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October 11, 2018 No.
7705

Official Russian Reactions To Western Accusations Of GRU Cyber Attacks On International Institutions

What Happened

Netherland's Accusations

On October 4, Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld announced during a press conference that the Dutch military intelligence and security services foiled an attack by Russian hackers against the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The Dutch Minister elaborated further that the attempted cyber-attack was made on April 13 amidst reports that the OPCW was then "working to independently verify the UK’s analysis of the chemical used in the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury." It is noteworthy that the OPCW confirmed that a Novichok nerve agent was used in the Salisbury attack. The OPCW was also due "to conduct analysis of the [April 7] chemical weapons attack in Douma [Syria]".[1]

Four Russians, believed to be staff members of the Main Directorate of the Russian General Staff (GRU), were suspected of involvement in the cyber-attack. They were expelled from the Netherlands that very day.

The four Russians are Alexei Morenets, Yevgeny Serebryakov, Oleg Sotnikov and Alexei Minin.[2]

According to the Dutch Defense Ministry, the Russian intelligence officers set up specialized equipment in the vicinity of the OPCW offices and were preparing to hack into OPCW networks.[3] [4]Further investigation revealed that Yevgeniy Serebriakov also conducted cyber activities in Malaysia. He was trying to collect information about the investigation into the downed Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 airplane. The operation in which he was involved targeted Malaysian government institutions including the Attorney General’s office and the Royal Malaysian Police.[5]

The Russian Foreign Ministry sent a note to the Dutch Ambassador to Russia Renee Jones-Bos, stating that the expulsion of Russian citizens from the Netherlands in April is a provocation related to Moscow’s position in the OPCW. "The note stresses that the Russian side considers the detainment and expulsion of Russian citizens as a provocation related to Russia’s line in the OPCW, aimed against the politicization of this influential international structure’s activities and the attachment of attributive functions in violation of the CWC [the Chemical Weapons Convention] and the UN Charter," the ministry stated.[6]

(Source: Dutch Defense Ministry)

 

The 4 Russian intelligence officers at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam (Source: Dutch Defense Ministry)

 

The UK's Accusations

On the same day, the UK government accused the GRU of being behind cyber-attacks on international organizations, operating under different names.[7] The UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) accused the GRU of orchestrating cyber-attacks against the systems database of the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), transport systems in Ukraine, and businesses.

The UK NCSC assessed with high confidence that the GRU is "almost certainly" responsible for the following cyber-attacks:

  • In October 2017, BadRabbit ransomware encrypted hard drives and rendered IT inoperable. This caused disruption including to the Kyiv metro, Odessa airport, Russia’s central bank and two Russian media outlets (Fontanka.ru and the news agency Interfax).
  • In August 2016, confidential medical files relating to a number of international athletes were released. WADA stated publicly that this data came from a hack of its AntiDoping Administration and Management system.
  • In 2016, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was hacked and documents were subsequently published online.
  • Between July and August 2015 multiple email accounts belonging to a small UKbased TV station, Islam channel, were accessed and the content was stolen.[8]

US Accusations

Later, on the same day, the US Justice Department announced charges against seven Russians, referred as GRU officials, accused of cyber-attacking the database system of WADA and other international organizations.

US Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers stated: "We announce an indictment charging seven Russian military officers with violation of several US criminal laws for malicious cyber activities against the United States and its allies…"

The FBI said identified the alleged suspects as Aleksei Morenets, Evgenii Serebriakov, Ivan Yermakov, Artem Malyshev, Dmitriy Badin, Oleg Sotnikov and Alexey Minin.[9]

 

Canada's Accusations: The Government of Canada Assesses With High Confidence That The GRU Was Responsible For Cyber Attacks Against International Organizations

On the same day, the Global Affairs Canada stated: "Today, Canada joins its allies in identifying and exposing a series of malicious cyber-operations by the Russian military. These acts form part of a broader pattern of activities by the Russian government that lie well outside the bounds of appropriate behavior, demonstrate a disregard for international law and undermine the rules-based international order. Canada calls on all those who value this order to come together in its defense.

