War in Ukraine is 'just days away': Fears grow that Vladimir Putin may stage fake attacks on his own troops to justify Russian invasion as UK defence sources warn conflict is 'imminent'
- A Russian invasion of Ukraine in 'inevitable', Tobias Ellwood claimed last night
- Chairman of the Commons defence committee said next week seems 'pivotal'
- Russian defence ministry footage showed what was called an inspection drill
War in Ukraine is 'inevitable' with a Russian invasion just days away, it was claimed last night.
It came after President Vladimir Putin amassed tens of thousands of troops on the border, with intelligence sources suggesting he may launch a disguised attack on his own forces to justify going into Ukraine.
Tobias Ellwood, Tory chairman of the Commons defence committee, said: 'I am afraid an invasion by Russian forces is inevitable and imminent and we have allowed this to happen.
Getting ready: Ukrainian soldiers fire an anti-tank missile in a military exercise this week as the country prepares for a possible invasion
'We had the opportunity to place sufficient military hardware and personnel in Ukraine to make President Putin think twice about invading but we failed to do so.
'Only President Putin knows what he is going to do next but next week would seem pivotal.
'He has negotiated himself into a corner and after Nato refused to bow to his threats seemingly only one option remains.'
The UK and US have dismissed Russian demands for a veto on former Soviet republics joining Nato and rebuffed calls for the removal of Western troops from eastern Europe.
Russian defence ministry footage released yesterday showed armoured vehicles and other military hardware being loaded onto trains in what Moscow called an inspection drill to practise deploying over a long distance.
Firepower: Russian troops carry out trials on tank weapons which may be used in Ukraine
US-based military analyst Rob Lee said: 'This is likely cover for the units being moved towards Ukraine.'
Along with the troops already along the border, more Russian aircraft have been flown to the region in recent days and satellite photos have confirmed the positioning of makeshift military hospitals – usually an indication that a land offensive will be staged.
Yesterday a major cyber attack on Ukrainian government ministries was blamed on Moscow.
Russian hackers were believed to have left chilling messages on websites saying: 'Ukrainians. Be afraid and expect worse. It's your past, present and future.'
It followed the break-up of three sets of peace talks this week. The US warned of a possible 'false flag' operation – with Russia wrongly claiming Ukraine had attacked its troops as an excuse to invade.
It has long been thought that part of Mr Putin's strategy is to claim that Ukraine is preparing to attack his forces. The Kremlin can then claim its military action is being conducted in self-defence.
The US said it had intelligence that Russia had already sent saboteurs into Ukraine with the intent of stirring up trouble.
Along with the troops already along the border, more Russian aircraft have been flown to the region in recent days and satellite photos have confirmed the positioning of makeshift military hospitals
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan claimed Russia was 'laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for an invasion'.
A US official said: 'We have information that indicates Russia has already pre-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.'
A false flag operation is a disguised act with the intention of blaming another party.
Mr Sullivan told reporters Russia used similar tactics in 2014 when it seized Crimea and backed an ongoing insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
Top US diplomat Michael Carpenter warned: 'The drumbeat of war is sounding loud.'
The Daily Mail can reveal that RAF spy planes have mounted surveillance flights in the region to monitor Russian troop movement and radio communications.
On Thursday, an RC-135 aircraft, packed with sensors and listening devices, flew over Ukraine's southern coast. A Kremlin spokesman last night dismissed claims of an invasion as 'unfounded'.
US has intelligence Putin will stage a 'false flag' attack on his OWN troops to set up a pretext to invade Ukraine after talks between the US and Russia collapsed
By Rob Crilly, Senior U.S. Political Reporter for Dailymail.com
Officials on Friday also said they believed Russia was mounting a social media disinformation campaign to portray Ukraine as the aggressor.
The update, making the prospect of military conflict more immediate, came as Ukrainian government websites were taken offline in a 'massive' cyberattack, talks between Washington and Moscow collapsed and Russia held a combat readiness inspection of their troops.
Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia had 'run out of patience' with the West as Moscow demanded assurances that NATO would not expand closer to its territory.
The United States has evidence that operatives trained in urban warfare and sabotage will carry out these attacks on Russian proxy forces, officials told journalists on Friday, possibly weeks before an invasion.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki warned of human rights violations and war crimes if diplomacy failed and the Russian government went ahead with its plans.
'We have information that indicates Russia has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine,' she said.
'The operatives are trained in urban warfare and using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia's own proxy forces.'
