Pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine used falsified text messages in a bid to destabilize the Ukrainian government’s standing among local citizens. The messages were sent as recently as this week, despite the ceasefire that has existed between the two sides in Ukraine’s civil war since February, a report said.
"They have equipment that mimics the work of mobile phone operators. On April 6, for example, they sent out mass text messages to mobile users with the following message: ‘[10 hryvnia] has been deducted from your account to support anti-terrorism operations.’ In reality, no money was taken from these accounts. It’s a psychological operation aimed at inattentive mobile phone users,” Ukraine military spokesman Andrey Lysenko told the Kyiv Post, an independent Ukrainian newspaper.
Lysenko said more than a dozen drones and Russian scouting installations were spotted in Ukraine’s heavily contested Donetsk province. Ukrainian authorities have warned the region’s residents about the text messages’ origin, he added.
A Germany and France-brokered ceasefire agreement has prevented hostilities between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels from escalating to open warfare since February. However, scattered fighting has continued to occur in eastern Ukraine despite the truce, with each side accusing the other of violating the ceasefire. Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko accused government forces of a “number of ceasefire violations,” which he said could lead to renewed war, Agence France-Presse reported.
Western leaders and the NATO alliance have accused Russia of providing equipment and direct military support to separatists in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin has denied the allegations on several occasions.
Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO supreme commander, warned in a late March briefing for the Atlantic Council think tank that Russia could lead a new offensive within 60 days. He estimated approximately 9,000 Russian military personnel are currently in eastern Ukraine. Separatist forces are on “full alert” ahead of the possible invasion, Newsweek reported. Ukrainian officials expect an attack to occur between April 12 and May 9.
“The enemy is actively spreading rumors about the beginning of active military actions and an attack on the territories controlled by the Ukrainian government, and is trying to accuse the Ukrainian armed forces in advance of disrupting the ceasefire,” Lysenko told reporters.