ISW with the report.
The Kremlin appears to be setting conditions for false flag operations on the Chernihiv Oblast international border and in Moldova ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian Northern Operational Command reported on February 23 that Russian forces are preparing possible false flag operations in the international border areas of Chernihiv Oblast. The Ukrainian Northern Operational Command stated that Ukrainian intelligence has already observed Russian convoys with unmarked military equipment and personnel dressed in uniforms resembling those worn by the Ukrainian military move to areas near the Chernihiv Oblast border. The Ukrainian Northern Operational Command stated that the purpose of these false flag operations would be to accuse Ukrainian forces of violating the territorial integrity of an unspecified country, very likely referring to Belarus. The Kremlin may be preparing false flag attacks to coerce Belarus into the war following Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s February 16 statement that Belarus would only enter the war if attacked by Ukraine. The Belarusian Ministry of Defense also notably claimed on February 21 that Belarusian forces observed a buildup of Ukrainian forces at its borders. ISW continues to assess that Belarusian or Russian attack on northern Ukrainian regions is highly unlikely, but Russia seeks to force Lukashenko’s hand or blame Ukraine for expanding the war to undermine support for Kyiv. Such a false flag operation could also aim to fix Ukrainian forces at the northern border in an effort to weaken Ukrainian defenses in eastern Ukraine and preparations for counter-offensive operations.
The Kremlin also appears to be setting information conditions to stage a false flag operation in occupied Transnistria, Moldova. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed on February 23 that Ukrainian forces are planning to conduct an armed provocation against Transnistria in the near future. The MoD claimed that Ukrainian forces would dress as Russian military personnel and stage an alleged Russian offensive from positions in Transnistria. The Moldovan government denied the Russian MoD’s allegations. The MoD likely sought to foster this false narrative to twist Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky‘s warning to Moldovan President Maia Sandu that the Kremlin was preparing provocations in Moldova and his offer to help Moldova if Russian forces in Transnistria threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The MoD’s dissemination of this false narrative does not indicate that Putin intends to attack Moldova—an undertaking for which he lacks military capability—although it points toward an escalation in his ongoing efforts to undermine the Moldovan state.