Experts say Russia gives hackers a ‘tacit blessing’ to attack foreign nations – as long as they don’t target Russia or its allies

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech in Sevastopol, Crimea, March 18, 2020. Alexander Nemenov/Pool via REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • The hackers who attacked SolarWinds, Colonial Pipeline, JBS, and more are believed to be Russia-based.
  • Experts say the Kremlin allows them to carry out cybercrime as long as they don’t target Russia.
  • President Biden is expected to question the Russian president on Wednesday over the recent cyberattacks.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The number of cyberattacks carried out against the US has increased recently, and the online perpetrators have one thing in common: they are believed to be linked to Russia.

Hackers have found a safe haven in Russia to carry out their attacks, as the Washington Post reported. That’s because they work without any repercussions from Moscow, which seemingly grants them leniency as long as they don’t target Russia or its allies.

Cybercriminal networks “in Russia seem to exist with the tacit blessing of the Russian state,” V.S. Subrahmanian, director of Dartmouth’s Institute of Security, Technology, and Society, told Insider. “As long as they do not carry out nefarious activities in Russia itself, they seem to be protected from severe prosecution.”

Why Russia takes a ‘hands-off’ approach

An underground network of hackers has sprouted up in Russia in recent decades, the Post reported, driven by animosity for western countries after Russia fell on hard times following the Soviet Union’s collapse.

One former hacker-turned-analyst told the paper he turned to hacking to find money after studying information security in college, and more educated youth in Russia are turning to cybercrime since “there is so much money to be made.”

Experts told the Post that cybercriminals might not only be working out of Russia because the Kremlin is allowing them to – they may even be working for the government in some cases. However, Subrahmanian said there isn’t currently any evidence that the cybercriminals do Moscow’s bidding.

“There’s just too much of this going on right now for this not to have at least implicit hands-off policy by the Russian state,” he said. “And at the very worst, it could be an explicit go-ahead. We just don’t know which of the two.”

DarkSide, which is believed to be linked to Russia, successfully targeted America’s largest fuel pipeline in May, leading to gas shortages and price surges across the eastern seaboard for a week. The largest meat supplier in the world, JBS, was hit with a ransomware attack that same month and eventually paid $11 million in bitcoin to the cyberhackers.

The FBI has accused a hacking unit called REvil, which is connected to Russia, of conducting the JBS attack.

And months before, foreign hackers were able to spy on private companies, including the Department of Homeland Security, through an attack on the IT firm SolarWinds.

Subrahmanian said there are even less-publicized hacks that tied to Russia, like a May ransomware attack on the insurance company CNA, which shelled out $40 million to regain control of its systems.

But regardless of how – if at all – involved Russia is in cybercriminals’ activity, the state profits from it, he said.

“Russia benefits greatly from different kinds of chaos in the Western world,” and that is a key aspect in the nation’s influence operations, said Subrahmanian.”Cyberattacks and weakening us economically is yet another instrument in what’s known today as gray zone warfare.”

The US needs to send a strong message, experts say

Biden Putin
President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to meet in Geneva on June 16.

President Joe Biden will meet with Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. He’s expected to ask what – if anything – Russia intends to do to fight cyberhackers based in the country, something it historically hasn’t done.

Putin has denied that the attackers behind the recent US attacks are based in Russia.

“We have been accused of all kinds of things,” Putin told NBC News in an interview this week. “Election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth. And not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof. Just unfounded accusations.”

Read more: America isn’t in a cyberwar with Russia and China – it’s actually the most sophisticated spy game in human history. And the US is much stronger than it looks.

US-Russia ties are strained at the moment, given the latest series of cyberattacks linked to Moscow as well as Russia’s interference in both the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections. Biden will likely not follow his predecessor, former President Donald Trump’s, warm approach to Putin upon his visit.

Subrahmanian said he’d like to see President Biden deliver a stern message to the Russians that the US will not stand for this and that it will take action unilaterally against facilitators of these attacks “in much the same way we carry out actions against terrorists.”

However, he said he doubts that “we’re gonna see much action from Russia unless it’s backed up with some explicit threats, and we don’t have that many threats,” given Russia’s nuclear power and its large-standing military.

A senior White House official told Time that Biden could remind Putin that the US could target the Russian president’s personal fortunes overseas with its own cyber capabilities.

