US claims evidence of Russian plan for 'false flag' Ukrainian attack

Moscow to shut down Deutsche Welle bureau: Xi to meet Putin as tensions rise with West: Washington hits Belarusians with visa bans

By: AFP
Published: 12:08 PM, 4 Feb, 2022
US claims evidence of Russian plan for 'false flag' Ukrainian attack
Caption: File photo.
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The Pentagon said Thursday it had evidence of a plan by Moscow to film a fake Ukrainian attack on Russians to justify a real assault on its pro-West neighbor.

"We do have information that the Russians are likely to want to fabricate a pretext for an invasion," said Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby.

He told reporters that Washington believed the Russian government plans to stage an attack by the Ukraine military or intelligence forces "against Russian sovereign territory, or against Russian speaking people."

The latter could refer to the sizeable Russian-speaking population inside Ukraine.

"As part of this fake attack, 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," he said.

That could allow Moscow, which has amassed more than 100,000 troops and heavy offensive arms on Ukraine's border, with an excuse for invading.

- Question of evidence -

Neither Kirby nor State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, who also commented on the alleged plan, offered evidence to back the claim.

Kirby said part of the plan would be to make the Ukrainian military equipment used in it appear to be supplied by the West, he said, further justifying Russian reprisals against Ukraine.

"We've seen these kinds of activity by the Russians in the past and we believe it's important when we see it like this that we can call it out," Kirby said.

"I would just say that our experience is that very little of this nature is not approved at the highest levels of the Russian government," Kirby said about the purported plan.

Price said the alleged plan is "one of a number of options that the Russian government is developing as a fake pretext to initiate and potentially justify military aggression against Ukraine."

He said the United States did not know if Moscow has decided to go through with the plan.

"Russia has signaled it's willing to continue diplomatic talks as a means to de-escalate, but actions such as these suggests otherwise," Price said.

Pressed on whether there was evidence of such a plan, Price said it came from US intelligence, but offered no more details.

"I'm not going to spell out what is in our possession but I will leave that to your judgement," he told reporters.

Asked later Thursday if the United States might be adding fuel to the fire by sending troops and aid, Kirby said Washington was trying to reassure NATO allies.

"One, we continue to flow security assistance to Ukraine, so that they can better defend themselves against this threat," Kirby said during an interview on Fox News.

"And, number two, and this is really important: to make sure we are reassuring our allies, allies to whom we have significant security commitments."

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called the US claim of Moscow's false flag operations "clear and shocking evidence of Russia's unprovoked aggression and underhand activity to destabilize Ukraine."

"The only way forward is for Russia to de-escalate, desist and commit to a diplomatic pathway," she said in a tweeted statement.

Moscow to shut down Deutsche Welle bureau

Russia said Thursday it is closing the Moscow bureau of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and revoking staff accreditations in Russia, in response to Berlin's ban on the German-language channel of Russian state TV network RT. 

Deutsche Welle called the decision "absurd" and a "complete overreaction". 

The German government said the move was unacceptable and had "no basis of comparison whatsoever" with Berlin's ruling on RT. 

"I urgently appeal to the Russian side not to abuse RT's licensing problems for a political reaction," Germany's Culture Minister Claudia Roth said. 

The announcement comes with tensions mounting between Russia and the West, particularly over fears of a Russian invasion of Europe's ally Ukraine

The closure also highlights the Kremlin's increasingly hostile position towards foreign media in the wake of several high-profile expulsions of prominent foreign journalists. 

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday it will also "terminate the satellite and other broadcasting (output) of Deutsche Welle" on Russian territory.

It added that it was initiating the process of designating the German media a "foreign agent" and said that further reciprocal measures will be announced in the future.

Deutsche Welle -- a German state-owned broadcaster -- has services in 30 languages, including Russian. 

The moves comes after Germany's broadcasting regulator on Wednesday announced it was banning the transmission of the channel "RT DE" over the lack of a broadcasting licence. 

- 'We are shocked' -

Deutsche Welle's chief Peter Limbourg said the order was an "absurd reaction of the Russian government".

"Even if we were to close it eventually, that will not affect our coverage of Russia -- rather, we will significantly boost our coverage," said Limbourg. 

Deutsche Welle's Moscow bureau chief Juri Rescheto said he had been ordered to close the bureau by Friday morning.

"We are shocked. For all of us here, this news is very personal," he said, in comments published on the media's website. 

Russian officials and pro-Kremlin media, meanwhile, welcomed the move. 

Russian senator Andrei Klimov called Moscow's reaction "adequate".

"It is a responsive measure to the unfriendly acts from the German side," Klimov, who leads a committee on international affairs in the upper house of the Russian parliament, told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

RT DE -- the German-language branch of RT -- was blocked from Europe's satellite network on December 22 at the request of German authorities, less than a week after going on air. But it was still available over the internet and via a mobile app.

In its response to the suspension, RT DE said it was broadcast from Moscow and had a Serbian broadcasting licence, which it said gives it the right to broadcast in Germany under European law.

But the German regulator said the channel was based in Berlin and did not have a "legitimate permit under European law".

Launched in 2005 as "Russia Today", state-funded RT has expanded with channels and websites in languages including English, French, Spanish and Arabic.

