(CNN)The US is alleging that Russia has been preparing to “fabricate a pretext for an invasion” of Ukraine, this time using a “graphic” video that would depict a fake attack against Russia.
A senior administration official told CNN that the US has intelligence suggesting that the Russian government, with the help of Russia’s intelligence services, has been planning to produce a propaganda video depicting graphic scenes of a “staged false explosion with corpses, actors depicting mourners, and images of destroyed locations and military equipment,” the official said. The US believes Russia has already recruited actors to be involved in the fake attack.
The US believes that the military equipment used in the video of the fabricated attack would be made to look like it is Ukrainian or from an allied nation. The official said the video could include images of Bayraktar drones, which NATO ally Turkey has provided to Ukraine, “as a means to implicate NATO in the attack.”
The fake attack in the video would be aimed against Russian sovereign territory or against Russian-speaking people, the official said, and would “be released to underscore a threat to Russia’s security and to underpin military operations,” the official said. “This video, if released, could provide Putin the spark he needs to initiate and justify military operations against Ukraine.”‘
The Washington Post first reported the story.
“It shows the level of cynicism, frankly, that is on the other side of this conflict,” deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told MSNBC on Thursday. “We’re not saying definitively this is what they’re going to do. We are saying that this is an option under consideration, and that they have used these sorts of pretext in the past to justify military action.”
The US’ disclosure of the alleged plot is the latest in a series of revelations designed to blunt the impact of any pretext Russia may use to invade Ukraine. Russia has continued building up forces and military equipment along Ukraine’s borders, despite diplomatic efforts by the US and allies to de-escalate the situation.
Finer said the US is making the accusation public in order to “make it much more difficult for [Russia] after the fact to claim that they had to do whatever they decided to do.”
Last month, CNN first reported that the US had information indicating Russia had prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine in an attempt to create a pretext for an invasion.
The senior administration official also said on Thursday that if Russia decides to change how it views separatist territories in eastern Ukraine—for example, if it decides to view them as independent rather than as part of Ukraine following a legal change by Russia’s parliament now under consideration—then Moscow “could claim that the push for independence led Ukraine to ‘attack'” pro-Russian forces in the east.
“To build the case for independence, Russian politicians are advancing this legislation on the false basis that Ukraine is preparing to forcibly retake this territory and that Kyiv has systematically denied local residents their basic rights,” the official said. “In line with its previous interventions, Russia would portray its actions as defending ethnic Russians and coming at the request of a sovereign government for assistance.”