U.S. Says Russia Is Preparing Operations to Justify Ukraine Attack

by 24USATVJan. 14, 2022, 7:50 p.m. 15
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Biden has been briefed on cyber attack against Ukraine Press Sec Psaki said, adding that “personal data was not accessed” and Ukrainians were able to get their “systems up and running.” The Biden administration believes Russian actors are preparing potential sabotage operations against their own forces and fabricating provocations in social media to justify an invasion into Ukraine, according to a U.S. official. As part of the plan, President Vladimir Putin’s government has prepositioned operatives trained in urban warfare and in using explosives, possibly to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s proxy forces in or near Ukraine, according to the person, who asked not to be identified discussing the sensitive issue. The plan would probably be set in motion if diplomacy with the U.S., NATO and key European nations fail, according to the U.S. assessment. Russia has denied it plans to invade its neighbor. The news follows a cyber attack that downed a wide range of Ukrainian government websites on Friday. Seventy government agencies were hit, including the Foreign and Agriculture Ministries, according to Viktor Zhora, the deputy head of the state agency in charge of special communication and information protection. “There was no leak of important data, the content of the websites was not damaged,” Zhora said. “We are collecting digital evidence and analyzing data to understand the full chain of this attack.” Authorities didn’t immediately identify the source of Friday’s hacks. President Joe Biden was briefed on the attack, but the U.S. didn’t immediately pin the blame on any group or nation and a National Security Council spokesperson said the affected websites appear to be coming back online. Countries in the European Union, with which Ukraine has sought to deepen ties, condemned the hacks, with Poland and Sweden pointing the finger at Russia. “The cyber attack reported by the Ukrainian side is part of the typical activities of the secret services of the Russian Federation,” said Stanislaw Zaryn, spokesman for Poland’s secret service chief. He said the message appeared to be an effort to fuel tensions between Poland and Ukraine. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said earlier in the day: “We have to be very firm in our messages to Russia -- that if there are attacks against Ukraine, we will be very harsh and very strong and robust in our response.” In previous incursions in Ukraine’s Crimea region and in Georgia, Russia was accused of ramping up disinformation campaigns and staging “false flag” events to justify its interventions. Russia has rejected those charges. With more than 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border, U.S. officials have previously warned that Moscow could try to create a “false flag” event to justify an incursion. “No one should be surprised if Russia spreads disinformation about commitments that have not been made, or if Moscow goes even further and instigates something as a pretext for further destabilizing activity,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday. The Biden administration has discussed a range of possible actions by Moscow it believes should trigger retaliation, according to people familiar with discussions that have taken place this week. Aside from sending troops into Ukraine, it could include an effort to engineer a coup against Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy or other acts to destabilize his government. At briefings following three rounds of discussions with Russia this week, officials including Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Russia has little to fear militarily from its western neighbor. But the U.S. and its allies have warned of a “massive” economic response against Russia should it undertake an attack on Ukraine.

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