Russia is accusing Ukraine of conducting an electronic attack on an orbiting communications satellite and is threatening unspecified retaliation as cyber warfare between the two states heats up over the crisis in Crimea.
Russia’s Ministry of Communications and Mass Media revealed Saturday that an electronic attack against a Russian television satellite was traced to Ukraine.
“Appropriate services have detected the exact location of the source in Ukraine’s territory,” the ministry said, according to state-run ITAR-TASS news agency.
The Russian ministry said the attempt to use “radio-electronic war means against a Russian relay satellite” violated the 1992 International Telecommunication Union charter.
A second Russian state-controlled news agency, Interfax, reported that the Ukrainians attempted to “decay” the orbit of the communications satellite. No details were provided. Some communications satellites can maneuver based on ground signals and apparently the unidentified source of the electronic attack sought to command the satellite to lower its orbit in an attempt to have it reenter the atmosphere and burn up.
James Oberg, a specialist on space issues, said there have been reports in the past of satellites being pirated by non-government groups for political purposes.
“Taking over a satellite to fire its engine and alter its orbit is an entirely different challenge and I know of no examples, nor do I expect any,” Oberg said in an email.
Oberg said one explanation for the Russian government statement about the satellite disruption is that it may have been an attempt by someone to fool the Russians into thinking the satellite’s orbit had changed and thus create confusion and mistrust of the data it is relaying.
“But here, as in all effective tactics, the target is the enemy’s decision loop, not his hardware,” he said.
“The people behind this decision should consider the consequences,” the Russian ministry warned Ukraine.
Disclosure of the satellite attack comes as both nations reported cyber attacks against government and non-government websites as the first phase of a new Cold War between Russia and Ukraine. The countries are currently embroiled in a conflict over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and Russia’s announced annexation of Crimea following a controversial independence referendum.