US negotiations with Russia aren’t going very well. Today CNN reports that US intelligence has information that Russia is planning a false-flag attack on its own forces staged near the border as a way to justify an invasion of Ukraine.
The US has information that indicates Russia has prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine, a US official told CNN on Friday, in an attempt to create a pretext for an invasion…
“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 and we will have, the administration will have, further details on what we see as this potential laying of the pretext to share with the press over the course of the next 24 hours.”
The idea here isn’t that Russia would stage one attack against itself and then immediately respond. This is just one part of preparing the country domestically for the idea that an invasion is inevitable and justified. The groundwork for this is already flooding Russian social media sites.
The US has also seen Russian influence actors begin to prime Russian audiences for an intervention, the official said, including by emphasizing narratives about the deterioration of human rights in Ukraine and increased militancy of Ukrainian leaders.
“During December, Russian language content on social media covering all three of these narratives increased to an average of nearly 3,500 posts per day, a 200% increase from the daily average in November,” the official noted.
So that’s the play. Step one, the media hypes the idea that Ukraine is falling apart and is run by desperate militants. Step two, Russian forces experience an attack along the border which confirms all of the Russian propaganda. Step three, having proven that Ukraine is desperate and belligerent, Russia is obligated to go in to deal with the threat. The actual invasion could take place a couple weeks or a month from now. Just for comparison’s sake, Russia’s annexation of Crimea started in the last week of February 2014.
As I pointed out here, the buildup of Russian forces along the border with Ukraine really began back in April, i.e. shortly after Biden took office. The US responded by planning to sell arms to Ukraine but on May 1, Russia allegedly pulled back from the border and the US put the arms sale on hold. But the NY Times revealed that even after the alleged pullback there were still about 80,000 Russian troops massed at the border and the troops that had pulled back had left their armored vehicles behind so they could return very quickly. In addition, Russia was also building up naval forces in the Black Sea.
Putin has been putting the pieces in place for an invasion for nearly a year at this point. US attempts to thwart that effort have failed. In fact, the Russian pullback in May was little more than a headfake and it appears we fell for it. Then, after Russian hackers shut down a major gasoline pipeline on the east coast with ransomware, President Biden removed sanctions against a Russian gas pipeline to Germany. I read somewhere that was intended as a bargaining chip, i.e. something the US could take away if Russia behaved badly. I guess we’ll see if Putin is in the mood for bargaining but at this moment it looks like his plan is to press forward with another invasion.
Finally, one more indication that this invasion is coming soon. Today, Ukraine was hit by a cyberattack:
Ukrainian officials were investigating the huge cyberattack, which they said hit around 70 internet sites of government bodies including the foreign ministry, cabinet of ministers, and security and defence council.
Though they avoided directly accusing Moscow, they made clear they suspected Russia. Russia did not comment but has previously denied being behind cyberattacks, including against Ukraine.
“Ukrainian! All your personal data was uploaded to the public network. All data on the computer is destroyed, it is impossible to restore it,” said a message visible on hacked government websites, written in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish.
“All information about you has become public, be afraid and expect the worst. This is for your past, present and future.”
Russia was hit hard by the pandemic and Putin’s favorability ratings aren’t what they used to be. He no doubt remembers when they were the highest in recent memory, right after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. A sequel to that invasion could help solidify his position as president for life.