The United States has obtained new intelligence that suggests Russia is planning to stage an attack that it would falsely blame on Ukraine to justify invading the country, possibly as early as next week, according to multiple U.S. and European officials who have reviewed the intelligence or been briefed on it.
Cat with butterfly, woodcut by Joyce Gibson
The intelligence about a “false flag” operation was discussed in a quickly convened meeting in the White House Situation Room on Thursday evening and helped prompt renewed calls from the Biden administration for all Americans to leave Ukraine immediately, according to officials familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.
The precise timing and nature of the Russian operation was unclear. The United States had already accused Russia of planning to film a fake attack against Russian territory or Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine. The new intelligence is distinct from that alleged operation, the officials said.
Officials in multiple capitals concurred that the intelligence appeared to show that Russia is in the final stages of preparing to mount an invasion, which analysts have said could leave up to 50,000 civilians dead or wounded and lead to the fall of the government in Kyiv within a few days.
“Moscow is actively trying to create a casus belli,” or a justification for war, a Western official said.
A couple more interesting Ukraine links to check out:
The Washington Post: The TikTok buildup: Videos reveal Russian forces closing in on Ukraine.
Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul at Foreign Affairs: How to Make a Deal With Putin. Only a Comprehensive Pact Can Avoid War.
Another big story in the news is the Truck convoy in Ottowa. The New York Times is posting live updates on the story. Here’s the latest: Police confront protesters, and some begin to leave Ontario bridge.
Canadian police moved in Saturday morning to clear protesters at a vital bridge in Windsor, Ontario, connecting Canada and the United States.
The Windsor Police wrote on Twitter Saturday morning that “The Windsor Police & its policing partners have commenced enforcement at and near the Ambassador Bridge.” It added: “We urge all demonstrators to act lawfully & peacefully.”
Police officers wearing heavy jackets but not wielding shields or other riot gear, were standing in a line on Saturday morning, and were cautiously and progressively edging closer to the protesters. Vehicles began to leave the site just before 10 a.m., their horns blaring as they departed.
Natalia Leonova – Breakfast in Bed. 2017. Pastel on paper
At the intersection closest to the bridge, some protesters remained in the street, facing off with police officers.
Some of the protesters were yelling at police, while others chanted “freedom, freedom!” and sang “O Canada,” the national anthem. A group of protesters dismantled a tent where they had kept food and supplies, then swept the area around it.
Automakers have been particularly affected by the partial shutdown of the Ambassador Bridge, which normally carries $300 million worth of goods a day, about a third of which are related to the auto industry. The blockades have left carmakers short of crucial parts, forcing companies to shut down some plants from Ontario to Alabama on Friday.
A court order calling for protesters to disband or face stiff fines or prison went into effect on Friday at 7 p.m., and the numbers of protesters has since thinned. But on Saturday morning, dozens of protesters, some dressed in fluorescent construction garb, had still refused to leave, and were milling around at an intersection before the bridge, drinking coffee and holding up Canadian flags. Other protesters remained in their pickup trucks, their engines idling, to stay warm.
Read more and check for future updates at the link.
Ben Collins, who covers right wing extremism at NBC News has a piece on the trucker protests: As U.S. ‘trucker convoy’ picks up momentum, foreign meddling adds to fray.
There is growing momentum in the U.S. anti-vaccination community to conduct rallies similar to Canada’s “Freedom Convoy” that has paralyzed Ottawa, Ontario, and the effort is receiving a boost from a familiar source: overseas content mills.
Some Facebook groups that have promoted American “trucker convoys” similar to demonstrations that have clogged roads in Ottawa are being run by fake accounts tied to content mills in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Romania and several other countries, Facebook officials told NBC News on Friday.
The groups have popped up as extremism researchers have begun to warn that many anti-vaccine and conspiracy-driven communities in the U.S. are quickly pivoting to embrace and promote the idea of disruptive convoys.
Researchers at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy first noted that large pro-Trump groups had been changing their names to go with convoy-related themes earlier this week. Grid News reported on Friday that one major trucker convoy Facebook group was being run by a Bangladesh content farm.
Tomoo Inagaki, Chatting Cats
Many of the groups have changed names multiple times, going from those that tap hot-button political issues such as support for former President Donald Trump or opposition to vaccine mandates, to names with keywords like “trucker,” “freedom” and “convoy.” Facebook allows groups on its platforms to change names but tracks the changes in each page’s “about” section.
The motivations of the people behind the content mills are not clear, but Joan Donovan, director of the Shorenstein Center, said the pattern fits existing efforts to make money off U.S. political divisions.
“In some ways, it’s normal political activity,” Donovan said. “In other ways, we have to look at how some of the engagement online is fake but can be a way to mobilize more people.”
“When we see really effective disinformation campaigns, it’s when the financial and political motives align,” she added.
Of course Fox News is cheering for the “protesters” causing chaos up north. Matthew Gertz at Media Matters: Fox News goes all-in promoting anti-vaccine-mandate Canadian truckers.
Fox News’ effort to discourage its viewers from vaccinating themselves against COVID-19 has gone international. The network’s stars have in recent weeks fixated on our neighbor to the north, regaling their audiences with fawning coverage of Canadian truckers protesting their country’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements – and encouraging the development of similar activism in the U.S.
Since January 29, a group of truckers and their allies has effectively crippled downtown Ottawa by using vehicles to block traffic, leading the city’s mayor to declare a state of emergency. Similar protests have occurred in cities across the country, and on Monday truckers blocked a major international crossing. This so-called “Freedom Convoy” originally assembled to oppose a newly implemented rule requiring them to either be vaccinated or quarantine after returning from trips across the U.S. border, but organizers now say they will continue their demonstrations until the national and provincial governments “end all mandates.”
The demonstrators are not representative of Canadian truckers or the populace at large. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents the industry, has disavowed them, arguing that “a great number of these protestors have no connection to the trucking industry” and pointing out that nearly 90% of the nation’s truckers are vaccinated. Their actions are also unpopular with their fellow Canadians – a recent poll found nearly two-thirds of respondents there oppose the Ottawa protest.
But on the other side of the border, Fox hosts are extremely excited about the protests, even as they quietly labor under the network’s own stringent vaccine requirements. The network devoted 10 hours and 8 minutes to the story from the first mention of the convoy we found on January 18 through February 10. Prime-time stars Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are among the convoy’s biggest fans at the network, giving it 1 hour and 13 minutes and 1 hour and 5 minutes, respectively.