A senior US official said a large-scale cyber attack on Ukraine on Friday was a “proven part of the Russian playbook” as Washington sharpened warnings that Moscow was preparing the stage for a possible invasion of its neighbor.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Victoria Nuland, the US Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs, stopped blaming Russia for the cyber attack, which targeted dozens of Ukrainian government websites. But she said the episode was part of a familiar and disturbing pattern of Moscow action.
“I am not ready at the moment to share anything about recognition. “I would simply say that this is a proven part of the Russian playbook, as you know, all over the world,” said Nuland.
“In the past, Russian agents have done this to destabilize governments, to test their own capabilities, to undermine the sense of trust of governments they are dealing with. So anything is possible here, ”she added.
Nuland’s remarks came on a day when the White House sharpened its warnings that Russia was preparing for a military offensive in Ukraine. This included a claim that Moscow was trying to create a pretext for war by positioning agents in eastern Ukraine to carry out a “false flag operation” that would carry out “acts of sabotage against Russia’s own authorized forces”.
The allegations came at the end of a week of discussions between US, NATO and Russian officials to defuse the crisis, which Moscow has dismissed as “unsuccessful”, has raised fears that an invasion could now be more likely.
The US said that if Russia attacked Ukraine, it would face massive retaliation from America and its allies in Europe, including economic and financial sanctions on a much larger scale than during Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Officials from the Biden administration said the US was already ready to carry out those sanctions if necessary, and the extent of that would depend on the nature of Russia’s aggression.
“I am not going to preview 18 different scenarios. . . “I would simply say that our commitment and the conversation we have with our allies is to inflict very sharp pain very quickly, if Russia takes this step in any form,” Nuland said.
However, she added that from the American perspective, the door to a diplomatic solution is still open, and Washington is working on written answers to Russian officials.
“We want to keep talking,” Nuland said. “We believe this should be done on the basis of reciprocity – namely, they are going to have grievances, but we also have concerns.”
The US has so far offered to discuss arms control and restrictions on military exercises in the region, but has rejected Russian requests to withdraw troops from certain countries or ban them from joining the NATO alliance.
“We believe we can de-escalate and we can make some progress with some of these things through diplomacy,” Nuland said. “We hope and expect that with some of the ideas we put on the table, Moscow will stay on the table, but that is Putin’s choice.”
“All we have done so far is to hear each other out,” she added. “We have not yet started the kind of talks we will have to try to reach agreements, especially if they want these agreements to have binding force. We will therefore need more time. ”
Nuland, who was a senior State Department official responsible for Europe during Barack Obama’s presidency, sought to allay concerns that some European countries would resist more aggressive sanctions due to economic and political concerns, and said the talks with allies was “very rich and very full”. ”And the US“ had a very good picture of what we can do ”.
“Remember that this is an aggression in Europe, and it is changing the map of Europe. “So you know, none of us want to ask our citizens or our companies to make sacrifices, but sometimes national and international security requires it,” she said.
However, Nuland said the US was trying to “understand” European countries’ exposure to sanctions, to “build that package that shares the burden as much as we can and that people are ready to implement”. She also suggested that the US and European sanctions measures may not be “identical”.
“Sometimes there are things Europe can do that are more difficult for us and sometimes it’s the other way around,” she said.