Russia targeted by unprecedented wave of cyber-attacks, experts say

Computer hackers AnonymousRUSSIAN STATE COMPANIES, BUSINESSES and individuals are being targeted in an unprecedented wave of attacks by digital assailants, according to observers, who say they are surprised by its ferocity. Since February of this year, hackers have accessed the personal financial data of pro-Kremlin oligarchs, stolen millions of internal emails stored on Russian government severs, and defaced high-profile websites across the nation. The Washington Post, which summarized the wave of attacks last Sunday, said they are being waged by hacker collectives, as well as common criminals. The paper claimed that the assailants are not connected to foreign governments.

According to observers, Russia currently tops the global list of targeted attacks by hackers for the first time since records began. Major targets include Russia’s media regulator, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, which anti-government activists blame for implementing Soviet-style censorship. Hackers have also attacked Russia’s state-owned broadcaster, known as VGTRK, as well the Russian intelligence and defense establishments. Tens of thousands of emails exchanged by senior VGTRK officials since 2013 were recently stolen and leaked in a massive data dump. Additionally, lengthy lists containing the names of alleged Russian intelligence officers, as well as of soldiers, have been leaked online by unknown hackers.

The attacks are led by political hacker collectives, including Network Battalion 65 (NB65), which announced its existence on Twitter just hours after Russian troops began to march toward Kyiv. The group is believed to have links to the international hacktivist collective Anonymous, and claims to have no ties to governments. Another hacker collective that is behind the attacks on Russia is a group calling itself AgainstTheWest. Despite its name, it is led by a group of pro-Western, “English-speaking hackers […] with intelligence backgrounds”, according to The Post. Attacks are also being perpetrated by smaller groups of hackers, some of them based in Ukraine, and by criminal groups, whose members are motivated by profit and are attacking Russian state targets at a time when the Kremlin appears vulnerable.

According to the paper, the Ukrainian government is not directly involved in these cyber-attacks. However, it has repeatedly endorsed attacks by hackers aimed at weakening the Russian state. Back in February, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister and Digital Transformation Minister issued an open call for the formation of a “volunteer cyber army” to fight for Ukraine. As intelNews reported at the time, the Ukrainian government claimed that nearly 200,000 people had shown interest in joining the initiative. However, little has been mentioned since. The government of Ukraine maintains an “IT Army” channel on Telegram, where it frequently suggests Russian targets that pro-Ukrainian hackers should attack. However, any evidence of links between it and the wave of cyber-attacks that Russia has been experiencing remains speculative.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 03 May 2022 | Permalink

Ukrainian agency publishes personal data of 600 alleged Russian intelligence officers

Kyrylo BudanovUKRAINE’S MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY has published a list that contains the names, addresses and passport numbers of 600 Russians, who it alleges are employees of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The FSB is Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency, but its personnel also operate in former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. It has been claimed that the FSB is the main source of intelligence that the Kremlin has used to plan and execute the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The list of alleged FSB personnel was published on Monday on the website of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which is Ukraine’s primary military intelligence agency. The list is titled, “Russian FSB officers involved in criminal activities by the aggressor state in Europe”. Most entries include the names, birth dates and passport numbers of the alleged FSB officers. Their residential addresses are also listed. Some entries include subscriber identity module (SIM) card numbers, as well as vehicle registration numbers. Some observers noted on Monday that at least some of the names on the list appear to come from prior leaks of alleged FSB officers, which have been leaked online over the years. Other listings, however, appear to contain names that were not previously associated with the FSB.

In a separate but potentially related development, Kyrylo Budanov (pictured), the director of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, said on Monday that his agency had a number of assets inside the Kremlin. In an interview to an American newsmagazine, Budanov claimed that Ukrainian intelligence had “managed to infiltrate many sectors of Russia’s leading military, political and financial institutions”. He added that the Ukrainian military’s recent combat successes in eastern Ukraine had been achieved due to intelligence supplied by assets inside the Russian government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 2022 | Permalink

Ukrainian spy agency sees plot to oust Putin, but West is skeptical of claim

Alexander BortnikovUKRAINE’S MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY said on Sunday that a plot was underway by senior Russian government officials, with the goal of ousting President Vladimir Putin and entering into a negotiated settlement with the West. However, Western intelligence sources told the United States government-owned Voice of America that claims of a possible coup plot in Moscow were likely part of a Ukrainian information operation aimed at “sow[ing] doubts about loyalty within the top echelons of Putin’s Kremlin”

The initial claim of a coup was made by the Chief Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which is Kyiv’s military intelligence agency. In a statement, the spy agency alleged that the coup against President Putin was being planned by “a group of influential figures […] among the Russian business and political elite”. The leaders of the group were “siloviki”—members of the Soviet intelligence and military nomenclature, who rose to power in the 1990s alongside Putin, according to the agency.

