Posts Tagged ‘Russian government’

Deripaska agrees to relinquish control of sanction-hit Rusal

April 28, 2018

A deal with Russian oligarch would help to free aluminium empire from US restrictions

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Oleg Deripaska

David Sheppard, Neil Hume and Henry Sanderson in London

Oligarch Oleg Deripaska is set to give up control of Russian aluminium producer Rusal by reducing his majority stake in EN+, its London-listed parent company, as he attempts to release the groups from crippling US sanctions.

Under the proposed deal, Mr Deripaska would cut his 70 per cent holding in EN+ to below 50 per cent and resign from its board.

The move would in effect sever the Russian tycoon from the aluminium empire he built from the ashes of the Soviet Union and hand a major victory to the Trump Administration.

EN+, which listed on the London Stock Exchange last November in a $1.5bn flotation, would also relinquish its rights to nominate the chief executive of Rusal and manage the business, according to people close to the matter.

A spokesperson for the US Treasury said the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is in charge of designating sanctions, did not have any additional guidance to offer for what the sanctions would mean for Rusal if Mr Deripaska were to reduce his stake.

However, the spokesperson said: “A reduction in the percentage of ownership by a sanctioned individual is not necessarily in and of itself a basis for delisting. Ofac conducts a thorough review of the facts and circumstances of each removal request in every individual case, and does not publicly speculate on specific outcomes or scenarios.”

The sanctions against Rusal have shut off 8 per cent of the world’s aluminium supply since they were introduced this month. Rusal is the world’s second-largest aluminium producer and the largest outside China, with output of 3.7m tonnes a year.

He does not want to see the company he has built up crumble

The US Treasury introduced the sanctions as part of what the Trump administration described as a broad response to Russia’s “malign activity”, including its activities in Syria, Ukraine and interference in western elections.

“Mr Oleg Deripaska has agreed in principle to the chairman’s request that Mr Deripaska reduce his shareholding in the company to below 50 per cent,” EN+ said.

It is not yet clear if the Kremlin will be prepared to back the proposal, which would see one of Russia’s highest-profile businessmen to be separated from control of his assets by the US. Some believe that such a move could encourage Washington to target other oligarchs with ties to President Vladimir Putin.

The proposed deal was agreed in Moscow on Thursday between Mr Deripaska and EN+’s chairman, Greg Barker, a former UK energy minister who was made a life peer after leaving the government of David Cameron in 2015.

People close to the talks said Mr Deripaska had made the decision to save his companies, which employ 150,000 and have assets across the globe.

“He does not want to see the company he has built up crumble,” one of the people said.

EN+ said it had asked the US Treasury for an extended deadline for Mr Deripaska to sell down his stake. The company would overhaul its board under the deal, removing Mr Deripaska and adding a new slate of directors without links to the oligarch.

Since the sanctions were slapped on Rusal and EN+ on April 6 — the first time, in the case of EN+, a UK-listed company has been targeted directly by the US — their share prices have collapsed, with western companies largely unable to do business with them.

The penalties, introduced under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, go further than those put on Russian companies in 2014 following the annexation of Crimea, as they can be extended to non-US citizens seen to be doing significant new transactions with the targeted companies.

After the sanctions hit, aluminium prices jumped by as much as a third while alumina, the key raw material used to make the metal, soared by up to 80 per cent as Rusal metal was shut out of the market. Aluminium was down 2 per cent late on Friday at $2,230 a tonne.

France led a push to soften the sanctions as industries from carmakers to aerospace faced a supply crunch in a key part of the global manufacturing supply chain.

Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury secretary, on Monday said that the condition for lifting sanctions on Rusal was Mr Deripaska ceding control of the company, adding that the US was not targeting the “hardworking people” employed by Rusal.

Mr Deripaska exercises control of Rusal through holding a 48 per cent stake via EN+, alongside a complex web of shareholder agreements and management contracts. A spokesperson for Rusal in London said there was no additional comment from the company at this time.

The Kremlin has discussed state support or a possible nationalisation of Rusal, though it is unclear whether selling a stake to the Russian government would be accepted by the US given its broader stand-off between Moscow and Washington.


Trump taunts Democrats over Russia collusion lawsuit

April 22, 2018

Cyber attack on German computer networks most likely from Russian government

April 11, 2018

Image result for Hans-Georg Maassen, photos

Pictured: Head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency Hans-Georg Maassen

BERLIN (Reuters) – The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency on Wednesday said there was a “high likelihood” that the Russian government was behind a cyber attack on German computer networks, although he conceded it was difficult to be 100-percent certain.

Hans-Georg Maassen told reporters that German authorities carefully monitored the attack after it was discovered in December, and it had not caused any damage.

He said the attack had been found to have a Russian origin, although it was not linked to APT28, the Russian hacking group that attacked the German lower house of parliament in 2015.

Maassen declined comment when asked to confirm reports from German lawmakers and security sources that the recent cyber attack had been linked to another Russian hacking group known as Snake or Turla.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Paul Carrel

Glencore CEO quits Russian company Rusal board after US sanctions

April 10, 2018


© AFP/File | Glencore’s shares dipped Monday but inched back up Tuesday
ZURICH (AFP) – Swiss mining mammoth Glencore said Tuesday its chief Ivan Glasenberg had resigned from the board of Russian aluminium giant Rusal after it was hit with US sanctions and saw its share price collapse.Glencore also said in a statement it was “still evaluating” its contracts with the Russian company, but it announced it would now not be going through with a planned deal with EN+, which owns a controlling stake in Rusal.

“Mr Glasenberg has resigned from his position as a director of Rusal,” the statement said.

The decisions came a day after Rusal saw its share price fall over 50 percent Monday on the Hong Kong stock exchange, where it is listed. It fell an additional 8.7 percent Tuesday.

Glencore also saw its shares dip 3.4 percent Monday on the London FTSE stock exchange, though its shares were back up 2.0 percent Tuesday.

The moves came after the United States on Friday announced a slew of sanctions targeting Russian oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin.

Among the business magnates hit by the punitive measures is Oleg Deripaska, who controls Rusal and EN+.

The sanctions follow a diplomatic crisis sparked by the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal.

Tensions between Russia and the West are also soaring over Moscow’s intervention in the Syrian conflict, and over an alleged chemical attack targeting a rebel-held area near Damascus.

Russian central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina said Tuesday that the country’s economy could withstand the latest US sanctions, even as the ruble continued its spectacular plunge against the dollar and the euro.


Russian central bank plays down stability risk from sanctions

April 10, 2018


© AFP/File | Russia’s Central Bank chief Elvira Nabiullina holds a press conference in Moscow on March 24, 2017

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina said Tuesday that the country’s economy could withstand the latest US sanctions, even as the ruble continued its spectacular plunge against the dollar and the euro.”The central bank has a broad spectrum of instruments in order to act in such situations, if risks arise to financial stability. In our view, there are not such risks now,” Nabiullina told a conference in Moscow.

“There is no need to take some kind of systemic measures. Of course we will follow the situation and possibly introduce some revisions if necessary,” she said.

She said the central bank would be able to limit the influence of sanctions on the country’s currently historically low inflation while acknowledging that the currency’s value was a factor.

“We have worked out all the instruments, most importantly our policy on the interest rate, which allows us to limit the influence of this kind of event on inflation,” she said.

The US announced fresh sanctions on Friday following the diplomatic crisis sparked by the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal.

The sanctions hit oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin, prompting the share price of Russian aluminium giant Rusal founded by Oleg Deripaska to collapse on Monday.

The US move also prompted the ruble to fall on Monday and its plunge continued Tuesday, taking it to lows against the euro and US dollar not seen since 2016.

The euro exceeded 78 rubles for the first time since April 2016 and the dollar went over 63 rubles for the first time since December 2016 on the Moscow foreign exchange market on Tuesday morning, Interfax news agency reported.


Russia stock market crashes after US imposes sanctions on oligarchs

April 10, 2018

Aluminium giant Rusal, which is controlled by Oleg Deripaska, lost half its value on Monday

The Independent

By Ben Chapman 

Russia’s main share index crashed 11 per cent on Monday after the US imposed new sanctions on oligarchs and companies linked to Vladimir Putin.

Aluminium giant Rusal, which is controlled by Oleg Deripaska, halved in value on the Hong Kong stock exchange on Monday, while EN+, a holding company also owned by Mr Deripaska, crashed by 40 per cent.

The aluminium tycoon has close ties to Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort as well as Mr Putin.

