Russia planned graphic video with “corpses” as pretext for Ukraine invasion, US intel says

Russia pretext invasion

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby briefs reporters about the Russian plans to create a graphic propaganda video to justify invading Ukraine. Screenshot from briefing 

Hybrid War

The US intelligence has made public an alleged plan of Russia to fabricate a graphic video that could serve as a pretext for a new invasion of Ukraine. The propaganda video would have been graphic, with fake corpses and Russian-speaking mourning actors, as well as faked Ukrainian military equipment and Turkish-made Bayraktar drones.

“One option is the Russian government, we think, is planning to stage a fake attack by Ukrainian military or intelligence forces against Russian sovereign territory, or against Russian speaking people, to therefore justify their action,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday. “This is right out of their playbook,” he added.

“We believe that Russia would produce a very graphic propaganda video, which would include 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, even to the point where some of this equipment would be made to look like it was Western supplied to Ukraine equipment,” Kirby said.

Kirby stressed that the Pentagon has seen these kinds of activities by the Russians in the past: “We believe it’s important when we see it like this to call it out.”

“Our experience is that very little of this nature is not approved at the highest levels of the Russian government,” Kirby stated when asked if the attack was approved by the Kremlin.

Kirby provided no additional evidence to support the allegation. State Department spokesperson Ned Price defended the administration’s strategy to withhold evidence, saying the exposure in general serves as a deterrent.

“We are making it available to you for a couple of reasons. One is to attempt to deter the Russians from going ahead with this activity. Two, in the event we’re not able to do that, in the event the Russians do go ahead with this, to make it clear as day, to lay bare the fact that this has always been an attempt on the part of the Russian Federation to fabricate a pretext,” Price said.

Price added that the video is one of the options that the Russian government is developing as a fake pretext to initiate and potentially justify military aggression against Ukraine.

Kirby’s statement at the briefind confirmed a report published by the Washington Post earlier, citing four anonymous officials. The publication provided details that the propaganda video would also accuse Ukrainians of committing grave crimes against Russian-speaking people.

“The video will be released to underscore a threat to Russia’s security and to underpin military operations… This video, if released, could provide Putin the spark he needs to initiate and justify military operations against Ukraine,” a senior official told the outlet. 

The Russian parliament is now considering a law to recognize the puppet Luhansk and Donetsk “People’s Republics” as independent states. The senior official said that the planned fake video could play into that scenario, as Russia could portray its attack on Ukraine as an answer to the “request of a sovereign government for assistance.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times provided additional details of what the US intelligence knows about the purported Russian plan. According to the media, the video was intended to be elaborate, “with plans for graphic images of the staged, corpse-strewn aftermath of an explosion and footage of destroyed locations,” with faked Ukrainian military equipment, Turkish-made Bayraktar drones, and actors playing Russian-speaking mourners.

Russia was upset about Ukraine’s use of Bayraktar drones at the frontline in Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine. One of the reasons is that Russia has no such advanced drone technology, which could turn the tide in the eight-year protracted war between the Ukrainian Army and Russian-led proxy forces in Donbas.

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The media added that the intelligence from the Pentagon was confirmed as highly likely by a British official. The official had high confidence that Russia was planning to engineer a pretext to blame Ukraine for an attack.

Other “false flag” warnings that could have served as a pretext for Russia’s invasion

This announcement from the Pentagon is the latest in a series of warnings about possible false-flag attacks as Russia amasses troops and equipment near the Ukrainian borders.

On 13 January, the White House warned that “Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for an invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine.”

The next day, the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense informed that Russia is planning provocations against the Russian military stationed in Transnistria in order to accuse Ukraine of them.

Then, on 19 January, Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications warned that on 19 January, a provocative shelling that could serve as a pretext for Russia to escalate its aggression may take place in Donbas during Epiphany celebrations.

On 22 January, in a statement by the British foreign office, the foreign secretary warned that the UK has information indicating that Russia is planning to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade Ukraine or not, and the former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev is being considered as a potential candidate for the position.

Another event that could be seen as a pretext for Russia’s new aggressive actions against Ukraine was a plan to organize mass riots in various Ukrainian regions that was to start on 31 January yet was disrupted by Ukraine’s National Police.  The protest participants were supposed to appear to be Ukrainian nationalists. The banners and leaflets of the protesters included the words “Offensive on Crimea and occupied Donbas” and “War until victory.”

Despite the Russian troop amassment and movements, many experts hold that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is unlikely. In an article for Euromaidan Press, military expert Hans Petter Midttun argued that instead, a local “humanitarian intervention” could be likely.

Meanwhile, Russia continues to destabilize Ukraine in various ways, including through cyberattacks and an epidemic of hoax bomb threats.

The next phase of the Hybrid War, or why Russia is unlikely to invade Ukraine

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