The official said the US has evidence that the operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the Defense Department has credible information indicating Russia has “prepositioned a group of operatives” to execute “an operation designed to look like an attack on them or Russian-speaking people in Ukraine” in order to create a reason for a potential invasion.
The allegation echoed a statement released by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense on Friday, which said that Russian special services are preparing provocations against Russian forces in an attempt to frame Ukraine. National security adviser Jake Sullivan hinted at the intelligence during a briefing with reporters on Thursday.
“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,” Sullivan said on Thursday. “We saw this playbook in 2014. They are preparing this playbook again.”
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Friday that “the military units of the aggressor country and its satellites receive orders to prepare for such provocations.”
Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, denied that Moscow was preparing for provocations in Ukraine.
“So far, all these statements have been unfounded and have not been confirmed by anything,” Peskov said.
The US intelligence finding comes after a week’s worth of diplomatic meetings between Russian and Western officials over Russia’s amassing of tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border. But the talks failed to achieve any breakthroughs, as Russia would not commit to de-escalating and American and NATO officials said Moscow’s demands — including that NATO never admit Ukraine into the alliance — were non-starters.
A number of Ukraine’s governmental websites were hit by a cyberattack on Friday, a development European officials warned would ratchet up tensions over Ukraine even further.
‘We saw this playbook’
The US official said that the Biden administration believes Russia could be 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 Russian military plans to begin these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February,” the official said. “We saw this playbook in 2014 with Crimea.”
Kirby said that Putin is likely directly aware of Russian false-flag operatives that could be the pretext for an operation in Ukraine.
“If past is prologue, it is difficult to see that these kinds of activities could be, would be done without the knowledge if not the imprimatur of the very senior levels of the Russian government,” Kirby told reporters Friday.