Russia Says No Need to Steal Western Coronavirus Research

Russia still expects a tentative agreement with a multinational pharmaceutical company to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine under development with Oxford University to move forward, despite accusations Russia has been trying to steal vaccine data, the head of Russia’s wealth fund said Friday in an interview with Reuters.Kirill Dmitriev denied the allegations and said Russia did not need to steal secrets because it already reached a preliminary deal with AstraZeneca to manufacture the British vaccine in Russia and that the agreement could be finalized Friday.“There’s nothing that needs to be stolen,” Dmitriev said. “It’s all going to be given to Russia.” U.S., British and Canadian officials accused the Kremlin Thursday of being behind a massive and ongoing cyber hack aimed at stealing from Western pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions doing research into coronavirus vaccines and treatment therapies.FILE – Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab leaves the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in central London, July 1, 2020.Raab said it was “almost certain” that Russia attempted to influence the outcome of the election, after documents detailing Anglo-American free trade talks were “illicitly acquired.”The trade documents were placed online and were noticed by Britain’s main opposition Labor Party and used in the election campaign to suggest the Conservatives would sign a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S. that would be more favorable for U.S. businesses.“On the basis of extensive analysis, the government has concluded that it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 general election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked government documents,” Raab said.He added, “Sensitive government documents relating to the U.K.-U.S. free trade agreement were illicitly acquired before the 2019 general election and disseminated online via the social media platform Reddit. When these gained no traction, further attempts were made to promote the illicitly acquired material online in the run-up to the general election.”Raab said the British government “reserves the right to respond with appropriate measures in the future” — a sign that London is considering imposing additional sanctions on Russia, adding to those already introduced for Russia’s annexation in 2014 of Ukraine’s Crimea region and for a nerve agent attack in England targeting a Russian defector.Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Raab’s allegations about election meddling were vague.FILE – Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova speaks to the media in Moscow.“The statement is so foggy and contradictory that it’s practically impossible to understand,” she told reporters in Moscow.Russian officials deny any involvement by the Russian state in coronavirus cyber hacking, saying Moscow’s own vaccine plans are far advanced and claiming Russia could be the first country to roll out mass immunization.“We have no information on who could have hacked the pharma companies and research centers in the UK. We can only say one thing – Russia has nothing to do with those attempts,” Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters in the Russian capital. “We reject these kind of accusations,” he added.Raab’s accusations Thursday come ahead of the scheduled publication next week of a House of Commons report on alleged Russian interference in the general workings of British democracy. That report was completed in May 2018 but was delayed by the government, despite pressure from opposition parties that it be released ahead of last year’s general election, in which Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won in a landslide victory.U.S. authorities recently accused Chinese spies of trying to steal vaccine information. FBI Director Chris Wray last week said, “At this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.”British officials say that the ongoing and highly targeted hacking operation by Cozy Bear has focused on facilities known to be working on coronavirus vaccines and treatments to overcome COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. British-based researchers at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London are believed to be among those targeted.Britain’s spy chiefs say the Russian hackers have been using several techniques to try to gain access to information, including spear-phishing and custom malware.An official Downing Street spokesman said, “The attacks which are taking place against scientists and others doing vital work to combat coronavirus are despicable. Working with our allies, we will call out those who seek to do us harm in cyberspace and hold them to account.”Russian officials announced Thursday that Phase 2 trials of a Russian-made coronavirus vaccine will end on Aug. 3, to be followed immediately by a third phase.“The third phase will not only take place in Russia, but also in a number of other countries,” Dmitriev told reporters Thursday during an online press conference.
 VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.


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