Washington fired another shot at the information war with Russia, it emerged Tuesday, when US officials said the Kremlin wanted to make the little-known former politician part of a puppet regime in Ukraine.
Oleg Tsarev, now director of the sanatorium, scoffed at the idea that he was a pawn in Vladimir Putin’s grand plan, saying he was simply not important enough.
But this episode gives a glimpse of the information war being waged between Washington and Russia over Ukraine.
It follows briefings from Biden administration officials revealing scoops about Putin’s plans: that he’s planning an invasion on Wednesday; that Russia has already trained special forces for a false flag operation; and that he chose the leaders he wants for the puppet regime.
Diplomatic and security sources told DailyMail.com that the strategy was designed to make it impossible for Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer turned president, to justify the invasion.
But it comes at a cost.
“These reports come out at the speed of relevance, not the speed of analysis, because they are trying to keep up with the news cycle,” said a former senior government official.
“And when you do that, there are benefits, but there are also some potential downsides.”
Oleg Tsarev is a former pro-Russian Ukrainian MP. He says he now runs health clinics on the Black Sea. However, US officials believe he was chosen by Moscow to form a puppet regime in Ukraine as part of its invasion plans.
Washington is trying to play Vladimir Putin at his own game, leaking intelligence to win the information war and undermine his narrative control efforts.
Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said he was withdrawing troops from the border with Ukraine, but President Joe Biden said 150,000 people remained at risk.
White House and State Department briefings have turned into fighting as skeptical journalists ask press secretaries why they should believe claims presented without evidence.
And they risk burning intelligence sources and methods, the former official said.
A final example concerns reports that US intelligence officials believe the Kremlin is preparing a puppet government in Ukraine, information they have shared with allies in the five eyes of the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.
A Western official told the Financial Times that Moscow “may appoint Oleg Tsarev and others to leadership roles in this effort.”
The lawsuit was received in Ukraine with a mixture of distrust and anxiety.
Tsarev, who said he gave up his political career in 2015 and now runs three Soviet-style health clinics on the Black Sea, scoffed at the idea.
“It’s quite a funny situation,” he told the newspaper.
‘Look at me. I’m not even invited to talk about [Russian] state television because I’m not important enough. I am the director of a sanatorium in Yalta.”
Some of the information is in plain sight, such as this satellite image released by Maxar Technologies showing the build-up at the battlegroup’s campsite in Yelnya, Russia.
Tsarev, 51, was a member of the Party of Regions, led by Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in 2014 during a pro-Western uprising.
After Moscow annexed Crimea, he ran for president on a pro-Russian ticket. But he said his run was so unpopular that he was kicked out of a TV studio in Kiev.
“They tore off all my clothes. I was completely naked,” he said.
Regional experts say its apparent unsuitability could make it a perfect fit for Moscow’s plans.
John Herbst, former US ambassador to Ukraine and senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, said Russia has a form. In Crimea, the Kremlin chose little-known Sergei Aksyonov to run his administration after the territory was annexed in 2014.
“Putin has not distinguished himself in Ukraine over the past eight years, and to name someone who does not have authority is quite plausible,” he said.
“As long as they feel like they’re in control, that seems to be enough.”
The name was the latest in a spate of intelligence about Putin’s apparent intentions.
Last month, the UK named another pro-Russian figure that Moscow apparently intended to elevate to power.
Yevgeny Muraev, 45, a former Ukrainian MP, also scoffed at being chosen by the Kremlin.
But Liz Truss, the British foreign secretary, said the revelation “sheds light on the extent of Russian activities aimed at undermining Ukraine and gives insight into the Kremlin’s mindset.”
According to British intelligence services, ex-People’s Deputy of Ukraine Yevgeny Muraev is also preparing to rule the country as a satellite of Moscow.
In other cases, officials in Washington have warned of a possible false flag attack.
Last month, for example, officials in Washington said the US had gathered intelligence about a Russian plan to fake an attack by the Ukrainian military, which served as a pretext for launching an invasion.
Operatives have already been deployed, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Jan. 14.
“The operatives are trained in urban warfare and the use of explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russian proxy forces,” she said.
Two weeks later, the State Department went even further, describing how Russia planned to use “crisis actors” to produce video propaganda for such an attack.
And late last week, several news outlets were informed that Russia was planning to launch an invasion this Wednesday.
The White House and the Central Intelligence Agency refused to discuss intelligence issues.
But Herbst said: “This is a sly tactic on the part of the administration and I think they are trying to prevent Russia from doing it by saying they have advance information.”
He added that it was “unusual” but not “unprecedented” for Washington to use so much intelligence.
“As far as how reliable the intelligence is, I believe that it must have some basis in reality,” he said.
“Big base? I just do not know.
“And the fact that they’re releasing so much suggests that maybe they’re on the wrong side of quantity over quality.”