“The whole goal is to have [Putin] come away saying, ‘The Americans are onto us and have us encircled,'” the unnamed said.

Subrahmanian said another option for the US is to take covert action and infiltrate both dark web networks and state websites to deny them the money they hope to make through these attacks. By doing so, federal officials could also have a better idea of how connected Russia is to these cyberhackers, he said.

“It’s a slippery slope, and that’s why I’m being a little cautious, but certainly covert action against the specific places known to harbor large numbers of cybercriminals is a possibility,” as is capturing them and bringing them to the US, he said, though no option would be easy.

“I’m not calling for airstrikes – I’m calling for cyber strikes,” Subrahmanian said.

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Fiona Hill says Russia’s hackers ‘already declared war’ on the US and want to prove they’re a ‘major cyber force’

fiona hill
Fiona Hill.

  • Fiona Hill told FT that Russia “declared war quite a long time ago in the information sphere.”
  • Hill’s comments came ahead of Biden’s highly anticipated summit with Putin in Geneva.
  • After recent hacks and cyberattacks linked to Russia, cybersecurity is poised to be a major topic.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US should expect Russia to ramp up its cyberstrikes as the Kremlin seeks to sow chaos and undermine democracy via coordinated disinformation campaigns, Fiona Hill said in comments to the Financial Times ahead of President Joe Biden’s highly anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.

Hill, the top Russia expert in the White House under President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2019, told FT, “The Russians have effectively already declared war quite a long time ago in the information sphere.”

“They’ve been trying to prove that they are a major cyber force – they want to create a wartime scenario so then they can sit down and agree some kind of truce with us,” Hill said.

Hill said Russia was ruthless in its pursuit of intelligence and indifferent to any damage inflicted in the process.

“The Russians take great pride in their novel ways of getting at you … in many respects it’s a continuation of the Cold War,” Hill said. “They don’t really care about the harm they could cause.”

The US has accused Russia of interfering in recent elections, including via the use of “troll farms” like the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency. The Internet Research Agency in 2016 “used social media to wage an information warfare campaign designed to spread disinformation and societal division in the United States,” a report by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said.

“Masquerading as Americans, these operatives used targeted advertisements, intentionally falsified news articles, self-generated content, and social media platform tools to interact with and attempt to deceive tens of millions of social media users in the United States,” the report added.

The US in 2018 indicted 13 people associated with the Internet Research Agency, alleging they violated “US criminal laws in order to interfere with US elections and political processes.”

The US intelligence community concluded Putin directed organizations to interfere in US elections (in both 2016 and 2020) to boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning, though the Kremlin has rejected these allegations.

Beyond election interference, the US also accused Russia of involvement in last year’s massive SolarWinds hack. The Biden administration in April imposed sanctions on over 30 Russian entities over the SolarWinds hack and the Kremlin’s interference in US elections.

The State Department in March also expressed concern that Russia was been behind online disinformation directed at undermining confidence in COVID-19 vaccines in the US.

Meanwhile, there’s also growing alarm in the US over ransomware gangs operating out of Russia with impunity. The FBI attributed two recent cyberattacks – one that shut down a major US oil pipeline and another that disrupted production for the largest meat supplier – to Russia-linked ransomware gangs.

Biden is poised to address all these concerns over Russia’s cyberactivities in his upcoming meeting with Putin, which comes as US-Russia relations are at a historic low. Experts have said Biden is likely to emerge from the summit empty-handed.

“Analysts are struggling to understand what concrete outcomes President Biden will achieve in return for giving Vladimir Putin such an important international spotlight in return for Russia’s increased malign behavior,” Heather Conley, a former senior official for European issues in the State Department under President George W. Bush, told Insider last week.

“If there aren’t clear deliverables (and both sides have been downplaying outcomes), I think criticism will grow that this high-level meeting ultimately benefited the Kremlin,” Conley added.

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Former secretary of state mounts a defense of Trump’s handling of Russia: ‘I’m proud of the work we did there’

Mike Pompeo
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, on November 10, 2020.

  • Mike Pompeo claimed he and former President Donald Trump were “tough” with Russia.
  • Asked by Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday” whether Pompeo believed Trump handled Russia well, Pompeo defended the former president.
  • “I’m proud of the work we did there,” he said. “It was good work.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Mike Pompeo on Sunday defended former President Donald Trump and his handling of Russia, saying he’s proud of the work the two did during his tenure as secretary of state.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace asked Pompeo about various human-rights violations Russia stands accused of.

