Defense

US reveals Russia may plan to create fake pretext for Ukraine invasion

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Thursday that the U.S. believes Russia may plan to create a pretext to invade Ukraine by producing propaganda video showing aggression toward Russians.

“We do have information that the Russians are likely to want to fabricate a pretext for an invasion,” Kirby said. “One option is the Russian government, we think, is planning to stage a fake attack by Ukrainian military or intelligence forces against Russian sovereign territory, or against Russian speaking people, to therefore justify their action.”

Kirby confirmed a report first published by The Washington Post earlier Thursday that indicated Russia would create a fake attack by Ukraine on Russians.

“We believe that Russia would produce a very graphic propaganda video, which would include corpses and actors that would be depicting mourners and images of destroyed locations, as well as military equipment at the hands of Ukraine or the West, even to the point where some of this equipment would be made to look like it was Western supplied to Ukraine equipment,” Kirby said.

When asked if U.S. officials believe the fake attack was approved by the Kremlin, Kirby said, “Our experience is that very little of this nature is not approved at the highest levels of the Russian government.”

A senior administration official told The Hill that this option is “one of a number of options Russia has developed,” adding that they were publicizing the possible plan “in the hopes that it dissuades Russia from its intended course of action.” 

State Department spokesperson Ned Price defended the administration’s strategy to withhold evidence to support their allegations of a potential Russian plot, saying the exposure in general serves as a deterrent.

“We are making it available to you for a couple reasons. One, is to attempt to deter the Russians from going ahead with this activity. Two, in the event we’re not able to do that, in the event the Russians do go ahead with this, to make it clear as day, to lay bare the fact that this has always been an attempt on the part of the Russian Federation to fabricate a pretext,” Price said.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement following the announcement by Kirby that it is “clear and shocking evidence of Russia’s unprovoked aggression” against Ukraine. She doubled down on calls for Russia to choose diplomacy over escalating tensions.

“This bellicose intent towards a sovereign, democratic country is completely unacceptable and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Truss said. “The UK and our allies will continue to expose Russian subterfuge and propaganda and call it out for what it is.”

The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office said that it shares a common intelligence picture with the U.S. and has conducted its own analysis of the intelligence related to allegations of a staged video, adding that the details in the U.S. report are “extremely concerning.”

The U.K. had earlier released an assessment that Russia intended to install a “pro-Kremlin” government in Kyiv and reportedly supported an earlier U.S. intelligence pronouncement that Russia was positioning saboteurs in eastern Ukraine to create a pretext for a Russian invasion. 

Fighting between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army has taken place for nearly eight years in eastern Ukraine, called the Donbas.  

The announcement by the Pentagon comes on the same day that congressional lawmakers are being briefed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley about the ongoing tensions in Ukraine.

The Pentagon announced Wednesday it is deploying and repositioning more than 3,000 troops to bolster Eastern European allies, the first such movement of its kind as the U.S. looks to boost NATO’s capabilities in the region amid the growing tensions.

Russia has amassed upward of 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine in recent weeks. New satellite imagery shows a buildup of Russian military activity and camps along its border with Ukraine. 

Laura Kelly contributed.

Updated 3:45 p.m.

Tags Antony Blinken Jen Psaki John Kirby John Kirby Josh Hawley Lloyd Austin Mark Milley Russia Ukraine

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