Surkov has been a close aide to Putin for more than a decade, serving as both deputy prime minister and Putin's deputy chief of staff. The hacked emails date from 2014, a period during which Surkov was called the "gray cardinal" of the Kremlin, Putin's behind-the-scenes aide responsible for managing Russia's most crucial operations. He guided separatists not just in Ukraine, but in breakaway "republics" in Georgia as well.
It's as if the Russians were able to hack the email of Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security director and close aide to President Obama.
Specifically, the anonymous Ukrainian hackers were able to download the Outlook email accounts of Surkov's assistants, including a "Masha" and an "Yevgenia," according to the DFRL. Surkov himself apparently doesn't use email. The files included "the inbox, outbox, drafts, deleted email, spam, etc.," said Czuperski, noting 2,337 messages in total were dumped.
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A senior U.S. official, asked if the material was authentic, told NBC News that there was "nothing to indicate otherwise."
Hidden in the one gigabyte file are a variety of materials that provided evidence of Russian involvement at the highest levels in the war in eastern Ukraine, which has taken the lives of 10,000 people, including the 298 passengers and crew of Malaysian Flight 17, shot down by a separatist missile in July 2014 over Ukraine.
There is a list of casualties in the Donbass region of Ukraine sent from a high-ranking separatist official, and a list of candidates for office in a sham election. One email notes that the individuals with asterisks next to their name were "checked by us" and are "especially recommended." Days later, those same names were announced as having been "elected."
There are expense reports and a proposal for a government press office in Donetsk, scene of some of the fiercest fighting -- a three-person operation for separatist propaganda, with an editor, reporter and webmaster.