Posts Tagged ‘Russian government’

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

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Glencore CEO quits Russian company Rusal board after US sanctions

April 10, 2018

AFP

© 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.

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Russian central bank plays down stability risk from sanctions

April 10, 2018

AFP

© 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.

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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”.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/russia-stock-market-latest-updates-us-sanctions-oligarchs-kremlin-putin-deripaska-a8296536.html

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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

BY: 

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.

http://freebeacon.com/national-security/house-probe-accuses-clapper-misleading-congress/

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.”

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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.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/gavin-williamson-salisbury-nerve-agent-attack-russia-spy-uk-ambassador-criticism-sir-rodric-a8259576.html

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.

‘UNPRECEDENTED AND EXTRAORDINARY’

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.

ENGINEERS TARGETED

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

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/15/us/politics/russia-cyberattacks.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

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.
Bloomberg
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.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Leonid Bershidsky at lbershidsky@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Therese Raphael at traphael4@bloomberg.net

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-03-15/skripal-case-could-haunt-putin-on-chemical-weapons

Russia tells May it is ‘not to blame’ for nerve agent poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal — Moscow demands access to nerve agent UK found…

March 13, 2018
Russia says it ‘is not to blame’ for poisoning spy with nerve agent

Image may contain: 4 people, people standing

Russia has told Theresa May it “is not to blame” for the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal.

Sergei Lavrov, the country’s foreign minister, said Moscow had demanded access to samples of the nerve agent used to poison Mr Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.

Mr Lavrov said the British government had refused to provide Moscow access to materials and samples related to the case, which he called a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Moscow was willing to cooperate with the probe but suggested the UK would be “better off” complying with its international obligations “before putting forward ultimatums,” Mr Lavrov added.

Russian news agencies reported that the foreign ministry had summoned the British ambassador in Moscow over the poisoning accusations.

On Monday, Ms May said Mr Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, had been poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent known as Novichok, which had been developed in the Soviet Union.

The Prime Minister said Russia has until the end of Tuesday to explain how the substance ended up in Britain, otherwise the attack would be interpreted as an act of military aggression.

Officials said Ms May was reviewing a range of economic and diplomatic measures in retaliation for the assault.

The British government will have understood that the Kremlin was unlikely to respond to Ms May’s ultimatum positively. Many in Moscow are already bracing themselves for that they see as an inevitable tightening of sanctions.

Ms May told her regular weekly Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street there was ”no doubt of the severity of what had taken place in Salisbury, which was a reckless, indiscriminate and despicable act.”

She confirmed she will chair a meeting of the National Security Council on Wednesday to discuss the Russian response and will then inform the House of commons of any measures to be taken.

Responding to Mr Lavrov’s complaint the UK had not provided samples of the nerve agent, Ms May’s official spokesman said: ”The UK complies fully with all its obligations under the chemical weapons convention.

“Under the chemical weapons convention states have the mechanism to consult, but there is no requirement to do so.”

The police and MI5 will look into allegations of Russian state involvement in a string of deaths on UK soil, the Government announced.

The announcement by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, followed reports claiming US intelligence sources suspect as many as 14 people may have been assassinated in Britain by Russia’s security services or mafia groups.

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Investigators in protective clothing remove a van from an address in Winterslow near Salisbury (Getty)

Sergei Stepashin, Vladimir Putin’s predecessor as FSB director and Prime Minister, also called for British authorities to hand over evidence.

“We have the relevant agreements to investigate this together,” he told the Interfax news agency.

Mr Stepashin said British security services may have been complicit in the poisoning — and were using it to undermine Russia ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections: “It seems obvious to me that this might be the primitive work of English security services. Tell me who needs this traitor in Russia?”

There could be another reason apart from elections, he added: “The World Cup is about to take start and the English hate us for the fact the competition is taking place in our country.”

Earlier in the day, Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Committee for Foreign Affairs in the Russian upper house described British allegations as “maniacal.” Britain was well versed in blaming all kinds of “mortal sins” on Russia, he wrote on Facebook.

“Russia is being asked to justify itself even without evidence,” he said. “In queen of courts of Britain, this degradation is complete: the total presumption of guilt, when the neither court and nor prosecutor are asked to prove the case, but the accused.”

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Military officials in protective clothing remove vehicles from a car park in Salisbury (EPA)

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson said Britain was talking to its international partners about the situation.

“I’ve been encouraged by the willingness of our friends to show support and solidarity,” the Foreign Secretary said.

“I think in particular from President [Emmanuel] Macron of France, I talked to Sigmar Gabriel my German counterpart, and from Washington where Rex Tillerson last night made it absolutely clear that he sees this as part of a pattern of disruptive behaviour… malign behaviour by Russia… the support for the reckless use of chemical weapons which stretches from Syria now to the streets of Salisbury.”

