Sunday, January 16, 2022

"Expect the worst" – Ukraine suspects Russia behind cyber attack

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A large-scale cyber attack on the Ukrainian government’s website is also worrying the West. Kiev now has the first clues to the originator. A harbinger of Russian military action?

After the cyber attack on dozens of Ukrainian government websites, Kiev sees “first indications” of a possible involvement of Russian secret services. The Ukrainian secret service had “received initial indications that hacker groups associated with the Russian secret services” could be behind the massive cyber attack, Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter on Friday evening.

Meanwhile, the United States warned that Moscow could create a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin dismissed the accusation as “baseless”.

In view of a massive Russian troop deployment on the border with Ukraine, the West fears that Russia is currently preparing an invasion of the neighboring country after annexing Crimea in 2014. The massive cyber attack on government websites in Kiev on Friday night sparked further concerns.

The Ukrainian secret service SBU said a total of 70 government websites had been attacked. In ten cases there was “unauthorized interference” but the content had not been changed and there had been no disclosure of personal data. The Foreign Ministry’s website temporarily read the words “Be afraid and expect the worst” in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also considered it “conceivable” that Russia was behind the cyber attack. Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg expressed the fear that it could be a harbinger of military activities.

Meanwhile, the United States said it understands Russia is working to create a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine. “We have information indicating that Russia has already deployed a group of agents to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine,” government spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Moscow’s goal is to accuse Ukraine of “preparing an imminent attack on Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.” Russian forces plan to start these activities a few weeks before a military invasion, which could start “between mid-January and mid-February”.

The statements from Washington met with outrage in Moscow. “All of these statements have so far been unfounded and have not been confirmed by anything,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state news agency TASS.

In view of the heightened tensions, Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) and her French colleague Jean Yves Le Drian announced that they would travel together to the conflict area in eastern Ukraine in the coming days. On Tuesday, Baerbock is expected in Moscow with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The deputy Union faction leader Johann Wadephul (CDU) described the trip as a litmus test. He expects “clear messages, a clear stance and unmistakable announcements from the minister so that Russia can initiate a course of de-escalation,” Wadephul told the editorial network Germany (RND).

Meanwhile, the willingness to support Ukraine with certain military goods grew in the traffic light coalition. “We agreed in the coalition agreement not to deliver weapons to crisis regions. The principle applies,” said the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, Michael Roth (SPD) to the RND. However, a discussion about “protective devices such as helmets and protective vests” is “conceivable”.

Extensive crisis diplomacy was launched this week to defuse the situation on the Ukrainian border: First, there were bilateral talks between the United States and Russia in Geneva, then the NATO-Russia Council met for the first time in two years there were negotiations within the framework of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna.

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