Peace meeting ‘will be magnet for Russian hackers’; Zelensky urges US and Chinese leaders to attend summit

Peace meeting ‘will be magnet for Russian hackers’; Zelensky urges US and Chinese leaders to attend summit
Russian hackers are likely to target a Ukraine peace conference in Switzerland next month, a newspaper has warned.(Photo: iStock)

There’s an ‘increased risk’ of cyberattacks from Russian hackers at the Ukraine peace meeting to be held in Switzerland in June, NZZ am Sonntag reported.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the leaders of the US and China to attend a summit to discuss Ukraine’s peace blueprint as Russia builds up troop formations near Ukraine’s northeast border and steps up air attacks.

Sudan’s army said it was poised to get weapons from Russia in return for letting Moscow establish a military fuelling station on the Red Sea coast, a blow for the US as its opponents gain influence in the African country torn apart by civil war.

Ukraine peace conference in Switzerland ‘set to be magnet for Russian hackers’

There’s an “increased risk” of cyberattacks from Russian hackers at the Ukraine peace meeting to be held in Switzerland in June, NZZ am Sonntag reported.

Russia, which hasn’t been invited to the 15-16 June event in Burgenstock, is likely to seek ways to disrupt the gathering, the Swiss newspaper reported, citing IT experts and people within the Swiss Federal Office of Cybersecurity who it didn’t identify.

Separately, SonntagsZeitung reported that Switzerland had expelled no Russian diplomats since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, during which time Russia has added dozens of personnel in Bern and Geneva.

About one-third of Russia’s diplomatic contingent in Switzerland is believed to work in parallel with its military, foreign or domestic intelligence units, a Swiss intelligence official who wasn’t identified told the newspaper.

Swiss legislators on Monday are set to vote on a proposal that the country should “systematically” expel diplomats assessed to be involved in espionage.

Russia’s foreign ministry had no immediate response to an email seeking comment.

A spokesperson for Switzerland’s foreign ministry confirmed that the country currently hosts 217 Russian diplomats: 75 at Swiss institutions and 142 at multilateral bodies, many of which are located in Geneva.

Switzerland would take action against any diplomats found to be undertaking illegal intelligence activity, the spokesperson said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is pushing nations in Asia, Africa and South America to stay away from the Swiss conference.

Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Russian officials have reached out to dozens of countries, from India to tiny Comoros, to deter participation at Burgenstock, according to a diplomatic memo seen by Bloomberg News.

Zelensky implores Biden, Xi to attend summit as Russia ramps up

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the leaders of the US and China to attend a summit to discuss Ukraine’s peace blueprint as Russia builds up troop formations near Ukraine’s northeast border and steps up air attacks.

Russian glide bombs struck a home-improvement superstore in Kharkiv on Saturday, killing at least 12 people and wounding 43, Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said on Sunday. Sixteen more people were missing, he said. The bombs triggered a fire that scorched more than 10,000 square metres of the store on a busy shopping day.

The attack generated outrage from Ukraine’s allies and new calls for more military aid.

On Thursday, a Russian missile hit a Kharkiv publishing house, one of the largest in Europe, killing seven employees.

“I am appealing to the leaders of the world who are still aside from the global efforts of the global peace summit,” Zelensky said on Sunday from Kharkiv, naming US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping specifically.

“We do not want the United Nation Charter to be burnt … burnt down just like these books,” Zelensky said.

Switzerland has scheduled the conference for 15-16 June on the heels of a meeting of the Group of Seven in Borgo Egnazia, Italy.

Several G7 leaders plan to join but neither Biden nor Vice-President Kamala Harris are slated to be there, Bloomberg News reported. Biden is scheduled to fly from the G7 to Los Angeles for a major fundraiser on June 15 fundraiser featuring Hollywood stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts, former president Barack Obama, and late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel.

