Ukraine hit by cyberattack as US questions Russian troop withdrawal

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  • Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and banks taken offline
  • Russia says some forces are rebasing after reinforcement near Ukraine
  • US says more than 150,000 troops still threaten Ukraine
  • West responds with caution and skepticism

KYIV/MOSCOW/WASHINGTON, Feb 15 (Reuters) – Kiev appeared to blame Russia for a cyberattack on Tuesday as U.S. President Joe Biden warned that more than 150,000 Russian troops were still massed near Ukraine’s borders after the announcement by Moscow of a partial withdrawal. with scepticism.

World powers are embroiled in one of the deepest crises in East-West relations in decades, jostling for influence and post-Cold War energy supplies as Moscow seeks to prevent the former neighbor Soviet Union to join the NATO military alliance.

Western countries have suggested arms control and confidence-building measures to defuse the standoff, prompting them to urge their citizens to leave Ukraine because an attack could come at any time. Russia denies having invasion plans.

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On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry released footage showing it was returning some troops to base after drills. Biden said the United States had not verified that decision. “Our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threat position.”

Hours after Moscow’s announcement, Ukraine said the online networks of its Defense Ministry and two banks were overwhelmed by what is called a distributed denial of service. The maneuver works when hackers flood a network with unusually high volumes of data traffic to cripple it. Read more

Although Kyiv did not name who was behind the incident, a statement suggested he was pointing the finger at Russia.

“It is not excluded that the aggressor used dirty little tricks tactics because his aggressive plans do not work on a large scale,” said the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security, which is part of the Ministry of Culture.

Users of Ukrainian bank Privatbank reported problems with payments and a banking app, while Oshadbank said its systems had slowed down.

Russia’s Federal Security Service did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

“If Russia attacks the United States or our allies through asymmetric means like disruptive cyberattacks on our businesses or critical infrastructure, we stand ready to respond,” Biden said in televised remarks from the White House.

A European diplomat said the hack was concerning because a full military attack on Ukraine would likely be preceded by a cyberattack.

“It could mean a physical attack is imminent, or it could mean Russia is continuing to play games with Ukraine,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Although such attacks are difficult to attribute, the diplomat said there was no doubt that Russia was behind them.

“A SIGNIFICANT QUENCH”

The White House said energy prices could be hit if sanctions were imposed on Moscow following an invasion as diplomatic efforts continued on Tuesday to resolve the crisis.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a call that there must be “verifiable, credible and meaningful de-escalation” by Moscow.

Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron have discussed their willingness to hit Russia with “serious consequences” during the crisis.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “there are signs from Moscow that diplomacy must continue”, but also that Russia has often left behind military equipment after exercises, creating the opportunity for forces to regroup.

During a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Russian President Vladimir Putin only briefly mentioned the troop movements.

Putin told reporters that Russia would not be happy to talk about Ukraine not being ready to join NATO anytime soon and demanded the issue be resolved now.

“As for war in Europe… whether we want it or not? Of course not. That is why we have put forward proposals for a negotiation process, the result of which should be an agreement guaranteeing equal security for all, including our countries,” he said.

Russia has pushed for a package of security guarantees from the West and says it can exercise troops on its own territory as it sees fit.

Russia’s show of force near Ukraine’s borders has prompted months of frantic Western diplomacy and threats of harsh sanctions should it invade.

The Kremlin sought to present its actions as proof that Western narratives about the war had been both false and hysterical.

“February 15, 2022 will go down in history as the day when Western war propaganda failed. Humiliated and destroyed without a single shot,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

The Ministry of Defense released images showing tanks and other armored vehicles being loaded onto flat cars. Western military analysts said they needed more information to judge the significance of the latest troop movements.

Commercial satellite images taken on Sunday and Monday showed a flurry of Russian military activity in several locations near Ukraine. Read more

Russian stocks, government bonds and the ruble rose sharply on hopes that the situation would improve, and Ukrainian government bonds rallied. Major stock indices rose in the United States and Europe. Read more

Oil fell more than 3%, falling from a seven-year high.

“Things are very fluid, but today is definitely a calmer day,” said Robert Yawger, executive director of energy futures at Mizuho. “It’s going to be a minute-to-minute, day-to-day thing.”

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Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Andrea Shalal and Dmitry Antonov; additional reports by Reuters offices; written by Mark Trevelyan and Costas Pitas; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Rosalba O’Brien and Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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