In what might seem to some like poetic justice after Russia was implicated in the hack of Democratic National Committee emails, a group of Ukrainian cyber-warriors has released a trove of emails hacked from the account of a top aide to Russian president, Vladimir Putin. The hack appears to be much more serious than the penetration of the DNC because it reaches directly into Putin’s Kremlin offices.
A group calling itself “Cyber Hunta” has so far released more than a gigabyte of emails from Vladislav Surkov. According to “Foreign Policy,” Surkov has been a senior official in the Russian government since 1999 when Putin assumed the presidency after the resignation of Boris Yeltsin. Called the “gray cardinal” of the Kremlin, Surkov has served many key roles for Putin and is believed to been instrumental in Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimea.
“This is a serious hack,” said Maks Czuperski, head of the Digital Forensic Research Lab of the Atlantic Council (DFRL) on NBC News. “We have seen so much happen to the United States, other countries at the hands of Russia. Not so much to Russia. It was only a question of time that some of the anonymous guys like Cyber Hunta would come to strike them back.”
The emails provide a “smoking gun” that confirms that Russia was actually controlling the Ukrainian separatist movement in the forgotten war that has killed 10,000 people. NBC News cites an unnamed U.S. official who said that the emails confirm what U.S. intelligence has long believed, that the Kremlin was “running the separatists at the micro-level.”
One email contains a list of candidates for a local election, some with asterisks indicating they were “checked by us” and “especially recommended.” These candidates were “elected” a few days later. Other emails contain casualty lists, expense reports and a proposal for a propaganda office in the heavily contested city of Donetsk.
Vladislav Surkov was among the Russian officials singled out by the United States and the European Union for individual sanctions for their roles in invasion and annexation of Crimea. At the time Surkov told The Independent that Obama’s action would not affect him since “The only things that interest me in the US are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”
Earlier this month, the Obama Administration said in Politico that it would deliver a “proportional” response against Russia for its alleged role in cyber-attacks against the United States. The U.S. has denied any involvement in the hack of the Surkov emails.