The UK has officially blamed Russia’s “malicious” SVR foreign intelligence service for a major cyber-attack on the West.
Tensions ratcheted up between Western powers and Moscow today after a joint statement by the UK and US condemning Russia.
The two nations said the SVR was responsible for the so-called SolarWinds hack, which hit 18,000 organisations including the US government.
US President Joe Biden also announced he would expel 10 Russian diplomats including intelligence operatives from Washington.
The UK has not announced any expulsions of Russian diplomats today. While such action is not ruled out in future, there are fewer opportunities to expel diplomats from within the UK as many were already expelled after the Salisbury Novichok attack.
The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said a compromise of SolarWinds IT services firm was discovered in December 2020.
Some 18,000 organisations across the world were affected although the overall impact on the UK was “low”, the FCDO said.
The Foreign Office says the SVR targets government, diplomats, think tanks, healthcare and energy firms for intelligence.
It “tries to operate undetected against countries in Europe, NATO members and its near neighbours,” the FCDO say.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement: “We see what Russia is doing to undermine our democracies.
“The UK and US are calling out Russia’s malicious behaviour, to enable our international partners and businesses at home to better defend and prepare themselves against this kind of action.
“The UK will continue to work with allies to call out Russia’s malign behaviour where we see it.”
The United States imposed a broad array of sanctions on Russia today to punish it for alleged interference in US elections, cyber-hacking, bullying Ukraine and other “malign” acts.
The measures blacklisted Russian companies, expelled Russian diplomats and placed limits on the Russian sovereign debt market in steps sure to anger Moscow.
Among the actions, President Joe Biden was due to issue an executive order authorising the US government to sanction any sector of the Russian economy.
Biden barred US financial institutions from taking part in the primary market for rouble-denominated Russian sovereign bonds from June 14.
The US Treasury also blacklisted 32 entities and individuals which it said had carried out Russian government-directed attempts to influence the 2020 Presidential election and other “acts of disinformation and interference”.
In concert with the European Union, Britain, Australia and Canada, the Treasury also sanctioned eight individuals associated with Russia’s ongoing occupation and repression in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
“What President Biden is going to announce today, we believe, are proportionate measures to defend American interests in response to harmful russian actions including cyber intrusions and election interference,” said Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on CNN. “His goal is to provide a significant and credible response but not to escalate the situation.”
The Kremlin, speaking ahead of the publication of the executive order, said it would respond in kind and said new US measures would reduce the chances of a summit between U.S. Biden and President Vladimir Putin taking place.