For the past week, reports of physical violence have been rolling out of Ukraine: Russian troops storming a base in Crimea, officers beating journalists, and violent brawlsat rallies. But as tensions escalate, another part of the conflict appears to be playing out in a cloudier realm: cyberspace.
On Saturday, Ukraine's top security agency—the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine—announced at a briefing that it had been hit by severe denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, "apparently aimed at hindering a response to the challenges faced by our state." This comes on the heels of a number of alleged hacks involving Russian and Ukrainian targets, including attacks on news outlets and blocking reception tothe cellphones of Ukrainian parliament members.
Security experts say the region is currently seeing an unusually high number of DDoS attacks, which aim to shut down networks, usually by overwhelming them with traffic. But many of those seem to be coming from third parties, rather than government entities. In terms of state-sponsored cyberwarfare, "we haven't seen that much," says Dmitri Alperovitch, CTO of CrowdStrike, a California-based cybersecurity firm.Alperovitch adds, though, that his firm has seen a significant amount of cyber-espionage on the part of the Russian intelligence services—including tracking the activities of Putin opponents in both Russia and Ukraine—but he would not disclose names of those being monitored.
Ukraine is situated in a region of the world known for breeding some of the most talented cyber criminals. Several Russian universities offer top-notch hacking training, and a Ukrainian hacker is suspected in December's theft of 40 million credit card numbers from Target. But Ukraine and Russia aren't on equal footing when it comes to their cyberwarfare capabilities. "Russia is a Tier 1 cyber power," says Alperovitch. "Ukraine isn't even in Tier 3." So Russia has a leg up in this arena—and, during past conflicts with former Soviet bloc countries, it has flexed its cyberwarfare muscles. In April 2007, hackers unleashed a wave of cyberattacks on Estonian government agencies, banks, businesses, newspapers, and political parties, following a spat over the removal of a Soviet war memorial in Tallin, the country's capital. (The Kremlin took only partial credit for the crippling three-week attack.) Georgia was targeted with similar attacks in 2008 in the days leading up to its invasion of the secessionist republic of South Ossetia. (Russian involvement was widelysuspected.)
Ukraine has yet be targeted with these type of widespread cyberassaults on key infrastructure—but it may not be long. "I anticipate continued escalation," says Jason Healey, director of the Atlantic Council's Cyber Statecraft Initiative and the former White House director of cyber infrastructure protection during the Bush administration. So far, the cyberskirmish is playing out differently than past attacks, Healey says. While the Estonia and Georgia attacks were strictly digital, in Ukraine's case, pro-Moscow forces have also deployed more hands-on attacks on information: "This old-school, Cold War style physical manipulation of equipment. Getting in and physically messing with the switches so Ukrainian civic leaders don't have phone service," Healey says. In Ukraine, these sorts of attacks are likely to be a bigger threat, because much of the telecommunications infrastructure was installed by Russians during the Soviet era. "Cyberattacks the way we tend to look at them—denial-of-service attacks, and so forth—you don't have to do those when you've got physical access to the guy's switch!" says Healey.
Many a theory has been offered about how the situation in Ukraine has escalated to this point. On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel wondered if Russian President Vladimir Putin was "in touch with reality." Her point was bolstered by his rambling Tuesday press conference, during which Putin implied—among other things—that this whole thing was the United States' fault and that the troops on the ground weren't Russian soldiers but well-outfitted, trained military imposters. "If I do decide to use armed forces," he said, "this will be in full compliance with international law." President Barack Obama offered his take, saying that "President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations, but I don't think that's fooling anybody." Obama added, "There is a strong belief that Russia's action is violating international law."
The thing is, Putin actually loves international law—at least, in theory. The Russian president has expressed strong support for international law many times, but, no surprise, it usually comes when he's singling out the United States as a violator. In recent months and years, Putin has repeatedly assured the public that what's happening in Crimea right now—the use of force without UN permission and potential violations of the 1994 Budapest memorandum—would never happen on his watch. So in case a reminder might be useful—as diplomatic efforts are underway to de-escalate the crisis—below is a partial timeline of Putin's many vows to abide by international law and not resort to the unilateral use of force to resolve a crisis.
