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The United States publicly denounces Russian disinformation about Ukraine

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WASHINGTON – Contrary to current practice, the United States and allied countries are increasingly making public the findings of intelligence services as they face Russia’s preparations for a possible invasion of Ukraine. This aims to weaken President Putin’s plans by exposing them and aims to divert his efforts to influence public opinion.

The White House published in recent weeks what it described as a Russian operation aimed at creating a pretext for occupation. Britain has released concrete names of Ukrainian citizens it accuses of having links to Russian intelligence officials plotting to oust President Volodymyr Zelensky. The United States also released a map of Russian military positions and gave details of how it thinks Russia will try to invade Ukraine, with nearly 175,000 troops.

Experts praise the White House’s role in publishing intelligence material and disproving false allegations before they are disseminated – a tactic more effective than post-facto response.

But publishing the data is not without risks. Intelligence services assessments are made with varying degrees of confidence, and with the exception of photos of the movements of the formations, the United States and allied countries have not provided further evidence. Moscow has dismissed Washington’s claims as hysterical and has recalled previous US intelligence failures, including false data presented about Iraq’s weapons program.

So far there are no clear signs of change from Russia, which continues to move military forces towards Ukraine and into the territory of Belarus, an ally of Russia, located on the northern border of Ukraine. There is growing pessimism in Washington and London about the diplomatic efforts being made, and that Mr. Putin is likely to launch some sort of invasion in the coming weeks.

In this photo provided by the Vayar Military Agency on January 25, 2022, Belarusian military vehicles are assembled preparing to take part in the joint Belarusian and Russian military exercises in Belarus.  Russia has sent an unspecified number of troops from the far east of the country.
In this photo provided by the Vayar Military Agency on January 25, 2022, Belarusian military vehicles are assembled preparing to take part in the joint Belarusian and Russian military exercises in Belarus. Russia has sent an unspecified number of troops from the far east of the country.

Russia is known for using disinformation as a tactic to sow confusion and discord as part of its conflict strategy. When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, the Crimean Peninsula, it launched a campaign to influence the ethnic Russian population of this territory. State-run media and Russia-linked social media accounts fueled allegations that the West was manipulating protests in Kiev, as well as spreading false, or unconfirmed, allegations of horrific crimes by Ukrainian security forces.

This time, the United States and allied countries say Russia is trying to portray Ukrainian leaders as aggressors and thus persuade the Russian population to support military operations. At the same time, the United States and its allies say, Russia has positioned operatives in eastern Ukraine who could carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own vassal forces and then blame Kiev for it.

The White House has consistently highlighted what it perceived as misinformation and passed on intelligence to allies, including Ukraine. The State Department recently released a list of data and refuted some of Russia’s claims. Also, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on four people accused of links to influence operations, aimed at creating a pretext for a new invasion of Ukraine.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki spoke of making “a strategic decision to denounce the misinformation we find.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks at a press conference at the White House in Washington on Thursday, January 27, 2022. (AP Photo / Andrew Harnik)
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks at a press conference at the White House in Washington on Thursday, January 27, 2022. (AP Photo / Andrew Harnik)

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

An EU official told reporters on Friday that Moscow-linked groups were backing up justifications for the conflict, as happened eight years ago. One of the scenarios that these groups present as a form of reaction to the US allegations is that the United States may be planning a diversion operation to cause a clash in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow continues to demand that NATO not accept Ukraine and not expand with other countries. After British intelligence accused him of being a Russian-backed presidential candidate, Ukrainian politician Yevheniy Murayev denied the allegations and told the Associated Press that it was “ridiculous and amusing”.

Meanwhile, Washington and Moscow continue to clash online. The Kremlin-backed media network, RT.com, released a video on December 21 alleging that “US private military companies are stockpiling chemical components in eastern Ukraine.” The State Department refuted this claim in the data it published about Russian propaganda. Russia’s foreign ministry responded with Twitter messages “rejecting @StateDept ‘facts’ about Russian disinformation in Ukraine.”

Washington’s efforts have raised questions in Kiev, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has taken a different public approach, trying to reduce public fear of an escalating war, even though many Ukrainians are already preparing for war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Ukrainian officials privately raise the question of why President Biden’s administration is warning of imminent invasion but not imposing preventive sanctions, or taking steps against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which has been criticized for giving Moscow more influence over Ukraine and Western Europe. President Biden’s administration lobbied Democratic lawmakers to oppose a Republican bill that would impose sanctions on the pipeline, which has not yet been put into operation.

The White House has threatened tough sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine and is preparing to send troops to NATO’s eastern flank if that invasion occurs. The United States and its allies are also sending weapons and missile systems to Ukraine.

Molly McKew, author and professor on Russian influence, said the US administration’s moves to counter Russia’s attempts to influence should be accompanied by a clear statement of US objectives and plans to counter possible invasion.

Merely identifying the actions would not stop Russia from fulfilling them, said McKew, a former adviser to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose country went to war with Russia in 2008 and is still trying to regain it. control of Moscow-backed separatist regions.

“They are trying to apply the logic of disinformation in the military spheres,” she said. “It is absolutely not possible to get rid of the crisis through exposure.”

Experts say that in both the United States and Ukraine, there is already much more public awareness of state-sponsored disinformation. Russia has continued to bombard Ukrainians with cell phone messages and false stories over the past few years during the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, which has killed at least 14,000 people. And Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election was followed by several investigative processes and years of often divisive debate.

Bret Schafer, a researcher at the German Marshall Fund Alliance for the Security of Democracy, says that while there is a risk of giving importance to false allegations in the process of denouncing them, “there is a need to divert threats through information, better to respond to them after they have been released. “

But publicly accusing Russia of misconduct is ultimately a limited form of prevention. “They do not worry about damaging reputation,” he said./VOA

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