NSA warns of ongoing Russian hacking campaign against U.S. systems

By Christopher Bing

(Reuters) – The U.S. National Security Agency on Thursday warned government partners and private companies about a Russian hacking operation that uses a special intrusion technique to target operating systems often used by industrial firms to manage computer infrastructure.

“This is a vulnerability that is being actively exploited, that’s why we’re bringing this notification out,” said Doug Cress, chief of the cybersecurity collaboration center and directorate at NSA. “We really want… the broader cybersecurity community to take this seriously.”

The notice is part of a series of public reports by the spy agency, which is responsible for both collecting foreign intelligence and protecting Defense Department systems at home, to share actionable cyber defense information.

Cress declined to discuss which business sectors had been most affected, how many organizations were compromised using the Russian technique, or whether the cyber espionage operation targeted a specific geographic region.

The NSA said the hacking activity was tied directly to a specific unit within Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, also known as the GRU, named the Main Center for Special Technologies. The cybersecurity research community refers to this same hacking group as “Sandworm,” and has previously connected it to disruptive cyberattacks against Ukrainian electric production facilities.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also called out the same GRU unit in February for conducting a cyberattack against the country of Georgia.

A security alert published by the NSA on Thursday explains how hackers with GRU, Russia’s military intelligence, are leveraging a software vulnerability in Exim, a mail transfer agent common on Unix-based operating systems, such as Linux. The vulnerability was patched last year, but some users have not updated their systems to close the security gap.

“Being able to gain root access to a bridge point into a network gives you so much ability and capability to read email, to navigate across and maneuver through the network,” said Cress, “so it’s more about the danger we’re trying to help people understand.”

(Reporting by Christopher Bing; Editing by Dan Grebler)

U.S. military says Russia deployed fighter jets to Libya

TUNIS (Reuters) – The U.S. military said on Tuesday that Russia has deployed fighter aircraft to Libya to support Russian mercenaries fighting for eastern forces, adding to concerns of a new escalation in the conflict.

“Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fire,” the United States Africa command said in a statement it posted on its website and on Twitter.

Libya’s civil war has drawn in regional and global powers with what the United Nations has called a huge influx of weapons and fighters in violation of an arms embargo.

Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt support the eastern-based Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which launched an offensive last year to seize the capital Tripoli.

However, in recent weeks the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) has with extensive Turkish backing pushed Haftar back from his foothold in southern Tripoli and from some other parts of the northwest.

The United States has played a less prominent role in the Libyan war than it did at an earlier stage when NATO helped rebels overthrow the country’s autocratic ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

The statement said the aircraft had arrived from an airbase in Russia after transiting via Syria, where they were repainted to conceal their Russian origin. There was no immediate response from the Russian Defence Ministry to a request for comment.

On Saturday, Russian fighters in Libya were flown out of a town south of Tripoli by their Libyan allies after retreating from frontlines in Tripoli, the town’s mayor said.

The LNA has denied any foreigners are fighting with it, but the United Nations said this month that Russian private military contractor Wagner Group had up to 1,200 people in Libya.

“Russia has employed state-sponsored Wagner in Libya to conceal its direct role and to afford Moscow plausible deniability of its malign actions,” the U.S. statement said.

It quoted U.S. Air Force General Jeff Harrigian as warning that if Russia seized bases on Libya’s coast, it would “create very real security concerns on Europe’s southern flank”.

The statement said neither the LNA nor mercenaries would be able to “arm, operate and sustain these fighters” — meaning fighter aircraft — without the support they had from Russia. Last week the LNA announced it would be launching a major new air campaign against the GNA and said it had refurbished four war jets.

(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Additional reporting by Andrew Osborne in Moscow; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean)

Russia seeks 18-year jail term for ex-U.S. Marine accused of spying

(Reuters) – Russian prosecutors asked a court on Monday to sentence former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is on trial accused of spying for the United States, to 18 years in a maximum-security prison, his lawyer said.

Whelan, a U.S. national who also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in December 2018. He says he was set up in a sting and has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

His trial, which began on March 23, has been closed to the public as its content broaches classified information.

