Russia has started a ‘hybrid war’, it was feared tonight, as several key Ukrainian websites, including banks, government departments and the ministry of defence, were hit by a massive cyber attack.
Ukraine has been under constant attack from Russian and Kremlin-backed hackers since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Cyber espionage, damage to databases and servers, disruption to power and communications and disinformation are all now routine weapons in the Russian armoury.
Tonight, several major Ukrainian banks, including PrivatBank, Oschad and the State Savings Bank of Ukraine, experienced issues with transactions and mobile apps, along with other outages at the Ministry of defence and armed services websites.
Vladimir Putin has insisted that Russia is ‘ready to go down the negotiations track’ with the West – opening up the possibility of talks on arms control, military transparency and other measures aimed at reducing tensions
Several major Ukrainian banks, including PrivatBank, Oschad and the State Savings Bank of Ukraine, experienced issues with transactions and mobile apps, along with other outages at the Ministry of defence and armed services websites. Pictured: A branch of the Privatbank is seen in central Kyiv (File image)
A BM-27 Uragan self-propelled multiple rocket launcher system during a live firing drill at the ‘Opuk’ interspecific training ground in Crimea on Tuesday
Ukrainian media reported that customers were finding that their banking apps were not working and people could not pay for goods with cards.
A statement from the ministry of defence in Kyiv, released on Facebook, said they had suffered a probable DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack – a malicious attempt to disrupt a server or network by overwhelming the target with a flood of internet traffic.
The statement added: ‘Scheduled technical work is currently underway on the restoration of the regular functioning of the web portal of the ministry.’
The government agency defending Ukraine against cyber wars, the Centre for Strategic Innovation and Information Security, tried to calm fears.
Russia has today claimed it is withdrawing some of its forces from Crimea and the Ukraine border region after training drills, in what could be the first sign of a climb-down by Vladimir Putin
Video released by the Russian defence ministry early Tuesday showed columns of tanks being loaded on to train transports in Crimea, as the foreign ministry slammed what it called Western ‘war propaganda’ over an invasion
Tanks are pictured leaving a Russian base in the Ukraine border region, which it claims is part of a withdrawal from the region – despite Washington warning that troops are actually moving closer to the border
Ukraine today hailed Western efforts aimed at preventing a war, saying they appear to be working as Russian forces withdraw (pictured) while also cautioning that the ‘withdrawal’ might not be what it seems
In a statement on its Facebook page it said: ‘ATTENTION: THERE IS NO THREAT FOR PRIVATBANK’S DEPOSITORS ‘FUNDS.
‘For the last few hours, Privatbank has been under a massive DDoS attack. Privat24 users report problems with payments and the application in general. Some users do not manage to log in to Privat24 at all, others do not display the balance and recent transactions.
‘Privat assures that there is no threat to depositors’ funds. The cyberattack concerns only the Privat24 application. The rest of the financial transactions are performed normally.
‘Oschadbank also has failures, and Internet banking is down.
‘The websites of the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces of Ukraine were also attacked. It is possible that the aggressor resorted to the tactics of petty mischief, because by and large his aggressive plans do not work.’
With Russia massing more than 130,000 troops on the Ukraine border and western powers expecting a full-blown invasion, the Kyiv government and independent experts have always expected hostile cyber activity to increase in an effort to destabilise the country before or during any attack.
The news came after a day of mixed messages from the Kremlin with claims that their forces on the borders of Ukraine were being withdrawn after ‘military exercises’ were met with scepticism by NATO and western observers who said they had seen no signs of de-escalation.
Russia has begun moving vehicles from assembly areas to forward staging points in what observers fear could be one of the last moves before an invasion of Ukraine. Left is an assembly area in Yelnya, Russia, filled with tanks on January 19 and right is the same area – empty of tanks – pictured on Sunday
One forward staging area appears to be Soloti, just 20 miles from the Ukraine border. Satellites show a camp of Russian troops in the region on January 12 (left) and the same camp but expanded with the arrival of new troops and vehicles on February 13 (right)
Satellite images show a Russian assembly area in Yelnya, Russia, on January 19 (left) and the same area on February 13 (right) with some tents removed and deep wheel ruts in the snow as men and vehicles are moved closer to the border
Russia’s apparent withdrawal is being treated with extreme scepticism in the West, where intelligence agencies suspect is could be part of a ruse to launch a smaller military operation in the regions of Eastern Ukraine where Russian separatists are fighting.
