WASHINGTON — The U.S. has intelligence about a Russian plan to fabricate a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine using a fake video involving actors, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said Thursday.
"We don't know that this is the route they are going to take, but we know that this is an option under consideration that would involve actors," Finer said in an interview on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports." He described the plan as "extremely elaborate."
The actors would be "playing mourners for people who are killed in an event," Finer said, adding that it would involve "the deployment of corpses of bodies purportedly killed in an incident."
The plot involves the release of a video, the official said, that would accuse Ukraine of conducting a genocide against Russian speakers. It includes the staged aftermath of an explosion, as well as video of destroyed locations with images of corpses and faked Ukrainian military equipment, the official said.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a briefing that the U.S. publicized information about the plan to expose "Russia's destabilizing actions towards Ukraine and dissuade Russia from continuing this dangerous campaign and ultimately launching a military attack."
It is the second release of intelligence by Western officials designed to thwart a Russian disinformation campaign. Last month, British officials released intelligence that the Kremlin was developing plans to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine.
Senators emerged Thursday from a briefing about the escalating situation along the Russia-Ukraine border from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. After the briefing, some senators said momentum has been building to pass a package of sanctions to deter Russia's military from invading Ukraine.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, who is working on the sanctions package with ranking member James Risch, R-Idaho, said it has been gaining extensive bipartisan support.
The Ukraine briefing, Risch said, "only makes the case that this is more pressing, more timely, and that time, in this regard, if we want to be preventative, is of the essence."
"Russia is in the process of producing movies, producing press releases, producing false proof that the Ukrainians are doing something to provoke them. It's important that you get that out there and that the world understands that this is a false operation to try to justify them in an invasion," he said. "Take my word for it. That is happening."
Senators have yet to finalize the measure. Some who attended the briefing said the package includes "pre-invasion sanctions." Several senators also indicated that they were closing in on an agreement.
However, Menendez said "pre-invasion sanctions" isn't how he would characterize the package.
"We are looking at sanctions for actions that have already been taken by the Russians, like cyberattacks against the Ukrainian government by those who are trying to undermine the Ukrainian government as we speak," he said. "Those are sanctions for actions already taken. They're not necessarily pre-emptive."
The sanctions could also target "false flag operations," said Menendez, who declined to elaborate further.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said the information in the briefing "reinforces the view that I had previously, which is we need to move forward with the sanctions package here quickly."
"You know, we need to make it clear that these are prospective sanctions. In other words, say to Putin and the Russians if you take further aggressive actions in Ukraine, you're going to face these very severe penalties," he said. "Deterrence is the idea that if you do X, we will do Y. If you put penalties in place in advance, at least significant penalties, you obviously take away the stick of deterrence."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the briefing "sobering" and praised Menendez for the work he is doing on sanctions, saying he hasn't seen similar bipartisanship since after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"The briefing, I think, will accelerate the bipartisan sanctions package," Graham said. "It's clear to me that if there is an invasion in Ukraine, it will be almost impossible to have a normal relationship with Russia.
"This is the first time since 1945 that we've had a real chance of a European war, and to the American people, if he gets away with this in the Ukraine, you can expect China to move on Taiwan. We can expect the Iranians to break out and try to get a nuclear weapon, believing nobody will stop them," Graham added.