further details on what we see as this potential laying of a pretext to share with the press over the course of the next 24 hours," he said.
The US and its European allies have been warning that Russia appears to be setting the stage for an invasion with a massive military buildup on its border with Ukraine that includes some 100,000 troops. Russia has denied it is preparing to invade, and says its troops are there for exercises.
The official who spoke to Anadolu Agency said Russia is planning the false-flag operations "several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February."
Part of the groundwork that is being laid, includes what the official said is an information campaign from pro-Russia "influence actors" who are "already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine."
"For example, Russian officials and influence actors are emphasizing narratives about the deterioration of human rights in Ukraine and the increased militancy of Ukrainian leaders," the official said. "
"During December, Russian language content on social media covering all three of these narratives increased to an average of nearly 3,500 posts per day, a 200-percent increase from the daily average in November," the official added.
Earlier on Friday, unidentified hackers launched a coordinated attack targeting the servers of the Ukrainian government, shutting down among others the webpages of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and embassies across the world.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell indicated the bloc believes Russia is to blame, saying “one can figure” who is behind the malicious cyber activities paralyzing Kyiv.
In response to the attack, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced the transatlantic alliance will sign a cooperation agreement with Ukraine on cyber defense.