1)December 19, 2013:About a month after protesters first occupied the Maidan in Kiev, Putin held his annual end-of-yearpress conference in Moscow and got several questions on Ukraine. One reporter reminded Putin of Russian interventions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and then asked, "Is a situation possible, even hypothetically, in which you will similarly protect the interests of Russian-speaking residents or Russian citizens of Crimea?…Is the deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine at all possible?"
Putin's answer was a definitive no: "None of what is happening in Crimea is like what occurred in South Ossetia and Abkhazia." He noted that Russia interfered in these other spots only because the ethnic conflicts in these regions had placed Russian citizens in the area at risk. "We care about the situation of our compatriots…But this does not mean that we're going to swing sabers and bring in troops. That is absolute nonsense. Nothing of the sort is or will be happening."
In November, Milenko Kuljic left Bileca, his rundown town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for Sochi. He was lured by a recruiter who promised he'd make about 2,000 euros ($2,700) a month building infrastructure for Sochi's Winter Olympics.
Kuljic says he began working for a major construction company overseeing work at some of the Games' most iconic venues, where he says he never got anywhere near the amount of money he was promised. Instead over two months of working, he says he was only given the equivalent of about $1,000 for basic living expenses. living in a dormitory with pay-to-use showers, sharing four toilets with some 200 other workers. All the while, he says his employers promised to eventually pay him in full.
At the end of the two months, he was suddenly arrested, detained for a week, and then flown home with 122 other workers from the Balkans on a flight chartered by the Serbian government.
Hundreds of other guest workers from all around the world feared a similar fate, and fled Sochi without pay to avoid arrest, and the arguably worse punishment it would bring: a five-year ban on returning to Russia as a guest worker.
It was Kuljic's second time seeking work in Russia. The first time, he says no one cared about workers, like him, who lacked official work permits: "I suspect that they told the authorities about us so that they wouldn't have to pay the money they promised."
Kuljic's experience is far from unique. Of the approximately 96,000 workers who helped build Sochi's Olympic buildings, parks, and infrastructure, about 16,000 were migrant workers, according to Human Rights Watch. Most hailed from former Soviet countries, primarily Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan, as well as from communities—like Kuljic's in Bosnia—where families rely on money sent by workers abroad.
For years, such workers put up with rampant xenophobia and exploitative conditions—overcrowded housing, paltry and unsavory food—in pursuit of a decent wage in Russia. But this fall, with just six months left until the games, thousands of migrants were rounded up and deported. In October alone, according to Russia's Federal Migration Service (FMS), more than 3,000 workers were expelled from the Krasnodar region, which includes Sochi.
Migrants to Russia face routine discrimination, as nationalists blame them for taking work from employable Russians. Polls have shown that two-thirds of Russians believe immigrants are prone to crime, and, whether or not they came legally or illegally, want to reduce their numbers in the country.
As non-Russian workers flooded Sochi, such anti-immigrant sentiment escalated—and was encouraged at the highest levels of government.
"It would be very easy for people of other nations to take over this land," Alexander Tkachev, the governor of the Krasnodar region, declared in August of 2012. "We have no other choice: we will squeeze them out, restore order, ask for documents…so that those who are trying to come here on illegal business understand that maybe it's better they don't come."
On September 10, 2014, the eighth World Congress of Families will open in Moscow. An international contingent of conservative activists will gather at the Kremlin to swap tactics and strategies while celebrating Russia's recent successes in pushing anti-gay and anti-abortion laws. The people pictured below are all helping to put on this event as members of the WCF 2014 planning committee. (There are others on the committee who are not featured.)
This past October, the group met at Moscow's Crowne Plaza hotel to hash out the details of the upcoming three-day affair, which organizers hope will draw upwards of 5000 attendees. But the bulk of these committee members were already deeply connected before they kicked off their planning this fall through ties forged while advancing anti-gay sentiment and legislation in Russia. You can read more about the links pictured below the image.
Jack Hanick: The former Fox News producer spoke at the third Sanctity of Motherhood conference this past November. He also spoke at a WCF regional event hosted by Malofeev's Safe Internet League and at a traditional values roundtable hosted this past June by Malofeev's St. Basil charity. Brian Brown and the Duma's Elena Mizulina were also in attendance, and gay marriage was a primary discussion topic.
Brian Brown: The president of the National Organization for Marriage, Brown also spoke at the June roundtable hosted by Malofeev's St. Basil charity. Earlier that day, he spoke with Elena Mizulina's Duma committee on family policy about adoption by gay couples.