Alexei Navalny, for example, claims he was poisoned by the Kremlin, which has repeatedly denied any involvement in the incident. Russian President Vladimir Putin once posited that Navalny had poisoned himself, an idea Navalny mocked.

Putin’s opponents have routinely been poisoned. Novichok, the same nerve agent Navalny ingested, had previously been used to poison other Kremlin dissidents. Some of Putin’s critics have been killed. When asked whether he was a killer, Putin laughed and never answered the question directly.

“With respect to human rights, I – we take a backseat to no one,” Pompeo said in response to a question from Wallace on Trump’s handling of Russia. “I heard Secretary [Anthony] Blinken talk about the work they’re doing to try and convince the Europeans to stand alongside us on human-rights violations in China and the work that they’ve done defending human rights against Russian abuses. We were tough there too, Chris.”

“I’m proud of the work we did there,” Pompeo added. “It was good work. It was serious work and it made a difference.”

Trump and Putin had a suspiciously close relationship that has frequently raised eyebrows among critics and politicians. The US president, has, for example, praised Putin and absolved him of all accusations related to interference in the 2016 election, despite intelligence reports clearly implicating Russia.

And just days ago, Trump once again reiterated his claim that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election, adding that he trusts Russia more than US intelligence.

Trump has previously brushed off allegations characterizing Putin as a killer, and he’s also stayed quiet on Navalny’s claim that the Russian president poisoned him.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has outright called Putin a killer.

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Biden says he won’t hold a joint press conference with Putin because he doesn’t want to get ‘diverted’ by who ‘talked the most’

putin disinformation black pr
Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • President Joe Biden on Sunday explained why he won’t hold a joint press conference with Putin.
  • Biden and the Russian president will meet on Wednesday in Geneva.
  • Biden said he didn’t want details of a joint conference to distract from the conversation between the leaders.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden on Sunday explained why he and Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t hold a joint press conference following their meeting in Geneva this week.

“I always found, and I don’t mean to suggest the press should not know, but this is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference or try to embarrass one another,” Biden said Sunday during a press conference at Cornwall Airport Newquay, The Hill first reported. “It’s about making myself very clear what the conditions are to get a better relationship are with Russia.”

Biden said a joint conference between the two leaders could lead to distractions about their demeanor and take away from what the leaders discussed privately.

“I think the best way to deal with this is for he and I to meet, he and I to have our discussion,” Biden added. “I know you don’t doubt that I’ll be very straightforward with him about our concerns and I will make clear my view of how that meeting turned out and he’ll make clear from his perspective how it turned out.

“I don’t want to get into being diverted by, did they shake hands, who talked the most, and the rest,” he said.

The White House on Saturday announced that Biden would hold a solo press conference after the two meet in Geneva on Wednesday. The meeting will be the first between the two since Biden was sworn in in January.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier Sunday said that Biden would warn Putin the US would respond “forcefully” if Russia continued its recent “reckless and aggressive actions.”

“This is not going to be a flip the light switch moment,” Blinken said during an appearance on CNN. “What the president is going to make clear to President Putin is we seek a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia.”

The solo press conference is a departure from the last meeting between a US president and Putin, which last occurred with former President Donald Trump in 2018. As Reuters reported, that meeting led to shock when Trump publicly cast doubt on US intelligence agencies.

Biden is expected to address recent cyberattacks in the US, Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine, and its jailing of dissidents, like opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Reuters noted.

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Biden will warn Putin the US will respond ‘forcefully’ if Russia continues its ‘reckless and aggressive actions,’ Blinken says

Biden Putin
President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to meet in Geneva on June 16.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Biden will warn President Putin against further “aggressive actions.”
  • Biden is expected to meet with the Russian president for the first time Wednesday.
  • Their meeting follows a string of major cyberattacks in the US that are believed to have originated in Russia.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said President Joe Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin against committing future “reckless and aggressive actions” when he meets with him in Geneva later this week.

“This is not going to be a flip the light switch moment,” Blinken told CNN’s Dana Bash during an appearance Sunday on “State of the Union.” “What the president is going to make clear to President Putin is we seek a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia.”

