MOSCOW (AP) — Russian officials on Wednesday angrily rejected allegations that Russian hackers breached Qatar's state news agency and planted a fake news story that led to a split between Qatar and the other Arab nations.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, on Wednesday dismissed Tuesday's CNN report containing the claim as "yet another fake, another lie."
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen cut diplomatic ties with the tiny Gulf state, accusing Qatar of harboring extremists and backing Saudi Arabia's regional rival, Iran. Qatar has denied the allegations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also dismissed CNN's report on Tuesday, saying it "further undermined its reputation as an independent and objective media outlet."
"CNN and some other media sit and wait for any kind of scandal ... to automatically and without any evidence blame it on Russia or Russian hackers," he said at a news conference following his talks with Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis.
Tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia — a Middle East heavyweight — bubbled to the surface two weeks ago when Qatar said its state-run news agency and its Twitter account were hacked to publish a fake story claiming the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, had called Iran "a regional and Islamic power that cannot be ignored."
State-linked media in the region ignored Qatar's denial and continued to report the comments. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt blocked access to Al Jazeera and launched an aggressive campaign accusing Qatar of supporting terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State, destabilizing the region and stabbing its allies in the back.
Putin had a telephone conversation with the emir of Qatar Tuesday, urging dialogue. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said the allegations of Russian hacking weren't discussed.
Lavrov emphasized that "it's important to settle any differences at a negotiating table to ease concerns that emerged and pool efforts in the fight against the main regional threat, terrorism."
Andrei Krutskhikh, the Russian president's special envoy for cybersecurity, told the Interfax news agency that Tuesday's CNN report contains "zero evidence" that the Russian government was behind the news story.
Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the upper chamber of parliament, on Wednesday dismissed the accusations as "an attempt to push the U.S. against Russia as key players in the Middle East."
"The world has gone crazy," Dzhabarov said. "Whatever happens, there is a Russian trace there, the trace of Russian hackers."