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A laptop screen displays a warning message in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish, that appeared on the official website of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry after a cyberattack, in this illustration taken Jan. 14, 2022.VALENTYN OGIRENKO/Reuters

Kyiv believes a cyberattack that hit Ukrainian government websites this week was carried out by a hacker group linked to Belarusian intelligence, according to a senior Ukrainian security official.

The attack used malware similar to that used by a group tied to Russian intelligence, defacing government websites with threatening messages.

Serhiy Demedyuk, deputy secretary of the national security and defense council, told Reuters that Ukraine blamed Friday’s attack on a group known as UNC1151, adding that the attack was cover for more destructive actions behind the scenes.

Warning to Ukraine to ‘be afraid and expect the worst’ signals talks between Russia, NATO have failed

The attack splashed websites with a warning to “be afraid and expect the worst” at a time when Russia has amassed troops near Ukraine’s borders, and Kyiv and Washington fear Moscow is planning a new military assault on Ukraine.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “We have information that indicates Russia has already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine. The operatives are trained in urban warfare and is using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces. Our information also indicates that Russian influence actors are already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention.”

Russia has dismissed such fears as “unfounded.”

Meanwhile, Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly is set to travel to Ukraine’s capitol, Kyiv, next week to reaffirm support for Ukrainian sovereignty and to reinforce efforts to deter “aggressive actions” by Russia, according to Ottawa on Saturday.

Joly released a statement, saying, “The amassing of Russian troops and equipment in and around Ukraine jeopardizes security in the entire region. These aggressive actions must be deterred.”

Canada, with a sizeable and politically influential population of Ukrainian descent, has taken a hard line with Moscow since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 – imposing punitive measures on more than 440 individuals and entities.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said that he spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday and “emphasized that any military incursion into Ukraine would have serious consequences, including coordinated sanctions.”