Russia-based cyberattacks have targeted U.S. interests in recent months, which experts say is directly related to the upcoming U.S.-Russia summit.
The latest ransomware assault this week shut down the U.S.-based meat plants of the world’s largest meatpacker, Brazil-based JBS, and the White House said a criminal group likely based in Russia is thought to be responsible for the ransomware attack.
“All of this is Vladimir Putin’s resurgence strategy,” said former CIA Moscow station chief Daniel Hoffman, a Fox News contributor.
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Hoffman, who served in Moscow for five years, said these attacks are occurring as a show of force in the lead-up to the June 16 summit.
“He has to tear down our democracy because it’s a threat to them,” he added.
The attack on JBS – a major meat supplier to the U.S. – comes just weeks after the largest U.S. fuel pipeline, the East Coast’s Colonial pipeline, was targeted by a criminal group originating in Russia. In April, Putin massed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukraine border.
The Biden administration declined to condemn Putin, Russia’s president, after the Colonial pipeline attack and stressed that the U.S. does not believe Russia’s government was involved.
“We do not believe — I emphasize, we do not believe the Russian government was involved in this attack. But we do have strong reason to believe that criminals who did the attack are living in Russia,” President Biden said on May 13.
Rebekah Koffler, a former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) intelligence officer for Russia and author of the upcoming “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America,” told Fox News the use of criminal gangs is a common tactic by the Kremlin.
“They do that to maintain plausible deniability,” Koffler said, pointing to Russia’s use of mercenaries in Ukraine and Syria.
“What Putin wants is to establish what we call the ‘balance of power,'” she said.
The U.S. and Russia have long competed on a global scale, and where the U.S. exceeds Russian capabilities, as in the case with the U.S. military, Putin has relied on other factors to bolster Russian dominance – including cyber-strikes.
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“Putin is trying to signal to President Biden that he is in a much stronger position ahead of the summit,” Koffler said.
The former DIA intelligence officer argued that while Biden’s rhetoric condemning Putin has been strong, his actions have been weak.
Late last month, the president lifted Trump-era sanctions targeting the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will run natural gas from Russia to Europe – a move some believe sends the wrong message to European allies.
Apart from geopolitical jockeying, experts believe one of the biggest hurdles facing the U.S in the upcoming summit is Putin’s disinterest in improving relations.
“That’s not what Vladimir Putin seems to want,” Hoffman said.
Putin’s determination to overcome the U.S. in the global superpower arena means they will never be interested in pursuing a “friendship,” argued Koffler.
“The U.S. security apparatus has falsely been imagining that certain things are achievable with Russia, and every single president has tried the so-called ‘reset’ and failed,” she said. “Because Russia does not view itself as a friend.”
The Kremlin issued a warning earlier this week that “uncomfortable” signals would be sent to the U.S. ahead of the summit later this month.
“The Americans must assume that a number of signals from Moscow … will be uncomfortable for them, including in the coming days,” Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, told RIA news agency, reported Reuters Monday.
The comments were made after Biden said he would press Putin on issues surrounding human rights.
Ties between Biden and Putin have been strained following a March interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos when the U.S. president was asked if he thought Putin was a “killer,” to which he answered, “I do.”
Putin later replied, “Takes one to know one.”
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Koffler argued Biden’s comments during the interview may have emboldened the Russian adversary, though whether Biden’s words will have an effect on the summit remains to be seen.
Hoffman, on the other hand, does not believe the dialogue of a domestic interview will hinder U.S.-Russia relations.
“It doesn’t matter,” the former Moscow-based CIA station chief told Fox News. “The Russians have been very active against us forever.”
“Calling Putin a killer is just theatrics,” Hoffman added.
The White House did not immediately respond to Fox News’ questions.