These siloviki were oligarchs, business magnates and politicians from the era of Boris Yeltsin, Putin’s predecessor in the Russian presidency. They were allegedly planning to depose Putin “as soon as possible” in a “palace coup” and replace him with his most senior intelligence advisor, Alexander Bortnikov (pictured). Bortnikov is a Soviet-era intelligence operative who today heads the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency.

There are reports that Putin blames the FSB’s substandard intelligence for the botched military campaign in Ukraine, and that he and Bortnikov have fallen out as a result. Meanwhile, several Yeltsin-era oligarchs have begun to voice criticism of the war in Ukraine—among them the banking magnate Mikhail Fridman, the metals mogul Oleg Deripaska, and Oleg Tinkov, who owns a network of banking and investment firms in Russia.

However, in a report published on Tuesday, the Voice of America, which is funded by the United States Department of State, said Western intelligence officials remained unconvinced of Ukraine’s claims about a possible coup in Moscow. The news service cited anonymous “Western intelligence sources” as saying they could not see men in Putin’s inner circle having the will or ability to turn against the Russian strongman. Moreover, Kremlin grandees like Bortnikov are not qualitatively different from Putin in how they think about Russian domestic and international strategy, the sources said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 March 2022 | Permalink

Analysis: What We Are Likely to See in the Coming Weeks in Ukraine

Ukraine Russia war“THERE ARE DECADES WHERE nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”. These words by the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin offer a fitting description of the cataclysmic events witnessed since February 24. In the early hours of that day, the largest country in the world launched a strategic ground offensive against the largest country in Europe. What began as a “special military operation” has now escalated into the most extensive military conflict in Europe since World War II. It is clear that Russia’s original plan for this war collapsed within hours of the initial attack. But the correlation of forces continues to overwhelmingly favor the Russian side. Moreover, the bulk of the Russian forces are heading for Kyiv. This could result in the largest and most deadly urban battle since World War II.

Russia’s Original Strategy

The Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine was premised on a rapid military campaign, which was designed to trigger the collapse of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration within about a week. The original plan appears to have rested on quickly introducing non-conscript military units inside Kyiv, in order to force the government toQ Quote 1 flee to Lviv. At the same time, elite formations from the Main Directorate of the Armed Forces’ General Staff (GRU) and Spetsnaz (special operations forces) were sent to the Ukrainian capital to assassinate leading government figures.

Based on that assumption, Russia’s original strategy was to avoid engaging in clashes in major urban centers, barring those that are located along key transportation routes. That is because urban terrain heavily favors the defender and tends to result in mass invader casualties. The Russians can’t afford too many of those, given that the Russian expeditionary force of about 150,000 non-conscript troops is grossly insufficient to conquer—let alone occupy—a country the size of Ukraine, with a largely young population of well over 40 million. Read more of this post

China may be preparing to give Russia military aid for Ukraine, sources claim

Vladimir Putin Xi JinpingTHE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT HAS asked China to supply it with military hardware, as well as diplomatic and financial support, which would allow it to weather Western-imposed sanctions against it, according to Western officials. In what bears the marks of a controlled leak by the White House, several American and British news outlets reported late last night that Moscow had approached Beijing with a request for support across many levels, as the war in Ukraine continues to escalate.

The New York Times said that “an official” in the US government had confirmed that Russia and China were in communication about the possibility of Beijing providing Moscow with military support for its war in Ukraine. However, the official would not comment about the intelligence sources and methods that the US employed to secure this information. Separately, Politico reported yesterday that the details of Russia’s alleged request remained secret. According to the American news outlet CNN, China’s response to Russia’s request was not known as of last night.

Later in the evening, London-based newspaper The Financial Times said there were early “indicators that China may be preparing to help Russia” in Ukraine. American officials told news outlets last night that Washington was “watching closely” to see whether Moscow’s request would be granted by the Chinese. The BBC reported late last night that the administration of US President Joe Biden was urgently putting pressure on China, hoping to convince it to refrain from taking steps to help Russia in Ukraine, militarily or economically.

