Russia Spy Chief Says U.S. Could Be Behind SolarWinds Hack 'Achievements'

Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) chief has dismissed claims Moscow was behind the SolarWinds cyberattack, and said the U.K, or even the U.S. may have been behind the breach.

In an interview, Sergei Naryshkin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, suggested that Russia lacked the wherewithal to conduct the attack that infiltrated nine U.S. federal agencies.

Microsoft President Brad Smith described the hack identified in December 2020, which the Biden administration has blamed on Moscow, as "the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen".

When asked if his agency had carried out the hack, Naryshkin told the BBC, "I'd be flattered to hear such an assessment of the work of the foreign intelligence service which I run."

“These claims are like a bad crime novel.” In an exclusive BBC interview, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, responds to allegations his agency was behind the giant SolarWinds hack. Camera/edit @mattgodtv Producer @BBCWillVernon @BBCNews @BBCWorld

— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) May 18, 2021

Describing such claims as a "high evaluation" of his agency's abilities, he said, "I don't have the right to claim the creative achievements of others as my own."

Reiterating the Kremlin's position that there was no evidence the SolarWinds attack was of Russia's doing, he said that no proof has been "made public."

He then referred to documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden suggested that the tactics of the attack, in fact, bore the hallmarks of operations by U.S. and British intelligence agencies.

"I don't want to assert that this cyberattack was carried out by a U.S. agency, but the tactics are similar," he said.

Last month, the Biden administration said the SolarWinds hack had the potential to disrupt more than 16,000 computer systems worldwide and had been traced to a cybergroup by the name of Cozy Bear, APT29, or the Dukes, which were linked to the SVR.

"The U.S. Intelligence Community has high confidence in its assessment of attribution to the SVR," the White House said in a statement on April 15.

Following the attack, the U.S. has hit Russia with sanctions as ties with Moscow deteriorate. Washington, DC has also accused Moscow of poisoning opposition politician Alexei Navalny with the Novichok nerve agent, and of interfering in its elections.

In turn, Russia has imposed its own measures against the U.S. and put it top of its list of "unfriendly" countries.

But Naryshkin described claims of hacking and other accusations that Moscow faced such as "poisonings" and "interference in elections" read "like a bad crime novel."

Naryshkin also gave a cryptic answer when he was asked what he thought of the assessment of ex-director of Britain's intelligence service (MI6) Sir John Sawers last month that Western intelligence only knew of around 10 percent of Russia's intelligence activities in Europe had been uncovered.

He said that countries, including the U.K, Russia, France and Germany were "all strong, independent and sovereign states" and that "any state which is truly strong and sovereign must have a strong intelligence service."

Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment.

Sergei Naryshkin in Red Square, Moscow
The director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin, attends the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in Moscow on May 9, 2021. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP/Getty Images