The Justice Department on Monday announced charges against six Russian military intelligence officers related to major hacks around the world, including the Winter Olympics and elections in France, and a 2017 attack to destabilize Ukraine that spread rapidly and was blamed for billions of dollars in Damage.
Prosecutors said the suspects were from the same Russian entity that carried out one of the Kremlin’s key operations to interfere in the 2016 American election, stealing Democratic emails. They attacked the 2017 French presidential election; targeted British authorities investigating the poisoning of a former Russian intelligence agent and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea; and hacked the Ukrainian Parliament, Ministry of Finance and the power grid for court documents.
The case was another effort by Trump administration officials to punish Russia for meddling in the affairs of other countries, despite President Trump’s more accommodating stance towards Moscow. The charges did not relate to meddling in the 2020 elections; American intelligence agencies have found that Russia is trying to influence the November vote.
“No country has armed its cyber prowess as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, and willfully doing unprecedented damage in order to gain small tactical advantages and satisfy tantrums,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.
Debating President Vladimir V. Putin’s claims that he is bringing Russia back to its greatness, Demers added, “No nation will regain greatness if it behaves this way.”
Prosecutors said the suspects worked for division 74455 of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, commonly known as the GRU. Known as Fancy Bear among cybersecurity analysts, the department led the 2016 campaign to steal Democrats’ emails and get them public, embarrassing Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the final stretch.
One of the suspects charged in the resealed indictments, Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, was charged two years ago over his alleged role in meddling in the 2016 elections.
It was unclear whether the suspects will stand trial on the charges. It is very unlikely that the Russian government will turn them over for prosecution. But the prosecution could potentially restrict their travel and they could be arrested if they enter a country ready to hand them over to the United States.
One of the interventions that the Justice Ministry focused on was the 2017 attempt to interfere in the French presidential election. This year, hackers released stolen documents just at the beginning of the voting to injure Emmanuel Macron in his race against Marine Le Pen, a Moscow-backed far-right candidate.
At the time, security researchers were quick to blame Fancy Bear for the hack-and-dump.
In contrast to the Russian work in the US elections in 2016, the French operation mixed real documents with altered material. The French media largely ignored the stolen documents, partly because of questions about their authenticity, but also because France was in a government-imposed lock-up period immediately before the vote.
American officials have warned that Russia could repeat this tactic in this year’s US presidential contest, mixing fake material with real stolen documents in ways that are difficult to distinguish from fiction.
Julian E. Barnes contributed to the coverage.