She said it mimicked the playbook used when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, and included social media disinformation to show Kyiv as the instigator of violence.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the intelligence was 'very credible.'
The Kremlin quickly denied it was preparing a provocation. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the reporting was based on 'unfounded' information, according to the TASS news agency.
Details emerged as Russia held snap combat readiness inspections of its troops on Friday and as several prominent Ukrainian government websites were taken offline Friday, authorities said, in a sweeping cyber attack.
A militant of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) observes the area at fighting positions on the line of separation from the Ukrainian armed forces in Donetsk region, Ukraine January 14, 2022.
The claim of a false-flag operation echoes Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, which said that Russian special services were preparing provocations against Russian forces in order to frame Ukraine.
And a day earlier, President Biden's national security adviser said that the U.S. had intelligence that Russia was preparing a pretext for invasion.
'Our intelligence community has developed information ... 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,' he told reporters at the White House
'We saw this playbook in 2014. They are preparing this playbook again.'
But he also said officials had not determined that President Vladimir Putin had made a definitive decision to invade, suggesting a diplomatic resolution might still be possible.
Officials are trying to weigh whether Putin is ready to act on his desire to swallow up Ukraine or whether it is a feint to strengthen his regional influence.
Even so, the Biden administration is considering how to back a Ukrainian insurgency should Russia invade.
Options include training fighters in nearby countries, such as Poland, Romania or Slovakia, or working with NATO allies to provide medical services or even shelter during Russian offensives, officials told the New York Times.
In a sign of the complex forces in play, Russia also announced it had detained members of the ransomware group REvil at the request of the United States.
It marked a rare moment of collaboration at a time when relations are at rock bottom.
'The investigative measures were based on a request from the... United States,' the FSB domestic intelligence service said.
'... The organised criminal association has ceased to exist and the information infrastructure used for criminal purposes was neutralised.'
A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman walks on a trench on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near Luganske village, in Donetsk region. Kiev has been on high alert since Russia moved 100,000 troops close to its border last year
Meanwhile, the White House said President Biden had been briefed on the cyberattack, which took down a string of Ukrainian government websites.
Some displayed messages saying: 'Be afraid and expect the worst.'
A Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman confirmed details of a hack to AFP.
'As a result of a massive cyberattack, the websites of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a number of other government agencies are temporarily down,' he said.
The education ministry wrote on Facebook that its website was down due to a 'global (cyber) attack' that had taken place overnight.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility and Kiev did not say who may have been responsible. Ukraine had blamed Russians with links to the Kremlin for previous attacks.
About 70 websites of national and regional government bodies were targeted, according to Victor Zhora, deputy chair of the State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection.
He stressed, however, that no critical infrastructure was affected and no personal data was leaked.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: 'The United States and our allies and partners are concerned about the cyber attack, and the president has been briefed.
'We are also in touch with the Ukrainians and have offered our support as Ukraine investigates the impact and nature, and recovers from the incident.
EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said on Friday the bloc was mobilising 'all its resources' to aid Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russia said it was running out of patience with its demand that NATO does not expand eastward, closer to Russia.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that Moscow wouldn't wait indefinitely for the Western response, saying he expected an answer from the US and NATO next week.
A fighter jet is takes off in footage released by Russia's ministry of defence. Amid concern over Russia's troop buildup, Russia says it is up to Moscow alone where it moves its forces around on its territory and that they pose no external threat
'We have run out of patience,' Lavrov said at a news conference.
'The West has been driven by hubris and has exacerbated tensions in violation of its obligations and common sense.'
It comes after a string of meetings between the two sides this week that failed to bring a breakthrough. As a result, American officials have stepped up their warnings.
The U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the result was a 'crisis in European security.'
'The drumbeat of war is sounding loud and the rhetoric has gotten rather shrill,' Michael Carpenter said.
That drumbeat has put countries in the region on alert.
Poland warned that Europe faced its greatest threat of war in the past 30 years.
And a senior military figure in Sweden said Friday that there had been increased Russian activity in the Baltic Sea which 'deviates from the normal picture.'
'We have decided to reposition our troops. It does not have to mean an increased threat, but we always want to adapt to the prevailing situation,' Lt. Gen Leif Michael Claesson told The Associated Press.
Sweden, which is not part of NATO, has monitored landing craft from Russia's northern navy entering the Baltic Sea.
As a result, Claesson who is the operations manager at the Swedish Armed Forces, said the country had raised its level of preparedness. Some of the measures taken would be visible and others would not, he added.