This development comes less than 24 hours before President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, is scheduled to hold a closed-door meeting in Rome, Italy, with Yang Jiechi, director of the Communist Party of China’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission. The Commission is chaired by no other than Chinese Premier and Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping. Moscow will need the Commission’s support for its request for Chinese military assistance, if it is to receive it in the coming days.

There is a general consensus among observers that the meeting in Rome between Sullivan and Yang is of critical importance for the future of the war in Ukraine. The United States will try to convince China that it has much to lose economically by siding with Russia in this war. Meanwhile, Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the embassy of China in Washington, was telling Western news media last night that the embassy had “never heard” of a request for military assistance from Russia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 March 2022 | Permalink

Concern mounts over Russia’s possible use of chemical weapons in Ukraine

Russia Ukraine WarTHERE ARE GROWING CONCERNS in Western intelligence circles that the war in Ukraine may be entering an unconventional phase in the coming days, as Russia may deploy chemical weapons on the war-torn country. Alert levels quickly rose in Western capitals late yesterday, after Russia +Text- the United States and Ukraine of planning to use biological weapons against its military. Some Western observers expressed fears that the accusations may be an attempt by the Kremlin to justify the large-scale deployment of unconventional weapons in Ukraine.

This is not the first time that Moscow has leveled such accusations against the United States and Ukraine. For over a decade, senior officials in the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin have claimed that the United States and Britain have maintained secret networks of biological weapons laboratories in Eastern Europe. But the Kremlin’s accusations have been getting more frequent and more specific in recent days. On March 7, Igor Kirillov, Chief of the Russian military’s Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense Forces, alleged that American and Ukrainian soldiers were destroying biological weapons facilities in Western Ukraine. Their goal, Kirillov claimed, was to keep lethal biological agents from falling into the hands of the Russian military.

Two days later, on March 9, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov stated that Ukrainian forces had secretly transported “80 tons of ammonia” to a location northwest of Kharkiv. The purpose of the operation, Konashenkov said, was to carry out a “provocation using toxic substances”, and then blame Russia of using chemical weapons. During the Syrian Civil War, Moscow leveled similar allegations against Syrian rebels shortly before the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched chemical attacks against rebel-held areass.

There is also concern among Western analysts that the disconnection of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant’s electrical network from Ukraine’s electrical grid may be “a Russian attempt to trigger nuclear panic over a potential radiological incident” in Ukraine. In light of this incident, some observers are beginning to interpret prior attacks on the Zaporizhia nuclear facility on March 4, and on a research facility containing a nuclear reactor in Kharkiv on March 6, as deliberate acts by Moscow. They say that the Kremlin may actively be seeking to introduce unconventional weapons into the war in Ukraine.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 March 2022 | Permalink

Seized Russian weapons systems could be ‘goldmine’ for Western intelligence

Russia Ukraine warA WIDE ARRAY OF Russian military equipment, which has been falling in the hands of the Ukrainian forces since February 24, could prove a “goldmine” for American and other Western spy agencies, experts claim. As the war enters its third week, there are reports that the Ukrainian forces have captured numerous Russian command-and-control vehicles, as well as other logistical military equipment. Reports also suggest that a large array of Russian weapons systems have been falling into the hands of the Ukrainian armed forces and paramilitary units.

Some of the confiscated Russian weapons include Pantsir surface-to-air missile systems and TOS-1A thermobaric multiple-launch rocket systems, which have been found mounted on abandoned tanks or armored trucks. The Ukrainians also claim to have captured Russian fighter jets, such as the Sukhoi Su-34, in working condition. The government in Kyiv is frequently reminding Ukrainian regular troops and paramilitaries to preserve the integrity of captured Russian military equipment, to include helicopters, warplanes and land-based weapons systems, as well as Russian-language user manuals.

On Tuesday, the American newsmagazine Newsweek cited “current and former US military personnel” as stating that the war in Ukraine gives Washington a rare opportunity to get its hands on the latest Russian military equipment. There is a longstanding intelligence cooperation agreement between the US and Ukraine, so sharing captured military and intelligence equipment is “normal practice”, especially on the Ukrainian side, sources told Newsweek. In today’s digitized combat environment, such equipment regularly includes microchips, which enable communication with command posts. The software found on this equipment can be critical for rival intelligence agencies, as they can use it to develop and test malware. Such malware can be deployed during combat, with potentially disastrous consequences for the adversary’s military.

