Global Economy

White House Says Russia Is Planning 'False Flag' Operation as Pretext for Invading Ukraine


White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaking at the White House on Friday.



Photo:

Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

WASHINGTON—Russia has pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in Eastern Ukraine as a pretext for invading the country, the White House said Friday.

“The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s proxy forces,” White House press secretary

Jen Psaki

said at the White House. “Our information also indicates that 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.”

Ms. Psaki’s statement came after the U.S. and its European allies concluded a week of talks with Russia aimed at easing tensions in Ukraine. Russia has deployed more than 100,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, prompting fears in the U.S. and the West that it intends to invade.

The Russian Embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Russian officials have denied the country intends to invade Ukraine and says its troops are near the border on exercises. Russia says it has the right to move troops about on its own territory.

Ms. Psaki also said Russian officials and “influence actors” had sought to spread misinformation about Ukraine to encourage domestic Russian support for military action there.

A military buildup along the Ukrainian border is further straining ties between Russia and the U.S., after clashes over cybercrime, expulsions of diplomats and a migrant crisis in Belarus. WSJ explains what is deepening the rift between Washington and Moscow. Photo Composite/Video: Michelle Inez Simon

“These media narratives also blame the West for escalating tension, highlight humanitarian issues in Ukraine that Russian intervention could solve and promote Russian patriotism to encourage domestic support for military action,” she said, reporting a 200% increase in the daily average of Russian-language content on such narratives from November to December.

White House national security adviser

Jake Sullivan

said Thursday that the U.S. intelligence community had determined Russia was “laying the groundwork” for fabricating a pretext for an invasion.

Write to Andrew Restuccia at andrew.restuccia@wsj.com and Courtney McBride at courtney.mcbride@wsj.com

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