Russian spy chief denies cyberattack in BBC interview

Director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergei Naryshkin delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the VII Moscow Conference on International Security MCIS-2018 in Moscow, Russia, on April 4, 2018. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP)

LONDON – Russia's spy chief on Tuesday denied responsibility for the SolarWinds cyberattack but said he was "flattered" by the accusations from the United States and Britain that Russian foreign intelligence was behind such a sophisticated hack.

The United States and Britain have blamed Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), successor to the foreign spying operations of the KGB, for the hack which compromised nine US federal agencies and hundreds of private sector companies.

SVR Director Sergei Naryshkin said accusations from the United States were absurd and that Russia was not responsible for the cyberattacks, poisonings, hacks, or meddling in elections that it was blamed for

"These claims are like a bad detective novel," SVR Director Sergei Naryshkin, a close ally of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin, told the BBC in Russian.

ALSO READ: Biden imposes sanctions on Russia, restricts buying new debt

Asked directly if the SVR was responsible for the SolarWinds attack, Naryshkin quipped with a smile that he would be "flattered" if the SVR had been responsible for such a sophisticated attack but that he could not "claim the creative achievements of others as his own".

Naryshkin said he did not want to accuse the United States of being behind the attack but quoted from documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to suggest that the tactics of the attack were similar to those used by US and British intelligence agencies.

The United States and Britain cast Russia as a dangerous former superpower which they say has poisoned enemies with nerve agents and radioactive isotopes, meddled in Western elections and carried out hacking operations across the world.

Naryshkin said such accusations were absurd and that Russia was not responsible for the cyberattacks, poisonings, hacks, or meddling in elections that it was blamed for.

ALSO READ: Report: 'Switzerland most likely venue for Putin-Biden summit'

The hack of SolarWinds, which was identified in December, gave access to thousands of companies and government offices that used its products. Microsoft President Brad Smith described the attack as “the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen."

Britain's GCHQ cyber spying agency said that it was highly likely that SVR was responsible for the SolarWinds attack.

Asked about a view that only 10 percent of Russian intelligence operations in Europe were uncovered, Naryshkin, who along with GRU military intelligence boss Igor Kostyukov, is one of Russia's two most powerful spy chiefs, smiled and raised his eyebrows.

He added that correspondence between Russian intelligence and Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, had been re-established.