The Trump administration on Thursday blamed the Russian government for launching a massive cyberattack on Ukraine last year — even threatening “consequences” against President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
The June malware attack, known as NotPetya, “was part of the Kremlin’s ongoing effort to destabilize Ukraine and demonstrates ever more clearly Russia’s involvement in the ongoing conflict,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “This was also a reckless and indiscriminate cyber-attack that will be met with international consequences.”
The unusually strong language is notable given the White House’s reluctance to strongly criticize Putin’s regime, whose cooperation President Donald Trump is seeking in the fight against the Islamic State. It came hours after the British and Danish governments blamed Russia for the cyberattack.
Trump has also rejected the idea that Russian meddling played any role in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, despite the conclusion by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies that Moscow carried out a massive political influence campaign whose aims included undermining Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
Asked what “international consequences” Trump planned to impose over NotPetya, National Security Council spokesman Marc Raimondi responded: “We are not going to telegraph our efforts.”
NotPetya, which initially spread because of a compromised software update mechanism in a widely used Ukrainian tax program, disrupted operations at Ukraine’s central bank, the main airport in Kiev and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Cyber experts called it a striking example of Russia using its Eastern European neighbor as a testbed for aggressive digital warfare tactics.
The malware partly relied on leaked National Security Agency hacking tools to spread quickly across networks. It infected systems in the United States and many countries in Europe and Asia.
The White House originally planned to release its statement in coordination with the British statement, but Trump’s remarks on the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., delayed the announcement, according to a U.S. official.