The court will announce its verdict on June 15, Whelan’s lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov said after Monday’s hearing.

U.S. authorities have called the charges against Whelan spurious have called on Russia to release him, describing the case as a “significant obstacle” to improving bilateral ties.

Whelan, who turned 50 in custody this year, has used his appearances at hearings to allege he has been ill-treated by prison guards and been denied medical attention.

Russian authorities have accused him of faking health problems to draw attention to his case.

(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Writing by Alexander Marrow and Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet)

North Korea’s Kim, in first appearance in weeks, vows to bolster nuclear ‘deterrence’

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hosted a meeting to discuss the country’s nuclear capabilities, state media said on Sunday, marking his first appearance in three weeks after a previous absence sparked global speculation about his health.

Ruling Workers’ Party officials wore face masks to greet Kim as he entered the meeting of the party’s powerful Central Military Commission, state television showed, but no one including Kim was seen wearing a mask during the meeting.

Amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States, the meeting discussed measures to bolster North Korea’s armed forces and “reliably contain the persistent big or small military threats from the hostile forces,” state news agency KCNA said.

The meeting discussed “increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country and putting the strategic armed forces on a high alert operation,” adopting “crucial measures for considerably increasing the firepower strike ability of the artillery pieces,” it said.

Kim has made an unusually small number of outings in the past two months, with his absence from a key anniversary prompting speculation about his condition, as Pyongyang has stepped up measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Korea says it has no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, but South Korea’s intelligence agency has said it cannot rule out that the North has had an outbreak. [L4N2CO0OL]

U.S.-led negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have made little progress since late last year, especially after a global battle on the virus began.

The Chinese government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, expressed hope on Sunday that the United States and North Korea could resume meaningful dialogue as soon as possible, “and not squander away the hard-earned results of (previous) engagement.”

North Korea’s pledge to boost its nuclear capabilities coincides with news reports that the United States might conduct its first full-fledged nuclear test since 1992, noted Leif-Eric Easley, who teaches international studies at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul.

“The intention in Washington for pondering such a move may be to pressure Russia and China to improve arms-control commitments and enforcement,” Easley said. “But not only might this tack encourage more nuclear risk-taking by those countries, but it could also provide Pyongyang an excuse for its next provocation.”

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Richard Chang and William Mallard)

Russia examines ventilator type sent to U.S. after fires kill six

By Andrew Osborn and Alexander Marrow

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow has begun investigating the safety of a Russian-made medical ventilator, some of which have been sent to the United States, after six people died in hospital fires reported to involve two such machines.

Five people died at Saint George’s Hospital in St Petersburg on Tuesday – including four in a coronavirus intensive care unit, according to a local lawyer. A source told the TASS news agency that the blaze erupted after a ventilator – used to help severely ill COVID-19 patients breathe – burst into flames in the ward.

A similar fire – caused by the same model of ventilator, according to a law enforcement source speaking to TASS – killed one person in a hospital in Moscow on Saturday.

Roszdravnadzor, Russia’s healthcare watchdog, said it would check the quality and safety of the ventilators in the two hospitals, and the St Petersburg hospital said it would stop using the model in question for now. The manufacturer urged people to avoid rushing to conclusions.

The model in question, the Aventa-M, was among those sent to the United States from Russia at the start of April to help it cope with the coronavirus pandemic, and is made by a firm that is under U.S. sanctions.

The Ural Instrument Engineering Plant (UPZ) in Chelyabinsk, 1,500 km (930 miles) east of Moscow, confirmed that the Aventa-M is one of its products and had been supplied to Saint George’s Hospital.

“We have no official data about which devices were installed in the zone of the (St Petersburg) fire,” a spokeswoman added.

Russia is relatively well stocked with ventilators, and has increased domestic production since the coronavirus outbreak.

Data experts and some medics say many machines in use outside Russia’s big cities are old – but TASS said the ventilator in St Petersburg was new and had been installed this month.

Radio-Electronic Technologies Concern (KRET), which controls UPZ, said its ventilators had passed all the necessary tests and had been used by medical facilities in Russia since 2012 without any safety concerns.

