Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed the allegations by the UK, US and Canada that Moscow attacked labs conducting coronavirus work. He branded the behaviour as “outrageous and reprehensible.”
The three countries accused a hacking group called APT29 of launching the cyber attacks on various organisations involved in COVID-19 vaccine research.
Collectively the UK, US and Canada said it is “almost certainly” linked to Russian intelligence who intended to steal information and intellectual property.
Moscow rejected the accusations, calling them “groundless.”
The Russian ambassador to the UK, Andrei Kelin, said the claims made “no sense.”
He told the BBC: “I don’t believe in this story at all, there is no sense in it.”
But Mr Raab said the three countries’ accusations were based on assessments by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and its counterparts in the US and Canada.
Mr Raab hit back at Mr Kelin’s comments.
The Foreign Secretary said: “Of course he will come on and deny the attack on the R&D in relations to vaccines.
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Mr Kelin also rejected a separate claim from the UK that “Russian actors” tried to disrupt last year’s general election.
He said: “I do not see any point in using this subject as a matter of interference.
“We do not interfere at all. We do not see any point in interference.”
He added: “We will try to settle relations and to establish better relations than now.”
Mr Raab criticised the behaviour of Moscow further.
He said: “The point is: First of all we’ve seen this as part of a wider systemic approach to cyber taken by Russia.
“And at the time that the world is coming together to try and tackle COVID-19, particularly come up with a global solution for a vaccine, I think it’s outrageous and reprehensible that the Russian government is engaged in this activity.
“So what we’re doing without allies is making sure people know, making sure the organisations know so that they can better defend against it, but also just calling Russia out, we will do this.”
He added: “Now you will see us holding Russia to account and making sure that the world knows the nature of the reprehensible behaviour that they’re engaged in.
“As a leading member of the international community, a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia should be engaged in that collaborative international effort.”