U.S. officials said Thursday that Russia has advanced plans to produce a video of a fake Ukrainian attack on Russian-speaking civilians to use as a pretext for invading Ukraine.
"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" made to look like "Western-supplied" arms, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. The plan is far enough along that Russian officials have found corpses to use in the video and recruited actors to play mourners, U.S. officials told The New York Times and The Washington Post.
State Department spokesman Ned Price got some pushback from Associated Press reporter Matt Lee when he described the same Russian plot Thursday. Lee repeatedly pushed Price to provide evidence for the U.S. allegation. "'Crisis actors'? Really?" he said. "This is like Alex Jones territory you're getting into now."
Price said Russia has staged similar "false flag" attacks in the past, including televised fake claims of Ukrainian genocide in Crimea before Russia seized the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014. "This is derived from intelligence in which we have confidence," he said, and the point of making it public is to deter Russia from carrying it out.
Russia denies the allegation. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the U.S. and Britain have warned of Russian plots in Ukraine already in the past few weeks, "but nothing ever came of them."
The U.S. has shared the information with European allies, and top intelligence officials briefed members of Congress on the classified intelligence Thursday. Senators from both parties emerged sounding convinced Russia is planning a false flag attack.
A British official told the Times that the U.K. did its own analysis of the intelligence and has high confidence Russia is planning to engineer such a false attack to justify an invasion. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the U.S. intelligence is "clear and shocking evidence of Russia's unprovoked aggression and underhand activity to destabilize Ukraine."
Russia, meanwhile, continues adding to its more than 100,000 troops staged around Ukraine's borders, including sending more special forces, missiles, and advanced fighter jets into neighboring Belarus, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday. "This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War." Russia says its forces are in Belarus for war games starting Feb. 10.