“We’re looking at different scenarios: the state of the (electricity) network, the medical institutions’ engineering infrastructure, the medical equipment, and compliance with fire safety rules,” it said in a statement.

“We call on the media and other interested parties not to rush to conclusions and wait for the results of official checks.”

U.S. firms and nationals have been barred from doing business with KRET since July 2014.

Russia has reported 232,243 cases of the novel coronavirus and 2,116 deaths.

(Additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov and Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Trump reaffirms desire for arms control with Russia, China in Putin call

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump spoke about the new coronavirus, arms control and other issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, reaffirming the U.S. desire for arms control that includes both Russia and China, the White House said.

“President Trump reaffirmed that the United States is committed to effective arms control that includes not only Russia, but also China, and looks forward to future discussions to avoid a costly arms race,” the White House said in a statement

(Reporting By Jeff Mason and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

China, Russia take advantage of virus emergency, U.S defense secretary says

ROME (Reuters) – Russia and China are taking advantage of the coronavirus emergency to put their interests forward in Europe, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday, describing Chinese efforts to promote Huawei mobile phone network equipment as malign.

“(The United States) is aware that some (countries) will try to use the pandemic as a way to invest in critical industry and infrastructure, with effect on security in the long term,” Esper told newspaper La Stampa, when asked whether China and Russia were trying to gain influence in Italy by sending aid.

“Potential opponents will almost certainly try to use their interest to put their interests forward and create divisions in NATO and Europe,” he said. “Huawei and 5G are an important example of this malign activity by China.”

Esper’s comments come at a time when some U.S. officials have blamed China for the coronavirus outbreak. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday Washington had evidence the disease emerged from a Chinese lab, which Beijing strongly denies.

Both China and Russia have offered support to Italy, sending doctors, medical equipment and face masks to the country which was the first in Europe to be hit hard by the outbreak.

The United States has long advised countries to boycott Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of telecoms equipment, in setting up new 5G mobile phone networks, and also to scrutinise gear from another Chinese firm, ZTE.

Washington says the equipment could be used by China to spy on communications. Huawei and ZTE deny their gear poses a security threat.

“Dependence on Chinese suppliers could make crucial systems vulnerable to interruption, manipulation and espionage. This would put at risk our capacity to communicate and to share intelligence,” Esper said.

Russia’s assistance, including army medical staff, drew attention to the limited support Italy received from the European Union, and EU and NATO diplomats and officials have seen it as a geopolitical move.

(Reporting by Giulia Segreti; Editing by Peter Graff)

Special Report: Trump told Saudi: Cut oil supply or lose U.S. military support – source

By Timothy Gardner, Steve Holland, Dmitry Zhdannikov and Rania El Gamal

WASHINGTON/LONDON/DUBAI (Reuters) – As the United States pressed Saudi Arabia to end its oil price war with Russia, President Donald Trump gave Saudi leaders an ultimatum.

In an April 2 phone call, Trump told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that unless the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) started cutting oil production, he would be powerless to stop lawmakers from passing legislation to withdraw U.S. troops from the kingdom, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The threat to upend a 75-year strategic alliance, which has not been previously reported, was central to the U.S. pressure campaign that led to a landmark global deal to slash oil supply as demand collapsed in the coronavirus pandemic – scoring a diplomatic victory for the White House.

Trump delivered the message to the crown prince 10 days before the announcement of production cuts. The kingdom’s de facto leader was so taken aback by the threat that he ordered his aides out of the room so he could continue the discussion in private, according to a U.S. source who was briefed on the discussion by senior administration officials.

The effort illustrated Trump’s strong desire to protect the U.S. oil industry from a historic price meltdown as governments shut down economies worldwide to fight the virus. It also reflected a telling reversal of Trump’s longstanding criticism of the oil cartel, which he has blasted for raising energy costs for Americans with supply cuts that usually lead to higher gasoline prices. Now, Trump was asking OPEC to slash output.

