As Russia maneuvers troops and weapons into possible attack formations along its border with Ukraine and concern mounts about a potential invasion, there does also appear to be an uptick in Russian-driven information warfare as well.
In what could be viewed as a clear attempt to justify and encourage support within Russia for a possible invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s TASS newspaper published an article claiming that Ukrainian terrorists are plotting attacks against Russia. Citing plots of “sabotage” and “terrorism” in Crimea.
The TASS piece quotes Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev saying, “Ukraine’s intelligence agencies and extremist groups constantly carry out provocations on the state border and attempt to conduct acts of sabotage and terrorism in Crimea, notably at critical infrastructure facilities.” Citing Western “sponsors,’ Patrushev directed inflammatory rhetoric at the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), saying “the destructive activity of the US, and the NATO bloc controlled by it, a number of EU states, Ukraine, aimed at discrediting Russia’s domestic and foreign policy, harming its authority and international image, and disseminating extremist and nationalist ideology.”
The Russian propaganda points to what it called “militants from abroad,” who had fought for Ukraine during Russia’s 2014 invasion, calling Ukrainian fighters “international terrorists.” In the TASS article, Patrushev claimed that over the last year, six terror attacks and ten terror-related crimes were thwarted and twenty-three extremism-associated crimes were foiled in Crimea.
“Centers for training saboteurs have been established in Ukraine with the West’s support, Patrushev noted. “At its Western sponsors’ behest, centers for training sabotage and reconnaissance groups have been set up in Ukraine. It is not ruled out that the graduates of these centers will focus on plotting terror attacks, and not only in Russia but also in other states,” he stated, according to the report.
Although Russia is not a democracy, the Russian citizenry and leadership are certainly greatly impacted by public opinion and prevailing beliefs regarding the actual extent of any threat. Therefore, it might clearly be in Moscow’s interest to massively exaggerate any actual Ukrainian-inspired terrorist threat to Russia. Meanwhile, the Security Service of Ukraine is reporting that the Ukrainian military is itself conducting anti-terrorism drills near the Russian border. “The SBU will launch multi-stage anti-terrorism drills in the Kharkov Region on April 14. The exercises will be taking place across the region until the end of May with a focus on border areas,” a statement from the SBU reads. The exercises are intended to closely replicate actual combat conditions, with troops using firearms, military equipment and radio-electronic devices.
Finally, in that TASS article, Patrushev claimed that on April 9, 2021, another terror attack plotted by supporters of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham international terrorist organization (outlawed in Russia) was prevented in Simferopol.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.