Some of this equipment can be so crucial that “it’s like capturing an Enigma machine”, one expert told Newsweek, referring to the sophisticated cipher device used by the Wehrmacht during World War II to secure its military communications. Such equipment can potentially be reverse-engineered, and then shared by the United States with other Western intelligence agencies, for purposes of developing ways of jamming them, sabotaging them, or otherwise compromising them, experts said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 March 2022 | Permalink

Private military contractors stream into Ukraine as experts see ‘market frenzy’

Ukraine warTHE DEMAND FOR PRIVATE military contractors (PMCs) in Ukraine is rising by the day, as experts see “a frenzy in the market” for security personnel consisting primarily of former soldiers with combat experience. According to the BBC, some PMC companies are offering between $1,000 and $2,000 a day, excluding bonuses, for those with combat experience who are willing to make the trip to the war-torn country.

Ever since the collapse of Soviet communism in the early 1990s, Eastern Europe has been fertile ground for PMC firms, which are usually employed to provide protection to corporations and wealthy families. Now the demand for PMCs in the region is rising fast and is expected to be constant for the foreseeable future, according to the BBC. Currently PMC jobs in Ukraine, an active warzone, comes with a host of physical-security challenges. Experts tell the BBC that most of the missions in which PMCs expert to participate involve logistical support and so-called “extraction” operations. These refer to organized efforts to help remove people from Ukraine. They can range from simple to very complex operations, sometimes involving entire families of people who have the means to pay for their security. In such cases, operations may be priced in the millions, with handsome profits for those involved. In many cases, PMCs can charge in excess of $10,000 per person for extraction operations.

Industry insiders tell the BBC that a number of non-governmental organizations operating inside or around Ukraine, are hiring now PMCs for protection. In such cases, PMC personnel are “supposed to protect people, places or assets, rather than engage in direct combat”. However, there are instances of intelligence agencies that are hiring PMCs in order to extract some of their personnel who have gotten stuck in Ukraine amidst the conflict. These operations are among the most complex, because they involve contractual work on behalf of foreign governments.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government said on Tuesday it would make provisions to offer Ukrainian citizenship to international volunteers who join the ranks of its military. Ukraine’s Deputy Interior Minister, Yevhen Yenin, said in an interview that a special Ukrainian “military passport” will be given to international volunteers. The passport will replace the need for a visa, and can potentially be replaced with a Ukrainian passport for those who wish to acquire citizenship. On the same day, a number of African countries, among them Senegal, Nigeria and Algeria, cautioned their citizens against traveling to Ukraine to fight in the war in exchange for money or citizenship.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 March 2022 | Permalink

Report by whistleblower alleges up to 10,000 Russian casualties in Ukraine (updated)

Ukraine KharkivA REPORT BY AN anonymous Russian intelligence analyst alleges that the Russian forces in Ukraine could have suffered as many as 10,000 casualties, and claims that the Kremlin has lost contact with a number of divisions. The claims are included in a 2,000-word document published online by Vladimir Osechkin, a Russian anti-corruption activist and vocal critic of the Kremlin, who has been living in France since 2015. In the past, Osechkin has collaborated with the investigative website Bellingcat.

According to British newspaper The Times, which first reported on the claims made by Osechkin, the document originates from an anonymous intelligence analyst in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The FSB has inherited the domestic functions of the Soviet-era KGB and today operates as Russia’s internal security and counterintelligence agency. The anonymous analyst claims that the Kremlin kept the FSB in the dark about its intentions to order a military invasion of Ukraine.

The report adds that Russian President Vladimir Putin had based its estimations about whether the country could withstand Western economic sanctions on a number of optimistic forecasts produced by the FSB in the run-up to the war in Ukraine. However, these forecasts were nothing more than “hypothetical box-ticking exercises” in which intelligence analysts were expected to make Russia “the victor” in order to avoid the wrath of their superiors. No-one in the FSB thought these forecasts were going to be used by the Kremlin to make actual decisions about a war in Ukraine, it is claimed.

The Kremlin now realizes the extent of its miscalculation, says the anonymous analyst. However, it is too late to avert this “total failure”, which is comparable militarily only to the “collapse of Nazi Germany” in 1944 and 1945. The Russian forces in Ukraine could have already suffered as many as 10,000 casualties, even though the Russian government has only acknowledged close to 500 deaths of servicemen, the document claims. The true number is unknown even to President Putin himself, given that the Ministry of Defense has “lost contact with major divisions” in Ukraine. The report concludes with the assessment that “Pandora’s Box has been opened” and that Moscow “has no way out” of this debacle. “There are no options for a possible victory, only defeat”, it warns.

