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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2207

Russia's cyberwar against the U.S.;
A tit-for-tat on the sanctions front

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
April 23, 2018

March 16:

For the first time, the U.S. government has issued a public statement officially linking the Kremlin to an ongoing campaign of cyberattacks against American infrastructure,
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. Since at least March 2016, a range of malicious cyber operations have targeted the business systems of commercial facilities in critical sectors of American society – including the energy, water, and aviation sectors – a new security alert issued by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security has detailed. The alert cites a "multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors" that has targeted companies and corporate actors, and where the Russian hackers "staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks." This campaign, RFE/RL notes, is one of the causes for the new round of sanctions levied on Russia on March 15th by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Russia's Ministry of Defense is on track to move its Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol to the Mediterranean as part of a "planned transition,"
according to Jane's Defence Weekly. Two Russian frigates passed through the Bosphorus earlier this week, one of which – the Admiral Essen – is an Admiral Grigorovich-class ship armed with Kalibr cruise missiles that have a 2,500km range. Another Kalibr-armed frigate is already in the Red Sea taking part in an Egyptian naval exercise. Moscow's naval maneuvers coincide with an escalation of tensions between Russia and the United States over Syria. General Valeri Gerasimov, the Chief of the Russian General Staff, has warned publicly that Russia will retaliate against threats to its servicemen now embedded there in support of the Assad regime.

The Russian government has announced that it plans to expand its own "black list" of Americans in retaliation for recent sanctions levied against it by the Trump administration, which designated a number of actors believed to have been responsible for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election,
Politico reports. The new U.S. sanctions single out 19 individuals and five companies, and Russia's response will target an analogous "new group of American actors" and take other "additional steps," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said.

March 17:

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that, despite growing geopolitical tensions with Moscow, the demand for Russian debt continues to be strong. Shortly after credit ratings agency Standard & Poor upgraded Russia's credit rating – which decreased borrowing costs for Russian debt to remarkably low levels – Moscow sold $4 billion in debt on the Eurobond market, with British and American investors the largest buyers. According to Russian state-owned bank VTB, another 5 percent of the offering was reserved for wealthy Russian investors as part of an "amnesty program" trying to create incentives to move their money back home.

March 18:

Predictably, Vladimir Putin has won the Russian presidential election. In Sunday's vote, Putin handily defeated a small cadre of political opponents to secure another term in office. The results were hardly a surprise,
notes the Wall Street Journal, given Putin's continued popularity and his government's ever-expanding control over the media and national political scene. Rather, what is in question is the nature of the transition that will follow once his new term - his last permitted under the country's constitution - draws to a close.

March 19:

With Putin's presidency officially secured through 2024, European officials are voicing concern over the integrity of their own political processes. Former NATO Secretary General (and former Danish Prime Minister) Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said that he expects Russia to continue its campaign of interference in upcoming elections throughout Europe with renewed vigor. "I expect the Russians to meddle in the upcoming European parliament elections in spring 2019," Rasmussen
has told CNBC.

That, however, is only one risk. According to Rasmussen, there will be a total of 20 elections in NATO and EU states between now and 2020, and we should fully expect Russian officials to "do all that they can" to influence the outcome of those contests. In response, the former NATO chief said, more resources and greater transatlantic cooperation is required to help deter Moscow's meddling.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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