US accuses Russia of sending saboteurs to Ukraine

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Russia also demanded that the United States withdraw all its nuclear weapons from Europe and that Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia, three neighboring states that were once part of the Soviet empire, never join NATO.

It remains unclear whether Mr. Putin thinks these are realistic strategic goals – Wendy R. Sherman, the assistant secretary of state, called them “non-starters” this week – or if his real aim is to bring Ukraine to heel. The Russian president wants to expand his country’s sphere of influence to include more of the former Soviet bloc, especially former Soviet republics like Ukraine.

The United States promised severe financial and technological sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion, and it said it would consider arming a Ukrainian insurgency to make any Russian occupation costly and bloody. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned their Russian counterparts in recent phone calls that any quick Russian victory in Ukraine would likely be followed by a bloody uprising similar to the one that drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.

After the Biden administration leveled the new accusation against Russia, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the news underscores the need to “provide the Ukraine the defensive weapons necessary to deter aggression, and, should deterrence fail, make a Russian invasion costly for the invaders.

The Kremlin pushed back the intelligence assessment. “So far, all these statements are unfounded and have not been confirmed by anything,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov told TASS, a state-run news agency.

The discovery of the intelligence was reported earlier by CNN.

A senior Biden administration official said he fears saboteurs or provocateurs could stage an incident in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, creating a possible pretext for a coup. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said months ago he believed a coup attempt was underway, but it never materialized.

Ukraine’s military intelligence service announced earlier on Friday that it had intercepted information about a plot by Russian spies to launch a sabotage operation from disputed territory in Moldova, southern Ukraine, where Russia maintains a large contingent of troops. The plan, according to the intelligence service, was to attack Russian troops stationed at an arms depot near the border with Ukraine and blame Ukrainian forces.

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