A senior U.S. official told Reuters that the administration notified Saudi leaders that, without production cuts, “there would be no way to stop the U.S. Congress from imposing restrictions that could lead to a withdrawal of U.S. forces.” The official summed up the argument, made through various diplomatic channels, as telling Saudi leaders: “We are defending your industry while you’re destroying ours.”

Reuters asked Trump about the talks in an interview Wednesday evening at the White House, at which the president addressed a range of topics involving the pandemic. Asked if he told the crown prince that the U.S. might pull forces out of Saudi Arabia, Trump said, “I didn’t have to tell him.”

“I thought he and President Putin, Vladimir Putin, were very reasonable,” Trump said. “They knew they had a problem, and then this happened.”

Asked what he told the Crown Prince Mohammed, Trump said: “They were having a hard time making a deal. And I met telephonically with him, and we were able to reach a deal” for production cuts, Trump said.

Saudi Arabia’s government media office did not respond to a request for comment. A Saudi official who asked not to be named stressed that the agreement represented the will of all countries in the so-called OPEC+ group of oil-producing nations, which includes OPEC plus a coalition led by Russia.

“Saudi Arabia, the United States and Russia have played an important role in the OPEC+ oil cut agreement, but without the cooperation of the 23 countries who took part in the agreement, it would not have happened,” said the Saudi official, who declined to comment on the discussions between U.S. and Saudi leaders.

The week before Trump’s phone call with Crown Prince Mohammed, U.S. Republican Senators Kevin Cramer and Dan Sullivan had introduced legislation to remove all U.S. troops, Patriot missiles and anti-missile defense systems from the kingdom unless Saudi Arabia cut oil output. Support for the measure was gaining momentum amid Congressional anger over the ill-timed Saudi-Russia oil price war. The kingdom had opened up the taps in April, unleashing a flood of crude into the global supply after Russia refused to deepen production cuts in line with an earlier OPEC supply pact.

On April 12, under pressure from Trump, the world’s biggest oil-producing nations outside the United States agreed to the largest production cut ever negotiated. OPEC, Russia and other allied producers slashed production by 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd), or about 10% of global output. Half that volume came from cuts of 2.5 million bpd each by Saudi Arabia and Russia, whose budgets depend on high oil-and-gas revenues.

Despite the agreement to cut a tenth of global production, oil prices continued to fall to historic lows. U.S. oil futures dropped below $0 last week as sellers paid buyers to avoid taking delivery of oil they had no place to store. Brent futures, the global oil benchmark, fell towards $15 per barrel – a level not seen since the 1999 oil price crash – from as high as $70 at the start of the year.

The deal for supply cuts could eventually boost prices, however, as governments worldwide start to open their economies and fuel demand rises with increased travel. Whatever the impact, the negotiations mark an extraordinary display of U.S. influence over global oil output.

Cramer, the Republican senator from North Dakota, told Reuters he spoke to Trump about the legislation to withdraw U.S. military protection from Saudi Arabia on March 30, three days before the president called Crown Prince Mohammed.

Asked whether Trump told Saudi Arabia it could lose U.S. military support, U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told Reuters the president reserved the right to use every tool to protect U.S. producers, including “our support for their defense needs.”

The strategic partnership dates back to 1945, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Saudi King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud on the USS Quincy, a Navy cruiser. They reached a deal: U.S. military protection in exchange for access to Saudi oil reserves. Today, the United States has about three thousand troops in the country, and the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet protects oil exports from the region.

Saudi Arabia relies on the United States for weapons and protection against regional rivals such as Iran. The kingdom’s vulnerabilities, however, were exposed late last year in an attack by 18 drones and three missiles on key Saudi oil facilities. Washington blamed Iran; Tehran denied it.

THIRTEEN ANGRY SENATORS

Trump initially welcomed lower oil prices, saying cheap gasoline prices were akin to a tax cut for drivers.

That changed after Saudi Arabia announced in mid-March it would pump a record 12.3 million bpd – unleashing the price war with Russia. The explosion of supply came as governments worldwide issued stay-home orders – crushing fuel demand – and made clear that U.S. oil companies would be hit hard in the crude price collapse. Senators from U.S. oil states were infuriated.

