Society

Ukrainian Cyber Group Hacks Putin's Top Aide

| by Sarah Zimmerman

The Ukrainian hacker group Cyber Junta has released thousands of emails from Russian President Vladimir Putin's top aide, Vladislav Surkov, showing evidence that Russia had high levels of involvement in one of the bloodiest European conflicts since the 1990s. 

The group released 2,337 emails in total, according to NBC, which show that Russia micro-managed the separatist movement in the Ukraine, which has led to a period of civil unrest in the country and the complete annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

"This is a serious hack," Maks Czuperski, leader of the Digital Forensic Research Lab of the Atlantic Council, told NBC.

Surkov has often been referred to as the "gray cardinal" of the Kremlin, and has been behind the country's most crucial political decisions, including the invasion and annexation of Crimea.

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The hack proves that Surkov has been funding and managing the separatist movement in the Ukraine and has been extremely involved in a reportedly "independent" revolution. 

Ukraine has been a place of political turmoil since 2013, when protestors clashed over Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to form closer ties with the EU, a decision highly condemned by Russia itself. Eastern Ukraine, which is composed of a largely Russian-speaking majority, pitted itself against the pro-European West, according to CNN.

Putin himself became officially involved in the fight in 2014, when it invaded the eastern Crimean peninsula and declared it to be an annexation of Russia. He claimed that he had a responsibility to govern the area as Crimea has an ethnic Russian majority. 

Cyber Junta's email hack, however, proves that Russia was involved with the separatist revolution far before the Crimean invasion, according to NBC. Surkov has been guiding Eastern forces and kept in close contact with rebel leaders. He even went so far as ensuring that pro-Russian candidates made it to the ballot in fraudulent Ukrainian elections.

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A senior U.S. official tells NBC that the United States had no involvement in the hack and that the documents released seem genuine. The Russian government, however, disputes the authenticity of the emails, claiming that Surkov doesn't even use email.

"We have seen [the released emails], it is an interesting document," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said to the government-controlled news agency Sputnik News. "This is not him. I can add that [Surkov] is not using e-mail at all. Someone had to try really hard to produce this document."

Surkov has yet to comment on the hack. 

Sources: NBC News, CNN, Sputnik News / Photo credit: premier.gov.ru/Wikimedia Commons

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