US officials say the United States has information that Russia has prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation to justify invading Ukraine.
The revelation comes as the United States has urged Russia not to invade its neighbour.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration was concerned Russia would stage such an attack, saying it was similar to what Moscow did in 2014 by accusing Ukraine of preparing an attack against Russian forces and warned it could happen between mid-January and mid-February.
She said Russia had already dispatched operatives trained in urban warfare who could use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces in Ukraine, thereby creating a pretext for President Vladimir Putin to order military reaction.
“We are concerned that 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,” Ms Psaki said.
“We saw this playbook before, including the widespread effort to push out misinformation, not just in Europe but around the global community,” she added.
She claimed that the Kremlin was laying the groundwork for an attack through a social media disinformation campaign framing Kiev as the aggressor.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that much of the intelligence was gleaned from intercepted communications and observations of the movements of people.
President Joe Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on multiple occasions last month urging him not intervene militarily in Ukraine and said the United States will “will respond decisively” if Russia invades Ukraine.
Ukraine’s defence ministry had previously made a statement about this and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan made suggestions about such a false-flag operation at a Thursday press briefing.
“Our intelligence community has developed information, which has now been downgraded, that Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating the pretext for an invasion,” he told reporters. “We saw this playbook in 2014. They are preparing this playbook again and we will have, the administration will have, further details on what we see as this potential laying of the pretext to share with the press over the course of the next 24 hours.”
The Ukrainian ministry also warned of “the military units of the aggressor country and its satellites receive orders to prepare for such provocations.”
Western officials have met with Russia urging a de-escalation of tensions between the nations.
The Kremlin denied the White House claims, saying that they were based on “unfounded” information.
On Friday the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said Moscow wouldn’t wait indefinitely for a Western response to its demands that both the US and Nato guarantee that the military alliance will not expand eastwards, saying he expects a written answer next week.
He said Nato’s deployments and drills near Russia’s borders pose a security challenge that must be addressed immediately.
“We have run out of patience,” Mr Lavrov said at a news conference. “The West has been driven by hubris and has exacerbated tensions in violation of its obligations and common sense.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report