Mr Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, said Russia’s actions would “certainly trigger a response.”

He said it was “almost beyond comprehension” a government would use such a dangerous substance in a public place.

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Police officers stand outside a  Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury as it remains closed as investigations continue into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal (Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

The chief of the world’s chemical weapons watchdog said those responsible “must be held accountable.”

Ahmet Uzumcu said Boris Johnson had called him on Monday evening to inform him of the results.

In a speech to the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Mr Uzumcu said: ”It is extremely worrying that chemical agents are still being used to harm people. Those found responsible for this use must be held accountable for their actions.

Britain’s representative to the watchdog told the watchdog’s council it is “highly likely” Russia was involved in the attack “by failure to control its own materials or by design.”

Mr Wilson “the first offensive use of a nerve agent of any sort on European territory since World War II.

He added: ”This attempted murder, using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British city, was not just a crime against the Skripals. It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the UK, which put the lives of innocent civilians at risk.”

Mr Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter remain in critical condition.

Britain gives Putin until midnight to explain nerve attack on former spy

March 13, 2018

Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain gave President Vladimir Putin until midnight on Tuesday to explain how a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union was used to strike down a former Russian double agent who passed secrets to British intelligence.

Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have been in hospital in a critical condition since March 4 when they were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in the English cathedral city of Salisbury.

Prime Minister Theresa May said it was“highly likely” that Russia was to blame after Britain identified the substance as part of the highly-lethal Novichok group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s.

Investigators in protective clothing

Investigators in protective clothing more than a week after Sergei Skripa and his daughter were found unconscious CREDIT: DAVID ROSE FOR THE TELEGRAPH

“Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country,” May told parliament on Monday.“Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

Russia holds a presidential election on March 18 in which Putin, himself a former KGB spy, is expected to coast easily to a fourth term in the Kremlin. It has denied any role in the poisoning and says Britain is whipping up anti-Russian hysteria.

Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, summoned to the Foreign Office, was given until the end of Tuesday to explain what happened or face what May said were“much more extensive” measures against the $1.5 trillion Russian economy.

If no satisfactory Russian response is received by midnight London time then May will outline Britain’s response in parliament. She is due to hold a meeting of top security officials on Wednesday.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that the British response would be“commensurate but robust”.

“We’re giving Russia until midnight to explain how it came to be that Novichok was used on the streets of Wiltshire,” he said.“We cannot exclude that they have an explanation.”

Russia has requested access to the nerve agent used against Skripal but Britain has denied it access, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Britain’s Russian ambassador met Lavrov’s deputy in Moscow on Tuesday, a spokesman for the British embassy said.

JOINT WESTERN RESPONSE

Britain could call on allies for a coordinated Western response, freeze the assets of Russian business leaders and officials, expel diplomats, launch targeted cyber attacks and cut back participation in events such as the soccer World Cup.

Official figures show that Russia accounted for 4.7 billion pounds ($6.5 billion) of goods and services imported to Britain in 2016, less than 1 percent of its total. Exports were put at 5.3 billion pounds out of a British total of just under 550 billion pounds.

Read more:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-russia/britain-gives-putin-until-midnight-to-explain-nerve-attack-on-former-spy-idUSKCN1GP0PG

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BBC News

Russian spy: Highly likely Moscow behind attack, says Theresa May

 

Sergei Skripal and his daughter YuliaImage copyrightEPA/ YULIA SKRIPAL/FACEBOOK
Image captionSergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, are in a critical condition in hospital

Former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia, Theresa May has told MPs.

The PM said it was “highly likely” Russia was responsible for the Salisbury attack.

The Foreign Office summoned Russia’s ambassador to provide an explanation.

Mrs May said if there is no “credible response” by the end of Tuesday, the UK would conclude there has been an “unlawful use of force” by Moscow.

The chemical used in the attack, the PM said, has been identified as one of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.

Mrs May said: “Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

Theresa May: Spy poisoned by “military-grade nerve agent”

She said Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had told the ambassador Moscow must provide “full and complete disclosure” of the Novichok programme to international body the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Mrs May said the UK must stand ready to take much more extensive measures, and these would be set out in the Commons on Wednesday should there be no adequate explanation from Russia.

Retired military intelligence officer Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre on Sunday 4 March. They remain in a critical but stable condition in hospital.

Det Sgt Nick Bailey, who fell ill attending the pair, remains seriously ill, but has been talking to his family.

Mr Skripal was convicted by the Russian government of passing secrets to MI6 in 2004, but given refuge in the UK in 2010 as part of a “spy swap”.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd will chair a meeting of the government emergency committee Cobra on Tuesday to discuss the latest developments in the case.

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What are Novichok agents?

