On Monday, the United States issued a joint statement with the UK accusing Russia of conducting yet another cyber attack. It is the fifth time the U.S. has accused the Russian Federation of such actions. The recent attacks targeted “network infrastructure devices” which includes routers, switches and firewalls. US and UK officials told reporters that if successful, the infiltration could be used for intellectual property theft or even espionage if tensions continue to rise or in the event of open conflict.
The cyber battlefield has come to the forefront of international relations. The Department of Justice took the unprecedented step of indicting two Russian spies in 2017 for hacking into tech giant Yahoo and stealing the data of 500 million users. In February, the US and its allies accused Russia of the 2017 NotPetya malware outbreak that disrupted the Ukrainian Central Bank, the Kiev airport and the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl. The White House dubbed the assault as “the most destructive and costly cyber attack in history.”
Yesterday, the State Department announced additional sanctions which are intended to isolate Russian companies and oligarchs who are deemed complicit in the cyber activities. Russian nationals who are placed on the sanction list have their US assets frozen and are prohibited from doing business with American companies and investors.
“Russian oligarchs and elites… will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities,” the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.
Most of our readers will recall the recent controversy over Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 election. It has become well-known that the former Soviet nation helped create and operate thousands of Twitter and Facebook accounts in an attempt to sway the election presumably against Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton. It is this humble writer’s opinion that the Kremlin was convinced that no change in US foreign policy would take place under another Clinton presidency while, based on Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, there might be a foreign policy shift under his Administration.
In recent years, Russia President Vladimir Putin has been extremely vocal about what he essentially calls a selfish, ill-advised and counterproductive foreign policy strategy by the United States in the Middle East. He points to the destabilization of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria as examples of a collapse in the two countries partnership and the US’s refusal to accept the Kremlin’s input or consider the two nations’ mutual interests. He also underlines that every administration seems to continue this strategy so it is understandable that he would prefer an “outsider” and someone who ran on a protectionist platform like Donald Trump to someone who has been on the inside for decades like Hillary Clinton.
To Putin’s disappointment, the same policies seems to be continuing in Syria and for that reason, it is not surprising to see the Russians positioning themselves for further conflict.