In the middle of the diplomatic tensions over the concentration of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, The United States and Ukraine began to notice how Russia emptied its embassy in Kiev.
On January 5, 18 people – most of them children and wives of Russian diplomats – boarded buses and undertook a 15-hour journey to Moscow, according to a senior Ukrainian security official, quoted by The New York Times.
Some 30 more people left the diplomatic mission in the days that followed, from Kiev and a consulate in Lviv., in western Ukraine. Diplomats from two other Russian consulates have received the order to prepare to leave Ukrainesaid the security official, who spoke to the New York outlet on condition of anonymity.
The eviction of the Russian embassy can be propaganda, preparation for an impending conflict or maneuver, or all three together, say the Ukrainian and American officials quoted by The New York Times.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that its embassy in Kiev was “operating as usual”, reported the Interfax news agency.
US officials saw the Russian embassy evacuations coming. “We have information indicating that the Russian government was preparing to evacuate their relatives from the Russian embassy in Ukraine in late December and early January.”a US official said in a statement.
The slow exits have become part of the puzzle of what happens next. They join the cyber-attacks on Ukrainian ministries last week, and reports from Microsoft and the US that much more destructive malware has been planted on Ukrainian networks but it has not been activated.
Dozens of computer equipment in Ukrainian government agencies were infected with destructive malware disguised as ransomwareMicrosoft revealed on Saturday night. The news suggested that a flashy attack that hijacked official Ukrainian government websites had been a distraction. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.
The attack took place while the threat of a Russian invasion in Ukraine persists, and with diplomatic efforts to reduce tension apparently stalled.
In a short blog post, the equivalent of an industry scare, Microsoft said it had The malware was first detected on Thursday. That would coincide with the attack that took some 70 government websites temporarily out of service.
A Ukrainian security official told Reuters that the attack on the websites had served as a cover for a malicious attack, in remarks published earlier on Saturday.
On the other hand, a leading private executive in the cybersecurity sector in Kiev told AP how the attack had succeeded: The intruders had accessed government networks through a shared software provider in an attack known as a supply chain attack, similar to the 2020 Russian SolarWinds cyber espionage operation against the US government..
In another technical post, Microsoft said the affected systems “include various government, nonprofit and information technology organizations.” The firm said it did not know how many organizations in Ukraine or elsewhere might have been affected, but it expected to hear of more infections.
Russia is accused of having deployed some 100,000 soldiers near the border with Ukraine, at a time when Moscow is seeking a commitment from Westerners that Kiev will never join the NATO Atlantic alliance.
Ukraine has been in a conflict with pro-Russian separatists since 2014 that has left more than 13,000 dead and began after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula.
(With information from AFP and EFE)