China, meanwhile, joined forces with Brazil to announce a rival initiative on Friday. They’ve called for an international conference that would bring both Ukraine and Russia to the table.

Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t invited to the Swiss meeting as Ukraine wants to agree with allies on steps to put pressure on the Kremlin.

“Ukraine has the world’s largest experience of lies from Russia during negotiations. Lies that in particular were Russian cover-ups for preparing this war,” Zelensky said referring to Putin’s constant reiteration he didn’t plan to invade Ukraine in 2022.

Russia has recently seized the initiative on the battlefield during the six-month delay in securing Congressional approval for a $61-billion package of US military aid for Kyiv.

Moscow’s troops launched another assault in Kharkiv region this month, seeking to stretch depleted Ukrainian forces.

“Russia is preparing for offensive actions also 90km northwest from here,” Zelenskiy on Sunday without offering more detail.

Russia attacked Ukraine again overnight with 14 missiles, including two Kinzhal hypersonic missiles and 31 Shahed drones, Ukrainian general staff said. Poland’s military scrambled jets early o Sunday due to intense Russian air activity in western Ukraine.

Sudan’s army deepens ties with Russia, Iran as civil war rages

Sudan’s army said it was poised to get weapons from Russia in return for letting Moscow establish a military fuelling station on the Red Sea coast, a blow for the US as its opponents gain influence in the African country torn apart by civil war.

A military delegation would travel to Russia within a few days to conclude the deal, assistant commander-in-chief Yasser Al-Atta told the Gulf-based Al-Hadath TV channel on Saturday. Authorities would get “vital weapons and munitions”, he said, describing the planned Russian outpost as “not exactly a military base”.

Moscow has long coveted a foothold on Sudan’s 853km coastline, and a final agreement would stoke Western concerns over the country’s growing influence in Africa.

The announcement came as Sudan’s army strives to regain swathes of territory lost to the Rapid Support Forces militia in a war that erupted in April 2023 and may have killed as many as 150,000 people.

Read more: Sudan ravaged by a civil war the world has overlooked: QuickTake

A Russian naval base was first mooted during the reign of veteran Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, but after his ouster in a 2019 popular uprising the US and others moved to reestablish full relations and secure a new ally in a tumultuous region.

The brutal conflict has upset those calculations, increasingly drawing in foreign actors and sparking angst in Western capitals. The United Arab Emirates has been accused of providing weapons to the RSF group that’s fighting the army — allegations it denies.

Meanwhile, Iran, once an ally of Bashir’s Islamist regime, has this year provided armed drones to Sudan’s military in a move that helped it seize back large parts of the capital, Khartoum, Bloomberg News has reported.

Russian experts ‘visit North Korea to help with spy satellites’

A large number of Russian experts went to North Korea to help with its spy satellite development, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported, as Pyongyang looks set to soon try to put another reconnaissance probe into orbit.

Russia dispatched the experts after Putin met leader Kim Jong-un in September and pledged to help North Korea with its space programme, Yonhap reported on Sunday, citing a senior defence official it did not name.

North Korea has conducted multiple rocket engine tests since then, probably to meet the standards of the visiting Russian technicians, Yonhap cited the official as saying. The report did not say how many Russian experts have visited or when exactly any visit took place.

South Korean Ministry of Defence officials were not immediately available for comment on the report. While Seoul believes any North Korean satellite would be rudimentary at best, such technology could help Kim’s regime in its targeting as it steps up its ability to deliver a nuclear strike.

North Korea may launch a spy satellite as soon as this month, Japanese TV network FNN reported on Friday, citing Japanese government officials it did not name.

The US, South Korea and others have accused North Korea of sending to Russia massive amounts of artillery shells along with its newest family of short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles for use in its war on Ukraine.

Russia in return is providing North Korea with food, raw materials and parts used in weapons manufacturing, South Korean Defence Minister Shin Wonsik has said. Pyongyang and Moscow have denied the charges.

