Germany Wants E.U. to Sanction Head of Russian Military Intelligence


BERLIN — Germany wants to impose a European travel ban and asset freeze on the head of Russia’s military intelligence agency and several of its spies in response to a 2015 cyberattack on the German Parliament that was traced back to Moscow earlier this month.

The government will invoke a European Union sanctions mechanism, created last year, that allows member states to ask that restrictions be imposed on individuals involved in cyberattacks. The mechanism has not been used before.

The sanctions, which would also include a ban on business contacts inside the bloc, have to be agreed upon by the other 27 E.U. member states. The process, officials said, could take time.

A senior German diplomat, Miguel Berger, informed Russian Ambassador Sergey Yuryevitch Nechayev of the government’s decision during a meeting at the German foreign ministry on Wednesday.

Mr. Berger “sharply condemned” the cyberattack “in the name of the entire government,” according to a foreign ministry statement.

In addition to the head of the Russian military intelligence service, Igor Kostyukov, Berlin wants to blacklist Dmitriy Sergeyevich Badin, the hacker accused of orchestrating the attack, and others at “Center 85,” his unit inside the service.

Mr. Badin is a member of the hacker group known as APT 28, or Fancy Bear, the same group that targeted the Democratic Party during the United States presidential election campaign in 2016. The F.B.I. issued an arrest warrant for him two years ago, and Germany followed suit this month.

Intelligence officials had long suspected that Russian operatives were behind the German cyberattack, but it took five years to collect the evidence, which was presented in a report given to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office in early May.

Ms. Merkel has called the attack “outrageous” and accused Russia of pursuing “a strategy of hybrid warfare.” The report tracing the hack back to Moscow came eight months after a Russian man believed to have links to Russian intelligence murdered a former Chechen commander in plain daylight in a central Berlin park, the Kleine Tiergarten.

“The government is also assessing this against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation in the so-called Tiergarten murder and is reserving the right to take further measures,” the foreign ministry’s statement said.

But even as its patience with President Vladimir V. Putin has run thin, Berlin has often struggled to figure out a good way to respond to Russia’s actions.

In December, after the federal prosecutor’s office said it suspected that Russia was behind last year’s assassination in Berlin, the government expelled two employees of the Russian Embassy. This time, that option was discarded because it would almost certainly have prompted Moscow to send German diplomats home, too, reducing Berlin’s network inside Russia.

Instead, officials are mulling less public options for retaliation, including pressuring Moscow to withdraw some of its many spies in Berlin. German officials believe that a third of the diplomats registered at the Russian Embassy in Berlin work for the Russian intelligence service, known as the G.R.U.

The Russian Embassy in Berlin rejected all allegations against its intelligence service. In a statement issued on Wednesday, it referred to the cyberattack as “a hackneyed story.” It also offered Germany a “factual expert dialogue” on the issue of cybersecurity.

Source : Nytimes