U.S. officials warned on Friday that Russia could try to portray Ukraine as an aggressor as a pretext to invade the country.
“We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion into Ukraine which could lead to widespread human rights violations and war crimes if diplomacy fails to achieve its objectives,” said the press secretary of the White House, Jen Psaki, during a press briefing.
“As part of its plans, Russia is preparing the ground for the possibility of fabricating a pretext for the invasion.”
The warning came after Ukrainian government websites were shut down following a “massive” cyberattack. Seven ministry websites were down along with the Cabinet, Treasury, Emergency Services and State Services websites.
A message on the site warned Ukrainians to “expect the worst”.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Oleg Nikolenko said investigations were “ongoing” but the security services had obtained “preliminary clues” suggesting hackers associated with the Russian secret service were behind the attack. ‘attack.
US and Western officials have worried for weeks about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, as tens of thousands of Russian troops have gathered on the border of the neighboring country.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby called “highly credible” intelligence that Russia may accuse Ukraine of planning an attack on Russian-backed forces.
“We’ve certainly seen this playbook before, especially in 2014 with their illegal annexation occupation of Crimea,” Kirby added.
“The Russian military plans to start these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could start between mid-January and mid-February,” Psaki said.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday that the US intelligence community had not assessed that the Russians had definitely decided on a military course of action.
But Sullivan said Russia was laying the groundwork to invade under false pretenses if Putin decided to go that route.
The US warning came following negotiations between Russia and the United States in Europe aimed at stemming the escalating crisis.
The Russians demanded that NATO not expand to include Ukraine or other former Soviet states, but the United States called those demands non-starters.
The United States has said it is willing to negotiate with Moscow on possible future offensive missile deployments in Ukraine and the imposition of limits on US and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe.