The open US accusation of hacking by Russia signals a war of nerves not seen since the Cold War

New Cold War: from Syria to the US
New Cold War: from Syria to the US
Image: REUTERS/Vadim Savitsky
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A deepening breach has opened between the US and Russia, with the Obama administration now explicitly accusing Moscow of using cyber warfare to influence the US presidential election.

The formal US allegation today, amid tit-for-tat withdrawals from diplomatic talks and treaties between the two countries, unusually appeared to bluntly accuse Russian president Vladimir Putin of ultimate responsibility for the cyber intrusions.

It is dramatic public recognition by president Barack Obama that standard negotiations no longer work with Moscow. And it hardens a two-and-a-half-year-old rift triggered by the Russian invasion of Crimea, and that now encompasses the two governments, their companies, their geostrategy and public elections.

The rift is not new–the West and Moscow have been historically at odds. Indeed one shared characteristic with the Soviet period is the mirror-image accusations–each side claims the other initiated the tensions, and their perceptions of reality conflict markedly. But it appears to call a definitive conclusion to the quarter-century-long period of warming and cooperation between the US and Russia that immediately preceded and followed the 1991 Soviet breakup,

The latest US charge is that Russian hackers systematically intruded into Democratic and Republican party computers, in addition to numerous federal and state government servers. In a statement, US intelligence director James Clapper said the computer break-ins “are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.”

“We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” the statement said.

The run-up in tensions has been swift and sudden. On Oct. 3, US secretary of state John Kerry suspended cooperation with Russia on Syria over the bombing of Aleppo. The same day, Putin suspended Russian cooperation with a treaty designed to reduce plutonium stocks in both countries.

The US has accused Russia of conducting a wide-ranging form of directed conflict called hybrid war against the US and the West as a whole, including intrusions into border regions of NATO countries, and cyber and propaganda war. Russia does not deny the accusation entirely, but says it is responding to hybrid war by the US.