‘Be scared’: Ukraine hit by cyberattack as Russia moves more troops

  • Kyiv says about 70 government sites hit by cyberattack
  • ‘The drumbeat of war resonates loudly,’ says US diplomat
  • Moscow says it could take military action unless demands are met
  • NATO announces that it will sign a cyber-cooperation pact with Kiev

KYIV/MOSCOW, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Ukraine has been hit by a cyberattack that posted a warning on government websites to “be afraid and expect the worst”, while Russia, which massed 100,000 troops on its neighbor’s border, posted photos of more of its forces on the move.

The cyberattack came hours after talks ended without breakthrough between Russia and Western allies, who fear Moscow could launch another military assault on a country it invaded in 2014.

Kiev said President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had proposed a three-way meeting with Russian and US leaders. Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said his country’s “life and death” were at stake.

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“The drumbeat of war rings out loud,” Michael Carpenter, US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said after the talks on Thursday. Read more

Russia denies plans to attack Ukraine, but says it could take unspecified military action unless its demands are met, including a promise from the NATO alliance never to admit Kiev.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Russia hoped security talks with the United States would resume, but that would depend on Washington’s response to Moscow’s proposals.

“We will categorically not accept the appearance of NATO right on our borders, especially given the current development of the Ukrainian leadership,” he said.

Asked what Moscow meant by threatening this week to take “military-technical measures” if the talks fail, Lavrov replied: “Measures to deploy military equipment, that’s obvious. When we make decisions with military equipment, we understand what we mean and what we are. get ready for.”

Russian Defense Ministry footage released by the RIA news agency showed armored vehicles and other military equipment being loaded onto trains in the Russian Far East, in what Moscow called an inspection exercise to train for long-range deployments.

“This is probably a cover for units being moved to Ukraine,” said Rob Lee, a military analyst and researcher at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute.

“PREPARE FOR THE WORST”

Ukrainian officials were investigating the huge cyberattack, which they say hit about 70 websites of government bodies, including the foreign ministry, cabinet of ministers and security and defense council.

Although they avoided blaming Moscow directly, they made it clear that they suspected Russia. Russia has not commented but has previously denied being behind cyberattacks, including against Ukraine.

“Ukrainian! All your personal data has been uploaded to the public network. All data on the computer is destroyed, it is impossible to restore it,” reads a message visible on hacked government websites, written in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish.

“All information about you has become public, be afraid and expect the worst. This is for your past, your present and your future.”

NATO responded by announcing that it would sign a new agreement with Kiev in a few days on closer cooperation in cyber defense, including giving Ukraine access to the system of the Western military alliance for sharing malware information.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement that NATO cyber experts were already working with Ukrainian authorities to respond to the attack, both remotely from headquarters in Brussels and on the ground in Ukraine.

On the streets of Ukraine, there was growing resignation at the prospect of renewed fighting. Kiev resident Ruslan Kavatsyuk, 39, said he viewed the cyberattack as “positive” because it would strengthen the resolve of the Ukrainian public.

“It reminds us that we live in military times, that Russia is an enemy that will kill us physically,” he said. “That’s why we must always remember it.”

Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters it was too early to say who might be behind the attack, but Russia had been behind similar strikes in the past.

The Ukrainian government said it had restored most of the affected sites and no personal data had been stolen.

Ukrainian military intelligence has also accused Moscow of preparing “provocations” against Russian troops based in a separatist region of neighboring Moldova, which could be used as a pretext to invade Ukraine on a new front in the west.

European Union top diplomat Josep Borrell condemned the cyber attack and said the EU’s political and security committee and cyber units would meet to see how to help Kyiv: “I can’t blame anyone because I don’t ‘ve no proof, but we can imagine.”

The message left by the cyberattack was peppered with references that echoed long-standing Russian state claims, denied by Kyiv, that Ukraine is in the grip of far-right nationalist groups. He also referred to the sites of killings carried out in Nazi Germany-occupied Poland by Ukrainian insurgents, a point of contention between Poland and Ukraine.

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Additional reporting by Matthias Williams in Kiev, Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn in Moscow, Sabine Siebold and John Irish in Brest, France; Written by Mark Trevelyan and Peter Graff; Editing by Alison Williams, Hugh Lawson and Alex Richardson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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