"Some of these acts have a connection with Canada. In 2016, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), an independent international agency headquartered in Canada, publically disclosed that the cyber-hacker group Fancy Bear/APT28 had released confidential athlete data on its website that it had obtained illegally from WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System. The Government of Canada assesses with high confidence that the Russian military’s intelligence arm, the GRU, was responsible for this incident.

"In 2016, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport was compromised by malware enabling unauthorized access to the Centre’s network. The Government of Canada assesses with high confidence that the GRU was responsible for this compromise.

"Earlier today, Canada’s allies disclosed that in April 2018, following the use of a Novichok agent in Salisbury, United Kingdom, the Russian military attempted to use its cyber-capabilities to gain access to official networks of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The Government of Canada assesses with high confidence that the GRU was responsible for this attempt. Canada is a member of the OPCW and currently sits on its Executive Council. Canada supports the OPCW’s efforts to rid the world of these abhorrent weapons and global efforts to address the recent illegal use of chemical weapons in Syria and the United Kingdom.

"The incidents identified by Canada and our allies, including the GRU’s attempt to undermine the work of the OPCW, underscore the Russian government’s disregard for the rules-based international order, international law and established norms. The attempt to compromise the networks of the OPCW is consistent with Russia’s broader attacks on the independence and professionalism of the personnel of the OPCW…"[10]

 

Bellingcat's Investigation

It is worth noting that after the accusations, the website Bellingcat and its Russian investigative partner, The Insider, ran their own investigation. The investigation's goal was: "to verify that the identities disclosed by the Dutch authorities were in fact the authentic identities of the persons involved. Comparing data from different databases dated 2002 to 2014, Bellingcat was able to confirm that these identities are indeed real, as opposed to cover personas, which is the case with the two GRU officers involved in the Skripal poisoning case."

As a result of the quick search in Russian Vehicle and Road Police database, the researchers were able to identify around 300 additional individuals who may serve as GRU agents.[11]

When asked about potential plans to reshuffle Russia's Defense Ministry or the General Staff following the Dutch accusations, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented that there is no reason to reshuffle the top brass.[12]

(Source: Dutch Ministry of Defense)


(Source: Dutch Ministry of Defense)


(Source: Dutch Ministry of Defense)

(Source: Dutch Ministry of Defense)

Reactions To The Netherland's Accusations

MFA: A Russian Citizen With A Mobile Device Is Perceived To Be A Spy Although By The Logic Of Western Politicians, They All Live In 'Backward Russia'

The following is the reaction by the Russian MFA To the accusations against Russia by the Dutch Defense Ministry:

"We have repeatedly warned the Dutch side, including through diplomatic channels, that the anti-Russian spy mania campaign accompanied by deliberate leaks in the media about the alleged cyber-attacks is causing serious harm to bilateral relations.

"The Netherlands waited for almost six months to report the deportation of four Russian nationals from the country. This may look strange only to those who are not in the know. On October 9, a session of the OPCW opens to discuss the funding of the Attribution Mechanism in the OPCW Technical Secretariat. A number of Western states are persistently seeking the creation of this mechanism for appointing the 'guilty' of using chemical weapons, despite the fact that such a mechanism would violate the norms of international law and the prerogatives of the UN Security Council. Obviously, the current bogus story is yet another step towards forming the 'required' political background for pushing through this illegal initiative.

"It is unclear who is supposed to believe these statements in which Russian citizens are accused of attempted cyber-attacks on the OPCW and a striving to obtain information of the investigation into the crash of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, as if it is necessary to be near the target of an attack to get it.

"Indicatively, against the backdrop of strong paranoia as regards 'all-powerful Russian spies' that has been fanned up in the West in the past few years, any Russian citizen with a mobile device is perceived to be a spy although in the logic of Western politicians, they all live in the 'backward Russia.'