He added: “But if Russia chooses to continue reckless and aggressive actions, we will respond forcefully as the president has already demonstrated that he would when it comes to election interference, or the Solar Winds cyber attack, or the attempt to murder Mr. Navalny with a chemical weapon.”

Aleksei Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition, fell ill in August last year. In December, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Navalny had been poisoned using a substance with a “similar structural characteristics” to the Novichok family of highly potent nerve agents, according to The New York Times.

Navalny was arrested in Moscow after he returned to Russia following treatment for the poisoning. As Insider previously reported, Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating parole. He was previously convicted of embezzlement in 2014, a conviction that leading human rights groups say was politically motivated.

Biden in an April executive order placed sanctions on Russia for its attempts to interfere in the 2020 US election and its role in the SolarWinds cyberattack last year.

The US has faced a number of major cyberattacks this year, including the attack on the gasoline provider Colonial Pipeline which caused gas shortages along the east coast in May. DarkSide, the ransomware group that hacked Colonial Pipeline, is believed to have ties to Russia.

Blinken on Sunday indicated a decisive answer on cooperation between Russian and the US wouldn’t come from the Wednesday meeting but said it was the start of determining whether the two nations can find common ground and work together on shared interests.

“This meeting is not happening in a vacuum,” Blinken said. “We’re coming off the G7, we’re coming off the NATO summit, we’ll be coming off an EU summit as well, and our leadership and our engagement is a very powerful force.”

Blinken said the US was in a “much stronger position” that it was just one year ago to work with allies to confront issues posed by adversaries like Russia and by China.

Biden will hold a press conference following his meeting with Putin, but the two world leaders will not appear at the conference together.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin laughs at a reporter who asked if he was a ‘killer’

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks via video call during a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.

  • When asked by a reporter whether he’s a killer, Russian President Vladimir Putin laughed.
  • President Joe Biden has previously referred to Putin directly as a killer.
  • Many Kremlin dissenters have been killed and several others, including prominent critic Alexei Navalny, have been poisoned.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Russian President Vladimir Putin laughed in an interview with a reporter who asked him whether he was a killer.

NBC News reporter Keir Simmons asked Putin about accusations that he had ordered the assassinations of dissenters. Alexei Navalny, for example, claims he was poisoned by the Kremlin, which has repeatedly denied any involvement in the incident. Putin once posited that Navalny had poisoned himself, an idea Navalny mocked.

Putin’s opponents have routinely been poisoned. Novichok, the same nerve agent Navalny ingested, had previously been used to poison other Kremlin dissidents. Some of Putin’s critics have been killed.

“When President Trump was told you are a killer, he didn’t deny it. When President Biden was asked whether he believes you are a killer, he said, ‘I do.’ Mr. President, are you a killer?” Simmons asked Putin.

Putin laughed at the question.

“Over my tenure, I’ve gotten used to attacks from all kinds of angles and from all kinds of areas under all kinds of pretext and reasons and at different caliber and fierceness, and none of it surprises me,” Putin said in response.

“I’ve heard dozens of such accusations,” he said, sidestepping the question. “Sentiments in terms of who calls somebody what kind of labels – this is not something I worry about in the least.”

Simmons then read off a list of Russian critics who had been killed and asked Putin whether they were all “coincidences.”

“I don’t want to come across as being rude, but this look like some kind of indigestion, except that it’s verbal indigestion,” Putin said, laughing again at Simmons’ question. “You mentioned many individuals who did suffer and perished at different points in time for various reasons at the hands of different individuals.”

One of the critics Simmons listed “worked in my administration,” Putin said. “I liked him very much. I regret to this day that he is not with us.”

“As far as the others,” he continued, “we’ve found some of the criminals who committed those crimes. Some are in prison. And we’re prepared to continue to work in this mode.”

Former President Donald Trump has previously brushed off allegations characterizing Putin as a killer, and he’s also stayed quiet on Navalny’s claim that the Russian president poisoned him.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has outright called Putin a killer.

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‘I miss Trump’: Lindsey Graham slams Biden foreign policy, alleges that the ‘bad guys were afraid’ of the former president

Lindsey Graham
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham dismissed President Joe Biden’s leadership on the international stage.
  • “Let’s just be honest. The bad guys were afraid of Trump,” he said. “Who’s afraid of Biden?”
  • Over the past five years, Graham has evolved from a Trump critic to a staunch ally.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Thursday said that he missed former President Donald Trump and derided President Joe Biden’s pre-G7 summit meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “all fluff and happy talk.”

