US Wants to Cooperate With Russia on Cybersecurity Issues but Building Trust Takes Time
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
Interaction between Washington and Moscow on information security issues has been frozen since 2014 due to the US’ frustration that Ukraine failed in its aggression against the Russian-speakers of Donbass. In response, Washington suspended existing bilateral mechanisms, including in the cyber sphere. However, it has been learned that Moscow and Washington are now discussing the resumption of such cooperation.
The breakdown of relations accelerated following the Donbass War, but the situation became even worse after US authorities accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Although the Russian interference narrative has been continually debunked, it did not lead to the immediate restart of cooperation in the cybersecurity sector between the two countries.
It is recalled that in 2008, the US and NATO were left in a state of shock when the Russian military intervened in the South Ossetia War to protect Russian passport holders from Georgian aggression. Despite illusory suggestions that the US would guarantee the country’s security, Georgia launched a military operation that saw a swift Russian response that left the Caucasian country so overwhelmed that the road to Tbilisi was left wide open.
Following this humiliation and not wanting a repeat of it again in 2014 in Donbass, the US invested a lot more energy into propping up and encouraging Ukrainian aggression. This again failed, thus once again blocking NATO from penetrating deeper into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence.
Frustrated with the lack of progress, Washington decided that the best course of action to force Moscow into submission was to directly cool off bilateral relations and engage in an intense fake news campaign. This culminated, as mentioned, into the debunked 2016 election Russian interference allegation.
As part of cooling relations, Washington blocked cooperation with Moscow in the cybersecurity sphere. Ultimately, this turned out to be a big issue for the US as it lost a powerful partner in fighting not only cybercrime, but organized crime networks. Although Russia had and has a serious and responsible approach towards cooperation in the cybersecurity sphere, the US has been unwilling to transcend bilateral issues for the sake of fighting crime.
Criminal groups and hackers benefited from this breakdown of cooperation and organized numerous attacks against major companies and state bodies. Moscow over a prolonged period of time has been suggesting to Washington that the two countries have to cooperate again in the cybersecurity sphere, but the US refused these offers.
According to Russian media though, the situation has changed dramatically in recent months.
Media reports revealed that US President Joe Biden proposed the resumption of interdepartmental contacts in the cybersphere in the first half of 2022 after a number of large American energy and industrial companies were attacked by ransomware viruses. US authorities claim that the origins of the attacks were from Russia-based hacker groups like Evil Corp., TrickBot and REvil.
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Geneva summit on June 16 announced with Biden the decision to launch bilateral consultations on cybersecurity. Given the nervous reaction of the Washington establishment to any contact with Moscow, the parties agreed to avoid excessive publicity.
Their expressions of willingness to cooperate also comes as the Wall Street Journal leaked information about a September 27 meeting between Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, and Chairman of the Committee of Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, Mark Milli. This was in relation to the possibility of the US military using Russian bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to fight terrorism, including in Afghanistan.
Although rapprochement between Moscow and Washington is a long way off, in the first 10 months of the Biden administration, there are flickers of hope of cooperation in the cybersecurity and counterterrorism fields. Although the American establishment are attempting to railroad cooperation with Russia, so-much-so that it even released leaks to the media to cause a controversy, it appears that Biden is making a serious attempt to restart some bilateral cooperation.
If such cooperation is to emerge again, it could also be expected that cyberattacks against Russia will end. These cyberattacks at first seemed to be originating from Brazil and China, but according to Russian experts, they were later to be found originating from the US. In this way, it is difficult for the US to portray itself as being benevolent in issues of cybersecurity.
It is likely that as the US begins shifting most of its attention and resources towards opposing China, Biden has recognized that more cordial relations with Moscow is necessary. Although it will be extremely difficult to build any trust, cooperation in cybersecurity and counterterrorism are of mutual interest and a good start.
More importantly, Russia has consistently announced its willingness to cooperate with the US in many fields of mutual interest. Cooperation in cybersecurity and counterterrorism could be the first steps in a long path towards the US normalizing its policies and outlook towards Russia.
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