NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Russia on Thursday (4 October) to “stop its reckless pattern of behaviour” and vowed to strengthen the alliance’s defences, citing recent Russian-led cyber-attacks on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Stoltenberg highlighted three areas that he believes Russia needs to put an end to: the use of force against its neighbours, attempted interference in election processes, and widespread disinformation campaigns are all issues in which he called for greater compliance from the Russians.
NATO’s announcement came following Thursday’s report from the Dutch intelligence services in partnership with the UK that a range of cyber attacks were carried out by the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service, on various sectors ranging from sport to transport and the 2016 US presidential election.
The announcement prompted critical responses from high-level officials across European institutions.
Council President Donald Tusk and the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini released a joint statement saying “this aggressive act demonstrated contempt” for the solemn purpose of the OPCW, which works to eradicate weapons worldwide under a United Nations mandate.”
“We deplore such actions, which undermine international law and international institutions. The EU will continue to strengthen the resilience of its institutions and those of its Member States, and international partners and organisations in the digital domain.”
The UK’s report on the GRU’s attacks revealed that Russia was almost certainly behind the BadRabbit and World Anti-Doping Agency attacks of 2017, the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016 and the theft of emails from a UK-based TV station in 2015.
In response to the claims, Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman from Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the allegations a “diabolical perfume cocktail,” coming from someone with a “rich imagination.”
Stoltenberg was keen to stress that NATO remains a defensive alliance, acting proportionally in line with international laws. However, asked how NATO will respond to Russia’s latest round of attacks, he explained NATO’s approach to invoking Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which outlines the principle of collective defence.
Stoltenberg said that NATO is responding by strengthening its own cyber defences as well as integrating national cyber capabilities, but also “by the fact that we have actually decided that cyber can trigger Article 5.”
Article 5 states that an “armed attack” against one member of NATO “shall be considered an armed attack against them all” and opens the way for members to take defensive action to restore security.
Approved by NATO defence ministers during the 2014 Wales Summit, the Alliance updated this provision towards a new cyber defence policy. Following the agreement, a digital attack on a member state is now covered by Article 5:
“A decision as to when a cyber attack would lead to the invocation of Article 5 would be taken by the North Atlantic Council on a case-by-case basis.”
NATO has only invoked Article 5 once in its history—in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis was also in Brussels on Thursday and implored Russsia to “return to compliance” with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, after it transpired that Russia is in possession of a 9M729, a new nuclear-ready missile system.
“Make no mistake, the current situation with Russia in blatant violation with this treaty is untenable,” Mattis said.
In terms of the US’s response to the revelations concerning Russia’s cyber-attack on the OPCW, Mattis addressed his Brussels audience with a rhetorical question:
“Is anyone surprised that they would attack that organisation? I think not”.
“Russia displays blatant disregard for human life and international law,” he added.
In response to questions as to how the US will look to respond to the recent round of attacks on NATO allies, Mattis said:
“I would prefer not to say how we will respond. But we are still trying to bring them back onto compliance and now is the time.