US intelligence agencies have reportedly accused Russia of preparing a false-flag operation to invade Ukraine.
A US official told the Washington-based The Hill newspaper on Friday that US intelligence findings point to Russia laying the groundwork for fabricating a pretext for invasion by blaming Ukraine for preparing an “imminent attack” against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
“The Russian military plans to begin these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February,” the unnamed official said. “We saw this playbook in 2014 with Crimea.”
The US accusation comes after a week of diplomatic talks between officials from the US, Europe and Russia. The negotiations ended on Thursday with no major breakthroughs.
The Russian government last month made demands on NATO and Ukraine about the future of their relationship. Moscow demanded the Western military alliance deny Ukraine membership to NATO and to roll back its military deployments.
Moscow also proposed that the US not establish any military bases in former Soviet states that are not part of NATO, nor develop a bilateral military alliance with them.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Monday repeated Russian demands including a ban on further NATO expansion and an end to the alliance's activity in the central and eastern European countries that joined it after 1997, according to Reuters.
"We underscore that for us it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO," he said.
"We do not trust the other side, so to say. We need iron-clad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees. Not assurances, not safeguards, guarantees with all the words 'shall, must', everything that should be put in, 'never ever becoming a member of NATO'. It’s a matter of Russia’s national security."
In response, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said, "We will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO's open-door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance."
"We will not forego bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States, and we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO," she added.
Western governments accuse Russia of planning an invasion of Ukraine amid a military buildup near the border. Moscow rejects the allegation and insists that its deployments are defensive in nature.
US President Joe Biden has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow would face serious economic sanctions if Russia were to invade Ukraine.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday that the threat of a second invasion was "high" and said Washington would have details on “what we see as this potential laying of a pretext” to share with the press.