Published:  03:03 AM, 15 January 2022

US warns Russia could be prepping for war

The United States said it feared Russia was preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine if diplomacy fails to meet its objectives, after a massive cyberattack splashed Ukrainian government websites with a warning to "be afraid and expect the worst".

Moscow dismissed such warnings, though it has amassed more than 100,000 troops on its neighbor's frontiers and on Friday released pictures of more of its forces on the move, Reuters reports. The cyberattack unfolded hours after security talks wrapped up on Thursday with no breakthrough between Moscow and Western allies.

Ukraine said its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, had proposed a three-way meeting with the leaders of Russia and the United States. Zelenskiy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said the "life and death" of his country hung in the balance.White House press secretaryJen Psakitold reporters the United States was concerned that Russia was preparing for the possibility of a new military assault on a country it invaded in 2014.

"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," Psaki said.A US official said the United States had information that indicated Russia had already positioned a group of operatives to conduct "a false-flag operation" in eastern Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed such reports as based on "unfounded" information, TASS news agency reported.Russia denies plans to attack Ukraine but says it could take unspecified military action unless its demands - including a promise by the NATO alliance never to admit Kyiv - are met.Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia hoped security talks with the United States would resume but that this would depend on Washington's response to Moscow's proposals.

"We categorically will not accept the appearance of NATO right on our borders, especially so given the current course of the Ukrainian leadership," he said.Asked what Moscow meant by threatening this week to take "military-technical action" if talks fail, Lavrov said: "Measures to deploy military hardware, that is obvious. When we take decisions with military hardware we understand what we mean and what we are preparing for."

Russian Defence Ministry footage released by RIA news agency showed armoured vehicles and other military hardware being loaded onto trains in Russia's far east, in what Moscow called an inspection drill to practise long-range deployments."This is likely cover for the units being moved towards Ukraine," said Rob Lee, a military analyst and a fellow at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute.

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