The United States has accused Russia of sending saboteurs into eastern Ukraine in order to stage an incident that could provide a pretext for an invasion if Moscow’s security demands in negotiations with the West are not met.
A U.S. official said on January 14 that the White House is concerned that the Russian government “is preparing for an invasion into Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives.”
“The Russian military plans to begin these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February,” said the official, who was speaking anonymously.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in response on January 14 that the assessment was based on “unfounded” information.
As the United States and its Western allies have raised alarms over a massive Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that they believe could be a prelude to an invasion, Russia has demanded written guarantees that the NATO military alliance will not admit former Soviet states such as Ukraine.
Washington and its NATO allies held three rounds of talks with Russia this week in an attempt to defuse the situation, but while expressing openness to dialogue they have made clear that NATO open-door policy for sovereign states is not negotiable.
Russia’s buildup of some 100,000 troops near Ukraine, whose Crimean Peninsula was seized by Russia in 2014, has been cast as a pressure tactic that Washington said will not be rewarded.
“We saw this playbook in 2014 with Crimea,” the U.S. official said on January 14.
Moscow, which has denied that it is planning to invade Ukraine, has said it could not wait indefinitely for a written Western response to its security demands.
“We have run out of patience,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during his annual foreign policy conference on January 14.
The White House earlier said that the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine remained high and said it would make public intelligence suggesting Russia might be preparing an incident to provide a pretext for military action.
The U.S. official who followed up on January 14 did not provide details of the evidence pointing toward Moscow setting in motion a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv forces since 2014.
However, a separate official said the intelligence was based on intercepted communications and observations of the movements of people.
Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists who control parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions has killed more than 13,200 people since April 2014.