US accuses Russia of sending saboteurs to Ukraine to create pretext for invasion

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Friday accused Russia of sending saboteurs into eastern Ukraine to stage an incident that could give President Vladimir V. Putin a pretext to order an invasion of parts or the entire country.

The White House has not released details of the evidence they had gathered to support the allegation, although an official said it was a mix of intercepted communications and observations of individuals’ movements. In an email, a US official wrote that “Russia is laying the groundwork for having the ability to devise a pretext for invasion, including through sabotage activities and intelligence operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack on Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.”

The official, who described the intelligence on condition of anonymity, added that according to the assessment of US intelligence officials, “the Russian military plans to begin these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which would take place between mid-January and mid-February. can start. . We saw this scenario in 2014 with Crimea.” Russia annexed Ukraine that year.

The release was part of a strategy to try to prevent the attacks by exposing them in advance. But without releasing the underlying intelligence — some of which has been provided to allies — the United States is opening up to Russian accusations of fabricating evidence. In recent years, Russia often recalled the very flawed intelligence case the United States had set up to invade Iraq, as part of an effort to discredit the CIA and other US intelligence agencies as political agents.

The official said the United States had “information indicating that Russia has already positioned a group of agents to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine” where Russian-backed forces are engaged in a war of attrition with Ukraine. fought. government. The agents “are trained in urban warfare and in the use of explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces.”

The US accusation also included disinformation operations, accusing the media of “Russian” Influencers are already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify Russian intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine.” Those include, the official said, “emphasizing stories of the deterioration of human rights in Ukraine and the increased militancy of Ukrainian leaders.”

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