Investigators in Winterslow, near Salisbury on 12 March 2018Image copyrightPA
Image captionInvestigators removed a vehicle from a village near Salisbury on Monday
  • The name means “newcomer” in Russian, and applies to a group of advanced nerve agents developed in secret by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s
  • One chemical – called A-230 – is reportedly five to eight times more toxic than VX nerve agent, which can kill a person within minutes
  • Some are liquids, others are thought to exist in solid form. Some are reported to be “binary weapons”, meaning they are typically stored as two less toxic chemicals which when mixed, react to produce the more toxic agent
  • One variant was reportedly approved for use by the Russian military as a chemical weapon
  • Designed to escape detection by international inspectors, their existence was revealed by defectors

Read more on Novichok and what it can do

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Addressing the Commons following a meeting of the government’s National Security Council, Mrs May said: “This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals.

“It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk.”

She told MPs the positive identification of this chemical agent was made by experts at the UK’s Porton Down laboratory.

She said Russia has previously produced the agent and would still be capable of doing so.

The decision to point the finger at Moscow was also based on “Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations”, the PM added.

Jeremy Corbyn urges action – but criticises the Tories for taking donations from “Russian oligarchs”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “robust dialogue” with Russia was needed to avoid escalating tensions further – but he was heckled by Tory MPs when he raised questions about Russian oligarchs donating money to the Conservatives.

‘Circus show’

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US agreed with the UK that Russia was likely to be behind the attack.

“We agree that those responsible – both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it – must face appropriately serious consequences,” he added.

“We stand in solidarity with our allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses.”

Mrs May spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday and “discussed the wide pattern of aggressive Russian behaviour and agreed that it would be important to continue to act in concert with allies to address it”, her spokesman said.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the use of any nerve agent was “horrendous and completely unacceptable” and officials were in touch with the UK.

Downing Street said the incident was not an “article five” matter – a reference to Nato rules which say an attack on one member constitutes an attack on all.

However, the former UK National Security Adviser Lord Ricketts said action would be more effective with a “broader, Nato-EU solidarity behind us”.

He added: “We can’t out-punch Putin… But we can take a stand and we can invite others to join us.”

President Vladimir Putin is asked whether Russia had a hand in the Skripal poisoning

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Mrs May’s statement was “a circus show in the British parliament”.

“The conclusion is obvious – it’s another information and political campaign based on provocation,” she said.

Earlier, asked whether Russia was to blame, President Vladimir Putin told the BBC: “Get to the bottom of things there, then we’ll discuss this.”

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg says the tone of the meeting between Boris Johnson and the Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko was “cool but firm”.

She says the men did not shake hands and the foreign secretary expressed the “outrage” of the British public.

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What will the PM do next?

By James Landale, diplomatic correspondent

Theresa May could have thrown the kitchen sink at Russia, expelling diplomats, toughening sanctions, and cracking down on oligarchs who keep their cash in London.

Instead, the PM has chosen a staged response, throwing down an ultimatum to the Kremlin to explain what happened or face the consequences.

The argument she was making was that this attack crossed a line, that it was not the sort of thing that sometimes happens to old spies in the darker underbelly of the intelligence world, but instead it was part of a pattern of Russian aggression from which other countries have also suffered.

The question now is what action Mrs May will be prepared to take on Wednesday once Russia has responded, or perhaps failed to respond.

The key will be the scale of the international co-operation she can secure.

For it is one thing to crack down on wealthy Russians in London, but it is another to secure united international action against Moscow.

This is a tougher ask, particularly when President Trump has yet to comment on the Salisbury attack and many European partners are looking to soften existing sanctions against Russia.

Mrs May is promising “extensive measures” – the question will be whether they will be enough to make the Kremlin think twice.

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Police and Army activity continued in the Salisbury area on Monday, with officers – some wearing hazardous materials suits – removing a white van from the village of Winterslow, about six miles away.

A Sainsbury’s car park has become the latest area to be sealed off in the city itself.

Salisbury map

Mrs May said the people of Salisbury had responded with “fortitude and calmness”, but there was some concern among residents about the length of time it had taken for information to be released.

On Sunday, up to 500 Salisbury pub-goers and diners were told to wash their possessions as a precaution after trace amounts of the substance used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found on and around a table where they had eaten in Zizzi. Traces were also found at the Mill pub in the city which, like Zizzi, remains closed.

Graham Mulcock, who saw the Skripals being treated by paramedics in the street, said it was a “disappointment” that advice which “might affect people” was not released sooner.

Former chief medical officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, said he had also been a “little surprised” that communication with the public had been “slow to get off the ground”.

Meanwhile, a man from Salisbury who breached the cordon around the bench where Mr Skripal and his daughter were found has been jailed for 16 weeks.

Father-of-three Jamie Knight, 30, who pleaded guilty to assault, criminal damage and racially aggravated public disorder, was said to have been drunk when he shouted out abusive remarks about Russians, Swindon Magistrates’ Court was told.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-43377856