"As for the mention of MH17 crash, it is not at all incidental in this context. The Dutch party seems to have no response to the facts that were presented by the Russian Defense Ministry regarding the origin of the missile that downed the Malaysian airliner and other issues involved in this tragic incident.

"We noted that the news conference of the Dutch Defense Ministry was attended by a representative of Great Britain, which is firmly in the lead in the number of absurd anti-Russian attacks.

"By a strange concurrence of circumstances, all this again coincided with London's accusations against Russia of perpetrating cyber-attacks against a number of organizations, including the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

"Given all of these factors, we can conclude that another staged propaganda campaign against our country is underway."[13]

Russian FM Lavrov: This Is Another Example Of Megaphone Diplomacy And Neglect Of Legal Mechanisms

During a press conference with his Italian counterpart Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov answered a question about the Netherlands's accusations of cyber spying.

Lavrov said: "As a brief reminder, there was nothing secret about the trip of Russian specialists to the Hague last April. This was a routine trip and they did not try to hide anything either when registering at the hotel, arriving at the airport or visiting our Embassy. They were detained, not allowed to contact representatives of our Embassy in the Netherlands and asked to leave. Honestly, it all looked like a misunderstanding, all the more so since there were no protests or demarches on behalf of Moscow or the Hague in connection with this incident.

"But half a year later, I believe some three weeks ago in September, it was leaked to the Dutch press that these people were involved in cyber spying. As we were interested in these developments, we invited the Dutch ambassador to the Foreign Ministry and asked him to share with us the details and facts about this leak in the media. We did not receive a sensible answer.

"On October 3, our ambassador was summoned by the Dutch Foreign Ministry and given a note of protest as regards this episode with the accusations that came to your attention through the media. When the ambassador asked where he can find concrete facts and relevant materials, he was told that we will learn about everything at a news conference that will be held by the Defense Ministry. This is the whole story.

"I think this is yet another example of megaphone diplomacy and neglect of legal mechanisms that were established and exist for discussing problems that arise in relations between any countries, including Russia and the Netherlands.

"We are inviting the Dutch ambassador to consider this point of view I’ve just expressed. We will provide additional detailed information.

"Now [let me say] a few words about the session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that opens literally tomorrow. Probably, it will be used by those countries that want to distort the contents of the Chemical Weapons Convention and turn its Technical Secretariat into a kind of punitive body, thereby undermining international law, specifically the prerogatives of the UN Security Council.

"I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that I think a meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) at the level of defense ministers was held on the same day as the news conference. So if we are talking about direct or indirect coincidences, we must also bear this in mind. The session of the European Council where heads of state and the EU government will also deal with different issues will take place in the near future. Some politicians may have believed that the April episode in the media exactly at this time would help divert attention from complicated issues now being discussed by the EU and, to a certain extent, NATO, such as aligning the defense capabilities of these two structures."[14]

Reactions To UK's Accusations

Russia's MFA Zakharova: 'The Rich Imagination Of Our British Colleagues Is Without Boundaries'

Russian MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova stated:

"We are witnessing the beginning of another anti-Russia campaign in the wake of this decision. As soon as Russia was reinstated to this international sporting organization, Great Britain, a loyal companion-in-arms of the United States, a country that spared no effort to curb Russia’s success, has rushed to support its ally with a flurry of fabricated news, accusations and statements at all levels.

