- Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, banks stop working
- Russia says some forces have reconfigured their bases after military build-up near Ukraine
- The United States says more than 150,000 troops still threaten Ukraine
- The West responds with caution and skepticism
KIEV/MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Kiev appeared to blame Russia for a cyber attack on Tuesday as US President Joe Biden warned that more than 150,000 Russian troops were still massed near Ukraine’s border after Moscow’s partial withdrawal announcement was met. with suspicion.
Global powers are embroiled in one of the deepest crises in East-West relations in decades, vying for post-Cold War influence and energy supplies as Moscow wants to prevent its ex-Soviet neighbor from joining the military alliance.
Western countries proposed arms control and confidence-building steps to defuse the confrontation, which led them to urge their citizens to leave Ukraine because the attack could occur at any time. Russia denies it has any plans to invade.
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On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry released footage showing it returning some troops to their bases after the exercises. Biden said the United States had not verified the move. “Our analysts note that they remain in a very dangerous situation.”
Hours after Moscow’s announcement, Ukraine said the Defense Ministry’s electronic networks and two banks were inundated with so-called distributed denial of service. The gambit works when hackers flood a network with unusually large amounts of data traffic to paralyze it. Read more
Although Kiev did not say who was behind the incident, a statement indicated that it was pointing the finger at Russia.
“It is not excluded that the aggressor used tactics of dirty little tricks because his aggressive plans do not work on a large scale,” said the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security, which is part of the Ministry of Culture.
Users of Ukraine’s Privatbank reported problems with payments and a banking app, while Oshadbank said its systems had slowed.
The Russian Federal Security Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
“If Russia attacks the United States or our allies with asymmetric means such as disruptive cyber attacks against our companies or critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond,” Biden said in televised remarks from the White House.
A European diplomat said the hacking was worrisome because a full-blown military attack on Ukraine would likely be preceded by a cyber attack.
“It could mean that a physical attack is imminent, or it could mean that Russia continues to mess with Ukraine,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. While it is difficult to attribute such attacks, the diplomat said there was no doubt that Russia was behind them.
The White House said energy prices could be hit if sanctions are imposed on Moscow in the wake of the invasion, as diplomatic efforts continued on Tuesday to resolve the crisis.
Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a phone call that there must be a “verifiable, credible and meaningful de-escalation” by Moscow.
Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron have discussed their willingness to strike Russia with “serious consequences” over the crisis.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said there were “signals from Moscow that diplomacy should continue”, but also said that Russia often leaves military equipment behind after exercises, which creates the possibility of regrouping forces.
At a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Schulz, Russian President Vladimir Putin only briefly mentioned troop movements.
Putin told reporters that Russia would not be satisfied with talk that Ukraine was not ready to join NATO any time soon and demanded that the issue be resolved now.
“As for the war in Europe … about whether we want it or not? Of course not. That is why we put forward proposals for the negotiation process, the result of which should be an agreement to ensure equal security for all, including our state,” he said.
Russia is pressing for a set of security guarantees from the West and says it can train its forces on its soil as it sees fit.
Russia’s show of force near Ukraine’s border has prompted months of frantic Western diplomacy and threats of severe sanctions if it invades.
The Kremlin sought to portray its movements as evidence that Western talk of the war was both false and hysterical.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “February 15, 2022 will go down in history with the failure of Western propaganda for the war. I was humiliated and destroyed without a single shot being fired.”
The Ministry of Defense released footage showing tanks and other armored vehicles being loaded onto flat rail cars. Western military analysts said they need more information to judge the significance of the recent troop movements.
Commercial satellite images, taken on Sunday and Monday, showed a flurry of Russian military activity at several locations near Ukraine. Read more
Russian stocks, government bonds and the ruble rose sharply in hopes that the situation would improve, and Ukrainian government bonds rose. Major stock indices rose in the United States and Europe. Read more
Oil is down more than 3%, retreating from a seven-year high.
“The situation is very resilient, but today is definitely a quieter day,” said Robert Yoger, executive director of energy futures at Mizuho. “It’s going to be kind of a minute to minute thing, day in and day out.”
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(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Andrea Shallal and Dmitry Antonov); Additional reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Mark Trevelyan and Costas Petsas; Editing by Angus McSwan, Rosalba O’Brien and Grant McCall
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