Larry Jacobs: As WCF managing director, Jacobs works with Allan Carlson at the Howard Center, which runs the WCF. He is also a partner at Komov's Integrity Consulting, and spoke at annual conferences hosted by Yakunina's Sanctity of Motherhood group in 2010 and 2013.
Allan Carlson: A prolific historian and family scholar, Carlson is the president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society. He helped hatch the idea for the WCF in 1995 with Professor Anatoly Antonov. He is Jacobs' colleague.
Vladimir Yakunin: Married to Natalia Yakunina, he helps fund her Sanctity of Motherhood program through several of his charities, including the Center for National Glory and the Foundation of St. Andrew the First-Called.
Natalia Yakunina: Married to Vladimir Yakunin and heads the Sanctity of Motherhood program.
Konstantin Malofeev: This billionaire businessman and telecommunications mogul helps fund the St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation, the largest Orthodox Charity in Russia, through Marshall Capital, the investment firm he founded. He's also a trustee at the Safe Internet League. Through St. Basil, Malofeev also hosted a traditional values roundtable in June (attended by Jack Hanick, Brian Brown, and the Duma's Elena Mizulina) where gay marriage was a primary discussion topic.
Elena Mizulina: A member of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, she also heads its committee on family policy. Mizulina sponsored both anti-gay laws—the propaganda and adoption bans—that passed in the summer of 2013. According to WCF's Larry Jacobs, he and Mizulina have met at least three times in Russia. Two days after the propaganda law passed the Duma, Brian Brown met with Mizulina and her committee to discuss legislation about adoption by gay couples.
Archpriest Dmitri Smirnov: A top Orthodox official, Archpriest Dmitri was appointed to head the Patriarch's commission on the family this past March. He describes the group as a family policy-development shop for the administration that often advises Mizulina's Duma committee. Alexey Komov is the executive secretary of this commission.
Alexey Komov: The WCF's official Russia representative, Komov heads FamilyPolicy.ru, a WCF Russian partner. He works with several other Orthodox groups, including Smirnov's Patriarch's commission (where he is executive secretary), Malofeev's Safe Internet League (where he is on the board), and Malofeev's St. Basil foundation (where he runs a charity). Komov is also the founding partner of Integrity Consulting, a management consulting firm.
Anatoly Antonov: A renowned demographer, Antonov is a professor in the sociology department at Moscow State University. He helped hatch the idea for the WCF in Moscow with Allan Carlson in 1995. Komov is working toward a PhD in the department, and Antonov is his dissertation adviser.
Photos: Natalia Yakunina: World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations; Alexey Komov: FamilyPolicy.ru; Allan Carson: C-SPAN; Anatoly Antonov: Hannah Levintova; Brian Brown: National Organization for Marriage; Elena Mizulina: Dmitry Rozhkov/Wikipedia; Jack Hanick: Rossiya-24; Kostantin Malofeev: Barkovets/Wikipedia.ru; Vladimir Yakunin: Presidential Press and Information Office/Kremlin; Larry Jacobs: World Congress of Families; Dmitri Smirnov: Hannah Levintova
In November 2010, Russia's Sanctity of Motherhood organization kicked off its first-ever national conference. The theme, according to its organizers, was urgent: solving "the crisis of traditional family values" in a modernizing Russia. The day opened with a sextet leading 1,000 swaying attendees in a prayer. Some made the sign of the cross, others bowed or raised their arms to the sky before settling into the plush red and gold seats of the conference hall at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral.
On the second morning of the conference, the only American in attendance, a tall, collected man, stepped up for his speech. Larry Jacobs, vice president of the Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families (WCF), an umbrella organization for the US religious right's heavy hitters, told the audience that American evangelicals had a 40-year track record of "defending life and family" and they hoped to be "true allies" in Russia's traditional values crusade.
The gathering marked the beginning of the family values fervor that has swept Russia in recent years. Warning that low birth rates are a threat to the long-term survival of the Russian people, politicians have been pushing to restrict abortion and encourage bigger families. Among the movement's successes is a law that passed last summer and garnered global outrage in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics, banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors," a vague term that has been seen as effectively criminalizing any public expression of same-sex relationships.