Russia is planning to fabricate a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine, by falsely blaming Ukrainian military for an attack on Russian-backed separatists or Russia itself, US officials say.
One option Russia is said to be considering is to stage and film a fake attack, with graphic images of an explosion showing numerous casualties.
In response, Russia said it was not planning any false flag operations.
The US and Nato are concerned at the massing of Russian forces near Ukraine.
Russia denies planning to invade, saying the troops are there for drills. They currently number about 100,000.
The tensions come eight years after Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula and backed a bloody rebellion in the eastern Donbas region.
Senior US administration officials said the alleged false flag operation, planned by Russian security services, would show images of civilian casualties in the Donbas, in order to generate outrage against the Ukrainian authorities.
This could then be used to justify an attack on Ukraine, the officials said. though they did not release any evidence to support their claims.
The plan could involve staging and filming a faked attack, they added.
It would show corpses and destroy locations, faked Ukrainian military equipment, Turkish-made drones and actors playing Russian-speaking mourners, they said.but the officials stressed that this was only one of the options Russia was considering, and said they were publicising it in an effort to “dissuade Russia from its intended course of action”.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the US intelligence “is clear and shocking evidence of Russia’s unprovoked aggression and underhand activity to destabilise Ukraine”.
“This bellicose intent towards a sovereign, democratic country is completely unacceptable and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. The UK and our allies will continue to expose Russian subterfuge and propaganda and call it out for what it is,” she said in a statement.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to the reports later on Thursday.
“This is not the first promise of its kind [to release details about Russian provocation],” he said, quoted by Tass news agency. “Something similar was also said before, but nothing came of it.”