Ukraine sends older soldiers to front but army needs young men

As thousands fled Kyiv in the first days of Russia’s 2022 invasion, one 57-year-old grandmother hurried in the opposite direction. Liudmyla Menyuk was going to sign up for the army to avenge her son who’d been killed fighting the Russians almost a decade before.

Many Ukrainians of Menyuk’s age have volunteered, sometimes motivated — like she was — by the explicit wish to stand in for a youth who might otherwise die in their place. “I performed my duties well,” she told Bloomberg in an interview, “so I could save the life of a young Ukrainian.”

But the enthusiasm of Ukraine’s elder citizens compared with their younger counterparts has turned into a weakness for the country’s army, as the onslaught against it drags into a third year and it struggles to repel Russia’s advances. With his country outgunned and outmanned, Zelensky has been vocal about the country’s need for weapons — and recently reaped the reward of his appeals. He is quieter on the much more sensitive matter of the need for men.

Frontline soldiers interviewed by Bloomberg said the aid package approved by US Congress last month had started to ease pressure on equipment, which had been heavily rationed so long as the Bill’s passage remained uncertain. Yet, despite a new mobilisation law lowering the age of the draft, manpower remains a problem.

“Most of the people I talk to are about 40 to 45 years old,” said Pavlo Narozhnyi, who raises funds for artillerymen. “Younger people — especially younger than 30 — are relatively rare.” A senior military official speaking on condition of anonymity echoed that assessment, citing an average fighting age of 43-45.

As much as the war’s recently stepped up in new theatres — drone strikes on energy installations, missile barrages, attacks on ships in the Baltic — the dispute is fundamentally over territory, and so depends on Ukraine’s ability to replenish its soldiers. And that poses a problem for a country with a third of its adversary’s population.

Until sustaining a major injury last year, Menyuk fought despite her poor hearing and eyesight, while others interviewed for this story complained of heart problems and even ailments that had yet to be properly investigated because of limited access to medical care on the frontline.

“It was a problem yesterday. And it is only getting worse,” said Oleksiy Melnyk, who works at Kyiv’s Razumkov Centre think tank, speaking of the ageing in Ukraine’s ranks.

Russian troops have unleashed their firepower all along the front line and made incremental advances this year, capturing the eastern city of Adviivka in the process.

Last year Vladimir Putin’s former defence minister outlined detailed plans to expand Russia’s armed forces even further: to 1.5 million people from 1.15 million now. So far, its military has been attracting soldiers with the promise of generous pay and a new law making it easier for young conscripts to serve at the front line.

In Ukraine, recruitment remains a struggle.

The ethos that the young should avoid the battlefield has been enshrined into law with conscription aimed, until very recently, only at those aged over 27 years old. Recently that was lowered to 25 but the situation is made worse by the ineffective call-up of those who do fall into the target range. In a population displaced by fighting, many young people can’t be found. Only half of the 4.5 million displaced have re-registered at a new address, according to official statistics.

Another factor is that mothers who fled their country with teenage sons aren’t sending them back now they’re of age to volunteer, so there are fewer men signing up at the lowest end of eligibility — youths of 18, 19 or 20.

Add to that a demographic backdrop that means there are twice as many Ukrainians in their late thirties, owing to a 1980s baby boom, as in their early twenties, when families grappling with the uncertainties of post-Soviet Ukraine weren’t rushing to have kids.

Aside from the unpopular politics of sending Ukraine’s youth off to die, the exemption for men aged between 18 and 25 from frontline combat is motivated by a belief that they will be key to rebuilding Ukraine in the future, said lawmaker Serhiy Rakhmanin, a member of the parliamentary committee for security and defence.

“We don’t know how long the war will go on for, and what resources we will need, and for how long,” he told Bloomberg in an interview. But that same uncertainty means many older soldiers now suffer from neglected illnesses and traumas that are the costs of fighting a war with no end in sight. DM


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