Putin also insisted that the fate of two breakaway Ukrainian regions – where Moscow-backed rebels are fighting the government – should form part of talks because ‘genocide’ is underway there. And he again accused the West of ignoring his demand that Ukraine is banned from NATO, underlining how far apart the two sides still are.
He said: ‘Of course we don’t want it [war],” Mr Putin said after his discussions with Mr Scholz in Moscow, according to one translation.
Russian tanks and other vehicles are seen parked in an assembly area in Rechista, Belarus, in a satellite image taken on February 4 (left) and the same area is pictured empty of vehicles on Monday (right) amid fears they have been moved to staging areas closer to the Ukraine border
An assembly area in Rechista, Belarus, is seen filled with Russian military vehicles on February 4 (left) while the same area is pictured emptied of vehicles on Monday (right) amid fears they are being repositioned for an invasion
Train cars loaded with Russian artillery units are pictured at a station in Yelnya, Russia, as American officials warn they are being moved closer to Ukraine in what appears to be final preparations for an attack
Newly-arrived Russian Mil Mi-26 heavy lifting helicopters are pictured at an airfield in Machulishchy, Belarus, as American officials warn Putin could be just hours away from giving the order to attack
‘This is exactly why we put forward the proposal to start the negotiation process where the result should be an agreement of ensuring equal security of everyone, including our country.
‘Unfortunately there was no constructive response to this proposal.
‘Nevertheless we come from a position that even in the documents that were forwarded to us from NATO and Washington there are elements that can be discussed.’
Hours before he spoke, Moscow announced that some troops and tanks stationed near Ukraine are being returned to their home bases – a move that was welcomed with cautious optimism by Western leaders who said it sends the right signal, but doesn’t change the fact that Russia could still invade at short notice.
Boris Johnson accused Putin of sending ‘mixed messages’: Calling for negotiations on one hand while building field hospitals on the frontlines, a move he said ‘can only be construed as preparations for an invasion.’
A newly-arrived unit of Russian attack helicopters is pictured at an airfield in Belgorod, Russia, in this satellite image taken on February 13
Russian transport and attack helicopters are pictured at an airfield in Lake Donuzlav, Crimea, on February 13 as Putin builds up his aerial forces ahead of an invasion that the US fears could come this week
Sukhoi Su-34 fighters are pictured at Primorsko-Akhtarsk airbase in Russia, having been newly deployed near the frontlines with Ukraine amid fears they will be used to assist an invasion of the country
A Russian troop garrison at Zyabrovka air base in Belarus with a field hospital set up (beige tents, bottom right) is seen in this satellite image taken on February 10
A Russian troop encampment at Novoozernoye, in occupied Crimea, is pictured on February 9 with a field hospital (cross-shaped tent, bottom right) set up nearby
Jens Stoltenburg, NATO chief, said he has seen no evidence that Russia is drawing down its forces but that signals coming from the Kremlin give room for ‘cautious optimism’.
Ukrainian defence minister Dmytro Kuleba credited Western efforts to avert war as the reason for Moscow’s change of stance, but added: ‘Don’t believe what you hear, believe what you see. When we see a [Russian] withdrawal, we will believe [it.]’
In a sign of Moscow’s likely demands during talks with the West, lawmakers in Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament today voted on a resolution to officially recognise the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine as independent republics.
President Joe Biden, seen here with first lady Jill Biden, spoke with British PM Boris Johnson on Monday. The U.S. is urging Russia to pursue diplomacy to avert a crisis over its possible invasion of Ukraine
The resolution calls on Putin to recognise the self-appointed governments in Donetsk and Luhansk – two regions that immediately border Russian and have large Russian-speaking minorities – as legitimate and to help with their security.
Should Putin sign off on the resolution, it would pave the way for over movement of Russian troops and military hardware into the regions.
The Kremlin has previously suggested it would not sign such a document, but the threat of doing so could provide useful leverage in negotiations.
Preparations for talks were laid weeks ago, when Russia sent a list of security demands to NATO and the US – including that Ukraine be banned from the alliance and all its forces withdrawn from ex-Soviet states.
Those demands have been dismissed, but both NATO and the US sent written responses back laying out other areas where they were willing to talk – such as expired Cold War arms treaties, transparency around missile placements in Europe, information sharing around military drills, and other measures.