Accused Of Interference In The West, Russia Arrests More Spies At Home.
The accusations of spying leveled at Russia over coronavirus vaccine research are a reminder of the tangled tensions that make up international politics and trade today.
In the age of the pandemic, Brexit negotiations, and the presidential election in November, you can expect plenty more where that came from.
To recap: Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre issued a statement July 16 accusing “Russian cyber actors” of “targeting organisations involved in coronavirus vaccine development.”
The NCSC statement noted that their assessment was supported by various U.S. security agencies, including the Department for Homeland Security, and Canada’s Communication Security Establishment.
Britain Accuses Russian Intelligence
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, went further, accusing “the Russian Intelligence Services”—in other words, explicitly blaming the Russian state—and warning that the U.K. would “continue to counter those conducting such cyber attacks, and work with our allies to hold perpetrators to account.”
There was more. Raab also said July 16 that it was “almost certain” that Russia had tried to interfere in the result of the U.K.’s 2019 general election, specifically by means of leaked papers giving details of U.S.-U.K. trade negotiations.
Russia Denies Spying, Hacking Allegations
Russia has denied all the allegations, with the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, rather tersely observing that “the British side can hardly do anything to exacerbate the nature of bilateral relations.” Peskov has also said that Russia “has nothing to do” with any attempts to hack vaccine research.
Since the row became public, the Russian pharmaceutical company, R-Pharm, has announced it has signed an agreement to produce a vaccine being developed by Astra-Zeneca and the University of Oxford, TASS reported. Oxford was one of the institutions allegedly targeted by the hackers, The Times of London reported.
Some in the U.K. have questioned the timing of the hacking and interference allegations, coming as they do days ahead of the expected publication of a long-delayed report into Russian interference in British politics. The Times quoted “a former security official” as saying, “It’s all awfully convenient.”
Suspicion Of Russia Now A Fact Of Western Politics
There has long been speculation that the report’s contents could prove embarrassing to the ruling Conservative party, led by the British prime minister, Boris Johnson.
Whatever the report is eventually shown to contain, it is a reminder that no major political campaign in the west seems to unfold now without some suspicion of Russian attempts to influence the outcome.
This can only increase as November’s presidential election draws nearer.
“The Russians are still engaged in trying to delegitimize our electoral process. Fact,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, said July 17, according to remarks reported by Reuters.
Russia: ‘Fivefold’ Increase In Espionage Cases
While attempts to keep western elections free of outside interference continue, Russia looks to be stepping up moves against suspected spies on home territory. The Times reported July 11, citing data collated by the Russian opposition website, MediaZona, that the number Russian criminal cases linked to counter-espionage had increased fivefold since 2009.
One of the more high profile, recent, cases involves the former journalist, Ivan Safronov, accused of passing secrets to Czech intelligence. As AP reported, Safronov has protested his innocence. His former newspaper has called the charges “absurd.”