"For example, the other day the British Foreign Office, which now turns out to be also specializing in information and communications security issues, released a whole bunch of mind-boggling 'highly likely' statements about the alleged GRU’s complicity in cyber-attacks around the world, including attacks on the WADA’s servers. For several weeks, there was a huge hullabaloo over the GRU in connection with the Skripals, Salisbury and Amesbury and now this hyped-up story can be easily linked to the situation at the WADA…

"Indeed, the rich imagination of our British colleagues is without boundaries. I would like to see the people who are concocting all this. Probably, they are simply basing everything on themselves, and describing what they themselves are engaged in. It is unworthy of a state that claims one of the leading roles in the world."[15]

Reactions To US Charges Against 7 GRU Officers

Russia's Deputy FM Ryabkov: The US Authorities Continue To Poison The Atmosphere Of Russian-American Relations

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov commented:

"We are watching with regret how the US authorities continue to poison the atmosphere of Russian-American relations by bringing ever new groundless accusations against Russia, which certain other NATO countries would hurry to repeat at the command from Washington. Again, the Western public is being scared with 'Russian hackers,' ascribing to them the 'hacking' of computer networks all over the world.

"Washington is doing its best to prevent the old invention about 'Russian meddling in the US presidential election in 2016' from finally falling into pieces. So they are trying to bolster it up with new fakes and continue to deceive their own and the world public so as to create an additional pretext for sanctions and other measures to pressurize Russia.

"Russia is used to these US methods but the purposeful fomenting of tensions in relations between nuclear powers and internationally is a dangerous path. Canada and those European countries that are devotedly catering to the US claims to world hegemony should also give thought to this."[16]

Reactions To Canada's Accusations

Russian Embassy To Canada: It Is Nothing More Than Cheap Spy Hysteria

The Russian Embassy to Canada told the Russian news agency TASS: "The new round of anti-Russian witch hunt around the far-fetched accusations of some cyber-attacks, which is currently being fuelled by the United States, the United Kingdom and their obedient allies, including Canada, is nothing more than cheap spy hysteria and empty guesses…

"The real aim of this crude propaganda campaign is to brainwash and intimidate own citizens and the international community with the non-existent Russian threat and to divert attention from NATO’s ongoing buildup of its offensive cyber warfare potential."[17]

Reactions To The Synchronized Accusations By The West

Senator Kosachev: This Is A Massive Campaign Against Russia

Commenting on the synchronized accusations by the West against Russia, the head of Russia's Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev wrote in his Facebook page:

"A synchronized and unanimous reaction by the West - where in addition to the British Foreign Office, Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld and NATO Secretary General Jons Stoltenberg[18] 'showed up' at the same time - confirms that what we are seeing is not a mere accident, but an episode in a massive campaign…

"Given the context, the fact that the name of the professional supplier of these 'required' fakes is the British 'independent' company Bellingcat, confirms the attempt to tie together anything possible into a single dossier of Russia's fake 'crimes' that would justify any, even the most absurd accusations against it, and accordingly, any hostile action against it."[19]

Russia's Permanent Representative to the EU Chizhov: What Caused The West To Wait Six Months To Start A Coordinated Campaign Against Russia?

Russia's Permanent Representative to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov stated:

"What caused them [i.e. the Western countries] to wait six months to start this coordinated campaign and to dump it all in one go from different sources?"

He then added: "I would define two points: firstly, the North Atlantic Council session between defense ministers, which has just ended in Brussels. One of the issues that they discussed during [the session] was strengthening the Alliance’s potential in combating cyber threats, as they state it. To put it simply, this is a principal decision to create some sort of cyber forces."

"Secondly, on October 9, another meeting of the OPCW Executive Council will take place in The Hague. The issue on the agenda is something that Western counties have managed to push through by carefully convincing several countries, including some that are rather far from The Hague and the OPCW. It deals with granting the OPCW, a technical organization, an attributive mechanism, that is, a mechanism of determining those responsible for certain incidents, or, God forbid, for cases of chemical weapon use. Next week, they will discuss the decision on funding this initiative in practical terms."[20]

Russian Federation Council Speaker Matviyenko: The West's Logic Can Be Summarized With The Latin Phrase 'Carthage Must Be Destroyed'

Commenting on the accusations, Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko compared them to Nazi propaganda tactics: "If I'm not mistaken it was Goebbels, who said that the bigger the lie the quicker people believe in it. It's like there is a factory which is specially designed that fabricates this every day."

