BRUSSELS — Western nations accused Russia’s secretive military intelligence unit of new cybercrimes on Thursday, with Dutch and British officials labeling the GRU “brazen” for allegedly targeting the international chemical weapons watchdog and the investigation into the 2014 downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine.
Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld said that the GRU’s alleged hacking attempts on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons took place in April and were disrupted by authorities. Four Russian intelligence officers were immediately expelled from the Netherlands, she said.
Speaking about Russia’s hacking attempts into the MH17 crash investigation, she said: “We have been aware of the interest of Russian intelligence services in this investigation and have taken appropriate measures.”
Moscow has denied the allegations.
“Western spy mania is gathering pace,” a Russian foreign ministry representative told AFP.
But Russia’s interests were at stake in both cases: the OPCW was investigating reports that a Soviet-made nerve agent had been used against a Russian ex-spy in England, and Russia has been blamed by some for being involved in shooting down MH17.
The leaders of Britain and the Netherlands condemned the GRU for “reckless” activities and vowed to defend vital international agencies from Russian aggression.
“This attempt, to access the secure systems of an international organization working to rid the world of chemical weapons, demonstrates again the GRU’s disregard for the global values and rules that keep us all safe,” British Prime Minister Theresa May and Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte said in a joint statement.
The coordinated actions by both countries came hours before an expected US indictment involving Russian attempts to hack into computer systems.
The Dutch and British blamed Russia’s GRU for “brazen” activities across the globe and for trying to cover up Russia’s alleged participation in the nerve agent poisoning in March of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, and the downing of MH17 over Ukraine that killing all 298 people on board during a period of intense fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia rebels. Russia has consistently denied involvement in the events.
Britain’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Wilson, said the GRU would no longer be allowed to act with impunity. Britain blames the secretive military intelligence unit for the nerve agent attack in March on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the English city of Salisbury.
He said Russia’s actions against the Netherlands-based OPCW came as the agency was conducting an independent analysis of the nerve agent used against the Skripals. Britain says the nerve agent was Novichok, produced in the Soviet Union, a finding later confirmed by the chemical weapons watchdog.
Earlier, British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson branded a series of global cyberattacks blamed on Russia as the reckless actions of a “pariah state,” saying that the UK and its NATO allies would uncover such activities in the future.
“Where Russia acts in an indiscriminate and reckless way, where they have done in terms of these cyberattacks, we will be exposing them,” Williamson told reporters in Brussels at talks with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and their NATO counterparts.
Britain’s National Cyber Security Center said Thursday that four new attacks are associated with the GRU as well as earlier security hacks.
It cites attacks on the World Anti-Doping Agency, Ukrainian transport systems, the 2016 US presidential race and others as very likely the work of the GRU.
“We are going to actually make it clear that where Russia acts, we are going to be exposing that action,” Williamson said.
“This is not the actions of a great power. This is the actions of a pariah state, and we will continue working with allies to isolate them; make them understand they cannot continue to conduct themselves in such a way,” he said.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Council President Donald Tusk and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also denounced Russia’s alleged “attempt to undermine the integrity of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”
“This aggressive act demonstrated contempt for the solemn purpose of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works to eradicate weapons worldwide under a United Nations mandate,” they said in a statement.
Earlier, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne issued a joint statement that Australian intelligence agencies agreed that GRU “is responsible for this pattern of malicious cyber activity.” They said Australia wasn’t significantly impacted, but the cyberattacks caused economic damage and disrupted civilian infrastructure in other places.