The United States is concerned that Russia is preparing for an invasion of Ukraine soon, which may result in "widespread human rights violations and war crimes," if diplomacy fails to meet its objectives, a U.S. official said on Friday.
Talks between the United States, its European allies and Russia ended in a stalemate this week with no current plans to meet again about Russia's deployment of tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine's border.
A cyber attack launched against Ukraine further inflamed tensions. A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said it was not yet clear who was responsible for the cyberattack but that President Joe Biden had been briefed on it.
"We are in touch with the Ukrainians and have offered our support as Ukraine investigates the impact and nature and recovers from the incidents. We don't have an attribution at this time," the spokesperson said.
Biden has warned of severe economic consequences for Russia if Russian President Vladimir Putin launches an invasion of Ukraine. Russia denies plans to attack Ukraine.
But the U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States is concerned the Russian government "is preparing for an invasion into Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives."
Putin has demanded NATO stop its eastward expansion and agree to legally binding security guarantees, demands that were rejected by the United States and NATO.
"As part of its plans, Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine," the official said.
The Russian military "plans to begin these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February," the official said.
The official further said the United States has information that indicates Russia has already positioned a group of operatives to conduct "a false-flag operation" in eastern Ukraine.
"The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia's own proxy-forces," the official said.
The official also said that indications are that "Russian influence actors are already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine."
"For example, Russian officials and influence actors are emphasizing narratives about the deterioration of human rights in Ukraine and the increased militancy of Ukrainian leaders," the official said.