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CNN premiere: US intelligence indicates Russia is planning an operation to justify invasion of Ukraine

The official said the United States had evidence that officers were trained in urban warfare and the use of explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces.

The allegation echoes a statement released by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry on Friday, which said Russian special services were preparing provocations against Russian forces with the aim of trapping Ukraine. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan alluded to the intelligence during a briefing with reporters Thursday.

“Our intelligence community has developed information, which has now been downgraded, that Russia is preparing the ground for the possibility of fabricating the pretext for an invasion,” Sullivan said Thursday. “We saw this playbook in 2014. They are re-preparing this playbook and we will have, the administration will have, more details on what we see as this potential pose as a pretext to share with the press over the next 24 hours. “

The Ukrainian defense ministry said in a statement on Friday that “the military units of the aggressor country and its satellites are being ordered to prepare for such provocations.”

The discovery of US intelligence comes after a week of diplomatic meetings between Russian and Western officials over Russia’s build-up of tens of thousands of troops along the Ukrainian border. But the talks did not result in any breakthrough, as Russia would not commit to defuse, and U.S. and NATO officials have said Moscow’s demands – including that NATO never admit the Ukraine in the alliance – were unfounded.

A number of Ukrainian government websites were hit by a cyberattack on Friday, a development European officials said would further heighten tensions over Ukraine.

The US official said the Biden administration believed Russia could prepare for an invasion of Ukraine “which could lead to widespread human rights violations and war crimes if diplomacy fails to achieve its goals.”

“The Russian military plans to start these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could start between mid-January and mid-February,” the official said. “We saw this playbook in 2014 with Crimea.”

The United States has also seen Russian influence actors begin to prepare the Russian public for an intervention, the official said, including focusing on accounts of deteriorating human rights in Ukraine and the increased activism of Ukrainian leaders.

“During the month of December, Russian-language social media content covering all three stories grew to an average of almost 3,500 posts per day, a 200% increase from the daily average for November,” the manager noted.

US, NATO and European officials held high-stakes meetings this week with Russian officials. At the end of the three meetings on Thursday, the two parties emerged pessimistic. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister suggested talks were “at an impasse” and saw no reason to continue, while senior US official warned “war drum is ringing loud” after sessions diplomatic.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Russia believes NATO will increase activity along its border with Ukraine if Moscow does not obey the West’s demands.

“While our proposals aim to reduce military confrontation, to defuse the overall situation in Europe, exactly the opposite is happening in the West. NATO members are strengthening their force and their air force. In the territories that are directly adjacent to Ukraine, on the Black Sea, the scale of the exercises has increased several times recently, ”Lavrov said.

A number of Ukrainian government websites, including that of its Foreign Ministry, were the target of a cyber attack on Friday with threatening text warning Ukrainians to “be afraid and expect the worst.” The Ukrainian government said it appeared Russia was behind the attack.

An official with the U.S. National Security Council said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the attack. The official said the United States did not yet have an attribution for the attack but would “provide Ukraine with all the support it needs to recover.”

The European Union’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, condemned the cyberattack, warning that it contributes to the “already tense situation” in the region.

When asked if Russian governmental or non-governmental actors were behind the attacks, Borrell replied that while he did not want to “point the finger”, there was “some probability as to their origin”.

CNN’s James Frater, Joseph Ataman and Niamh Kennedy contributed to this report.

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