On March 16, Cramer was among 13 Republican senators who sent a letter to Crown Prince Mohammed reminding him of Saudi Arabia’s strategic reliance on Washington. The group also urged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to investigate whether Saudi Arabia and Russia were breaking international trade laws by flooding the U.S. market with oil.

On March 18, the senators – a group that included Sullivan of Alaska and Ted Cruz of Texas – held a rare call with Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Cramer called the conversations “brutal” as each senator detailed the damage to their states’ oil industries.

“She heard it from every senator; there was nobody that held back,” Cramer told Reuters.

The Saudi embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Cramer said the princess relayed their comments to officials in Saudi Arabia, including the energy minister. The senators told the princess that the kingdom faced rising opposition in the Senate to the Saudi-led coalition that is waging a war in Yemen against Houthi rebels.

Saudi and U.S. officials have said the Houthis are armed by Iran, which Tehran denies. The backing of Senate Republicans over Yemen had proved crucial for Saudi Arabia last year. The Senate upheld Trump vetoes of several measures seeking to end U.S. weapons sales and other military support to Saudi Arabia amid outrage over the Yemen conflict, which has caused more than 100,000 deaths and triggered a humanitarian crisis.

Cramer said he made a phone call to Trump on March 30, about a week after he and Sullivan introduced their bill to pull U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia. The president called Cramer back the same day with Energy Secretary Brouillette, senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on the call, the senator said.

“I said the one person that you don’t have on the call that can be very helpful is Mark Esper,” the defense secretary, Cramer recounted, saying he wanted Esper to address how U.S. military assets in Saudi Arabia might be moved elsewhere in the region to protect U.S. troops.

The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment on whether Esper was involved in discussions of pulling military assets out of Saudi Arabia.

BENDING THE KNEE

Trump’s oil diplomacy came in a whirlwind of calls with Saudi King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed and Russian President Vladimir Putin starting in mid-March. The Kremlin confirmed Putin’s conversation with Trump and said they discussed both oil supply cuts and the coronavirus pandemic.

On the April 2 call with Prince Mohammed, Trump told the Saudi ruler he was going to “cut them off” the next time Congress pushed a proposal to end Washington’s defense of the kingdom, according to the source with knowledge of the call. Trump also publicly threatened in early April to impose tariffs on oil imports from Saudi Arabia and Russia.

After the conversation with the Saudi crown prince, and another the same day with Putin, Trump tweeted that he expected Saudi Arabia and Russia to cut output by about 10 million barrels, which “will be GREAT for the oil & gas industry!”

Riyadh and Moscow later confirmed they had restarted negotiations.

On April 3, Trump hosted a meeting at the White House with senators Cramer, Cruz, and Sullivan, and oil executives from companies including Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp, Occidental Petroleum Corp and Continental Resources.

During the public portion of the meeting, Cramer told Trump that Washington can use the billions of dollars it spends defending Saudi Arabia on other military priorities “if our friends are going to treat us this way.”

The prospect of losing U.S. military protection made the royal family “bend at the knees” and bow to Trump’s demands, a Middle Eastern diplomat told Reuters.

After prolonged and fractious negotiations, top producers pledged their record output cut of 9.7 million bpd in May and June, with the understanding that economic forces would lead to about 10 million bpd in further cuts in production from other countries, including the United States and Canada.

Trump hailed the deal and cast himself as its broker. “Having been involved in the negotiations, to put it mildly, the number that OPEC+ is looking to cut is 20 Million Barrels a day…” he tweeted shortly after the deal.

Riyadh also took credit. Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz told Reuters at the time that the crown prince had been “instrumental in formulating this deal.”

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Steve Holland in Washington, Dmitry Zhdannikov in London and Rania El Gamal in Dubai; additional reporting by Alexandra Alper and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, and Marwa Rashad in Riyadh; writing by Michael Georgy; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Brian Thevenot)

U.S. imposes new rules on exports to China to keep them from its military

By Karen Freifeld

(Reuters) – The United States said on Monday it will impose new restrictions on exports to China to keep semiconductor production equipment and other technology away from Beijing’s military.

