Russia is preparing to use a group of operatives to carry out a false-flag operation it plans to use as justification for an invasion of Ukraine, according to a report published on Friday.

The operation would consist of sabotage attacks that would target separatists in eastern Ukraine that Russia has been supporting since 2014, a US official told CNN, citing intelligence the US has developed. The Russian operatives have training in explosives and urban warfare and have already been prepositioned, the official alleged.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan alluded to the situation during a briefing with reporters on Thursday when he said the US intelligence community has information indicating “Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for an invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations.”

“We saw this playbook in 2014. They are preparing this playbook again. And the administration will have further details on what we see as this potential laying of a pretext to share with the press over the course of the next 24 hours,” he said.

The US and its European allies have been warning that Russia appears to be setting the stage for an invasion with a massive military buildup on its border with Ukraine that includes some 100,000 troops. Russia has denied it is preparing to invade, and says its troops are there for exercises.

The official who spoke to CNN said Russia plans the false-flag operations “several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February.”

Earlier on Friday, unidentified hackers launched a coordinated attack targeting the servers of the Ukrainian government, shutting down among others the webpages of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and embassies across the world.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell indicated the bloc believes Russia is to blame, saying “one can figure” who is behind the malicious cyber activities paralyzing Kyiv.

In response to the attack, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced the transatlantic alliance will sign a cooperation agreement with Ukraine on cyber defense.

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