During an appearance on Fox News’s “The Ingraham Angle,” Graham laced into Biden, alleging that the president is not pushing back forcefully against China and Russia.

“We’ve had two cyberattacks on our economy coming from Russian territory, by Russian organizations I think are given a pass by the Russian government,” he said. “They are probably working together, to be honest with you.”

He added: “Is Biden asking the Europeans to do anything to push back against Russian cyberterrorism? Is he even talking about what should we do to rein China in? No. Of course, this is just all fluff and happy talk. I miss Mr. Trump.”

Graham has increasingly raised questions about the coronavirus possibly emanating from a lab in Wuhan, a claim that China has refuted.

“There is no doubt in my mind the combination of prominent scientists coming out strongly against the lab leak theory, along with officials from the State Department shutting down additional inquiries, ended up being two of the most consequential events in the 2020 election cycle,” he wrote in a Fox News op-ed. “Had they given credence to this charge, the whole tenor, tone and focus of the 2020 election would have turned on a dime.”

Read more: The Justice Department is scrutinizing Arizona’s pro-Trump vote audit as threats of violence and political fallout loom

During his Fox interview, Graham then alleged that bad actors were fearful of Trump.

“Let’s just be honest. The bad guys were afraid of Trump,” he said. “Who’s afraid of Biden? The Europeans are talking about doing a trade deal with China as China dismantles Hong Kong’s democracy and is engaging in genocide against the Uyghurs. So, this just blows my mind.

He added: “They’re talking about going back into the Iranian nuclear deal even though Iran hasn’t changed its behavior at all. I can tell you one thing, the Israelis miss a stronger American president.”

The G7 summit began in Cornwall, a county in southwest England, on Friday – the event is Biden’s first overseas diplomatic summit since he assumed the presidency in January.

Biden will conduct talks with the leaders of the group, which in addition to the United Kingdom includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan.

During Biden’s pre-summit talk with Johnson, where the president gifted the prime minister a custom touring bicycle and helmet, the two men also discussed climate change and cyberattacks.

Graham, who was reelected to his fourth term last year, has evolved from a Trump critic to a staunch ally.

Last month, the senator said that was “impossible” for the GOP to move on without Trump as its leader and stated that party members who criticized the former president would “wind up getting erased.”

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Russia officially outlaws Navalny’s political network a week before Putin’s meeting with Biden

alexei navalny
Alexei Navalny appears in a video published by his team on January 18, 2021.

  • A Moscow court banned Alexei Navalny’s political network by labeling it as extremist.
  • Navalny’s associates are now barred from running for office and could face prison time.
  • The move sends a chilling message to dissidents ahead of the highly anticipated Biden-Putin summit.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A Moscow court on Wednesday outlawed Alexei Navalny’s political network by dubbing it extremist, in a remarkable escalation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on dissent.

The ruling came just a week before a highly anticipated meeting between the Russian leader and President Joe Biden. It sends a clear message to Biden that his criticism of Russia over the treatment of Navalny and other dissidents won’t deter Putin’s campaign to crush his opponents.

As a result of the ruling and extremism designation, Navalny’s associates are barred from seeking public office – Russia has parliamentary elections in September – and could now be prosecuted and face prison time, per the Associated Press.

The ruling also comes less than a week after Putin signed a law barring members of “extremist” groups from running for office, which critics said was a blatant effort to squash legitimate competition and prevent Navalny’s allies from running in the upcoming elections. Putin signed the law on Friday, which was also Navalny’s 45th birthday.

Navalny’s political network, which primarily focused on investigating and exposing corruption, disbanded in late April in anticipation of the ruling. Around that time, Russia’s financial watchdog Rosfinmonitoring blacklisted the network by labeling it extremist, putting it on a list alongside groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. The lawyer representing the network, Ivan Pavlov, was also arrested in late April.

This is a breaking news story and will continue to be updated.

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A woman widely known as Putin’s daughter spoke at Russia’s equivalent of Davos – but nobody is calling her that because they don’t want to get in trouble with the Kremlin

Vladimir Putin Katerina Tikhonova
A composite image of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Katerina Tikhonova.

