Ukraine intelligence takes credit for Russia’s aviation agency hack

It is quite rare that a state openly boasts of an offensive cyber operation – but Ukraine did just that. Its intelligence announced a successful hack of Russia’s civil aviation agency.

The Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense said it had obtained a large volume of confidential documents from Rosaviatsiya, Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency, “as a result of a successful complex special operation in cyberspace.”

The aforementioned agency is responsible for flight safety and records all cases of emergency during the operation of Russian aviation. Ukrainian intelligence said it had penetrated the agency’s information systems and acquired Rosaviatsiya’s daily reports for more than a year and a half.

According to Kyiv, the documents allegedly reveal that Russia’s aviation is collapsing – thanks to international sanctions that hit the country after it invaded neighboring Ukraine in February 2022.

For instance, documents say that in January 2023 alone, 185 accidents were recorded in Russian civil aviation, a third of them classified as dangerous.

In the first 9 months of 2023, 150 cases of aircraft malfunctions were recorded in Russia, while in the same period in 2022, only 50 such incidents were registered. This means that the safety hazard of flying in Russia has tripled, Ukrainian military intelligence concludes.

Aircraft maintenance has also become a critical issue in Russia as spare parts are harder to come by due to sanctions. Moscow is redirecting aircraft maintenance to Iran, where work is carried out without appropriate certification.

The acute shortage of spare parts has led to the so-called “aviation cannibalism” in Russia: some aircraft are dismantled to repair others.

“The trend indicates that the civil aviation sector in Russia is in a zone of serious turbulence with a high risk of a steep dive. This reality is a direct consequence of the sanctions, the most painful of which for the aggressor state of Russia was the imposed ban on the supply of aircraft and spare parts,” Ukraine says.

And even if some analysts – like Oleg Shakirov, a Russian expert on foreign policy and security at the MGIMO School of Government and International Affairs – say it’s unusual for a state to publicize its successful offensive cyber operations, it’s also perfectly understandable.

Ukraine has been in a state of war with Russia since February 2022 and is eager to talk about the supposedly inevitable downfall of various sectors of Russia’s economy. However, the numbers do not support the suggestion that Western sanctions on Russia are working or are serious at all.

Robin Brooks, a chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, a trade association, recently shared a graphic showing that Russia’s gross domestic product is now above where it was before the invasion of Ukraine.

“That is lamentable, but no one in Brussels gets to lament this. The EU made a conscious decision to put the profits of a handful of Greek shipping oligarchs ahead of the 450 million people it's supposed to represent,” Brooks wrote on X, even though the credibility of Russian economic statistics is definitely doubtful for quite some time now.

He and many other economists say that when global shipping companies shunned Russia in the wake of its invasion, Greek shipping oligarchs – dismissive of reputational risk – stepped in after seeing an opportunity to cash in on the Kremlin’s war.

Last year, the share of Russian oil transported on Greek ships hit an all-time high, the Daily Telegraph reported in September.

However, three major Greek shipping firms have stopped transporting Russian oil in recent weeks in order to avoid US sanctions now being imposed on some shipping firms carrying Russian oil, Reuters said last week.

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