Russia responds to US, UK actions

More Americans will be added to blacklist

The flags of Russia and the US fluttering outside Moscow's Vnukovo Airport.
The flags of Russia and the US fluttering outside Moscow's Vnukovo Airport.PHOTO: AFP

Moscow maintains principle of parity as US slaps sanctions on 19 Russian citizens

MOSCOW • Moscow will respond to a new set of United States sanctions by expanding its "blacklist" of Americans, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said, according to RIA news agency.

The US Treasury slapped sanctions on 19 Russian citizens and five entities on Thursday, in the most significant steps the US has taken against Russia since President Donald Trump took office.

"From the very beginning, we used the principle of parity on the number of people included in sanction lists. So we will expand our 'blacklist' with another group of Americans," Mr Ryabkov was cited as saying yesterday.

He added that Moscow did not rule out extra measures in response to new sanctions for alleged interference in US elections and cyber attacks, which Russia denies.

Moscow still wants to maintain a dialogue with Washington, and takes counter-measures due to "American political stubbornness", RIA cited the diplomat as saying.

"Those (American) politicians are playing with fire by destroying Russian-American relationship because simultaneously they shake global stability," Mr Ryabkov said, according to RIA.

The Trump administration also accused Russia on Thursday of engineering a series of cyber attacks that targeted US and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut off power plants.

US officials and private security firms saw the attacks as a signal by Moscow that it could sabotage the West's critical facilities in the event of a conflict.

WHY ATTACK?

Russia certainly has the technical capability to do damage, as it demonstrated in Ukraine... It is unclear what their perceived benefit would be from causing damage on US soil.

MR ERIC CORNELIUS, a cyber security expert at Cylance, a private security firm, who assessed critical infrastructure threats for the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration.

They said the strikes accelerated in late 2015, at the same time the alleged Russian interference in the US election was under way.

The attackers successfully compromised North American and European energy operators by spring last year, after Mr Trump was inaugurated.

In the following months, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report issued on Thursday, Russian hackers made their way to machines with access to critical control systems at unidentified power plants.

The Russian-backed hackers never went so far as to sabotage or shut down the computer systems that guide the operations of the plants. Still, new computer screenshots released by the DHS made clear that Russian state hackers had the foothold they would have needed to manipulate or shut down power plants.

US intelligence agencies were aware of the attacks for the past year and a half, and the DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation first issued urgent warnings to utility companies last June.

It was the third time in recent months that the White House, departing from its usual reluctance to publicly reveal intelligence, blamed foreign government forces for attacks on infrastructure in the US. In December, the White House said North Korea carried out the WannaCry attack that struck Britain and many other countries.

 

But cyber security experts were questioning where the Russian attacks could lead, given that the US was sure to respond in kind.

"Russia certainly has the technical capability to do damage, as it demonstrated in Ukraine," said Mr Eric Cornelius, a cyber security expert at Cylance, a private security firm, who previously assessed critical infrastructure threats for the DHS during the Obama administration.

"It is unclear what their perceived benefit would be from causing damage on US soil, especially given the retaliation it would provoke," Mr Cornelius said.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2018, with the headline 'More Americans will be added to blacklist'. Print Edition | Subscribe