By Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt
– U.S. intelligence agencies believe Russia has formed a plan to fabricate a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine, potentially by producing propaganda videos showing a staged attack, the United States said on Thursday.
The United States accused Russia of formulating several options to give it an excuse for an invasion of Ukraine amid rising tensions with Western countries.
One of the options is a fabricated video showing the graphic aftermath of an explosion targeting Russian people, featuring corpses, mourners and equipment appearing to belong to Ukraine or allied nations, State Department spokesman Ned Price and a Biden administration official said.
“The video will be released to underscore a threat to Russia’s security and to underpin military operations,” the official said. “This video, if released, could provide (Russian President Vladimir) Putin the spark he needs to initiate and justify military operations against Ukraine.”
TASS news agency cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responding to reports that Russia will stage fabricated attacks by Ukraine as saying: “This is not the first report. Something similar was also said earlier. But nothing has come out.”
U.S. officials said they publicized their most specific allegation yet of possible Russian propaganda in order to “dissuade” Moscow from following through with such plans.
They said it was not clear if Russia has decided to take such a step or if they have decided whether to invade Ukraine.
“The production of this propaganda video is one of a number of options that the Russian government is developing as a fake pretext to initiate and potentially justify military aggression against Ukraine,” Price told reporters.
“We don’t know if Russia will necessarily use this or another option in the coming days.”
Price declined to provide more specifics or evidence of the video.
U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Jonathan Finer in a media interview said the United States does not definitively know if this is the route Russia will take.
British foreign minister Liz Truss said on Twitter that the U.S. intelligence was “clear and shocking evidence of Russia’s unprovoked aggression and underhand activity to destabilise Ukraine.”
Russia has accused the United States of ramping up tensions and ignoring Moscow’s calls to ease a standoff over Ukraine, a day after Washington announced it would send nearly 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania.
Russia has denied plans of an invasion but has amassed thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Rami Ayyub, Trevor Hunnicutt, Simon Lewis and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva in Moscow; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)