Just two companies on Russia’s moex stock market were in positive territory on Monday. The widespread falls came as investors reacted to news that Washington had extended sanctions on Friday to seven oligarchs and 12 companies controlled by them, as well as 17 Russian government officials.

Alexei Miller, director of state-owned Gazprom, is on the list, as is Kirill Shamalov, who is reportedly married to the Russian president’s daughter.

US authorities said the restrictions were imposed in response to Russia’s “malign activities” around the world, including its actions in Ukraine, subversion of Western democracies and support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The sanctions freeze any assets held by those named on the list in the US and prevent any American citizen from doing business with them. For the first time they also include non-US citizens who “knowingly facilitate significant transactions for or on behalf of them”.

This could make banks wary of doing any business in US dollars with people or businesses on the list, meaning the impact of the sanctions could go significantly beyond those within Mr Putin’s inner circle who have been targeted, experts said.

Rusal is the largest producer of aluminium outside China, responsible for around 6 per cent of global supply. Rusal said in a statement that it might default on some of its debts because of the impact of the sanctions.

The rouble slipped 2.5 per cent to 59.63 against the dollar – its biggest single-day slide in more than two years. Fears were also raised over the impact on global commodity markets, much of which are transacted in dollars.

Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin was looking “very attentively” at the processes in the markets and was aiming to coordinate with the government.

“The Russian government is doing everything to stabilise the situation and avoid negative impacts,” he said.

Asked to assess the extent of damage, he said: “You understand, [the sanctions regime] is quite a new thing.

“It is the first manifestation of a negative character, so we need a certain amount of time for analysis to understand the sense of the real damage and to develop methods to get out of the situation. But the sanctions are just a few days old.”

He did not outline any countermeasures, but said the situation was being “actively analysed”.


House Intelligence Committee: former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper misled Congress on possible collusion — U.S. Intel “did not employ proper analytic tradecraft” on Russian election meddling

March 23, 2018

James Clapper

James Clapper / Getty Images


A House Intelligence Committee investigation of Russian election meddling has concluded that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper misled Congress about disclosing information to CNN.

The committee’s final report on the investigation was approved on Thursday and now awaits an intelligence agency review.

Despite 472 days of investigation and thousands of witnesses, the committee stated in its list of final conclusions and recommendations that it found no evidence of collusion between President Donald Trump, his campaign aides, and Russia.

“The committee found no evidence that meetings between Trump associates—including Jeff Sessions—and official representatives of the Russian government—including Ambassador Kislyak—reflected collusion, coordination, or conspiracy with the Russian government,” the list states.

The report also said former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI regarding conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak “even though the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents did not detect any deception during Flynn’s interview.”

The finding suggests the FBI improperly charged Flynn.

The Obama administration also failed to notify the Trump campaign that members of the campaign were assessed to be counterintelligence concerns, the report said.

The committee said opposition to Trump from the U.S. national security establishment prompted the campaign to hire unqualified aides such as George Papadopoulous and Carter Page.

Trump advisers had contacts with the pro-Russian Wikileaks, but none were involved in the theft or publication of Clinton campaign emails, the report said.

On the former DNI, the report says that Clapper, now a contributor to CNN as a national security analyst “provided inconsistent testimony to the committee about his contacts with the media, including CNN.”

A CNN spokeswoman did not return an email seeking comment. Clapper could not be reached for comment.

The report also states that leaks of classified information about Russian intentions to sow discord in the U.S. presidential election began prior to Election Day. The disclosures of U.S. secrets alleging Russia was working to help elect Trump “increased dramatically” after the Nov. 8, 2016 election.

The panel suggested that the leaks “correlate to specific language” in a U.S. intelligence community assessment of Russian election meddling.

The finding suggests that leaks of classified information were politically motivated to undermine Trump after he won the election.

The findings also say the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign funded the anti-Trump dossier produced by former British intelligence officers Christopher Steele.

Steele “claims to have obtained his dossier information second- and third-hand from purported high-placed Russian sources, such as government officials with links to the Kremlin and intelligence services,” the report says.

“Christopher Steele’s information from Russian sources was provided directly to Fusion GPS and Perkins Cole and indirectly to the Clinton campaign,” the report said.

The report suggests that the research group Fusion GPS was used by Russia for disinformation. “Prior to conducting opposition research targeting candidate Trump’s business dealings, Fusion GPS conducted research benefitting Russian interests,” the report said.

