MOSCOW — There was a sense of inevitability as Igor Sechin, the powerful CEO of Russia’s sprawling state oil giant and a trusted lieutenant of President Vladimir Putin, failed to turn up in court this week — not once, but twice.
The attack, dubbed “Petya,” is a ransomware worm that has so far targeted, among others, Ukrainian banks and airports; Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft; British advertising company WPP, US pharmaceutical giant Merck; and shipping company AP Moller-Maersk, which said every branch of its business was affected.
A Russian court has sentenced a Crimean Tatar man to 12 years in prison, drawing swift condemnation from Ukraine for what Kyiv called a politically motivated ruling.
Lawyers for Ruslan Zeytullayev said that in an April 26 verdict, a military court in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don convicted their client of establishing a cell of the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir in Crimea.
From the northern tip of the Baltics to the southern edge of the Balkans, Russia is stepping up spying on its neighbors, according to numerous reports from the region.
The most recent notice of such activity comes from Estonia, whose intelligence service’s annual report says the “Baltic Sea area is especially vulnerable to threats from Russia.”
According to Estonia’s national intelligence service, Russia, acting through its military intelligence agency, the GRU, and its Federal Security Service, or FSB, has taken a special interest in the foreign and security policies, defense planning, armed forces, arms development, and military capabilities of its neighbors.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has arrived in Brussels to attend a March 31 NATO meeting that was rescheduled to allow him to attend.
A senior State Department official told reporters that Tillerson will push alliance members to increase their defense spending and will work with allies to press Russia to abide by the Minsk agreement to end the crisis in Ukraine.
So here we go again. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka seems to be doing what he does best: flirting with the West, antagonizing Russia, and implicitly threatening to stray from Moscow’s orbit.
It’s the Lukashenka two-step. And it seems we’ve seen this movie before.
And every time the Belarusian strongman has tried this trick in the past, it’s worked like a charm. He gets some concessions from the West and Russia keeps feeding him subsidies.
But if Lukashenka has been a master gamer in the past, this time the game feels different.
With Minsk and Moscow at odds over gas prices, oil deliveries, food exports, Belarus granting visa-free travel to Westerners, Russia imposing border controls, and the Kremlin’s push for a new air base, this time it all feels much more dangerous.