The screen of a Ukrainian cyberpolice officer in Kiev on June 29, 2017 (AFP / SERGEI SUPINSKY)
The United States on Friday accused Russia of dispatching operatives to Ukraine to carry out ‘sabotage’ operations to create a ‘pretext’ for an invasion, further heightening tensions as Kiev blamed Moscow for a cyberattack against his ministries.
“Russia is laying the groundwork for the possibility of creating a pretext for an invasion from scratch,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, detailing the intelligence Washington says it has.
“The Russian army plans to start these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could start between mid-January and mid-February,” she warned.
According to the elements invoked by the Americans, Moscow “has already prepositioned a group of agents”, “trained in urban guerrilla warfare and the use of explosives”, to carry out “acts of sabotage” against pro-Russian separatists “under false flags”, i.e. posing as Ukrainians.
“We saw this strategy at work in 2014”, when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, “they are preparing this strategy again”, warned President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on Thursday.
– “Free” affirmations –
The Kremlin called these claims “gratuitous”, saying they were “not supported by any evidence”.
The United States has nevertheless decided to step up its accusations against the Kremlin after a series of high-level meetings between Westerners and Russians this week failed to ward off the risk of a new conflict. in Ukraine.
The Americans and Europeans have been saying for weeks that Moscow has deployed nearly 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border for a potential invasion, and are threatening unprecedented sanctions if they go on the offensive. Russia denies such an intention and claims to want to defend itself against the posture deemed threatening by NATO at its gates.
Its demands for guarantees as to the end of the enlargement of the Atlantic Alliance in Eastern Europe, and in particular in Ukraine, have however been swept away by the West.
While diplomacy seems to be at an impasse, pending a formal response from the two rival camps on the follow-up to be given to their dialogue, Kiev said on Friday that a “massive” cyberattack had targeted several of its ministries.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry quickly reported “preliminary clues” implicating “groups of hackers associated with the Russian secret service”.
Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO, on January 12, 2022 in Brussels (AFP / JOHN THYS)
Europeans and Americans condemned the sabotage.
NATO notably announced the signing “in the coming days” of an agreement with Ukraine to strengthen their cooperation in this area. It “provides in particular for Ukraine’s access to NATO’s malware information sharing platform,” said Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of the Alliance, in a statement.
– Threatening message –
A threatening message — in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish — was posted on the Ukrainian diplomacy homepage by the perpetrators of the attack.
“Ukrainians, be scared and prepare for the worst. All your personal data has been uploaded to the web,” it read.
What we know about the cyberattack that targeted Ukraine between January 13 and 14 (AFP / )
The authorities, however, denied any data theft. More broadly, Ukraine assured that it had not observed any significant damage. Washington also spoke of a “limited” impact, without immediately commenting on the perpetrators of the hack.
Computer sabotage targeting Ukrainian strategic infrastructure in order to disrupt the authorities is one of the scenarios mentioned as being the harbinger of a classic military offensive by Moscow.
Ukraine has several times been the target of cyberattacks attributed to Russia in recent years, notably in 2017 against several critical infrastructures and in 2015 against its electricity network.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a press conference on January 14, 2022 devoted to Russian diplomacy in the past year (AFP / Dimitar DILKOFF)
In an attempt to defuse the explosive crisis with Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has proposed a three-way, possibly virtual, meeting with his American counterparts Joe Biden and Russian Vladimir Putin to defuse tensions, a close adviser said on Friday. , Andrii Yermak.
But the Russians had said, after talks this week with the Americans and NATO, that they saw no point in resuming those talks in the short term.
In this context, the Russian Ministry of Defense released Friday images of military maneuvers with 2,500 soldiers and a hundred tanks, taking place about fifty kilometers from the Ukrainian border.