In a departure from the past, the US and its allies are increasingly disclosing their intelligence findings as they confront Russian preparations for an invasion of Ukraine, with the goal of undermining Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans by exposing them and deflecting his efforts to sway global opinion.
In recent weeks, the White House made public what it claimed was a burgeoning Russian “false-flag” operation intended to generate a pretext for an invasion. Britain listed individual Ukrainians it accuses of conspiring with Russian intelligence personnel to destabilize President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The United States also issued a map of Russian military deployments, detailing how authorities fear Russia would attempt to strike Ukraine with up to 175,000 troops.
Experts praise the White House for declassifying intelligence and rushing to refute incorrect statements before they are made, a process known as “prebuttal,” which is more successful than an after-the-fact explanation.
However, disclosing information is not without danger. Intelligence assessments have various degrees of accuracy, and the US and its partners have supplied little additional confirmation beyond images of troop movements. Moscow has dismissed Washington’s accusations as hysteria, citing previous American intelligence failures, like as the dissemination of incorrect information regarding Iraq’s WMD plans.
Russia, which continues to advance soldiers into Ukraine and into Belarus, an ally to Ukraine’s north, shows no indications of change thus far. In Washington and London, there is growing skepticism about continued diplomatic attempts, with expectations that Putin will launch an invasion in the coming weeks.
As part of its wider combat strategy, Russia is recognized for deploying misinformation to sow confusion and dissension. When Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, it launched a campaign to persuade the region’s ethnic Russian people. Russian state media and social media accounts propagated claims that the West was orchestrating protests in Kyiv, as well as fake or unsubstantiated reports of heinous atrocities perpetrated by Ukrainian forces.
Russia is attempting to depict Ukrainian authorities as aggressors this time, according to the US, in order to persuade its own populace to back military action. At the same time, the US and its allies claim that Russia has placed agents in eastern Ukraine who may use explosives to undermine Russia’s own proxy troops and then accuse Kyiv.
The White House has regularly called out what it considers to be misinformation, and it is secretly sharing more intelligence with allies, including Ukraine. A fact sheet produced by the State Department recently listed and refuted various Russian assertions. In addition, the Treasury Department sanctioned four persons suspected of involvement in influence activities aimed at creating a pretext for a fresh invasion in Ukraine.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, called it a “strategic decision” to call out falsehood when she saw it.
“We are far more aware of the Russian misinformation machine than we were in 2014,” she said on Wednesday, adding, “We need to be very explicit with the international community and the American public what they’re attempting to accomplish and why.”
Moscow continues to insist that NATO neither admit Ukraine or expand its membership to include more nations. After British intelligence accused him of being a potential Russian-backed presidential candidate, Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniy Murayev refuted the accusation, telling the Associated Press that it “seems silly and comical.”
Meanwhile, Washington and Moscow communicate over the internet. RT.com, which is sponsored by the Kremlin, published a video on Dec. 21 saying that “US private military corporations are amassing CHEMICAL COMPONENTS in Eastern Ukraine.” In its fact brief on Russian propaganda, the State Department refuted that notion. “Debunking @StateDept ‘facts’ on Russian misinformation on Ukraine,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry reacted with a series of tweets.
The United States’ activities have caused concerns in Kyiv, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has chosen a different public approach, attempting to calm public fears of a wider conflict even as many Ukrainians prepare for probable warfare.
Privately, Ukrainian officials wonder why the Biden administration is warning of a coming invasion but isn’t implementing preemptive sanctions or taking action against the Nord Stream 2 gas project, which has been condemned for giving Moscow more influence over Ukraine and Western Europe. The Biden administration persuaded Democrats in Congress to vote against a Republican-sponsored measure that would have imposed penalties on the pipeline, which has yet to be put into service.
In the case of an invasion, the White House has vowed strong penalties and is ready to mobilize military to NATO’s eastern flank. Weapons and missile systems are also being sent to Ukraine by the United States and its Western allies.
Molly McKew, a Russian influence expert and professor, said the administration’s efforts to fight Russian influence activities needed to be supported by a stronger explanation of American interests and strategies to repel any invasion.
Identifying Russia’s acts publicly would not deter Moscow from carrying them out, according to McKew, a former adviser to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who waged a war with Russia in 2008 and is currently fighting to reclaim control of breakaway territories backed by Moscow.
She explained, “They’re attempting to adapt misinformation thinking to military areas.” “You cannot, under any circumstances, hide the situation.”
Experts believe there is now significantly more social awareness of state-sponsored misinformation in both the United States and Ukraine. During the continuing war in eastern Ukraine, in which at least 14,000 people have died, Russia has continued to bombard Ukrainians with SMS messages and bogus reports for several years. And Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election in the United States prompted a slew of investigations and years of tumultuous discussion.
While there are risks to elevating false claims in the process of debunking them, Bret Schafer, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, said that “there is a need to head off information threats rather than responding to them after they’ve been let out into the wild.”
However, openly accusing Russia of wrongdoing is just a temporary deterrent. He stated, “They don’t worry about reputational harm.”