The Times said it showed the report to Christo Grozev, a Bulgarian investigative journalist, who supervises Bellingcat’s reporting on Russian affairs. Grozev told the paper that Ukrainian intelligence has previously produced fake FSB documents in order to frame the public narrative about the war. He argued, however, that “this letter appeared different” and that former FSB agents who had seen it appeared convinced of its authenticity. He added that Osechkin’s disclosures from Russian sources tend to be reliable.

Update: Meanwhile in Washington, Lieutenant General Scott D. Berrier, Director of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency, told a Congressional hearing on Tuesday that between 2,000 and 4,000 Russian troops have so far been killed in Ukraine. He added there was “low confidence” for this estimate, and that it was derived from clandestine and and open-source intelligence collection.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 March 2022 | Permalink

Ukrainian officials claim 16,000 foreign volunteers to join ‘International Legion’

Military of UkraineAt least 16,000 foreign volunteers had come forward as of Thursday, answering a call by the Ukrainian government to join the armed fight against the invading Russian army, according to officials in Kiev. The Washington Post reports that many of the volunteers come from post-Soviet states, while others are believed to come from as far away as the United States, Canada and Japan.

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky invited “all citizens of the world, friends of Ukraine, peace and democracy” to “come and fight side by side with the Ukrainians against the Russian war criminals”. Later that evening, Ukraine’s Minster of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted that Ukraine had officially formed the International Legion of [the] Territorial Defense of Ukraine. The new body would be open to “foreigners willing to defend Ukraine and [the] world order” from Russian attacks, said Kuleba. Subsequent reports suggested that Ukrainian embassies around the world are instructing potential volunteers to contact Ukrainian defense attachés for more information.

On Thursday, The Washington Post said that, in a video posted on the social media application Telegram, President Zelensky claimed that over 16,000 foreign volunteers had asked to “join the defense of Ukraine, Europe and the world” in just a few days. The announcement by the Ukrainian leader follows news that the government of Ukraine has now lifted entry visa requirements, in order to allow foreign volunteers to travel to the country.

The Post also said that the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine issued an official communique intended for those interested in joining the International Legion of the Territorial Defense of Ukraine. According to the notice, those interested in traveling to Ukraine to fight should visit, call or email the embassy of Ukraine in their respective countries. “Once their application is processed, they will be given assistance on routes to arrive in Ukraine”, the notice by the General Staff said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 March 2022 | Permalink

Ukrainian forces allegedly foiled plan by Chechen paramilitaries to kill president

Russia UkraineA PLOT BY A notorious Chechen paramilitary group to assassinate the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, was foiled by Ukrainian forces, according to a Ukrainian government official. The claim was made on Tuesday by Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications, a government-linked enterprise that works closely with the country’s Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The source of the allegation is Oleksiy Danilov, chair of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council—which is believed to be closely linked with the Center for Strategic Communications. Danilov said on Tuesday that members of the Kadyrovtsy (known in English as Kadyrovites), a Chechen paramilitary regiment, had been dispatched to Ukraine in order to “eliminate” Zelensky.

The Kadyrovites are rooted in the Chechen separatist movement of the 1990s, when Chechen militants fought against the Russian military. But a sizeable group of Chechen fighters entered the conflict on behalf of the Russian state when their leader, Akhmad Kadyrov, took Moscow’s side during the Second Chechen War. Today they operate as a personal protection squadron for Kadyrov’s son, Ramzan Kadyrov, who rules Chechnya on behalf of the Kremlin. Occasionally the Kadyrovites have been participated in foreign missions on behalf of Moscow, notably in Syria in 2017 and 2018.

Danilov said the assassins had attempted to approach Kiev from the northwest, separated in two groups. One of the groups was allegedly “destroyed” in the town of Hostomel, which borders the northwest suburbs of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. Another group had come “under fire” in Kiev, Danilov claimed. It is worth noting that, according to Danilov, Ukrainian forces “received information” about the alleged assassination plot by agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service —Russia’s counterintelligence and counterterrorism agency— who “do not want to take part in this bloody war”.

