- Ministry of Defense, banks have been attacked by a cyber
- Russia says some forces have reconfigured their bases after military build-up near Ukraine
- The West responds with caution and skepticism
- Moscow declares victory over ‘Western war propaganda’
MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ukraine said the defense ministry and two banks were hacked on Tuesday, apparently blaming Russia as the West sought evidence from Moscow of a partial troop withdrawal.
The Kremlin, the United States and Europe are embroiled in one of the deepest crises in East-West relations for decades over Ukraine, the post-Cold War impact on the continent and energy supplies as Moscow wants to prevent Kiev from joining NATO.
Western countries have proposed arms control and confidence-building steps to defuse the crisis and want Russia to reverse the buildup of about 130,000 troops on its neighbor’s borders.
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Russia said on Tuesday that some would return to the base after the exercises, prompting US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield to demand evidence, saying such a move “would be good news, if legitimate.”
Ukraine did not say who it believed was responsible for the cyber attack, but a statement indicated that it was pointing the finger at Russia.
“It is not excluded that the aggressor used tactics of small dirty tricks because his aggressive plans do not work on a large scale,” said the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security, which is part of the Ministry of Culture.
Ushadbank said Privatbank users had encountered problems with payments and the banking app, Ushadbank said the cyberattack slowed some of its systems, and a message on the homepage of the Defense Department’s website said it was under maintenance.
The Russian Federal Security Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
A European diplomat said the hacking was worrisome because a full-blown military attack on Ukraine would likely be preceded by a cyber attack.
“It could mean that a physical attack is imminent, or it could mean that Russia continues to mess with Ukraine,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
It is difficult to attribute distributed denial of service attacks, when hackers flood a network with unusually large amounts of data traffic to paralyze it, such as the one seen in Ukraine on Tuesday, but the European diplomat said there was no doubt Russia was behind them.
The United States offered its support in the investigation and response to the attack.
World leaders continued their diplomatic efforts.
US President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak at 1530 ET (2030 GMT) about “the steps we’ve taken, the actions we’re prepared to take, and what’s at stake for the United States and the world,” according to the White House, which said there will be no announcements. new policy.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during a phone call on Tuesday that “a verifiable, credible and meaningful de-escalation” by Moscow was needed.
The NATO chief welcomed indications from Russia in the past two days that it might be looking for a diplomatic solution, but urged Moscow to show its willingness to act.
“There are indications from Moscow that diplomacy should continue,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.
He said that Russia often leaves military equipment behind after exercises, which creates the possibility of regrouping forces.
At a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Schulz, Russian President Vladimir Putin only briefly referred to troop movements and did not go into details.
Russia has long denied planning to invade Ukraine, saying it can train troops on its soil as it sees fit. She has been pushing for a set of security guarantees from the West.
Putin told reporters that Russia would not be satisfied with talk that Ukraine was not ready to join the Western military alliance any time soon and demanded that the issue be resolved now.
“As for the war in Europe … about whether we want it or not? Of course not. That is why we put forward proposals for the negotiation process, the result of which should be an agreement to ensure equal security for all, including our state,” he said.
In a separate development, Russia’s lower house of parliament voted to demand that Putin recognize two separate Russian-backed regions in eastern Ukraine as independent.
Recognition of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk republics could kill the Minsk peace process in eastern Ukraine, where conflict between government forces and Moscow-backed separatists has killed 15,000 people.
Asked about the move, Putin said the region’s problems should be resolved on the basis of the Minsk agreements, which were signed in 2014 and 2015 but never implemented. Schulz said all parties must abide by these agreements.
could be imminent
Russia’s show of force near Ukraine’s border has sparked months of frantic Western diplomacy and threats of severe sanctions if it invades, culminating in mounting warnings in recent days that this could happen at any time.
The Kremlin sought to portray its movements as evidence that Western talk of the war was both false and hysterical.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “February 15, 2022 will go down in history with the failure of Western propaganda for the war. I was humiliated and destroyed without a single shot being fired.”
The Russian Defense Ministry has released footage showing tanks and other armored vehicles being loaded onto flat rail cars. But Western military analysts said they need more information to judge the significance of the recent troop movements.
Commercial satellite imagery, taken on Sunday and Monday, showed a flurry of Russian military activity at several locations near Ukraine, including large troop deployments, attack helicopters and warplanes moving into forward positions. Read more
Russian stocks, government bonds and the ruble, which have been hit by fears of an imminent conflict, rose sharply as the situation seemed to ease a bit, and Ukrainian government bonds rebounded.
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(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Andrea Shallal and Dmitry Antonov); Additional reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Mark Trevelyan and Costas Petsas; Editing by Angus McSwan and Grant McCall
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