The Washington Free Beacon hired Fusion GPS early in the 2016 election campaign but had no role in the Steele dossier.

The report also concluded that Russia intelligence used social media to sow political discord and undermine the election.

The FBI was criticized by the committee for not providing victims information about Russian hacking operations.

Also, U.S. intelligence community judgments regarding Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s strategic intentions “did not employ proper analytic tradecraft,” the report said.

The report said Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted former Trump campaign aide Paul Manafort on charges unrelated to collusion, coordination, and conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Uk Response to Russian Nerve Agent Attack: Too Many Ministers “Shooting their Mouths Off”

March 19, 2018

Salisbury Attack: Top Cold War diplomat criticises Gavin Williamson over ‘go away and shut up’ remarks

Exclusive: Ex-ambassador to Russia says senior ministers have been ‘shooting their mouths off’, but backs Theresa May

By Ashley Cowburn

The Independent

The UK’s former ambassador to Russia has criticised senior ministers for “shooting their mouths off”, singling out Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson for displaying a lack of seriousness amid the deepest crisis in relations with Moscow since the end of the Cold War.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Sir Rodric Braithwaite, took aim at the Cabinet minister following comments in which he told Russia to “go away and shut up“, sparking retaliatory insults from the Russian Foreign Minister and others in Moscow.

Image result for Sir Rodric Braithwaite, photos

Sir Rodric Braithwaite

Sir Rodric, who was the UK’s man in Moscow during critical years of the Cold War, also attacked other senior ministers whom he said “have come out much too early, saying things that are much too wild”, as the UK seeks to build pressure on Vladimir Putin over Salisbury nerve agent attack.

It follows a Commons appearance from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson early on in the crisis in which he sparked news stories that England may pull out of the football World Cup in response to the attack, something which later had to be clarified.

The former high-ranking diplomat’s comments echo those of Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who last week insisted on keeping “cool heads” following Mr Johnson’s intervention, meanwhile he goes on to praise Theresa May’s performance as “judicious”.

Sir Rodric, who served between 1988 and 1992, spoke as events quickly developed in the ongoing saga following the attack in Salisbury that involved a Russian-made “military grade” nerve-agent.

With former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and a British police officer still in hospital, Ms May used a speech at a party forum to say the UK would not tolerate any threat to life on British soil.

Theresa May warns Russia UK will ‘never tolerate threat on life of British citizens’

On Saturday Mr Putin also announced the expulsion of 23 UK diplomats in retaliation to expulsions announced by Ms May earlier in the week.

Praising the Prime Minister approach so far, Sir Rodric said: “She’s been rather judicious; she hasn’t rushed the process.

“I think in a very difficult set of circumstances, in the highly charged atmosphere, a lot of people are shooting their mouths off, I think she’s performed rather well.”

It follows the Prime Minister’s decision to blame the attack on the Russian state, expel its diplomats and execute asset freezes after Moscow failed to respond to the Government’s 24-hour deadline for an explanation of how the Novichok nerve agent came to be used on British soil.

Asked about the Defence Secretary’s comments on Thursday, Sir Rodric continued: “I think I hinted at what people like him and some of his wilder colleagues have been saying. It lacks seriousness.

“Whether you like Russia or not, it is a big country, which now has rather a lot of influence in the world – whether you like it or not. To tell it to go away and shut up is not very serious, in my view.”

Russian Foreign Minister responds to Gavin Williamson: Russia has ‘stopped paying attention’

He added: “I wouldn’t be ruder than that, but it seems to me that he and some of his senior colleagues have come out much too early, saying things that are much too wild, in contrast to Theresa May.”.

Asked whether the Prime Minister should confront Mr Williamson over his incendiary remarks, Sir Rodric, also a foreign policy adviser to former Prime Minister John Major, said: “Well, she has a difficult domestic political situation to mange, to put it mildly.

“She has to make her own judgements about who she tells to shut up.”

On Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to blame Russia on Wednesday in the House of Commons, Sir Rodric said: “This is not a situation in which absolute certainty and absolute proof, particularly of who gave the order, is ever going to be available. So one has to make a judgement.”

Sir Rodric Braithwaite was the highest ranking diplomat in Russia between 1988 and 1992 (Youtube)

He continued: “There is a limit beyond which it doesn’t make sense to say we’ve got to wait until we get more proof.