Earlier this week, British newspaper The Times reported that 400 Russian paramilitaries belonging to the Wagner Group were heading to Kiev in order to assassinate Zelensky. Wagner, a secretive security firm believed to operate on behalf of Russian military intelligence, first appeared in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Since then, the company has operated around the world as a private paramilitary entity. Its mission is allegedly to afford the Kremlin “plausible deniability” capabilities for operations in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 March 2022 | Permalink

Ukraine war is being crowdfunded through cryptocurrencies, experts say

CryptocurrenciesTHE WAR BETWEEN RUSSIA and Ukraine is being crowdfunded with the use of cryptocurrencies, making it history’s first major conflict to occur in the era of cryptocurrencies, according to observers. Crowdfunded conflicts are not new phenomena. In the years following its establishment, Israel is believed to have raised $50 million from individual donors around the world for its army. In the 1970s, militant groups like the Irish Republican Army solicited steady streams of donations from expatriate communities. The difference in this war is the pervasive nature of the Internet and cryptocurrencies, which have become “another front” in the quickly escalating conflict in Ukraine.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s science correspondent, James Purtill, points out that some aspects of this war are being increasingly impacted by decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). DAOs are member-owned online communities that engage in crowdfunding activities outside of any government-mandated regulatory framework. They are not governed by boards of directors, but instead maintain their financial transaction records on a blockchain. They therefore operate in a legal grey zone, which is facilitated with the use of cryptocurrencies in financial transactions.

Purtill notes that, in recent years, the administration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had aspirations to become the world’s most cryptocurrency-friendly country. It was therefore not a surprise when, just minutes after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the government in Kiev launched an official cryptocurrency fund, named Crypto Fund of Ukraine. As of Monday, the fund had amassed over $22 million and was continuing to grow exponentially. Communities of pro-Ukrainian DAOs, such as Come Back Alive, have mushroomed around these cryptocurrencies, and have raised substantial donations, which are now being used to equip the Ukrainian army and volunteer militias.

There is also concern among experts that the Russian government, as well as individual pro-Kremlin oligarchs, may resort to using cryptocurrencies in order to evade international sanctions. Notably, the use of cryptocurrencies may allow Moscow to overcome the barriers posed by its exclusion from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT), which is the global standard for secure financial transactions. Last weekend, Kiev issued calls to the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges to block Russian clients, including the Russian government, from conducting transactions. However, experts point out that it is extremely difficult to prevent specific users—including governments— from trading on the blockchain, given its decentralized nature.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 March 2022 | Permalink

Ukrainian cities could soon face ‘profound pressure’ by Russian forces, US warns

Kiev KyivLARGE URBAN CENTERS IN Ukraine, such as Kiev, are likely to come “under profound pressure” by Russian forces in the coming days, as an “increasingly frustrated” Vladimir Putin demands results from his generals, according to reports by United States intelligence agencies. At least three American news outlets have cited unnamed “American officials” briefed on the intelligence about Ukraine, in claiming that the Russian president is growing impatient with the progress of the military campaign. Putin may therefore “see his only option as doubling down on violence” and could “imminently increase the intensity of the attack” on Ukrainian cities, according to CNN.

Quoting “an American source familiar with the intelligence”, the news network warned that, from a purely military and tactical standpoint “Russia has the manpower and firepower to take [Kiev]. No question. And no matter how much resistance the Ukrainians put up”. Unnamed American lawmakers and administration officials, who are familiar with intelligence briefings on the matter, told CNN that Ukraine is “massively outgunned and outmanned” and could “by sheer numbers be able to overcome the Ukrainian resistance”. According to two sources “familiar with the intelligence”, some analysts are speculating that Russia may be planning to attack Ukraine “in waves”. The idea would be to exhaust the Ukrainian defenses with the first wave, before “demolish[ing] them with a second wave of fresh troops”.

The question is, how brutal are Putin’s intentions? The American news network NBC cites “current and former US officials briefed on the matter” in claiming that the Russian president may be close to ordering an all-out attack on Ukrainian cities. The officials tell NBC that Putin has been displaying “a different pattern of behavior than in the past” and has been “lashing out in anger at underlings” during “unusual bursts of anger”, while remaining “largely isolated from the Kremlin” due partly to concerns about COVID-19. Due to his isolation from the majority of his advisors, Putin may not have been able to form “a realistic understanding” of the situation on the ground in Ukraine, according to the report.

