The United States has acquired intelligence indicating that the Russian government developed a plan to stage a false attack that would depict the Ukrainian military or its intelligence forces assaulting Russian territory to help establish a pretext for military action against Ukraine, a senior Biden administration official and reports said Thursday.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the scheme included the production of a graphic propaganda video that would show staged explosions and use corpses and actors depicting grieving Russian-speaking mourners.
The plan for the fake attack on Russian territory or Russian-speaking people was revealed in declassified intelligence shared with Ukrainian officials and European allies in recent days. It is the latest allegation by the U.S. and Britain that Russia is plotting to use a false pretext to go to war against Ukraine.
The White House in December accused Russia of developing a “false-flag” operation to create a pretext for an invasion. Britain recently named specific Ukrainians it accused of having ties to Russian intelligence officers plotting to overthrow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The U.S. also released a map of Russian military positions and detailed how officials believe Russia will try to attack Ukraine with as many as 175,000 troops.
“We’ve seen these kinds of activity by the Russians in the past, and we believe it’s important when we see it like this, and we can, to call it out,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.
The U.S. has not provided detailed information backing up the intelligence findings.
Kirby said that the Russians would also stage military equipment used by Ukraine and the West to bolster the credibility of the scheme.
The new U.S. intelligence alleges that Russia would possibly use Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones as part of the fake operation, The Associated Press (AP) said, citing a senior administration official who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The drones supplied by NATO-member Turkey and developed by drone magnate Baykar have been used by Ukraine against pro-Russia separatists in the Donbass region, a move that disturbed Moscow, which has made clear it is strongly opposed to Ukraine being equipped with the technology.
The U.S. unveiled the intelligence as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offered to mediate talks between Russia and Ukraine, and NATO warned that Moscow’s military buildup continues, with more troops and military equipment deployed to neighboring Belarus than at any time in the last 30 years.
Erdoğan, who has close ties with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Zelenskyy, said Thursday that Turkey was “prepared to undertake its part in order to end the crisis between the two nations that are its neighbors in the Black Sea.”
“I have stressed that we would be happy to host a summit meeting at a leadership level or technical level talks,” Erdoğan said after about three hours of talks with Zelenskyy in Kyiv. “Instead of fueling the fire, we act with the logical aim of reducing the tensions,” the president said.
Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders, raising concern that Moscow might invade again, as it did in 2014. The troop presence and uncertainty have unnerved Ukrainians and hurt the country’s economy. Russian officials deny that an invasion is planned.
Turkey shares the Black Sea with Ukraine and Russia. Erdoğan has said any conflict would be unacceptable in the region and warned Russia that an invasion would be unwise.
On Thursday he underlined Turkey’s commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Turkey and Ukraine also signed eight agreements during the meeting, including a free trade pact.
Zelenskyy also trumpeted a deal with Turkey aimed at expanding drone production in Ukraine. He said battle-tested unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) developed by Baykar would be manufactured in Ukrainian factories. The Ukrainian army already has dozens of Bayraktar TB2s in its inventory.
Zelenskyy welcomed Erdoğan’s offer and thanked him for his “firm and consistent” support.
The crisis has worried Turkey, leaving it in a position where it has to balance its growing partnership with Ukraine together with its strong relations with Moscow.
Ankara, which has historic ties to Ukraine and ethnic bonds with its Crimean Tatar community, strongly opposed Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
During his visit on Friday, Putin hailed his country’s “unprecedented” ties with China at a time of growing tensions with the West over Ukraine and other issues.
In a joint statement, the two leaders reaffirmed their support for each other’s foreign policy – including Russia’s backing of China over Taiwan – while they also agreed on wider security issues. Putin
Both expressed concern over the AUKUS defense alliance which includes Australia, the UK and the United States.
The two world leaders join forces in criticising what they said was a negative US influence both in Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region, and in opposing “the further expansion of NATO” in what they called a “Cold War era” approach.
Moscow is looking for support from Beijing after its deployment of 100,000 soldiers near its border with Ukraine prompted Western nations to warn of an invasion and threaten “severe consequences” in response to any Russian attack.
Ukraine has played a role in Russia’s friendship with China before.
“[Russia’s] 2014 annexation of Crimea, and Western sanctions provided the secret sauce for the two countries to move much closer together,” says Alexander Gabuev, head of the Russia in Asia-Pacific programme at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
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