On October 4th, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that Russia must be held accountable for its attempts to hack the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), as well as other world bodies.
“Basically, the Russians got caught with their equipment, with people who were doing it and they have to pay the piper, they are going to have to be held to account. How we respond is a political decision by the nations involved,” after a meeting with his NATO counterparts, however he said there doesn’t need to be a “tit-for-tat” response by the West.
“We are ready today to provide cyber support to our allies, I’ve seen enough of the evidence to say that the Dutch and the British are 100 percent accurate in who they have attributed this to,” Mattis said.
The US indicted seven suspected Russian agents for allegedly conspiring to hack computers and steal data to delegitimize international anti-doping organizations and punish officials who had revealed a Russian state-sponsored athlete doping program.
They were also accused of trying to hack into Westinghouse Electric Co, a nuclear power company that provides atomic fuel and plant designs. The Justice Department said one of the Russians performed reconnaissance of personnel and stole login credentials at the company.
Three of the Russians were already indicted by the Special Counsel’s probe of the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US Elections.
On the same day, the Netherlands accused Russia of planning to hack the OPCW, which had been probing the nerve agent attack on the Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal.
Four Russians arrived in the Netherlands on April 10 and were caught three days later with spying equipment at a hotel located next to the OPCW headquarters, the Dutch military intelligence agency said. The men had planned to travel on to a laboratory in Spiez, Switzerland used by the OPCW to analyze samples. Instead, they were expelled to Russia.
The Dutch authorities released copies of the passports of the four, identifying them as Alexey Minin, Oleg Sotnikov, Evgenii Serebriakov and Aleksei Morenets, none of which appear to be GRU agents as of yet.
EU officials said in a statement Russia’s “aggressive act demonstrated contempt for the solemn purpose” of the OPCW. Australia, New Zealand and Canada were among other countries to issue strongly worded statements backing their allies’ findings.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that accusations against Russia “know no limits.” He also claimed that all of these baseless accusations are part of a campaign to present Russia as an enemy.
Furthermore, the UK government also accused GRU agents of being behind four high-profile cyber-attacks, including firms in Russia and Ukraine; the US Democratic Party; and a small TV network in the UK.
Britain has also said the GRU was associated with a host of hackers including APT 28, Fancy Bear, Sofacy, Pawnstorm, Sednit, CyberCaliphate, Cyber Berkut and Voodoo Bear.
“The GRU’s actions are reckless and indiscriminate: they try to undermine and interfere in elections in other countries,” said British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. “Our message is clear – together with our allies, we will expose and respond to the GRU’s attempts to undermine international stability.”
Britain’s Secretary of State for Defense Gavin Williamson has called Russia a “pariah state,” after London made the accusations.
“This is not the actions of a great power, this is the actions of a pariah state and we’ll continue working with allies to isolate, make them understand they cannot continue to conduct themselves in such a way,” Williamson told reporters.
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has “high confidence” that the GRU was “almost certainly” responsible for a number of attacks, including the targeting of the US Democratic Party ahead of the 2016 presidential election, according to sources in London.
Williamson also said that there would be no response and being “named and shamed” was a deterrent in itself. “We’re going to make it clear where Russia acts that we are going to be exposing that action and we believe that by doing so this will act as a disincentive to act in such a way in the future,” he said.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman described the British accusations as a “rich fantasy of our colleagues from Britain.”
Canada also said “with high confidence” that breaches at its center for ethics in sports and at the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency were carried out by Russian intelligence
Russia’s foreign ministry released an official statement late on October 4th, dismissing all accusations and saying it was the victim of “yet another stage-managed propaganda campaign.”
In a separate case, a court in Norway extended for a second two-week period the detention of a Russian citizen suspected of spying on the Norwegian parliament. Mikhail Bochkaryov was arrested on September 21st as he was about to fly back to Russia. Moscow says he is a Russian parliamentary staff member and has demanded Oslo lift the “absurd charges.”
It is noteworthy that similarly to the Skripal case, Western countries are throwing accusations at Russia without providing evidence. It is yet to be seen if these allegations will lead to more sanctions.