“I think it was a misjudgement on Corbyn’s part to combine his remarks about the events in Salisbury, with other remarks about the Tories receiving donations from Russian oligarchs and about money laundering in the City.

“Both of those are perfectly legitimate comments – personally I think they are both things that should be investigated further. But that wasn’t the moment to say it. I think that was a political misjudgement, which is being exploited by his political enemies.”

He later added: “If there is a secret information about who gave the order, available to British agencies, they are almost certainly not going to reveal it because they won’t want to compromise their sources. I think it’s quite difficult to imagine how they would get such information, but maybe they have done. And we won’t know.”

Russian Foreign Minister responds to Gavin Williamson: Russia has ‘stopped paying attention’

While Sir Rodric described the current diplomatic crisis between the UK and Russia as a “highly emotional confrontation”, he urged caution about referring to the current situation as a “new Cold War”.

“It was a binary confrontation between two super powers and their respective allies. It was a nuclear confrontation, which if there had been a nuclear exchange would have killed hundreds and hundreds of millions of people, and it was a hair-trigger confrontation.

“The order to launch could have been given within 15 minutes of the warning.”

He added: “It’s a paradox – it was a much simpler situation, it was a much stabler situation because each side was terrified of the other and neither of them ever wanted to trigger a nuclear war, or get anywhere near it.

“But of course these great machines of rockets and submarines and things are all subject to technical error ,and of course human being are also subject to blowing a gasket. So it was a pretty frightening situation – and that is not where we are now.”

At a speech in London, the Prime Minister said Moscow was in “flagrant breach” of international law over the Salisbury incident, a position since backed by the US, France, Germany and others.

She said: “Many Russians have made this country their home. And those who abide by our laws and make a contribution to our society will always be welcome.

“But we will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian Government.”

A Russian response to the British measures had been expected for several days and when it came, it went further than expected.

Apart from the expected tit-for-tat expulsions, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it is stopping all British Council activities “due to legal irregularities” and revoking its agreement for Britain to operate a consulate-general in St Petersburg.

The ministry also warned that Russia could take further measures if Britain takes any more “unfriendly actions” against the country.

In a first, U.S. blames Russia for cyber attacks on energy grid

March 16, 2018

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Thursday blamed the Russian government for a campaign of cyber attacks stretching back at least two years that targeted the U.S. power grid, marking the first time the United States has publicly accused Moscow of hacking into American energy infrastructure.

Beginning in March 2016, or possibly earlier, Russian government hackers sought to penetrate multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation and manufacturing, according to a U.S. security alert published Thursday.

The Department of Homeland Security and FBI said in the alert that a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” had targeted the networks of small commercial facilities “where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks.” The alert did not name facilities or companies targeted.

United States officials and private security firms saw the Russian attacks as a signal by Moscow that it could sabotage the West’s critical facilities in the event of a conflict. CreditSpencer Platt/Getty Images

The direct condemnation of Moscow represented an escalation in the Trump administration’s attempts to deter Russia’s aggression in cyberspace, after senior U.S. intelligence officials said in recent weeks the Kremlin believes it can launch hacking operations against the West with impunity.

It coincided with a decision Thursday by the U.S. Treasury Department to impose sanctions on 19 Russian people and five groups, including Moscow’s intelligence services, for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other malicious cyber attacks.

Russia in the past has denied it has tried to hack into other countries’ infrastructure, and vowed on Thursday to retaliate for the new sanctions.


U.S. security officials have long warned that the United States may be vulnerable to debilitating cyber attacks from hostile adversaries. It was not clear what impact the attacks had on the firms that were targeted.

But Thursday’s alert provided a link to an analysis by the U.S. cyber security firm Symantec last fall that said a group it had dubbed Dragonfly had targeted energy companies in the United States and Europe and in some cases broke into the core systems that control the companies’ operations.

Malicious email campaigns dating back to late 2015 were used to gain entry into organizations in the United States, Turkey and Switzerland, and likely other countries, Symantec said at the time, though it did not name Russia as the culprit.

The decision by the United States to publicly attribute hacking attempts of American critical infrastructure was “unprecedented and extraordinary,” said Amit Yoran, a former U.S. official who founded DHS’s Computer Emergency Response Team.

“I have never seen anything like this,” said Yoran, now chief executive of the cyber firm Tenable, said.

A White House National Security Council spokesman did not respond when asked what specifically prompted the public blaming of Russia. U.S. officials have historically been reluctant to call out such activity in part because the United States also spies on infrastructure in other parts of the world.

