Britain, the Netherlands and the United States accused Russia yesterday of running a global campaign of cyber attacks to undermine democracies, including a thwarted attempt to hack into the chemical weapons watchdog while it was analysing a Russian poison used to attack a former spy.
In some of the strongest language used by the West since the Cold War, Britain said Russia was acting like a “pariah state”. The accusations were backed by other Western countries including Australia. Canada also said it had been targeted by Russian cyber attacks.
Russia denied what its Foreign Ministry spokesman called a “diabolical perfume cocktail” of allegations by someone with a “rich imagination”. But the accusations deepen Moscow’s isolation at a time when its diplomatic ties with the West have been downgraded over the poisoning of a former spy in England and it is under US and European Union sanctions over its actions in Ukraine.
The accusations were unveiled as Nato defence ministers gathered in Brussels to present a united front to their Cold War-era foe.
“These are not the actions of a great power; these are the actions of a pariah state,” British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told reporters.
EU officials said in a statement that Russia’s “aggressive act demonstrated contempt for the solemn purpose” of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The Dutch authorities said they had disrupted an attempt to hack into the Hague-based OPCW in April. At the time, the watchdog was investigating both the poison used to attack former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain and chemical weapons which the West says were used in Syria by Russia’s ally President Bashar al-Assad.
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 analyse samples, Dutch Major-General Onno Eichelsheim said. They were expelled to Russia.
The Netherlands released copies of passports of the four men, all in their 30s or 40s.
Earlier yesterday, Britain released an assessment based on work by its National Cyber Security Centre, which cast Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency as a cyber aggressor which used a network of hackers to sow worldwide discord.
The GRU, Britain said, was almost certainly behind the Bad Rabbit and World Anti-Doping Agency hacking attacks last year, the hacking of the US Democratic National Committee in 2016 and the theft of e-mails from a British-based TV station in 2015.