US says new information shows Russia plotting false flag attack – WHIO TV 7 and WHIO Radio

WASHINGTON — (AP) — The United States on Thursday accused the Kremlin of an elaborate plot to fabricate an attack by Ukrainian forces that Russia could use as a pretext for military action against its neighbor.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the program included the production of a graphic propaganda video that would show staged explosions and use dead bodies and actors portraying mourners.

The plan for the fake attack on Russian territory or Russian speakers was revealed in declassified intelligence shared with Ukrainian officials and European allies in recent days. This is the latest allegation by the United States and Britain that Russia is plotting to use a false pretext to go to war against Ukraine.

In December, the White House accused Russia of developing a “false flag” operation to create a pretext for an invasion. Britain recently named specific Ukrainians it accused of having links to Russian intelligence operatives plotting to overthrow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The United States also released a map of Russian military positions and detailed how officials believe Russia will attempt to attack Ukraine with up to 175,000 troops.

“We’ve seen this kind of activity from the Russians in the past, and we think it’s important when we see it like this, and we can, to call it out,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. .

The United States did not provide detailed information supporting the intelligence services’ conclusions.

Kirby said the Russians would also stage military hardware used by Ukraine and the West to boost the credibility of the project.

New US intelligence found that Russia may be using Turkish-made Bayraktar drones in the fake operation, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to comment and spoke out on condition of anonymity.

Drones supplied by NATO member Turkey have been used by Ukraine against pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region, a move that has angered Moscow, which has made it clear that it was strongly opposed to Ukraine being equipped with this technology.

The United States released the intelligence as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered to mediate Russia-Ukraine talks and NATO warned that Moscow’s military buildup was continuing, with more troops and military equipment deployed in neighboring Belarus than at any time in the past 30 years.

Erdogan, who has close but sometimes difficult ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Thursday that Turkey was “ready to do its part in order to end the crisis between two friendly nations that are its Black Sea neighbours”. .

“I stressed that we would be happy to host a summit meeting at the management level or talks at the technical level,” Erdogan said after about three hours of talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “Instead of stoking the fire, we act with the logical goal of reducing tension.”

Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders, raising fears of another invasion of Moscow, as it did in 2014. The troop presence and uncertainty have baffled Ukrainians and harmed the country’s economy. Russian officials deny that an invasion is planned.

Erdogan stressed Turkey’s commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Turkey and Ukraine also signed eight agreements during the meeting, including a free trade pact, according to Turkish state agency Anadolu.

Zelenskyy welcomed Erdogan’s offer and thanked him for his “firm and consistent” support.

The crisis has put Turkey in a difficult situation, leaving it in a position where it must balance its growing partnership with Ukraine with its difficult relationship with Moscow.

Ankara, which has historical ties to Ukraine and ethnic ties to its Crimean Tatar community, strongly opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

At the same time, Turkey would be reluctant to join in any sanctions against Russia. With a struggling economy, the country pinned its hopes on revenue from tourism, particularly visitors from Russia. It also depends on Russia for a large part of its natural gas needs.

At NATO headquarters earlier, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that the number of Russian troops in Belarus is expected to soar to 30,000, with support from special forces, advanced fighter jets, Iskander short-range ballistic missiles and ground-to-air S-400s. missile defense systems.

“In recent days, we have witnessed a significant movement of Russian military forces into Belarus. This is the largest Russian deployment since the Cold War,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was in Minsk on Thursday to check preparations for the major Russian-Belarusian war games scheduled for February 10-20. Shoigu met Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Speaking of the drills, Lukashenko said the goal was to “strengthen the border with Ukraine”.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s defense minister again sought to project calm, saying the likelihood of an invasion was “low”, and he hailed a change from US officials, who stopped using the term “imminent” to describe the risk of a Russian attack. attack.

Oleksii Reznikov said “the threat is there, the risks are there, but they have been there since 2014, since Russia became an aggressor.” He said ‘there is no reason to panic, fear, run away or pack up’. The minister estimated the number of Russian troops near Ukraine at 115,000.

Still, Stoltenberg renewed his call for Russia to “de-escalate” and repeated warnings from the West that “any further Russian aggression would have grave consequences and exact a heavy price.”

NATO does not intend to deploy troops to Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion, but it has begun to strengthen the defenses of neighboring member countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The 30-nation military alliance also plans to strengthen its defenses in the Black Sea region near Bulgaria and Romania.

Stoltenberg also on Wednesday embraced President Joe Biden’s decision to send 2,000 US-based troops to Poland and Germany and transfer another 1,000 from Germany to Romania, demonstrating commitment to allies and foes alike. from Washington towards NATO’s eastern flank.

“We are determined to find a political solution to the crisis, but we must prepare for the worst,” Stoltenberg said, and he appreciated other recent offers of troops and equipment from several allies. Russia opposes the movement of troops and has called it “destructive”.

In Helsinki, Finnish leaders discussed with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen a letter that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sent to several countries on “the indivisibility of security” in Europe.

Lavrov argues that the United States and NATO misunderstand the concept – which essentially means that the security of a European country is linked to the security of all – and he demanded answers from countries that have signed a document of security key encompassing it to clarify the issue.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said there was no “big news” in the letter, but it deserved a response. should answer.

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Fraser reported from Ankara and Madhani from Washington. Associated Press writers Dasha Litvinova in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine, Nomaan Merchant and Robert Burns in Washington, Jari Tanner in Helsinki, and Barbara Surk in Nice, France, contributed to this report.

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