Russia hacking row: Moscow demands US return seized mansions

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US President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Qatar alleges Gulf rivals broke international law by hacking its websites

Russia has been pressing demands that the US give it access to two diplomatic compounds seized in the US last year.

After high-level talks between both sides, one Russian official involved said the row had “almost” been resolved.

Russia has been angered by the move, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calling it “daylight robbery”.

In December the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats and shut the compounds over suspicions of meddling in US elections.

The talks saw US Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon host Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Washington on Monday.

Mr Ryabkov sounded upbeat after three hours of talks with the American diplomat.

He was asked by reporters if the spat over the diplomatic compounds had been settled, and he replied: “Almost, almost.”

US officials did not comment and there has been no official press briefing.

The meeting was meant to have been held in June in St Petersburg, but was cancelled after the US government added 38 individuals and organisations to its list of sanctions over Russian activity in Ukraine.

Before the talks Russia made clear it was demanding restored access to the facilities.

“We consider it absolutely unacceptable to place conditions on the return of diplomatic property, we consider that it must be returned without any conditions and talking,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Mr Lavrov said that this was not the way decent and well-brought-up people behaved.

“How can you seize property which is protected by a bilateral, inter-governmental, ratified document and, to return it, act according to the principle ‘what is mine is mine, and what is yours we’ll share’?” he said during a visit to Belarus.

Last week Russia said it was considering “specific measures” in retaliation, including the expulsion of 30 US diplomats and seizure of US state property.

Ex-President Barack Obama acted against Russia after US intelligence sources accused Russian state agents of hacking into Democratic Party computers to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

In the meantime, Qatar has accused its Gulf neighbours of breaking international law by hacking government websites and planting false information that helped cause a continuing diplomatic rift in the region.

According to the Washington Post, US officials discovered last week that ministers from the United Arab Emirates held a meeting on 23 May to discuss plans to hack Qatari government news and social media sites and post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani.

The alleged hack, which involved disparaging remarks purportedly by the emir about Donald Trump, praise for Hamas and support for Iran as an “Islamic power”, took place the following day. It preceded the current split in the Gulf between Qatar and a coalition of four states – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain – that are maintaining an economic and diplomatic boycott against it.

The group imposed sanctions on Qatar on 5 June, cutting diplomatic and transport ties with the tiny Gulf monarchy after accusing it of financing militant groups and allying with their regional foe Iran. Doha denies the accusations and says Thani never made the remarks.

The Qatar information office said: “The information published in the Washington Post … revealed the involvement of the United Arab Emirates and senior Emirati officials in the hacking of Qatar News Agency.

“[The report] unequivocally proves that this hacking crime took place.”

Qatar had asked the FBI to investigate the source of the alleged hack, but no official US confirmation emerged on Monday that it believes Qatar’s rivals were responsible.

The UAE foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, in the UK to deliver a lecture on the causes of the Gulf crisis at Chatham House, said on Monday: “The Washington Post story is not true. It is purely wrong. You will see in the next few days the story will die.”

BBC with additional report from Guardian

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