Did Russian war games cause mobile phone outages in Latvia?

6 Oct 2017

Russian troops during a winter war game. Image: knyazevfoto/Shutterstock

Confusion reigns over the source of a 16-hour outage of some of Latvia’s mobile phone services, but Russian war games are suspected as the cause.

As one of the border countries between NATO and Russia, Latvia finds itself in a state of alert following growing tensions between the two military powers.

Now, it is believed that Russia’s latest military display has affected Latvian mobile phone services after a 16-hour outage to the national emergency service line and general mobile service in western Latvia was recorded.

According to The Washington Post, Latvia’s intelligence services are looking into the disruption as it coincided with Russia and Belarus conducting war games – a training simulation and demonstration of military power – in the region.

The ‘Zapad’ exercises were believed to be targeting the Swedish owned Öland Island in the Baltic Sea and, according to Latvia’s foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics, his country may have inadvertently been caught up in electronic warfare admitting “there were some unusual things going on”.

“It hasn’t happened since the end of the exercises,” the minister said. “It didn’t happen three months ago. I wonder why.”

However, a spokesperson for the Swedish military said that no electronic warfare attack was conducted against its territory at the same time as Latvia’s mobile phone disruption.

Cause for concern

While an investigation into the incident is ongoing, NATO is sure to be alarmed at the potential evidence that Russia has the ability to shut down civilian communications in the event of a war breaking out.

NATO has also criticised the war game, saying it circumvented international law as between 40,000 and 60,000 troops participated in the exercise – far exceeding the 13,000 threshold for transparency.

Russia has not commented on any potential involvement in the Latvia incident.

This news will do little to ease the US’s suspicion of Russia’s alleged hacking of its key government agencies, most recently seen with the claim that Kaspersky Labs’ software allowed Russian hackers to steal information from the NSA.

Kaspersky Labs strongly denied any involvement in the breach of the NSA and reiterated it is strongly against working with governments in cyber-espionage.

Russian troops during a winter war game. Image: knyazevfoto/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic