The Ukrainian government’s websites were sprinkled with a warning to “be afraid and expect the worst” when a massive cyber attack hit the country, while a US official expressed fears that Russia was preparing to attack its neighbor if diplomacy failed.
The cyber attack took place hours after the talks ended on Thursday without any breakthrough between Moscow and the Western Allies. On Friday, Russia, which has gathered 100,000 troops at Ukraine’s border, released photos of more of its forces on the way.
Kiev said that President Volodymyr Zelensky had proposed a three-way meeting with the leaders of Russia and the United States. Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said his country’s “life and death” hung in the balance.
A US official said Washington was concerned that Russia was preparing for the possibility of a new military attack on a country it invaded in 2014.
“As part of its plans, Russia lays the groundwork for the possibility of fabricating a pretext for invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack on Russian forces in eastern Ukraine,” the official said. , on condition of anonymity.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later dismissed reports based on “unfounded” information, the TASS news agency reported.
Russia denies plans to attack Ukraine but says it can take unspecified military action unless its demands – including a promise by the NATO alliance never to recognize Kiev – are met.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia hoped that security talks with the United States would resume, but that this would depend on Washington’s response to Moscow’s proposal.
“We will certainly not accept NATO emerging right at our borders, especially given the current course of Ukrainian leadership,” he said.
Asked what Moscow meant by threatening to take “military-technical measures” this week if the talks fail, Lavrov said: “Measures to deploy military hardware, it’s obvious. When we make decisions with military hardware, we understand what we are doing.” mean and what we are preparing for. “
Films from the Russian Ministry of Defense released by the RIA news agency showed armored vehicles and other military hardware being loaded onto trains in Russia’s Far East, in what Moscow called an inspection exercise to carry out long-range missions.
“This is likely to be a cover for the units moving to Ukraine,” said Rob Lee, a military analyst and a colleague at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute.
“Expect the worst”
Ukrainian officials investigated the huge cyberattack, which they said affected about 70 websites of government agencies, including the Foreign Ministry, the Cabinet of Ministers and the Security and Defense Council.
Although they avoided directly accusing Moscow, the spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign minister told Reuters that Russia had been behind similar strikes in the past.
A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said it was not yet clear who was responsible for the cyberattack but that Biden had been informed about it.
“We are in touch with the Ukrainians and have offered our support,” the spokesman said.
Russia did not comment but has previously denied being behind cyber attacks, including against Ukraine.
“Ukrainian! All your personal data was uploaded to the public network. All data on the computer is destroyed, it is impossible to recover it,” it said in a statement visible on hacked state websites, written in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish.
“All information about you has become public, be afraid and expect the worst. This is for your past, present and future.”
The message left by the cyberattack was replete with references echoing long-running Russian state accusations, rejected by Kiev, that Ukraine is in the throes of right-wing extremist nationalist groups.
The Ukrainian government said it had restored most of the affected sites and that no personal information had been stolen.
NATO responded by announcing that in a few days it would sign a new agreement with Kiev on closer cooperation in cyber defense, including giving Ukraine access to the Western military alliance’s system for sharing information about malicious software.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement that NATO cyber experts were already working with the Ukrainian authorities to respond to the attack, both at a distance from Brussels headquarters and on the ground in Ukraine.
The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, condemned the cyber attack and said the EU Political and Security Committee and cyber units would meet to see how to help Kiev: “I can not blame anyone because I have no evidence, but we can imagine U.S. “
On the streets of Ukraine, there was a growing resignation in the face of the prospect of renewed fighting. Kyiv resident Ruslan Kavatsyuk, 39, said he saw the cyberattack as “positive” because it would strengthen the determination of the Ukrainian public.
“It reminds us that we live in military times, that Russia is an enemy that will kill us physically,” he said.