It has been accused by Western countries of distributing disinformation and Kremlin-friendly propaganda.

It has generated controversy in many countries, including the United States, where it was required to register as a "foreign agent", and in Britain, where authorities have threatened to revoke its broadcasting licence.

The channel has been banned in several countries, including the ex-Soviet republics Lithuania and Latvia.

In September, Google-owned YouTube issued a warning to RT DE for violating its coronavirus disinformation guidelines and then shuttered two channels for breaching user terms.

A third channel was blocked in December for trying to circumvent the earlier terminations.

In August, Moscow expelled a veteran BBC correspondent in retaliation for a Russian correspondent being denied accreditation by London. 

Three months later, a Dutch correspondent was expelled on years-old administrative violations.

The decision to shut down the German media outlet comes following months of unprecedented pressure on independent media from Russian authorities. 

Russia last year slapped a number of media outlets and journalists with the "foreign agent" label that requires them to carry out tedious administrative procedures.

Xi to meet Putin as tensions rise with West

China's President Xi Jinping is poised for his first face-to-face meeting with a world leader in nearly two years on Friday when he hosts Russia's Vladimir Putin, with the pair drawing closer as tensions grow with the West.

Xi has not left China since January 2020, when the country was grappling with its initial Covid-19 outbreak and locked down the central city of Wuhan where the virus was first detected.

He is now readying to meet more than 20 leaders as Beijing kicks off a Winter Olympics it hopes will be a soft-power triumph and shift focus away from a build-up blighted by a diplomatic boycott and Covid fears.

Xi and Putin will meet in the Chinese capital before their nations release a joint statement reflecting their "common views" on security and other issues, a top Kremlin adviser said at a Wednesday press briefing.

The two strongmen will then attend the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday evening.

Spiralling tensions with the West have bolstered ties between the world's largest nation and its most populous, and Putin was the first foreign leader to confirm his presence at Friday's opening ceremony.

He hailed Russia's "model" relations with Beijing in a December phone call with Xi, calling his Chinese counterpart a "dear friend".

- Article by Putin -

China's state-run Xinhua news agency carried an article from Putin on Thursday in which the Russian leader painted a portrait of two neighbours with increasingly shared global goals. 

"Foreign policy coordination between Russia and China is based on close and coinciding approaches to solving global and regional issues," Putin wrote.

He also hit out at US-led western diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Olympics that were sparked by China's human rights record. 

"Sadly, attempts by a number of countries to politicise sports for their selfish interests have recently intensified," Putin wrote, calling such moves "fundamentally wrong".

For its part, China has become more vocal in backing Russia in its dispute with NATO powers over Ukraine.

Last week, China's foreign minister Wang Yi called Russia's security concerns "legitimate", saying they should be "taken seriously and addressed".

Moscow is looking for support after its deployment of 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine prompted Western nations to warn of an invasion and threaten "severe consequences" in response to any Russian attack.

China enjoyed plentiful support from the Soviet Union -- the precursor to the modern Russian state -- after the establishment of Communist rule in 1949, but the two socialist powers later fell out over ideological differences.

Relations got back on track as the Cold War ended in the 1990s, and the pair have pursued a strategic partnership in recent years that has seen them work closely on trade, military and geopolitical issues.

Those bonds have strengthened further during the Xi Jinping era at a time when Russia and China find themselves increasingly at odds with western powers.

Other leaders set to enjoy Xi's hospitality during the Games include Egypt's Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman, Kazakhstan's Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Poland's Andrzej Duda.

In total around 21 world leaders are expected to attend the Games.

A majority of those leaders rule over non-democratic regimes, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index, with 12 labelled either "authoritarian" or a "hybrid regime".

US hits Belarusians with visa bans

The US State Department said Thursday said it placed visa bans on "multiple" Belarusians for attacks on dissidents, including a runner who the government tried to forcibly repatriate from the Tokyo Olympics last year.

The department did not identify the individuals blacklisted or give a precise number, but said they had been involved in "serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activity" on behalf of the regime of strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken singled out for praise the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation for "efforts to support and protect the human rights of athletes amid the Lukashenko regime’s violent crackdown and ongoing repression of Belarusians inside and outside the country."

Last August during the Tokyo Olympics Belarus officials allegedly tried to force sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya to leave Japan early and return home, after she criticized the country's athletics federation.

She sought protection with Olympics officials and then defected to Poland.

She is one of a number of Belarusian athletes who have fled the country's repressive environment under Lukashenko.

BSSF was founded last August by exiled Belarusian swimmer Aliaksandra Herasimenia, and provides financial and legal assistance to athletes targeted by the authorities.

Since Lukashenko claimed victory in a 2020 election that the opposition said was rigged in his favor, dozens of professional athletes and coaches have been dismissed from national teams and several have been jailed.

In January two Belarusian skiers were banned from competing internationally as part of the crackdown on dissent, the father of one said.

Both had hoped to compete in women's skiing events in the winter Olympics that kicked off in China this week.

"We stand in solidarity with Ms. Tsimanouskaya and all others who have experienced the regime’s attempts to silence criticism," Blinken said in a statement.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.