Photo: Mikhail Metzel/Associated Press
US claims Russia has placed saboteurs in Ukraine Conduct a “false flag” operation as a pretext for a Russian attack, which Washington says could begin next month.
The charges came after a week of diplomatic efforts failed to defuse a crisis sparked by Russia’s massing of more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, following a similar statement by the government in Kiev. Moscow has been describing the crisis as a military threat from Ukraine against Russia, but has provided no evidence.
“Russia is laying the groundwork for options to create a pretext for aggression, including through sabotage and information operations, accusing Ukraine of preparing for an imminent attack on Russian forces in eastern Ukraine,” a U.S. official said.
“We have information that Russia has arranged for a group of operatives to conduct false flag operations in eastern Ukraine.
“Russian influencers have started to create provocations in Ukraine on state and social media,” the official said, noting that Russia used a similar tactic before its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“The Russian military plans to start these activities a few weeks before the military invasion, which could start between mid-January and mid-February.”
related: Ukrainian government website hit by ‘massive’ cyberattack
Ukrainian officials claimed the provocation could take the form of violence at a Russian embassy or consulate, which Moscow could then blame on far-right Ukrainian extremists.
U.S. claim filed on the same day Ukraine hit by ‘massive’ cyber attack, the websites of many government departments such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education have been eliminated.
The hackers reportedly left messages on the Foreign Ministry website. It said: “Ukrainians! … All information about you has been made public. Fear and expect worse. This is your past, present and future.”
By mid-afternoon, “almost 90 percent” of the affected sites were back online, said Andriy Yermak, head of the Kiev presidential office.
“Ukraine’s most strategic infrastructure was not destroyed by this attack. It is a very [well] protected,” Yermak told an Atlantic Council think tank meeting in Kiev. He said Ukraine was working with the United States and Britain to identify who was behind the attack.
Earlier in the day, the Ukrainian Information Ministry said that “the first data indicate that the attack was carried out by the Russian Federation”. However, the White House could not immediately confirm this.
“We don’t currently have any attributions,” a U.S. official told reporters. “While we continue to assess the impact on Ukrainians, it appears to be limited so far and the website is back online. We will engage with allies and partners, including Ukraine. consultation.”