Russian ‘False Flag’ Ukraine Plot Wouldn’t Be Its First

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives for the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing. (Carl Court/Pool Photo via AP)

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We have to be very careful when it comes to weighing U.S. intelligence reports on foreign threats. Remember the CIA’s “slam dunk” case for nuclear weapons in Iraq? North Vietnamese attacks on an American warship in the Tonkin Gulf?

Both false, it would turn out many thousands of deaths later.

But if it’s true that Russia has an “extremely elaborate” plan to stage a phony event showing the aftermath of a Ukrainian attack on Russian-speakers and perhaps even Russia itself, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time it’s used a “false flag” incident to justify military action.

In 1999, Russia’s internal security force, the FSB, carried out a string of horrific apartment building bombings that the Kremlin blamed on Chechen rebels. The bombings, equivalent psychologically to the 9/11 Al Qaeda airliner attacks on New York and the Pentagon, whipped up Russians’ fears of the Chechens and eventually vaulted Prime Minister Vladimir Putin into the presidency.

In 2014, Putin’s intelligence services carried out a highly suspect public opinion poll in Crimea that claimed to show overwhelming local support for annexation by Russia, which soon after dispatched forces to seize the region. Pro-Russia agents in Kiev also paid people $500 to protest against the Maiden democracy movement, according to reports.

On Thursday, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell the Biden administration had acquired intelligence on an “extremely elaborate” Russian plan to stage a phony attack it would blame on the Ukrainians. A day earlier two unnamed officials told The Washington Post the operation would include “broadcasting images of civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine—and potentially over the border in Russia—to a wide audience to drum up outrage against the Ukrainian government and create a pretext for invasion.” One official said “it was unclear if the casualties would be real or faked.”

“Russia,” the New York Times added, also quoting unnamed officials, “intended to use the video to accuse Ukraine of genocide against Russian-speaking people."

It’s a theme Kremlin disinformation organs have been pounding “on social media, on conspiracy sites and with state-controlled media since November, the Times said. “The video was intended to be elaborate, officials said, with plans for graphic images of the staged, corpse-strewn aftermath of an explosion and footage of destroyed locations.”

Former top DHS intelligence official Brian Murphy elaborated on current Russian and other foreign disinformation campaigns targeting the United States on this week’s SpyTalk podcast.

Long History

The false flag operation is a well worn ruse employed by other governments, including the United States, over time. To name just a relevant few:

Nazi Germany: On the night of August 31, 1939, an SS squad dressed in Polish uniforms seized a radio station near the border and “broadcast a short anti-German message in Polish,” according to historical records, confessions at the Nuremberg war crimes trial and several sources cited by Wikipedia. “They then shot and killed a prisoner and put his body at the scene, dressed in a Polish uniform, to give the impression he had died during the attack. The incident was meant to construct enough anti-Polish sentiment to justify an invasion but was also a part of a larger campaign to serve the Nazis’ propaganda goals prior to the outbreak of World War II.”

In 1954, Israel secretly recruited Egyptian Jews to carry out bombings of Egyptian as well as U.S.- and U.K.-owned civilian entities, like movie theaters and cafés, that would be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood and communists.

In 1989, a South African policeman confessed to the nation’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission that he’d conspired to carry out bombings that were blamed on the rebel African National Congress.

In 2007, a U.S. Navy admiral, Kevin.J. Cosgriff, dreamed up a plan to create a casus belli for a military showdown with Iran, I reported in the Washington Post Magazine.

Gwenyth Todd, a top political adviser to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, and another witness told me that “Cosgriff’s idea, presented in a series of staff meetings, was to sail three ‘big decks,’ as aircraft carriers are known, through the Strait of Hormuz — to put a virtual armada, unannounced, on Iran’s doorstep. No advance notice, even to Saudi Arabia and other gulf allies. Not only that, they said, Cosgriff ordered his staff to keep the State Department in the dark, too.”

Cosgriff expected the Iranians to respond militarily, either with gun boats, mines or torpedos, providing the armada and nearby U.S. forces, who were itching for a fight with the Iranians, a rationale for an immediate escalation.

When top State Department brass got wind of the scheme, they shut it down.

Nearly a half century earlier, the Pentagon generated one of the most macabre false flag ideas in modern history, one that—thankfully—rejected by President John F. Kennedy.

In 1962, the Pentagon’s Operation Northwoods contemplated using the CIA to carry out terrorist attacks on U.S. and civilian targets and blame them on Cuba.

The plan, signed by Army General Lyman Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a wide range of murderous options, including assassinating Cuban immigrants, sinking boats of Cuban refugees in the Florida Straits and hijacking U.S. airliners.

"We could develop a communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington," it continued. "The terror campaign could be pointed at Cuban refugees seeking haven in the United States. We could sink a boatload of Cubans enroute to Florida (real or simulated)."

Other plans included Operation Bingo, “a plan to fake an attack on the United States base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, providing cover for a devastating U.S. military assault on Havana,” according to a 1997 report by New York Times reporter Tim Weiner. “It also included “Operation Dirty Trick, a plot to blame Castro if the 1962 Mercury manned space flight carrying John Glenn crashed. “

“Then there was Operation Good Times,” Weiner added. ‘That involved sowing Cuba with faked photos of ‘an obese Castro’ with two voluptuous women in a lavishly furnished room ‘and a table brimming over with the most delectable Cuban food.’ The faked photo would be captioned ‘my ration is different.’”

Compared to that, the alleged Russian plot to justify an invasion of Ukraine seems timid.

Timid, maybe, but just as nefarious and criminal. And JFK, mind you, halted the crazy Northwoods scheme.

Will Putin hold back as well? He seems far less constrained—and more reckless.

This article by Jeff Stein originally appeared on

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