The United States has accused Russia of planning a “false flag operation” in eastern Ukraine as part of its efforts to create a “pretext for invasion” after diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis failed and government websites were hit by a “massive cyber attack”. ”.
A US official said on Friday: “We have information which indicates that Russia has already prepositioned a group of agents to carry out a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine. Agents are trained in urban warfare and the use of explosives to commit acts of sabotage against Russia’s own auxiliary forces.
The official said such “sabotage activities” and “information operations” would serve to accuse “Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack on Russian forces in eastern Ukraine”, adding that it could be the precursor of a military invasion beginning “between mid-January and mid-February”.
Earlier on Friday, Ukraine said it was the target of a “massive cyber attack” after around 70 government websites ceased to function. Targets included the websites of the Ministerial Cabinet, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education, Agriculture, Emergencies, Energy, Veterans Affairs and the Environment, as well as the Treasury websites. public service and the electronic platform of public services Diia, where vaccination certificates and electronic passports are stored. .
“Ukrainians! All your personal data has been uploaded to the public network, ”reads a message posted temporarily on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “All data on your computer is being erased and will not be recoverable. All information about you has become public, fear and expect the worst. “
The Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications, a government agency set up to counter Russian aggression, accused Moscow of being behind Friday’s cyberattacks while noting that official investigators have yet to officially fire such a conclusion.
“This is not the first or even the second time that Ukrainian Internet resources have come under attack since the start of Russia’s military aggression. . . Some cyber attacks were so prevalent that they became part of the world’s manuals for cyber experts, ”he said.
“We assume that the current one is linked to the recent defeat of Russia in negotiations on Ukraine’s future cooperation with NATO,” the agency added.
The attack follows tense negotiations this week between the United States, NATO, their Western allies and Russia, aimed at dissuading Russian President Vladimir Putin from opting for a deeper invasion of Ukraine. Moscow annexed the Ukrainian peninsula from Crimea in 2014.
Ukrainian officials recently warned that cyber attacks and other efforts to destabilize the country would be the prelude to further aggression.
The message left by the hackers, published in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish, added: “This is for your past, your present and your future. For Volyn, for the OUN UPA [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists/Ukrainian Insurgent Army], for Halychyna, for Polissya and for historic lands.
Comments at the end of the post referred to Ukrainian insurgent fighters during WWII and appeared to berate Ukraine for the ethnic clashes and atrocities. Poland and Ukraine accuse each other of committing atrocities during the period in the region, which the countries have jostled for centuries.
The pirates’ message also included disfigured images of Ukraine’s national symbols, with a line through the flag, coat of arms and a map of the country.
It was not immediately clear whether the pirates were Polish or whether this was an attempt to incite a division between Ukraine and Poland, one of Kiev’s most powerful European allies in the face of the Russian aggression.
Julianne Smith, the US Ambassador to NATO, said the US will wait “to see what we find out today.” She added that evidence of a Russian cyberattack would “certainly” be classified as an example of renewed aggression against Ukraine, which could trigger Western sanctions against Moscow.
“We are monitoring everything Russia is going to do about Ukraine,” she said. “We appreciate some of the efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within. We all understand that there is a range of scenarios that could unfold when it comes to what happens between Russia and Ukraine. “
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said he “strongly” condemns cyber attacks.
“NATO cyber experts in Brussels exchanged information with their Ukrainian counterparts on current malicious cyber activities. Allied experts in the country are also supporting the Ukrainian authorities on the ground, ”he said.
Josep Borrell, Brussels’ top diplomat, said the EU’s political and security committee and cyber units will meet to see how to help Kiev.
“We will mobilize all our resources to help Ukraine fight this cyberattack. Unfortunately, we knew it could happen, ”Borrell said, quoted by Reuters, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brest, western France. “It’s hard to say [who is behind it]. I can’t blame anyone because I have no proof, but we can imagine.
Ukrainian state security service SBU said in a statement that “provocative messages have been posted on the main page of these sites.”
“The content of the sites has not been modified and the leak of personal data, according to preliminary information, has not taken place,” added the SBU.
Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s national security chief, told the Financial Times late last year that Ukraine faces “continuous” Russian cyber attacks and other attempts to destabilize the country since. that Moscow annexed Crimea and orchestrated a separatist proxy war in its eastern regions.
“Domestic destabilization is the immediate goal” of Russia before triggering a possible deeper military incursion, he said, “first through cyber warfare, triggering an energy crisis and an international war. ‘information”.