The United States is trying to name and shame Russian disinformation about Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) – During a break from the past, the United States and its allies are increasingly revealing their intelligence findings as they confront Russia’s preparations to invade Ukraine, seeking to undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans by exposing them and diverting his efforts to shape world meaning.

The White House announced in recent weeks what it said was a Russian “false-flag” operation under development to create pretext for an invasion. Britain named specific Ukrainians it is accused of having links to Russian intelligence officers planning to overthrow President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The United States also issued a map of Russian military positions and detailed how officials believe Russia will try to attack Ukraine with as many as 175,000 soldiers.

Experts credit the White House for declassifying intelligence and moving to deny false allegations before they are made – a so-called “prebuttal” that underpins their effectiveness better than a subsequent explanation.

But releasing information is not without risks. Intelligence assessments carry varying degrees of security, and besides offering images of troop movements, the United States and its allies have not provided much other evidence. Moscow has dismissed Washington’s allegations as hysteria, citing past US intelligence errors, including false information provided about Iraq’s weapons programs.

There are no clear signs of change so far from Russia, which continues to move forces towards Ukraine and into Belarus, an ally to the north of Ukraine. There is growing pessimism in Washington and London about ongoing diplomatic efforts and a belief that Putin is likely to launch some form of invasion over the next many weeks.

Russia is known for using disinformation as a tactic to sow confusion and discord as part of the country’s overall conflict strategy. When Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, it launched a campaign to influence ethnic Russian residents in the area. State media and social media accounts linked to Russia made allegations that the West was manipulating protests in Kiev and false or unconfirmed accounts of heinous crimes committed by Ukrainian forces.

This time, the United States says, Russia is trying to portray Ukrainian leaders as aggressors and to persuade its own citizens to support military action. At the same time, the United States and its allies claim, Russia has deployed operations in eastern Ukraine that could use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces and then blame Kiev.

The White House has repeatedly highlighted what it sees as disinformation and privately shares further intelligence with allies, including Ukraine. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently published a fact sheet listing and refuting several Russian allegations. And the Ministry of Finance sanctioned four men accused of ties to influence operations that were to put pretext in Ukraine for a new invasion.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki described a “strategic decision to shout disinformation when we see it.”

“We are much more aware of the Russian disinformation machine than we were in 2014,” she said on Wednesday, adding: “We need to be very clear to the global community and the American public what they are trying to do and why.”

Moscow continues to demand that NATO not accept Ukraine or expand further to other countries. And after British intelligence accused him of being a possible Russia-backed presidential candidate, Ukrainian politician Yevheniy Murayev rejected the claim, telling the AP that it “looks ridiculous and funny.”

Meanwhile, Washington and Moscow go back and forth online. On December 21, Kremlin-backed posted a video claiming “US private military companies gather CHEMICAL COMPONENTS in eastern Ukraine.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected this claim in its fact sheet on Russian propaganda. Russia’s foreign ministry then responded with tweets “rejecting @StateDept ‘facts’ about Russian disinformation about Ukraine.”

Washington’s efforts have raised questions in Kiev, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has taken a different public approach to trying to allay public fears of an expanded war, even as many Ukrainians prepare for possible fighting.

Ukrainian officials privately question why the Biden administration warns of an impending invasion, but does not impose preventive sanctions or intervene against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which has been criticized for giving Moscow more influence over Ukraine and Western Europe. The Biden administration lobbied Democrats in Congress to oppose a Republican-sponsored bill that would have required the imposition of sanctions against the pipeline, which has not yet gone into operation.

The White House has threatened harsh sanctions if Russia invades, and is preparing to move forces to NATO’s eastern flank in the event of an invasion. The United States and Western allies are also sending weapons and missile systems to Ukraine.

Molly McKew, a writer and speaker on Russian influence, said the administration’s efforts to counter Russia’s influence efforts should be accompanied by a clearer statement of US goals and plans to repel any invasion.

Publicly identifying Russia’s actions alone will not prevent Russia from carrying them out, said McKew, a former adviser to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who in 2008 fought a war with Russia and is still trying to regain control of Moscow-backed separatist regions.

“They are trying to apply disinformation thinking to military domains,” she said. “You absolutely can not reveal the crisis.”

In both the United States and Ukraine, experts say, there is now far more societal awareness of state-sponsored disinformation. Russia has for the past many years continued to bombard Ukrainians with text messages and false stories during the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, in which at least 14,000 people have died. And Russia’s involvement in the 2016 US presidential election led to numerous investigations and years of often problematic debates.

Bret Schafer, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, said that while there are risks in raising false allegations in the process of dismissing them, “there is a need to ward off information threats as opposed to responding to them,” after they have been released into the wild. “

But publicly accusing Russia of misconduct is ultimately a limited deterrent. “They don’t care about damage to reputation,” he said.


Associated Press journalists Joshua Boak in Washington and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

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