News of the hacking campaign targeting U.S. power companies first surfaced in June in a confidential alert to industry that described attacks on industrial firms, including nuclear plants, but did not attribute blame.

“People sort of suspected Russia was behind it, but today’s statement from the U.S. government carries a lot of weight,” said Ben Read, manager for cyber espionage analysis with cyber security company FireEye Inc.


The campaign targeted engineers and technical staff with access to industrial controls, suggesting the hackers were interested in disrupting operations, though FireEye has seen no evidence that they actually took that step, Read said.

A former senior DHS official familiar with the government response to the campaign said that Russia’s targeting of infrastructure networks dropped off after the publication in the fall of Symantec’s research and an October government alert, which detailed technical forensics about the hacking attempts but did not name Russia.

The official declined to say whether the campaign was still ongoing or provide specifics on which targets were breached, or how close hackers may have gotten to operational control systems.

“We did not see them cross into the control networks,” DHS cyber security official Rick Driggers told reporters at a dinner on Thursday evening.

Driggers said he was unaware of any cases of control networks being compromised in the United States and that the breaches were limited to business networks. But, he added, “We know that there is intent there.”

It was not clear what Russia’s motive was. Many cyber security experts and former U.S. officials say such behavior is generally espionage-oriented with the potential, if needed, for sabotage.

Russia has shown a willingness to leverage access into energy networks for damaging effect in the past. Kremlin-linked hackers were widely blamed for two attacks on the Ukrainian energy grid in 2015 and 2016, that caused temporary blackouts for hundreds of thousands of customers and were considered first-of-their-kind assaults.

Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, asked the Trump administration earlier this month to provide a threat assessment gauging Russian capabilities to breach the U.S. electric grid.

It was the third time Cantwell and other senators had asked for such a review. The administration has not yet responded, a spokesman for Cantwell’s office said on Thursday.

Last July, there were news reports that the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp, which operates a nuclear plant in Kansas, had been targeted by hackers from an unknown origin.

Spokeswoman Jenny Hageman declined to say at the time if the plant had been hacked but said that there had been no operational impact to the plant because operational computer systems were separate from the corporate network. Hageman on Thursday said the company does not comment on security matters.

John Keeley, a spokesman for the industry group the Nuclear Energy Institute, said: “There has been no successful cyber attack against any U.S. nuclear facility, including Wolf Creek.”

Reporting by Dustin Volz and Timothy Gardner, additional reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Tom Brown, Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman

See also: New York Times

Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says


Putin Has a Chemical Weapons Problem

March 15, 2018
The use of a nerve agent against an ex-spy in the U.K. will haunt the Kremlin worse than previous transgressions.
A time for action.

 Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has shrugged off criticism over his annexation of Crimea, sanctions over his meddling in Ukraine, and attacks over Russian interference in the U.S. elections. It will be much harder to shrug off international outrage over the use of a chemical agent in a NATO ally.

No matter what they say officially, neither U.S. nor European officials are particularly bothered about Ukraine, a poor, corrupt country on the Soviet periphery that the West isn’t bound by any treaties to defend. So sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine and fomenting unrest there have been weak. It also has been hard for the U.S. to get European cooperation for any retaliatory measures tied to the election meddling issue. The use of chemical weapons is a different story. The Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans them, has 192 signatory states, one fewer than the United Nations Charter; it’s one of the most universally approved international documents in history. Breaking it can entail far more serious sanctions than those Russia has faced for its earlier attempts to assert itself globally.

After former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned, apparently with a Russian-developed nerve agent known as Novichok, in Salisbury earlier this month, Moscow has failed to engage meaningfully with the U.K. to clarify the incident. Of course, the U.K. government baited the Kremlin, demanding an answer within 24 hours; Prime Minister Theresa May and her ministers must have known they’d only get an angry rebuke this way. But it’s also clear that Russia doesn’t have a good response.