She summed up the situation with the Latin phrase "Carthago delenda est" ("Carthage must be destroyed"), which symbolizes the persistent call to fight an enemy.

Matviyenko said:" This phrase might provide an example that the Russian threat must always be present'. Thus on a daily basis it's necessary to drum a Russian threat into ordinary Western minds. That's why they continue to fabricate fake news and provocations. We are no longer surprised. We don't try anymore to analyze all of that, because it's just impossible to analyze. I keep waiting for them to announce finally that Russia has destroyed Carthage – that would definitely be a final point in their quest."

She also added that all of that "is no longer funny, it is undignified, and of interest to no one ". "That's why I think that our Western partners should take a breath and start a normal dialogue."[21]

MP Shkhagoshev: The West Wants To Prevent Russia's Development

MP Adalbi Shkhagoshev, a member of the Duma Security Committee, said:

"All those decisions that are currently being adopted against Russia are targeted at impeding the speed of current Russia's development… It looks like there has been a special organized crime group at the international level created prior to US November elections that is supposed to fill this 'disinformation balloon' and to stress and argue the validity of introducing more sanctions against Russia."[22]

MP Slutsky: This Reminds Me Of The Propaganda During the Cold War

MP Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Duma international committee, said:

"All the accusations from the Netherlands, Great Britain backed by the US regarding alleged hacking attacks are the latest crap, which can only be construed as a provocation. The one aim [of such a provocation] is to bolster a myth about Russia as an aggressor-state in order to solve some geopolitical and internal challenges. There are no proofs and no one apparently is going to present any proofs. This really reminds me of Cold War propaganda techniques back in the USSR era. This is absolutely a dead-end and a destructive policy."[23]

MP Zheleznyak: The West Wants To Ruin Russia's Reputation, Because Of Russia's Success In Syria

MP Sergey Zheleznyak, member of the Duma International Affairs Committee, said:

"No doubts that this wave of unfounded allegation of cyber-attacks is a pre-planned action, aimed at undermining Russia's reputation including in the sphere of chemical weapons. Our Western opponents just can't calm down as they witness our successes in Syria. They are in a constant need to get worked up about the chemical weapons issue in order to cover up their provocations and new possible aggression against Syria."[24]

 

 

[1] Gov.uk, October 4, 2018. See the full document.

[2] Tass.com, October 4, 2018.

[3] Government.nl, October 4, 2018.

[4] See, GRU close access cyber operation against OPCW, Defensie.nl, October 4, 2018.

See also Visual guide: how Dutch intelligence thwarted a Russian hacking operation, Theguardian.com, October 4, 2018.

[5] Gov.uk, October 4, 2018. See the full document.

[6] Tass.com, October 8, 2018.

[7] The GRU are associated with the names: APT 28, Fancy Bear, Sofacy, Pawnstorm, Sednit, CyberCaliphate, Cyber Berkut, Voodoo Bear, BlackEnergy Actors, STRONTIUM, Tsar Team, Sandworm.

[8] Gov.uk, October 4, 2018. See the full document.

[9]Sputniknews.com, October 4, 2018.

[10] Canada.ca, October 4, 2018.

[11]See the full investigation by Bellingcat and The Insider

[12] Tass.com, October 8, 2018.

[13] Mid.ru, October 4, 2018.

[14] Mid.ru, October 8, 2018.

[15] Mid.ru, October 4, 2018.

[16] Mid.ru, October 4, 2018.

[17] Tass.com, October 5, 2018.

[19] Tass.com, October 4, 2018.

[20] Tass.com, October 5, 2018.

[21] Ria.ru, October 5, 2018.

[22] Ria.ru, October 4, 2018.

[23] Ria.ru, October 4, 2018.

[24] Ria.ru, October 4, 2018.