Russia Beyond the Headlines: “Kremlin: Spying accusations meant to overshadow U.S.-­EU problems”

Stylized Artist's Depiction of Shadowy Figures in Dark Coats and Dark Hats, One Carrying a Briefcase

(Russia Beyond the Headlines – – Nikolay Surkov, RBTH – November 1, 2013)

Security experts in Moscow say Russia already had countermeasures in place.

The Kremlin dismissed accusations on Friday that Russia spied on G20 delegates, saying Western media is creating a distraction from the bigger issue of deteriorating relations between the United States and its European allies over the NSA phone tapping scandal.

“We don’t know what kind of sources of information they mean, but this is clearly nothing more than an attempt to draw the spotlight away from the real problems that dominate the agenda between the European capitals and Washington, and to put it on imaginary, nonexistent problems,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov’s comments came after claims by Italy’s Corriera della Sera newspaper that various gadgets the Russian hosts gave the G20 delegations at the St Petersburg summit in September ­ such as flash memory sticks and phone chargers ­ were actually spying devices.

According to the newspaper, the president of the European council, Herman Van Rompuy, asked the German secret services to check the gadgets after the summit. Germany’s intelligence service confirmed foul play, the newspaper reported.

Flash memory sticks and modified chargers can be used as devices to collect information from the computers and telephones to which they are attached. During the G20 summit, various state intelligence services warned officials who have access to sensitive information to be on their guard for potential vulnerability computers or other devices.

The accusations that Russians secret service was using such spy ware came just days after revelations that the U.S.’s National Security Agency, or NSA, had been tapping the phones of various European leaders, including German Prime Minister Angela Merkel. European leaders have demanded an explanation from the U.S., raising tensions between the allies.

Russian experts on security agreed, however, that the news of U.S. intelligence agencies activities has not taken Moscow by surprise. In fact, Russia has long put in place all the necessary countermeasures, they said.

Evgeny Lobachev, a retired FSB major general, told in an interview that Russia started taking measures to protect its communication networks back during the NATO operation in Yugoslavia.

He said that in order to reduce the risks to their aircraft, the Americans switched several types of communication networks off. Ukraine, in particular, was almost completely cut off from the rest of the world as a result, he said.

“Our own encrypted communication channels are so secure that for now, the Americans have been unable to break into our most sensitive networks,” Lobachev said in the interview. “Unfortunately, we cannot use these security measures across all our networks and users, but have been able to protect the things that really need protecting.”

Other experts in Moscow agreed with the Kremlin that accusing Russia of spying on the G20 delegates is the second in a series of attempts to redirect the spotlight from the U.S. onto Russia.

The first such attempt came last week, when newspapers reported the FBI’s was investigating whether the head of the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Washington was using its student exchange program as a recruitment center for Russian intelligence services. The center has denied the accusations.

The current spying accusations have increased since Edward Snowden, a former, contracted U.S. intelligence analyst, received asylum in Russia after disclosing classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs run by the NSA.

“It has long been the case that for the United States, national interests always come before international law, let alone ethics,” said Pavel Zolotarev, deputy head of the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies in Moscow.

“This scandal is not going to affect America’s relations with its allies in any long-term way,” Zolotarev said in an interview with the news website. “But it will provide fresh impetus to formulating new norms of international law in the area of IT. Up until now, the Americans have been resisting any such measures because that would put an end to their utter dominance of the Internet. Now, however, they will probably be forced to make concessions.”

Unlike other reactions across the globe to Snowden’s disclosures, as well as the European phone tapping scandal, Russia’s comments have been without surprise or outrage.

This story is based on reports by RIA Novosti, GAZETA.RU, and PRAVDA.RU.

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