Politics

UK says it has exposed ‘malign attempts’ by Russia to hack and threaten British ‘democratic processes’ – Russia-Ukraine war live


UK foreign secretary: we are exposing ‘malign attempts’ by Russia to ‘threaten our democratic processes’

The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, is in Washington today, where he is expected to later give a press conference alongside the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken.

Cameron, the UK’s former prime minister, has issued a statement about the UK government’s allegation of Russian hacking efforts. PA Media reports that he said:

Russia’s attempts to interfere in UK politics are completely unacceptable and seek to threaten our democratic processes. Despite their repeated efforts, they have failed.

In sanctioning those responsible and summoning the Russian ambassador today, we are exposing their malign attempts at influence and shining a light on yet another example of how Russia chooses to operate on the global stage.

We will continue to work together with our allies to expose Russian covert cyber activity and hold Russia to account for its actions.”

David Cameron (left) in Washington yesterday meeting the US House speaker, Mike Johnson.
David Cameron (left) in Washington yesterday meeting the US House speaker, Mike Johnson. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Key events

Lisa O'Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll is the Guardian’s Brussels correspondent. She writes:

Viktor Orbán cannot be allowed to “blackmail” the rest of the EU by threatening to block Ukraine membership talks unless it releases withheld funds to Hungary, MEPs have said.

“This is a make-or-break moment for the EU,” said Pedro Marques, vice-president of the Socialist and Democratic group that represents 142 MEPs.

“It is a wake-up call for the leaders that we cannot continue allowing ourselves to be blackmailed by some authoritarian leader,” he added.

“At a moment in which the US Congress has just outvoted a proposal by Joe Biden to continue to support Ukraine, we cannot put ourselves in a situation where the Ukrainians see that we are also not capable of continuing to assist them.

“It also not acceptable, from my point of view, that anyone gets the perception that at the end of next week, Orbán got his way and got his €30bn [£25.7bn] in exchange for allowing the EU to continue to assist Ukraine. It is simple: we cannot trade money for values. It’s not acceptable.”

His comments came before a meeting between Emmanuel Macron and Orbán in Paris over dinner on Thursday.

He is expected to tell Orbán that to block the opening of talks with Ukraine will undermine the EU’s strategy to fight Vladimir Putin.

“This is a test of Europe’s strategic autonomy,” said a diplomatic source. Orbán’s dissent will send a signal to Putin “but also to the Americans”.

Marquez said the EU also needed to abandon its rule that decisions on enlargement should be unanimous, something that is supported by other member states.

“When you join the EU it means you are a democratic country. I guess we did not foresee that democracy could be corrupted from the inside,” he said.

A Russian court has extended the custody of two lawyers of the jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny until 13 March, it said in a statement on Thursday.

The lawyers, Alexei Liptser and Vadim Kobzev, have been charged with being members of an extremist group, Reuters reports.

The US president, Joe Biden, reaffirmed his commitment to Ukraine and called on Congress to “stand against the tyranny of Putin, stand for freedom”.

In a tweet, he wrote:

History will judge us harshly if we turn our back on freedom’s cause in Ukraine.

We can’t let Putin win.

The Russian nationalist Igor Girkin, who had said he wanted to challenge Vladimir Putin in the presidential election in March, had his pre-trial detention extended for six months on Thursday, a Moscow court said.

Reuters reports that Girkin is accused of “public calls to commit extremist activity”.

Girkin was arrested in July. He is a former battlefield commander of Russia’s proxy forces in east Ukraine who was convicted by a Dutch court over the shooting down of MH17. His armed intervention, backed by Russia, marked the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine.

Girkin had become a popular Telegram blogger and commentator on the war. Like other pro-war nationalists, he had been critical of the Russian military’s bungling of the invasion, calling top generals ineffective and criticising the president and other top officials. He had called for Putin’s downfall, saying Russia “could not survive another six years” of his rule.