Some suggest that the Russian dictator may be feeling like he is “backed into a corner”. Consequently, he may resort to using “brute force to seize [Kiev] and other cities, by employing indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilian areas”. This would not be a first for Putin. He instructed his generals to make use of “scorched earth” tactics in Syria during the civil war there, and he authorized the Russian military to flatten Grozny, the capital of the Russian province of Chechnya, during the Second Chechen War of 1999-2000.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 March 2022 | Permalink

Ukrainian government issues call for volunteers to join ‘International Legion’

Ukraine militarySENIOR UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS, including the president, vice president and foreign minister, have begun issuing open calls for foreign volunteers to go to Ukraine and form an international armed brigade. A number of Ukrainian ambassadors around the world are reporting that groups of foreign volunteers are already en route to Ukraine. Others are said to be answering calls to form a pro-Ukrainian ‘cyber army’.

Early on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video statement posted on social media that “all citizens of the world, friends of Ukraine, peace and democracy” should “come and fight side by side with the Ukrainians against the Russian war criminals”. He added that such an act would be “key evidence” of foreigners’ support for Ukraine, and that his government would arm all international volunteers. President Zelensky concluded his message by urging those interested in going to Ukraine to fight should contact the defense attachés at the Ukrainian embassies in their respective countries.

Later that evening, Ukrainian Minster of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that Ukraine had officially formed the International Legion of [the] Territorial Defense of Ukraine. The new body would be open to “foreigners willing to defend Ukraine and [the] world order” from Russian attacks, said Kuleba. The BBC later quoted Ukraine’s Ambassador to London, Vadym Prystaiko, as saying that “overwhelming” numbers of foreign nationals were “demanding to be allowed to fight” in Ukraine. In a message posted on Facebook (later deleted), the embassy of Ukraine in Israel said on Sunday that it had “begun forming lists of [Israeli] volunteers who wish to participate in combat actions against the Russian aggressor”.

That same afternoon, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Liz Truss, said in an interview with the BBC that it was up to individual British citizens to make their own decisions about whether to go to Ukraine and fight, “not just for Ukraine, but for the whole of Europe”. Also on Sunday, BuzzFeed reported that a multinational group of one German, six American and three British citizens were already heading to Ukraine, in hopes of being “among the first to officially join the new International Legion of the Territorial Defense of Ukraine”. They told BuzzFeed that two other Americans with military experience were on their way to Ukraine to provide “leadership” for the international group of fighters. Read more of this post

Ukrainian leader Zelensky says Russian assassins are in Kiev with orders to kill him

Volodymyr ZelenskyTHE PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE, Volodymyr Zelensky, warned on Thursday that teams or Russian assassins have already entered the nation’s capital, Kiev, with orders to kill him and his family. Zelensky made this statement during a late-night address to the nation from an undisclosed location, presumably in Kiev. Referring to “enemy sabotage groups”, he said they had already “entered Kiev” and were seeking to “destroy Ukraine politically by destroying [its] head of state”.

Zelensky referred to “information we have”, according to which he had been “marked by the enemy as the number one target” and his family as “the number two target”. The statement was an apparent reference to an alleged “kill/capture list” that Moscow plans to put to use in Ukraine. As intelNews explained last week, United States officials have said that the purpose of the alleged list is two-fold: first, to minimize popular resistance by Ukrainians to an invading Russian army; and, second, to destabilize the government in Kiev, so that a pro-Russian government can eventually replace it.

According to the United States government, the list contains the names of senior Ukrainian politicians, Ukraine-based critics of the Russian and Belarusian governments, as well as journalists and other activists. According to Washington, the alleged list is maintained by the foreign intelligence arm of the Russia’s Federal Security Service—known as the Service for Operational Information and International Communications—or the Fifth Service, in short. The Fifth Service is political action of a covert nature, which is aimed at electoral subversion, political influence campaigns, psychological operations, and the undermining of groups or movements that Russia perceives as adversarial.

On Thursday, Foreign Policy’s national security and intelligence reporter Amy MacKinnon told SpyTalk’s Jeff Stein and Jeanne Meserve that the existence “kill/capture” list seemed credible, when one considers the Kremlin’s long history of assassination operations. MacKinnon was the first reporter to write about the alleged list. She told SpyTalk that it was part of a “campaign of arrests and assassinations”, which Moscow aimed to carry out on Ukrainian soil. She added that, although the names of potential victims have not been revealed, the list is “quite detailed and relatively extensive”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 February 2022 | Permalink

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