Russia is planning to fabricate evidence pointing the finger at Ukraine for a deadly attack on a Moscow-operated prison near the front lines in the ongoing war, according to US intelligence officials.
Washington believes that Russia is preparing the false proof ahead of international journalists and investigators potentially visiting Olenivka Prison, where 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed and 75 others were wounded July 29, a US official told CBS News.
“We have reason to believe that Russia would go as far as to make it appear that Ukrainian HIMARS [High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems] were to blame” for the attack, the official added.
A separate official familiar with the intelligence told the Associated Press that Russia may plant ammunition from HIMARS at the site to back its claim.
Since mid-June, the US has provided Ukraine with at least 12 of the rocket systems as Russia’s brutal invasion rages on.
Ukrainian officials have touted the weapons as a “game-changer” allowing Kyiv’s troops to hit targets up to 50 miles away.
Late last month, Russian officials claimed to have destroyed four of the HIMARS with “high-precision weapons.”
That claim was quickly disputed by Ukrainian officials who called the report “fake.”
“Russia is trying to stop the supply of weapons from the West and intimidate Ukraine’s allies with the fictional power of Russia’s armed forces,” said Serhiy Leshchenko, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky’s chief of staff.
“Russian propagandists are spreading fake news on the alleged destruction of HIMARS systems in Ukraine. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is trying to send a message to NATO — don’t support Ukraine, weapons will be destroyed,” Leshchenko tweeted at the time.
Immediately following the attack on the prison — which is in an area controlled by the Moscow-backed separatist Donetsk People’s Republic — Russian officials sought to blame Ukraine for the destruction.
“The political leadership of Ukraine decided to use US-produced multiple-launch rocket systems HIMARS to carry out a strike here to veil the crimes that the Ukrainian captives started talking about,” separatist spokesman Eduard Basturin told local media at the time.
Ukrainian officials, in turn, have blamed Russia for the attack, calling it a “petrifying war crime.”
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called Russia’s accusation “a classic, cynical and elaborate false flag operation.”
“The purpose — to discredit [us] in front of our partners and disrupt weapons supply,” he said of the “deliberate, cynical, calculated mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners.”
Following the attack, the United Nations and Red Cross demanded access to the prison site in order to investigate, though Russia initially failed to acknowledge their requests.
On Sunday, however, Moscow said it had invited the UN and Red Cross to investigate, according to Reuters.
At the same time, the International Committee of the Red Cross claimed it had yet to receive permission to visit the attack site.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also announced that he is appointing a fact-finding mission to investigate the killings.