MOSCOW — A group of Ukrainian hackers has released thousands of e-mails from an account used by a senior Kremlin official that appear to show close financial and political ties between Moscow and separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s National Security Service said Wednesday the e-mails were real, although they added the files may have been tampered with. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the published e-mails as a sham, saying Wednesday that Surkov doesn’t use e-mail.
Russian journalist Svetlana Babaeva told reporters e-mails from her in the cache were genuine. “I sent those e-mails,” Babaeva said, referring to three e-mails in the leak discussing arrangements for an off-the-record meeting between Surkov and editors at her publication.
Russian businessmen Evgeny Chichivarkin, who lives in London, said in a Facebook post Wednesday that e-mails attributed to him in the cache were genuine too.
A fact check has also proven that at least some of the phone numbers and email addresses from the cache are genuine.
The e-mail address for Surkov that was hacked into does not appear to be a personal account, but an address used by Surkov’s office and managed by his assistants. One e-mail sent from the account includes scans of passports belonging to Surkov, his wife and children.
Analyst Aric Toler from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab also authenticated some material in the e-mail dump by matching drafts sent to the account with almost identical articles that subsequently appeared in the Russian press.
The large quantity of routine messages included in the 2,337 e-mails indicated much of it was genuine, Toler said.
The e-mail cache includes messages sent to Surkov by separatist leader Denis Pushilin with rebel casualty lists and expenses for the operation of a press center in the rebel capital, Donetsk. Another e-mail from the office of Russian billionaire Konstantin Malofeev, who reportedly has ties to the rebels, contains a list of ministers in the separatist government prior to their official announcement.
Surkov, who is under Western sanctions for his role in the Ukraine crisis, has conducted negotiations with high-ranking U.S. officials over Ukraine and, earlier this month, accompanied Putin to Berlin for talks with European leaders.