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From Crimea to cyber war, Moscow’s alleged covert acts

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By Agence France-Presse

Allegations by Western governments this week that Moscow’s intelligence agencies orchestrated a high-profile hacking campaign are the latest in a long list of grievances over Moscow’s hybrid warfare tactics abroad.

From the appearance of mysterious “green men” on Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in February 2014, which preceded its annexation by Russia, to Thursday’s indictments of alleged agents in the United States, Russia’s military has been accused of covert actions worldwide to further Moscow’s geopolitical interests.

Britain this week slammed Russia as a “pariah state” but Moscow has denied all the current allegations as an anti-Russian campaign based on circumstantial evidence and a case of misdirected blame.

– ‘Green men’ in Crimea –
Called “green men” by their critics or “polite people” by admirers, mysterious soldiers without official insignia but armed to the teeth appeared in Crimea in late February 2014, and were instrumental in taking physical control of political institutions, military bases and transportation hubs.

The Kremlin at first said the takeover was being orchestrated by local militias, while President Vladimir Putin even suggested that advanced military gear could be purchased in army surplus stores. But after annexation was formalised, Moscow admitted that the incognito armed men were Russian special forces.

– State doping scheme –
In late 2015, the ex-head of Moscow’s anti-doping lab Grigory Rodchenkov fled to the West while an independent commission led by Richard McLaren established a state-backed scheme which swapped urine samples of Russian athletes to hide evidence of doping.

McLaren’s report, which included evidence gathered from Rodchenkov and other witnesses, said the scheme involved Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and the sports ministry.

One of the tricks used to fool anti-doping authorities at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in 2014 was to swap samples of Russian athletes via a discreet hole in the wall of the laboratory.

Rodchenkov is currently in witness protection, while two former officials of the Russian anti-doping agency, Vyacheslav Sinev and Nikita Kamayev, died within two weeks of each other in February 2016.

Moscow has denied the existence of a state-backed scheme, with Putin calling Rodchenkov an untrustworthy “idiot” who had “problems with the law.”

– US vote meddling –
After Donald Trump was elected to the White House in November 2016, the US intelligence community alleged that Moscow influenced the outcome of the vote, resulting in a snowballing probe, sanctions and expulsion of diplomats.

US intelligence agencies accused Moscow of being behind hacking entities Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear which carried out cyberattacks on the Democratic Party.

Emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff were published online.

Microsoft has also said that Fancy Bear set up fake pages mimicking a conservative US think tank and the US Senate, in order to siphon off emails and passwords of users taking them for the real thing.

Moscow has denied intervening in the vote, saying all allegations reflect an internal struggle meant to undermine the Trump presidency.

– Skripal hit –
Britain has accused the Russian government of ordering its military intelligence operatives to murder former double agent Sergei Skripal, who was found collapsed on a bench in the city of Salisbury with his daughter in March.

The two men Britain suspects of poisoning the Skripals with Soviet-produced nerve gas Novichok, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, went on Russian television claiming they were sports nutrition salesmen who visited Salisbury as tourists.

But media reports linked one of the men’s faces to the real identity of Anatoly Chepiga, a highly-decorated officer with Russian military intelligence.

Putin has denied any connection to the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter, calling on Britain to share information on the investigation through official channels.

– Hacking conspiracy –
The US this week indicted seven GRU agents as part of a crackdown on hacking plots which include the Democratic party, but extend to football’s governing body FIFA, the US nuclear energy company Westinghouse and the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW.

Dutch security services said they had expelled four Russian agents in April after they attempted a cyber attack on the OPCW as it probed the Skripal poisoning and an alleged chemical attack on the Syrian town of Douma by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a Moscow ally.

Moscow has called these allegations “spy mania.” (AFP)