The official said the United States had evidence that operatives were trained in the use of ammunition to carry out sabotage against civil war and Russia’s own proxies.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the defense ministry had credible information that Russia had “put forward a group of activists” who could justify “carrying out an operation designed to attack them or Russian-speaking people in Ukraine.” A possible invasion.
The indictment echoed a statement issued Friday by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, which said that Russian special forces were preparing provocations against Russian forces in an attempt to rebuild Ukraine. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan pointed to intelligence during a news conference Thursday.
“Our intelligence community has created information that has now been downgraded, and Russia is laying the groundwork for creating an excuse for an invasion,” Sullivan said Thursday. “We saw this playbook in 2014. They are making this playbook again.”
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said in a statement on Friday that “military units in the occupied territories and its satellites are receiving orders to prepare for such provocations.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied that Moscow is preparing for provocations in Ukraine.
“So far, all of these reports are unsubstantiated and nothing has been confirmed,” Peskov said.
The discovery by US intelligence comes after a week-long diplomatic meeting between Russian and Western officials over Russia’s deployment of tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border. But the talks failed to make any progress because Russia did not promise to intensify and US and NATO officials said Moscow’s demands – that NATO would never allow Ukraine into the alliance – were not a start.
Several government websites in Ukraine were hit by a cyber attack on Friday, a development European officials have warned could further escalate tensions in Ukraine.
‘We saw this playbook’
The U.S. official said the Biden administration believed that Russia may be preparing to invade Ukraine, which could lead to widespread human rights abuses and war crimes if diplomacy fails to meet their objectives.
“The Russian military plans to launch these operations several weeks before the military invasion, which will begin between mid-January and mid-February,” the official said. “We saw this drama book in 2014 with Crimea.”
Kirby said Putin may have been directly aware of Russian fake flag operators who were the pretext for an operation in Ukraine.
“If the past was a foregone conclusion, it would be difficult to see that such actions could have taken place without the knowledge of those at the highest levels of the Russian government,” Kirby told reporters on Friday.
The official said the United States has also seen Russian-influenced actors begin to prioritize Russian audiences for an intervention, emphasizing descriptions of human rights abuses in Ukraine and the increased militancy of Ukrainian leaders.
“In December, Russian-language content covering all three stories on social media increased to an average of 3,500 posts a day, up 200% from the daily average in November,” the official said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Russia hoped NATO would increase its presence on its border with Ukraine if Moscow did not comply with Western demands.
“While our proposals are aimed at reducing military conflict and expanding the overall situation in Europe, the opposite is happening in the West. NATO members are building their strength and air traffic.
Ukrainian government websites have been hit by a cyber attack
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky has invited President Joe Biden and Putin to hold three – way talks to discuss the security situation, according to Zhelensky’s aide Andriy Yermak.
An official from the U.S. National Security Council said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the attack. The United States has not yet commented on the attack, but said it would “provide all necessary support for Ukraine’s recovery.”
The Pentagon said in a statement that the attack was “imminent” but that it was “part of the same kind of game book we’ve seen in Russia in the past.”
EU chief diplomat Joseph Borel has condemned the cyber attack, warning that it could contribute to an “already tense situation” in the region.
When asked if Russian government or NGO actors were behind the attacks, Borel did not want to “point fingers” but replied that “there is a certain probability of where they came from”.
CNN’s Michael Conte, Katharina Krebs, James Frater, Joseph Ataman, Anna Chernova and Niamh Kennedy contributed to the report.