What is a false flag operation? US says Russia could use it to attack and justify invasion


Here are some credible examples:

In 1999, a series of four fatal apartment bombings in Russia were blamed, without any evidence, on Chechen terrorists. When a fifth unexploded bomb was discovered in the basement of another building, it was linked to a Russian intelligence agent, arrested and later released. Even as the public searched for answers, Putin made revenge against Chechen terrorists a campaign pledge, helping secure his presidential victory in 2000.

In 2008, Russia sent journalists to the Russian enclave of South Ossetia in Georgia where they aired stories about Georgian forces committing “genocide” against ethnic Russians. The Russian army was massed on the frontier. The inflated death toll of Russians was used as a pretext for Russian involvement in the war.

A false flag attack was allegedly used by Nazi Germany to create the pretext for the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. The Gestapo (not Gazpacho) attacked a German-language radio station in Gleiwitz near the border with Poland, leaving behind corpses destined to look like Polish saboteurs.

It can also happen online. In 2015, a French television channel, TV5Monde, had its hardware destroyed by malware from a group called the Cyber ​​Caliphate. Later, forensics traced the attack to Russian hacking group Fancy Bear.

Only a few months after the Islamic State Charlie Hebdo attacks, analysts speculated that the Kremlin hid its tracks to test new hacking tools, while deflecting blame onto ISIS.

Military helicopters take part in joint Belarusian-Russian military exercises at the Brestsky firing range in Belarus earlier this month.Credit:GDR/PA

Violent false flag operations play a particular role in changing public perceptions, which may help explain why Russian agents would attempt one in Ukraine and why the United States would move quickly to expose it to global audiences.

If you’ve heard of the term “false flag” before recent mentions of the Ukraine crisis, it may be thanks to Alex Jones and other online conspiracy theorists.

They’ve discovered the power to dismiss real violence as a false flag – generating more mistrust, angst, and, uh… web traffic.


Historically, the term was, until recently, little known outside the realm of warfare and espionage. Nevertheless, the accusation that something is a false flag is powerful in itself.

In April 2013, after two Kyrgyz-American Chechen brothers staged the deadly Boston Marathon bombing, Jones tweeted, “Our thoughts are with those injured or killed #Bostonmarathon – but this thing stinks to heaven # false flag”.

This frequent accusation that real attacks, like the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, were “false flags” has been effective in creating chaos online.

On the ground in Ukraine, however, the prospect of real violence prompted the United States to speak out against the acts.


The psychological and propaganda operations undertaken by the Western military are generally carried out in a limited way with strong internal supervisions.

In contrast, the Russian military tends to use propaganda aggressively early on in a mission.

The United States (and its allies) found out the hard way when Russia took control of Crimea in 2014 and got involved in the Syrian war on the side of Bashar al-Assad.

In both cases, even though the Kremlin lied about its military activities, Western allies were reluctant to challenge Moscow’s account of events. This would potentially mean revealing Western intelligence sources.


This time, the US and Britain were much quicker to declassify and publicize the Kremlin’s suspicious plans.

In November, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned: “Our concern is that Russia could make a big mistake in trying to overhaul what it started in 2014…”, referring to the takeover stealth from the Crimea region by Ukraine. “The playbook we’ve seen in the past was to claim some provocation as justification for doing what he…intended and planned to do.”

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