Putin slams ‘ungrounded accusations’ after UK poisonings

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 July 2018
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Putin slams ‘ungrounded accusations’ after UK poisonings

WASHINGTON: President Vladimir Putin accused Britain Monday of making baseless allegations against Russia after a former Soviet spy was among four people found poisoned by a nerve agent in southern England.
Asked in a Fox News interview about the British government’s assertion that Moscow was behind the Novichok attack on the former spy Sergei Skripal, Putin said London had not provided any evidence to back up their claim.
“We would like to get documentary evidence but nobody gives it to us,” Putin, speaking through a translator, told the US network after a summit with President Donald Trump in Finland.
“It’s the same thing with the accusations of meddling in the election process in America,” he added in reference to claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election which was won by Trump.
Putin suggested the case could be driven by domestic issues in Britain, saying “Nobody wants to look into these.”
“We just see the ungrounded accusations — why is it done this way? Why should our relationship be made worse by this?“
Former Russian double agent Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed in Salisbury on March 4 after being exposed to Novichok. Both have since recovered.
Then on June 30 Charlie Rowley and his partner Dawn Sturgess fell ill not far from the Skripal attack after being exposed to the same nerve agent. Sturgess died on July 8.
Russia has strongly denied poisoning the Skripals, sparking a diplomatic row that has led to tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions between Britain and its allies and Russia.
Police have not been able to establish whether the Novichok that Rowley and Sturgess were exposed to was from the same batch used against the Skripals but have said that a possible connection is their main line of inquiry.
Rowley remains seriously ill in hospital but his brother has told the BBC that the 45-year-old fell ill after picking up a discarded perfume bottle.
“What kind of bottle? What is the chemical formula? Who’s got it?” Putin said in his interview.


Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

Updated 28 min 15 sec ago
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Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

  • The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election
  • The company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations

Microsoft said Tuesday it has uncovered new Russian hacking attempts targeting US political groups ahead of the midterm elections.
The company said that a hacking group tied to the Russian government created fake Internet domains that appeared to spoof two American conservative organizations: the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. Three other fake domains were designed to look as if they belonged to the US Senate.
Microsoft didn’t offer any further description of the fake sites.
The revelation came just weeks after a similar Microsoft discovery led Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is running for re-election, to reveal that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network.
The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election, which US intelligence officials have said were focused on helping to elect Republican Donald Trump to the presidency by hurting his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
This time, more than helping one political party over another, “this activity is most fundamentally focused on disrupting democracy,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in an interview this week.
Smith said there is no sign the hackers were successful in persuading anyone to click on the fake websites, which could have exposed a target victim to computer infiltration, hidden surveillance and data theft. Both conservative think tanks said they have tried to be vigilant about “spear-phishing” email attacks because their global pro-democracy work has frequently drawn the ire of authoritarian governments.
“We’re glad that our work is attracting the attention of bad actors,” said Hudson Institute spokesman David Tell. “It means we’re having an effect, presumably.”
The International Republican Institute is led by a board that includes six Republican senators, and one prominent Russia critic and Senate hopeful, Mitt Romney, who is running for a Utah seat this fall.
Microsoft calls the hacking group Strontium; others call it Fancy Bear or APT28. An indictment from US special counsel Robert Mueller has tied it to Russian’s main intelligence agency, known as the GRU, and to the 2016 email hacking of both the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
“We have no doubt in our minds” who is responsible, Smith said.
Microsoft has waged a legal battle with Strontium since suing it in a Virginia federal court in summer 2016. The company obtained court approval last year allowing it to seize certain fake domains created by the group. It has so far used the courts to shut down 84 fake websites created by the group, including the most recent six announced Tuesday.
Microsoft has argued in court that by setting up fake but realistic-looking domains, the hackers were misusing Microsoft trademarks and services to hack into targeted computer networks, install malware and steal sensitive emails and other data.
Smith also announced Tuesday that the company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations, at least so long as they’re already using Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity software. Facebook and Google have also promoted similar tools to combat campaign interference.