In a speech to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya laid out what he had. There was the usual verbiage about the presumption of innocence and a weird Sherlock Holmes reference that, judging by the British representative’s puzzled face, didn’t really work. But Nebenzya’s arguments also included the following substantive points:

  • “The Russian Federation has not conducted any scientific studies or research and development under the code name Novichok”;
  • The U.K. hasn’t made a formal request for information under Article 9 of the Chemical Weapons Convention, nor has it provided “material proof” of Russian involvement, such as samples of the substance used against Skripal;
  • Russia has “nothing to fear or hide” from an independent investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
  • In 1992, Russia stopped all Soviet chemical weapons programs, and by 2017, the remaining stocks were fully destroyed.
  • Since the early 1990s, some Russian scientists involved in the chemical weapons program moved to the West and continued their work in the U.S. and the U.K. Their output is, “for some reason,” classified in the West as “Novichok.”
  • There’s no way to identify a toxic substance unless one has its formula. If the U.K. has identified the nerve agent used against Skripal, it must have its formula and be capable of manufacturing it.
  • The attempted murder of Skripal would have been of no benefit to the Russian government ahead of the March 18 presidential election and the upcoming soccer World Cup.

That’s a weak defense for several reasons. One is that Nebenzya’s Novichock statement is carefully formulated to deny what the U.K. isn’t claiming.

In 1992, Vil Mirzayanov, a chemist who had worked on the Soviet chemical weapons program since the 1960s, disclosed that Novichok agents, also known as A-230 and a A-232, were produced under a program called Foliant. During Mirzayanov’s 1992-1994 Russian trial, the research institute where he had worked reported that work on the substances, described by the whistleblower as nerve agents more powerful than the U.S.-developed VX, had been sanctioned by several 1980s resolutions of the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee. So was the development of binary weapons which produced the poisonous compounds through a reaction between seemingly innocuous substances.

It was the Soviet Union, not the Russian Federation, that conducted the research and development, and the program was known as Foliant, not Novichok (that name was used just for the compounds themselves). But that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Russia’s maintaining both stocks and production of the chemicals.

Nebenzya’s demands that the incident be handled under the CWC and by the OPCW are another reason his argument doesn’t hold water. Russia, of course, has positive experience with the OPCW in Syria, where the U.S. says President Bashar al-Assad’s troops are using chemical weapons and Russia insists they aren’t. The OPCW has thoroughly investigated a number of incidents but has been reluctant to apportion blame. But in the Skripal case, both the U.K. and Russia are in a position to know the OPCW is likely to draw a blank. As Mirzayanov wrote in his book, “State Secrets”:

Despite my revelations and the ratification of the CWC by Russia, the Novichok program was not put under international control, and agents A-230, A-232 and their precursors and the binary components are not on the list of controlled compounds of CWC. This is very troubling because there are no guarantees that Russia isn’t continuing such secret programs. There are extremely compelling reasons for amending the CWC to include these chemicals, but nothing has been done about it.

On Wednesday, Vladimir Uyba, head of Russia’s Federal Medico-Biological Agency, confirmed this, saying Novichok was not covered by the CWC. No Russian government official has said clearly that Russia doesn’t have stocks of Novichok or that it doesn’t produce it.

Of course, if keeping or producing these agents is not banned by the convention, Russia formally has, as Nebenzya said, “nothing to fear or hide.” But it’s not certain that the international community — not just Western nations but a broader set of UN members — will want to stand on formality and not on the spirit of the convention, whose purpose was to ban all chemical weapons of mass destruction. In a strong statement on Thursday, condemning “the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War II,” the leaders of the U.K., Germany, France and the U.S. called on Russia to declare the Novichok program to the OPCW.

That leaves the final part of Nebenzya’s argument — that Western nations likely had the capacity to produce the chemical used on Skripal and that Russia had nothing to gain by using it. I find it hard to support. Hits on people the Russian intelligence services consider traitors — such as Skripal or Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium in the U.K. in 2006 — are meant to deliver the message that traitors aren’t safe anywhere. Such decisive action could only help Putin in the presidential election: His core electorate supports such shows of strength and wile. But the election isn’t free or fair, anyway, so there’s no reason to bring it into the conversation. As for the World Cup, it’s too late to do anything about it, and the U.K. has made no move to withdraw its team.

The U.K. is certainly not interested in using a nerve agent on its own soil just to spite Russia; even if once cynically considers it a distraction from May’s Brexit problems, it can’t last long enough to be of any real benefit to the prime minister.

The Skripal case will not go away easily, and it’ll probably haunt the Kremlin worse than any of its previous transgressions. The West won’t, of course, wage an Iraq-style war on it, but harsher sanctions, including some from Europe, are suddenly a revived possibility.

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