By Rachel Rochford (’23)
On December 13, one of the most sophisticated hacks in more than five years occurred. This hack was perpetrated against the United States Treasury and Commerce Departments. It is still unclear whether these were the only agencies affected by the hack, some officials have stated that national security agencies were also attacked but this is still unconfirmed. This comes just days after the hack on the U.S.-based cybersecurity firm FireEye.
This cyber-attack has been acknowledged by the Trump administration who stated that the hackers were doing the bidding of a foreign government. According to a variety of sources, that government was almost certainly the Russian one.
The Russian government has denied the allegation. The question that arises though- what comes next? Relations between the U.S. and Russia have frequently been less than pleasant. Recently though, Russia has taken something of a backseat to China in its role as the opposing force to the United States.
U.S.- China relations have soured greatly in recent years. In many ways, this has led to a shift from Russia to China as the main opposition to the U.S.. This is not the only reason for the transition though- far from it. Another is the staggering economic growth China has seen over the past few decades. China is currently the world’s second-largest economy. When paired with many of its viewpoints that oppose those held by the United States, it makes sense that more conflict occurs between the two.
So, as U.S. priorities and resources have shifted to China, one must wonder whether this hack means anything for relations between the U.S. and Russia. Sure, their relations have still been frosty over the past few decades, but Russia is not the villain it used to be in the eyes of the United States. Does this hack jeopardize that, or will relations remain fairly similar even after this?
The answer to that question remains to be seen and depends on a few key pieces of information. Firstly, intelligence agencies likely need more time to figure out exactly what the hackers were able to access and what they tried to access. This, along with the evidence that is or is not able to be gathered, will determine the U.S. response. A strong show of force may lead to greater conflict while a weaker one may lead to more attacks.
This situation will be important to watch over the next few weeks. The U.S. response and dialogue that follows has the potential for a lasting impact on the shaping of U.S.- Russia relations in this new decade. The future of foreign relations is never certain and one can only hope for a positive resolution to the situation.