Russia is a world leader in disinformation campaigns, Damian Hinds said.
18 February 2022
The West needs to be “steeled” to misinformation from the Kremlin as Russian troops continue to mass at the Ukrainian border, a minister has said.
Home Office minister Damian Hinds made the warning following claims from US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson that Russia intends to use a so-called “false flag” operation as a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine.
On Thursday morning, a kindergarten in the separatist-controlled Donbas region of Ukraine was shelled, with both Russian and Ukrainian governments claiming that the other side was responsible.
Leaders from Nato states, including the Prime Minister, have said the incident was manufactured by the Russians to create grounds for war, a kind of disinformation campaign called a false flag operation.
President Biden said there was “every indication” that Russia continues to be prepared for war, despite claims that the Kremlin was withdrawing troops from the border.
On Friday, Home Office minister Mr Hinds said: “False flag is a form of disinformation. There are other forms of disinformation as well. The Putin regime is a global leader in the deployment of disinformation and wider information ops.”
The minister told Times Radio: “We need to be steeled to that. We need to understand what might be coming, what might be portrayed as some sort of spurious justification for an attack, for an invasion, and not take things at all at face value.”
He also added an invasion of Ukraine is “not inevitable” but could happen at “any time”, urging Russia to take a “diplomatic route”.
He added: “There are many, many troops built up on the Ukrainian border. There is no sign of that falling back, contrary to what has been claimed.
“Troops remain in place and there could be an invasion, there could be an incursion at any time, but it could also take longer.”
Mr Biden on Thursday warned that Washington saw no signs of a promised Russian withdrawal – but instead saw more troops moving toward the border with Ukraine.
Mr Biden told reporters at the White House: “Every indication we have is they’re prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine.”
He said the US has “reason to believe” that Russia is “engaged in a false flag operation to have an excuse to go in”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed there was a “false flag operation designed to discredit the Ukrainians” and “we fear very much that that is a thing we will see more of over the next few days”.
At a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday, Russian foreign minister Sergei Vershinin insisted the accusations that Russia was going to attack Ukraine were “baseless”.
Also on Thursday, the UK, Poland and Ukraine confirmed they would “intensify” work to “strengthen democracy” in eastern Europe through a new partnership.
In negotiations, Russia has demanded that Ukraine should not join Nato, and called for the alliance’s troops to be rolled back from all countries that joined the treaty after 1997.