“This is a page out of the Russian playbook,” one of the officials said. “We’re very mindful that Russia will try to invent some pretext to carry out a coup attempt.”
The Kremlin pushed back against the intelligence assessment. “So far, all these statements have been unfounded and have not been confirmed by anything,” Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, told TASS, a state-run news agency.
The intelligence finding was reported earlier by CNN.
One senior administration official said there was concern that saboteurs or provocateurs could stage an incident in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, prompting a possible pretext for a coup. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine declared several months ago that he believed a coup attempt was underway, but it never materialized.
Earlier on Friday, Ukraine’s military intelligence service announced that it had intercepted information about a plot by Russian spies to start a sabotage operation from disputed territory in Moldova, south of Ukraine, where Russia maintains a large contingent of troops. The plan, according to the statement, was to attack Russian troops stationed at a weapons depot near the border with Ukraine and blame it on Ukrainian forces.
Understand the Escalating Tensions Over Ukraine
A senior Ukrainian military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said that while not all details of the plot were known, any provocation in that region could be used to justify an attack on Ukraine’s southern flank, possibly from Russian naval resources in the Black Sea.
The U.S. accusation also embraced disinformation operations, charging that in the media “Russian influence actors are already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine.” Those include, the official said, “emphasizing narratives about the deterioration of human rights in Ukraine and the increased militancy of Ukrainian leaders.”
In his briefing, Mr. Kirby said that when “we talk about Russian operatives, it could represent a blend of individuals inside the Russian government, whether it’s from their intelligence communities, their security services or even their military.”