State Department says Russian cyber war against Ukraine began in January

Moscow’s diplomats promised peace while cyber attacks were launched, according to US

John Bowden
Washington DC
Tuesday 10 May 2022 18:11 BST
<p>Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies at a Senate hearing </p>

Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies at a Senate hearing

The Biden administration on Tuesday formally blamed the Russian government for a series of cyberattacks targeting Ukraine’s government and private sector that occurred in the days leading up to and amid the ongoing invasion.

A statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow of conducting “denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, and cyber attacks to delete data from computers belonging to government and private entities”.

And according to the secretary, Russia’s actions had “spillover” effects into other countries around Europe.

“Today, in support of the European Union and other partners, the United States is sharing publicly its assessment that Russia launched cyber attacks in late February against commercial satellite communications networks to disrupt Ukrainian command and control during the invasion, and those actions had spillover impacts into other European countries. The activity disabled very small aperture terminals in Ukraine and across Europe. This includes tens of thousands of terminals outside of Ukraine that, among other things, support wind turbines and provide Internet services to private citizens,” he said.

According to the State Department the attacks began in January, weeks before Russian forces began surging into Ukrainian-held territory on 24 February.

At the time, Russian officials were still denying plans to invade Ukraine or launch military action against its forces.

"There is no invasion, and there [are] no such plans," Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said in an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation in mid-February, days before hostilities began.

The statement is a sign that Washington is showing no signs of letting up diplomatic pressure on both Russia but also to a lesser extent members of the European Union; Mr Blinken’s mention of attacks affecting countries “across Europe” could easily be taken as the latest US effort to pressure European Nato-aligned nations into doing more to support Ukraine in its resistance against Russia’s assault.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged allies to rapidly approve more aid to Ukraine in April during a visit to meet with his contemporaries from a number of European nations at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, proclaiming: “We've got to move at the speed of war."

The State Department also released a fact sheet on Tuesday detailing the ways US agencies were working to shore up Ukraine’s cyber infrastructure. The news release detailed a multiagency effort to respond to the invasion, which includes USAID providing funding for hands-on support for Ukrainian government agencies hit by cyberattacks, efforts by the Department of Energy to help Ukraine integrate its energy grid with Europe, and the provision of thousands of communications devices including satellite phones to “essential service providers, government officials, and critical infrastructure operators” in Ukraine.

The Biden administration has pursued a path of full-throated support for Ukraine and its government, even seeking as recently as this week to decouple further aid packages to Ukraine from other, more politically controversial legislation in order to streamline the aid’s passage.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is now largely focused in the country’s eastern regions after Ukraine’s forces, bolstered by a wave of western aid, successfully resisted Moscow’s attempts to encircle and neutralize the capital of Kyiv.

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