US charges Russia sent saboteurs into Ukraine to create a pretext for an invasion

“This is a page from the Russian script,” one of the officers said. “We are very aware that Russia will try to invent a pretext for an attempted coup.”

The Kremlin defended itself against the intelligence assessment. “So far, all of these claims have been unfounded and have not been confirmed by anything,” Dmitri S. Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told TASS, a state news agency.

The intelligence finding was previously reported by CNN.

A senior Biden administration official said there were concerns that saboteurs or provocateurs could stage an incident in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, that could provide a possible pretext for a coup. A few months ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he believed an attempted coup was underway but never materialized.

Ukraine’s military intelligence service announced earlier Friday that it had intercepted information about a conspiracy by Russian spies to launch a sabotage operation from disputed territory in Moldova, in southern Ukraine, where Russia maintains a large contingent of troops. The plan, the statement said, was to attack Russian troops stationed at a weapons depot near the border with Ukraine and blame Ukrainian forces for it.

A senior Ukrainian military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said that while full details of the conspiracy were not known, any provocation in the region could serve to prompt an attack on Ukraine’s southern flank, possibly by Russian side, to justify naval resources in the Black Sea.

The US indictment also included disinformation operations, accusing that “Russian Influencers are already beginning to fabricate Ukrainian provocations on state and social media to justify Russian intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine.” These include, the official said, “an emphasis on narratives about deteriorating human rights in Ukraine and the increasing militancy of the Ukrainian leaders”.

In his Pentagon briefing, Mr. Kirby said that when “we talk about Russian agents, it could represent a mix of people within the Russian government, whether it be from their intelligence agencies, their security services, or even their military.”

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