The United States accuses Russia of planning a “false flag operation” in eastern Ukraine

The United States has accused Russia of planning covert operations, including sabotage, in eastern Ukraine in an attempt to create a “pretext for invasion” after diplomatic efforts to end the crisis faltered and government websites were hit by a major cyber attack.

A US official said on Friday: “We have information indicating that Russia has already deployed a group of operators to carry out a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine. The operators are trained in civil warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces. ”

False flag operations are designed to conceal the true source of a provocative act. The official said such “sabotage activities” and “information operations” would serve to accuse “Ukraine of preparing an impending attack on Russian forces in eastern Ukraine”, adding that this could be a precursor to a military invasion starting “between mid-January and mid-February”.

Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Service also warned that “Russian special services are preparing provocations against soldiers from the Russian armed forces to accuse Ukraine of this” and in turn justify further military aggression against its neighbor.

Earlier Friday, Ukraine said it was the target of a “massive cyber attack” after about 70 government websites stopped working. The targets included websites of the Cabinet of Ministers, a number of ministries, the Treasury and the Diia electronic public service platform, where vaccination certificates and electronic passports are kept.

“Ukrainians! All your personal data has been uploaded to the public network,” it read in a message posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website. “All data on your computer will be deleted and will not be recoverable. All information about you has become public, fear and expect the worst. “

Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications, a government agency set up to counter Russia’s aggression, accused Moscow of being behind Friday’s cyberattack, noting that official investigators have not yet formally drawn such a conclusion.

“This is not the first or even the second time that Ukrainian Internet resources have been attacked since the beginning of Russia’s military aggression… We assume that the current one is linked to Russia’s recent defeat in negotiations on Ukraine’s future cooperation with NATO,” he said. the agency.

The attack follows tense negotiations this week between the United States, NATO and Western allies and Russia, aimed at deterring Russian President Vladimir Putin from deciding on a deeper invasion of Ukraine. Moscow annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014.

Ukrainian officials recently warned that cyber attacks and other efforts to destabilize the country would be a prelude to further aggression.

The message left by hackers, published in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish, added: “This is for your past, present and future. For Volyn, for OUN UPA [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists/Ukrainian Insurgent Army], for Halychyna, for Polissya and for historic countries. “

Comments at the end of the announcement referred to Ukrainian rebel fighters during World War II and appeared to reprimand Ukraine for ethnic clashes and atrocities. Poland and Ukraine accuse each other of having committed atrocities during the period in the region that the countries have displaced for centuries.

The hackers’ posts also contained disfigured images of Ukraine’s national symbols.

It was not immediately clear whether the hackers were Polish, or whether this was an attempt to encourage division between Ukraine and Poland, one of Kiev’s strongest European allies.

Julianne Smith, the US ambassador to NATO, said the US would wait “to see what we find out today”. She added that evidence of a Russian cyber attack would “certainly” be classified as an example of renewed aggression against Ukraine, which could trigger Western sanctions against Moscow.

“We are monitoring everything Russia wants to do against Ukraine,” she said. “We are set on some of the efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within. We all understand that there are a number of scenarios that may unfold when it comes to what is happening between Russia and Ukraine.”

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said he “strongly” condemned the cyber attacks.

“NATO cyber experts in Brussels have exchanged information with their Ukrainian counterparts about the current malicious cyber activities. Allied experts in the country also support the Ukrainian authorities on the ground,” he said.

Josep Borrell, Brussels’ top diplomat, said the EU’s Political and Security Committee and cyber units would discuss how to help Kiev.

“We will mobilize all our resources to help Ukraine tackle this cyberattack. Unfortunately, we knew it could happen,” Borrell was quoted as saying by Reuters at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in France. [who is behind it]. I can not blame anyone, as I have no evidence, but we can imagine. “

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