The new rules will require licenses for U.S. companies to sell certain items to companies in China that support the military, even if the products are for civilian use. They also do away with a civilian exception that allows certain U.S. technology to be exported without a license, if the use is not connected to the military.

The rules, which were posted for public inspection and will be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, could hurt the semiconductor industry and sales of civil aviation equipment to China, if the U.S. presumes they are for military applications.

The changes, which include requiring licenses for more items, also expand the rules for Russia and Venezuela, but the biggest impact will be on trade with China.

“It is important to consider the ramifications of doing business with countries that have histories of diverting goods purchased from U.S. companies for military applications,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

Washington trade lawyer Kevin Wolf said the rule changes for China are in response to its policy of military-civil fusion: finding military applications for civilian items.

He said the regulatory definitions of military use and user are broad and go beyond purchases by entities such as the People’s Liberation Army.

For example, Wolf said, if a car company in China repairs a military vehicle, that car company may now be a military end user, even if the item being exported is for another part of the business.

“A military end user is not limited to military organizations,” Wolf said. “A military end user is also a civilian company whose actions are intended to support the operation of a military item.”

Another rule change involves eliminating civilian license exceptions for Chinese importers and Chinese nationals for certain integrated circuits. Other telecommunications equipment, radar and high-end computers will be caught as well.

The administration also posted a third proposed rule change that would force foreign companies shipping certain American goods to China to seek approval not only from their own governments but from the United States as well.

The actions come as relations between the United States and China have deteriorated amid the new coronavirus outbreak.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler)

Russia overtakes China with coronavirus cases at 87,000

By Katya Golubkova and Anastasia Lyrchikova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia overtook China in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday when its tally climbed above 87,000, as pressure rose on the government to consider easing lockdown restrictions for businesses to help shore up the rattled economy.

Russia, the world’s largest country by territory, has been on lockdown since President Vladimir Putin announced the closure of most public spaces on March 25. These measures are due to expire on April 30 and Putin has not yet said if he plans to extend them.

Anna Popova, the head of Russia’s safety watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, told state television on Monday that, in her view, restrictions should be in place until May 12.

Earlier Prime Minister Mikhail Mishushin asked his government to submit proposals by Thursday to ease some of the restrictions on businesses. Many firms have warned that they risk going bankrupt if the lockdown continues, and thousands of jobs have been laid off.

“As soon as situation will be changing for good, we would need to consider a step-by-step cancellation of restrictions on certain companies… operations,” Mishustin told an online government meeting.

On Monday, the authorities reported 6,198 new cases of the new coronavirus, bringing the total to 87,147, with 794 deaths.

ENERGY SECTOR IN FOCUS

Russia, one of the world’s top oil and gas exporters, is particularly vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus at production sites. Most are located in remote areas accessible by only air, meaning the workers in close proximity, increasing their risk of infection.

Citing local officials, Interfax said on Monday that an airport in Sabetta in the northern Yamal peninsula had been shut down for quarantine after cases of the new coronavirus were detected at the Yamal LNG production site controlled by Novatek.

A total of 143 cases were confirmed in Sabetta, the local crisis response center said separately.

In the northwestern region of Murmansk where Novatek is building a plant to supply its next LNG project, the Arctic LNG 2, over 800 workers tested positive for coronavirus, the local crisis response centre said on Sunday.

Velesstroy, a sub-contractor for the plant, temporarily suspended work at the site near Murmansk but said in a statement to Reuters that the project will remain on schedule.

To limit the risk of contagion at over 1,000 power plants in Russia, including nuclear ones, over 200,000 employees – or nearly a third – were recently tested for the virus, the energy ministry said.

It did not say how many of those tests returned positive.

Mainland China, where the new coronavirus first emerged, reported a total of 82,830 cases on Monday. China is now fighting an increased number of new cases coming from Russia.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Maria Tsvetkova, Anton Zverev, Vladimir Soldatkin and Anastasia Lyrchikova; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)