UK foreign secretary: we are exposing ‘malign attempts’ by Russia to ‘threaten our democratic processes’

The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, is in Washington today, where he is expected to later give a press conference alongside the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken.

Cameron, the UK’s former prime minister, has issued a statement about the UK government’s allegation of Russian hacking efforts. PA Media reports that he said:

Russia’s attempts to interfere in UK politics are completely unacceptable and seek to threaten our democratic processes. Despite their repeated efforts, they have failed.

In sanctioning those responsible and summoning the Russian ambassador today, we are exposing their malign attempts at influence and shining a light on yet another example of how Russia chooses to operate on the global stage.

We will continue to work together with our allies to expose Russian covert cyber activity and hold Russia to account for its actions.”

David Cameron (left) in Washington yesterday meeting the US House speaker, Mike Johnson.
David Cameron (left) in Washington yesterday meeting the US House speaker, Mike Johnson. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

It is understood that there are hundreds of victims of attempted hacks by Russia across the UK, many being widely recognisable names – with personal email accounts being targeted, not just official emails.

PA Media reports that foreign office minister Leo Docherty said that impersonation attempts and “false accounts” had been made to compromise email accounts in the public sector and wider civil society to create a “believable approach seeking to build a rapport before delivering a malicious link”.

MPs in London were told sanctions would be imposed on two members of hacking group Star Blizzard after a National Crime Agency investigation. They were named by the Foreign Office as Andrey Stanislavovich Korinets, also known as Alexey Doguzhiev, and FSB intelligence officer Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko.

Docherty said the Russian ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office to be told “these actions have consequences”. It is understood the ambassador was unavailable when summoned and officials instead met with a senior member of the Russian government to express concerns over the attempts to interfere in democratic processes.

The Russian embassy in London is yet to comment on the allegations, although yesterday it issued a fiery statement condemning a new round of sanctions on Russians connected with the war on Ukraine, calling them “illegitimate unilateral restrictions” and describing the announcement as “yet another act of poorly staged drama” by the UK.

Here are some of the latest news images sent over the news wires to us from Ukraine.

Workers set up a menorah for celebrations marking the Jewish festival of Hanukkah in Kyiv.
Workers set up a menorah for celebrations marking the Jewish festival of Hanukkah in Kyiv. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters
Ukrainian service personnel dig trenches during a field military exercise in the Donetsk region on Wednesday.
Ukrainian service personnel dig trenches during a field military exercise in the Donetsk region on Wednesday. Photograph: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images
A member of the Ukrainian armed forces displays a FPV (first-person view) drone in a shelter near the frontline in an undisclosed location in the Donetsk region.
A member of the Ukrainian armed forces displays a FPV (first-person view) drone in a shelter near the frontline in an undisclosed location in the Donetsk region. Photograph: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images
Service personnel and their cats rest in their dugout near the frontline near Bakhmut.
Service personnel and their cats rest in their dugout near the frontline near Bakhmut. Photograph: Libkos/Getty Images
Rowena Mason

Rowena Mason

Here is the Guardian’s Whitehall editor Rowena Mason on those claims by the UK government that the FSB has been directing ‘cyber interference’ in British political life:

Russian spies have been targeting MPs, journalists and others with cyber hacking as part of a concerted attempt to meddle in British politics, a Foreign Office minister has said.

Leo Docherty, a minister under David Cameron, told the House of Commons that the Russian federal security service was using “cyber interference” to target politically connected people.

MPs have previously complained about being targeted by hackers, with Labour’s Ben Bradshaw saying in 2019 that he believed he had been subject to interference by Russia. The Russian government was also suspected in 2017 of being behind a cyber-attack on parliament that breached dozens of email accounts belonging to MPs and peers.

However, this is the strongest confirmation from the government that it believes Russia is currently trying to interfere in the UK’s democratic processes.