  • Katerina Tikhonova is widely believed to be one of the daughters of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Tikhonova, 34, gave a speech at Russia’s equivalent of Davos on Friday.
  • Putin has never publicly named his daughters, citing security concerns.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A woman widely known as Vladimir Putin’s daughter attended Russia’s equivalent of Davos last week – but nobody there acknowledged her family relations for fear of getting in trouble with the Kremlin, The Washington Post reported.

It’s an open secret that Katerina Tikhonova, 34, and her sister Maria Vorontsova are Putin’s daughters with Lyudmila Putin, his first wife, though the Russian leader has never publicly confirmed the two as his children. He’s also rumored to have a third daughter with a longtime girlfriend.

When asked about the identities of his children in the past, Putin has cited safety concerns for why he wants to keep them private. Last August, Putin mentioned that his daughter had taken Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, but did not name her.

The Post reported that many people in Russia dare not publicly acknowledge Putin’s children for fear of going against Kremlin policy.

On Friday, Tikhonova spoke at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum – Russia’s version of Davos, The Post reported.

Nobody mentioned Tikhonova’s connection to Putin, but she was referred to by her first name and patronymic, as Katerina Vladimirovna, which is a nod to her father’s first name, according to The Post.

Katerina Tikhonova.JPG
Tikhonova speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia on June 4, 2021.

Tikhonova was introduced as the deputy director at the Institute for Mathematical Research of Complex Systems at Moscow State University, and spoke at a session about litigating international investment disputes at the St. Petersburg forum, The Post reported.

She appeared via video link and gave a six-minute speech on increasing investment in “breakthrough technologies,” according to The Post.

Her speech was broadcast above a table where members of Russia’s elite were gathered, The Post reported. They included heads of the country’s top universities, Russia’s justice minister, and the head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

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GOP Sen. Roy Blunt says the US should ‘treat Russia like it’s virtually a criminal enterprise’ amid cyberattacks

blunt
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri)

  • GOP Sen. Roy Blunt on Sunday said the US should treat Russia as a “criminal enterprise.”
  • “They harbor criminals, they don’t appreciate the rule of law or any kind of level of personal freedom,” he said.
  • His comments follow recent cyberattacks in the US.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sen. Roy Blunt said Sunday that the United States should treat Russia as a “criminal enterprise” following recent cyberattacks in the US.

Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, made the comments during an appearance on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” when asked by moderator Chuck Todd about how the US should respond to Russian aggression.

“Remember, 2016, as late as early 2017, we had cyber defense capabilities, but we didn’t have the authority – the president had never given the authority – for cyber offense,” he said. “And so when we did push back, we pushed back pretty hard. In 2018, it stopped.

“I think to some extent, Chuck, you really have to treat Russia like it’s virtually a criminal enterprise,” Blunt, who earlier this year announced his intent to retire from the Senate at the end of his term, added. “You know, they harbor criminals, they, they don’t appreciate the rule of law or any kind of level of personal freedom. And I do think we have to push back. When there’s no, no penalty, there’s no sanctions – hard to find who’s doing it.”

The White House last week said it believed that Russian criminals were likely responsible for a cyberattack on the world’s largest meat producer, JBS.

The Russian government has denied being linked to recent cyberattacks in the US, including the May attack on Colonial Pipeline by ransom group DarkSide, which caused gasoline shortages and price hikes on the East Coast.

Hackers also infiltrated New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority in April, The New York Times first reported, though the group behind the hack reportedly has links to the Chinese government. The hackers did little damage and did not access train controls, according to MTA officials.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, also a Republican, on Sunday made similar remarks about Russia and the recent attacks on the US cyberinfrastructure.

“Our critical infrastructure is very exposed and we need to harden it but more than anything else, we need to go on offense. You can only play defense so long,” Graham said during an appearance on “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren.”

“It’s time for the Russians to pay a price here because none of this would happen without their looking the other way or actively encouraging it,” he continued.

Biden will take his first foreign trip as US president this month, where he will meet with world leaders from across the globe, including a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the agency was investigating 100 different types of ransomware and said many of them linked back to Russia.

“If the Russian government wants to show that it’s serious about this issue, there’s a lot of room for them to demonstrate some real progress that we’re not seeing right now,” Wray told the Wall Street Journal.

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