The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday announced criminal charges against seven Russian intelligence officers in connection with attempting to penetrate the computer networks of anti-doping officials and organizations investigating Russia’s use of chemical weapons.

Assistant Attorney General John Demers, who announced the charges, said the Russians belonged to GRU, Russia’s military intelligence organization.

Dutch officials said earlier Thursday they expelled four GRU officers after catching them with spy equipment next to the chemical weapons watchdog Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons.

The OPCW was investigating the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. Russia has denied any links to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and Dutch officials said it was not clear if the cyberattack was linked to the investigation.

Britain and Australia are also accusing Russia of malicious cyber activity, saying its agents targeted the World Anti-Doping Agency and the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied the accusations Thursday, dismissing them as "fantasies."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia to stop its "reckless" behavior and said NATO allies will support the British and Dutch governments.

"NATO allies expressed their solidarity with the decision by the Dutch and the British governments to call out Russia on its blatant attempts to undermine international law and international institutions," Stoltenberg said at a news conference Thursday in Brussels, where he is meeting with counterparts from the alliance.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a news conference after a N
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a news conference after a NATO defense ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 4, 2018.

"This aggressive act demonstrated contempt for the solemn purpose of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which works to eradicate weapons worldwide under a United Nations mandate," said a statement from European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Council President Donald Tusk and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also put Moscow on alert, saying "the Russian government needs to know that if they flout international law in this way, there will be consequences, they will be exposed."

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters in Brussels that Russia must be held accountable for its actions. Mattis said a number of retaliatory actions against Russia were could be considered, including the provision of U.S. cyber warfare capabilities to NATO.

Source: VOA news

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