A damning report from parliament’s intelligence and security committee found in 2020 that the British government and intelligence agencies failed to conduct any proper assessment of Kremlin attempts to interfere with the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Read more here: Russian spies targeting UK MPs and media with ‘cyber interference’

Summary of the day so far …

It is 2pm in Kyiv and in Moscow. Here is a summary of the latest headlines …

  • The UK’s government has said it has levelled “appropriate sanctions” after summoning the Russian ambassador following accusations that groups linked to the Russian FSB had been hacking prominent British figures as part of attempts to “meddle in British politics”. UK deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden said Russia was “behind sustained hostile cyber operations aimed at interfering in parts of the UK democratic processes. This has included members of parliament, civils servants, thinktanks, journalists and NGOs”. The former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Richard Dearlove, has confirmed he was one of the figures targeted.

  • The human rights commissioner of Ukraine’s parliament has said that the officially confirmed number of Ukrainian children deported by Russia now stands at over 19,540. Speaking at a human rights conference in Kyiv, Dmytro Lubinets said “this is against the background of the Russian Federation continuing to deport more and more groups of Ukrainian children from our state every day”. In March, the international criminal court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, in relation to the forced deportation of children.

  • Four occupied regions of Ukraine that were “annexed” by the Russian Federation in late 2022 are expected to participate in Russia’s presidential election next year, after the date was set for 17 March. Russia’s Federation council confirmed the date this morning, with Ella Pamfilova, head of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, saying a decision will be made by 12 December on whether occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson will take part.

  • Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has not yet announced whether he will run, however the 71-year-old is widely anticipated to secure a fifth term and remain in power until at least 2030. Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an online statement urged his supporters to vote for anyone but Putin, saying “Putin views this election as a referendum on approval of his actions. A referendum on approval of the war. Let’s disrupt his plans and make it happen so that no one on 17 March is interested in the rigged result, but that all of Russia saw and understood.”

  • A driver was killed and grain infrastructure damaged by a Russian drone attack on Ukrainian grain infrastructure near the Danube River, the governor of Odesa region said on Thursday. Ukraine’s air force said 18 Shaheds were launched at the southern Odesa and Khmelnytskyi regions in western Ukraine. Fifteen were shot down.

  • Republicans in the US Senate have blocked a supplemental funding bill that included financial aid for Ukraine. The vote increases the likelihood that Congress will fail to approve more funding for Ukraine before the end of the year, as the White House has warned that Kyiv is desperately in need of more aid.

  • Before the vote, President Joe Biden pleaded with Republicans, warning that a victory for Russia over Ukraine would leave Moscow in position to attack Nato allies and could draw US troops into a war. “If [Russian President] Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there,” Biden said. Putin would attack a Nato ally, he predicted, and then “we’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today: American troops fighting Russian troops,” Biden said. “We can’t let Putin win,” he said. Russia’s ambassador to the US has described Biden’s words as “unacceptable”.

  • Ukraine’s power grid operator Ukrenergo said on Thursday that cold weather had pushed power usage 2.7% above forecast levels, causing a deficit in the power system. It said the deficit was being filled by imports from Poland, Slovakia and Romania.

Ukraine human rights commissioner: there are more than 19,540 officially confirmed deported Ukrainian children

The human rights commissioner of Ukraine’s parliament has said that the officially confirmed number of Ukrainian children deported by Russia now stands at over 19,540.

Ukrinform reports that, speaking during an international human rights conference “Freedom or Fear” being held in Kyiv, Dmytro Lubinets said:

Currently, there is a figure of more than 19,540 officially confirmed deported Ukrainian children. If we return one child every day, it will take us 55 years. And this is against the background of the Russian Federation continuing to deport more and more groups of Ukrainian children from our state every day. Unfortunately, we do not have many tools to return all Ukrainian deported children.

In March, the international criminal court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, in relation to the forced deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia, where many have been adopted by Russian families. Russia does not officially recognise the court.

It has emerged that the former head of MI6, Richard Dearlove, is one of those who was targeted by the alleged Russian hacking. In a statement, Dearlove said:

I have been through many more dramatic and worse things than being hacked. I was not particularly concerned about it. It is spot on from the government to stand up to it.

We are in a state of grey warfare with the Russians, short of open aggression and conflict. They will do anything to undermine critical infrastructure, national security, and attack any of our institutions that are not pro-Russia.

They have caused a huge amount of disruption. I had changed all my hardware, change emails, it was disruptive for a time.

Dearlove was in his role as head of the British Secret Intelligence Service from 1999 until 2004.

In May last year the Guardian reported that a group of Russian hackers were believed to be behind the release of a cache of emails obtained from Dearlove and other Brexiters unhappy with Theresa May’s failure to negotiate a “clean” EU exit deal.

UK deputy PM: ‘appropriate sanctions have been levelled’ against Russia over FSB cyber allegations

The UK’s deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden has had this to say on the accusation that the FSB has been targeting high profile politicians and public figures.

He said Russia was “behind sustained hostile cyber operations aimed at interfering in parts of the UK democratic processes. This has included members of parliament, civils servants, thinktanks, journalists and NGOs.”

He went on to say:

This group operated by FSB officers has also selectively leaked and amplified information designed to undermine trust in politics, both in the UK and in like-minded states. Russian representatives have been summoned to the Foreign Office this morning, and appropriate sanctions have been levelled.

The UK summons Russian ambassador over cyber spying campaign

Reuters has a quick snap that the UK has summoned the Russian ambassador over the allegations that the FSB has been mounting a long-term concerted cyber spying campaign against politicians and journalists with the aim to “meddle in British politics”.

More details soon …

Speaking in the House of Commons in London, foreign office minister Leo Docherty has told UK lawmakers that a group linked to the Russian FSB has “selectively leaked and amplified the release of sensitive information”.

PA Media reports said: “We want to be as open as we can be with the House and the British public. Our commitment to transparency stands in sharp contrast to the efforts of the KGB successors to exert influence from the shadows.”

He said: “Centre 18, a unit within Russia’s FSB, has been involved in a range of cyber espionage operations targeting the United Kingdom.

“Secondly, that Star Blizzard, a cyber group the National Cyber Security Centre assesses is almost certainly subordinate to centre 18 is responsible for a range of malign activities targeting British parliamentarians from multiple parties.

“Thirdly, using these means the group have selectively leaked and amplified the release of sensitive information in service of Russia’s goals of confrontation.”

A statement of such gravity would usually be expected to be given to MPs in London by the foreign secretary. However, David Cameron is currently in Washington, where he is expected to give a joint press conference with US secretary of state Antony Blinken later today. In any case, as he is not an MP, the UK foreign secretary is not able to address or take questions from MPs in the House of Commons.

UK government accuses Russia’s FSB of ‘attempted cyber interference’ in British politics and media

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has used “cyber interference” to target MPs, journalists and others as part of attempts to “meddle in British politics”, foreign office minister Leo Docherty told the Commons.

Speaking about Russian “attempted cyber interference” and “malicious cyber activity”, PA Media reports Docherty said: “I can confirm today that the Russian Federal Security Services, the FSB, is behind a sustained effort to interfere in our democratic processes.

“They have targeted members of this House and the House of Lords. They have been targeting civil servants, journalists and NGOs (non-governmental organisations).

“They have been targeting high-profile individuals and entities with a clear intent – using information they obtain to meddle in British politics.”

More details soon …

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an online statement Thursday urged his supporters to vote for anyone but Putin in next year’s presidential election.

“Putin views this election as a referendum on approval of his actions. A referendum on approval of the war. Let’s disrupt his plans and make it happen so that no one on 17 March is interested in the rigged result, but that all of Russia saw and understood: the will of the majority is that Putin must leave,” Reuters reports the statement said.

Russia’s ministry of defence has released footage of what it claims is Russian paratroopers destroying “two radar stations and a mobile communications station” on the right bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson.

The river runs through Kherson region, where the southern portion, on the river’s left bank is occupied by Russia, and the northern portion, on the river’s right bank, is held by Ukraine.





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