Russia is preparing to create a pretext for a broader invasion of Ukraine and has already propositioned operatives to conduct a “false flag operation”, officials in Washington have warned, echoing statements from Kyiv.
Russian special services are preparing “provocations” against Russian servicemen located in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria in order to accuse Kyiv, Ukrainian military intelligence said on Friday.
US officials have expressed similar sentiments. “Russian influence actors are already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine,” a US official told the Reuters news agency on Friday.
Moscow has already dispatched operatives trained in urban warfare who could use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces in eastern Ukraine – blaming the acts on Kyiv – if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides he wants to move forward with an invasion, a US official told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
Moscow has dismissed those statements as “unfounded”, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Friday, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
Russia has amassed some 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border and diplomatic talks to try and resolve the standoff have not borne fruit.
Russia is demanding that the US and NATO provide written guarantees that the alliance will not expand eastward. Washington has called such demands nonstarters but said that it’s willing to negotiate with Moscow about possible future deployments of offensive missiles in Ukraine and putting limits on US and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe.
A top official in Kyiv warned Friday that the current standoff raises questions about the “life and death” of Ukraine. Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, added that most Ukrainians would defend the country.
Zelenskyy has proposed holding a meeting with US President Joe Biden and Russia’s Putin to discuss growing security concerns, Yermak said on Friday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow was not ready to wait forever for the US and NATO to respond to its security demands and that it wanted a detailed written response to every Russian proposal.
Lavrov said President Putin could then make a decision once Moscow had received a point-by-point response to its proposals and counter-proposals from the West.
Alexander Titov, a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast who specialises in Russian foreign policy, said the ongoing tensions in Europe, including around Ukraine, help Russia put forward its concerns with NATO and the US.
“That’s Russia’s strategy … to raise the tension, put up the pressure, and force (the) re-establishment of a broad security architecture in Europe in its favour,” Titov told Al Jazeera.