US officials said Thursday they are aware of a Kremlin scheme to broadcast a faked video of Ukrainian forces carrying out an attack against Russia or Russian proxies, which would serve as a pretext for an invasion by Moscow.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that the video would be “very graphic propaganda” and include images of “corpses, and actors that would be depicting mourners, and images of destroyed locations, as well as military equipment, at the hands of Ukraine or the West.”
The video, Kirby added, would even suggest that some of the equipment involved in the “attack” would be made to appear like “Western-supplied Ukrainian — to Ukraine — equipment.”
As part of an ongoing campaign to sow disinformation and destabilize the Kiev government, Russia intended to use the bogus video to accuse Kiev of genocide against Russian speakers, thereby justifying military action against its western neighbor.
“We’ve seen these kinds of activity by the Russians in the past,” Kirby added, “and we believe it’s important, when we see it like this — and we can — to call it out,” he said.
When asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin had authorized the misdirection operation, Kirby answered: “Our experience is that very little of this nature is not approved at the highest levels of the Russian government.” When asked about Putin specifically, Kirby repeated: “The highest levels of the Russian government.”
The Biden administration said last month that it had intelligence that Russian operatives had been tapped to carry out “sabotage attacks” against Moscow-allied rebels in eastern Ukraine, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki warning that “influence actors” had begun to “fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention.”
A British government official told the New York Times that London had analyzed intelligence about the fake video plot and found it both “credible and extremely concerning.” US officials told the outlet they hoped to spoil Moscow’s plan by making the plot public.
Details of the plot emerged one day after President Biden said he would send 3,000 US troops to Eastern Europe to aid in the “deterrence and defense posture” of NATO over fears of a Russian invasion.
More than 100,000 Russian troops, along with heavy military equipment, have been massed along the border with Ukraine for weeks, while as many as 30,000 forces have been sent to neighboring Belarus for joint military exercises later this month.
Ukraine was also hit last month by a massive cyberattack targeting government agencies — including the foreign ministry, the cabinet of ministers, and the security and defense council.
“Ukrainian! All your personal data was uploaded to the public network. All data on the computer is destroyed, it is impossible to restore it,” said a message visible on the hacked government websites, written in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish.
“All information about you has become public, be afraid and expect the worst. This is for your past, present and future.”