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The ‘C’ Factor in the Russia Ukraine War


Into the second 100 days of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the world is awash with speculation about the reasons for the so-called failure of the Russian armed forces to deal a decisive blow against a much smaller Ukrainian army. Russia is yet to achieve what can be termed a decisive victory in any sector of the current conflict.


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Dimensions of the Article

  • Analyzing Russia’s response
  • The role of ‘Cyber’
  • Earlier attacks
  • But no Armageddon
  • The West’s Line
  • Way Forward

Analyzing Russia’s response

Experts have adduced several reasons in the West for the lacklustre performance of the Russian army.  They are:

  • Lack of motivation and the poor morale of the Russian forces sent to Ukraine
  • Absence of trust between the higher and the middle/ lower rungs of the Russian armed
  • Russian weaponry is outdated and ineffective to fight an informationalized war under modern conditions
  • Generous help from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and western powers.
  • Russian commanders have also proved inept in devising plans and making appropriate decisions against a determined enemy in battlefield conditions.
  • All this has contributed to a feeling in the West that Russia’s armed forces are overrated, and that the threat they pose to the democratic West is greatly exaggerated.
  • The reality is that much of Russia’s advanced weaponry has not been employed in the Ukraine conflict hence, the West should not read the ‘tea leaves’ wrongly.

The role of ‘Cyber’

  • Cyber is often touted as the Fifth Dimension of warfare
  • It may be worthwhile to examine whether this indeed is the first major conflict in which ‘cyber’ is playing a crucial role
  • Although cyberspace is a manmade domain, it had become critical to military operations on land, sea, air, and space.
  • A former U.S. Secretary of Defence a few years ago, even talked of a possible ‘Cyber Pearl Harbour’ to paralyze nations
  • West regularly portrays Russians as using cyber tactics to destroy nations.
  • The Russian military oligarchy is indeed among the world leaders in digital disruption and cyber methodology.
  • Russia would have swamped Ukraine with an avalanche of digital attacks.
  • Ukraine, for its part, has its own digital army, including a corps of digital weapons.
  • Several weeks into the war, however, there is little clarity as to the extent to which both sides have deployed cyberweapons.

Earlier Attacks

  • There has been alleged Russian operatives waging a cyberwar against Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian cyber security experts have also claimed to have prevented a major cyber operation — linked to the Kremlin — to derail the Ukrainian presidential election some years ago.
  • Both sides now possess and use malware such as data wipers which have proved highly effective.
  • On the day the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Russian cyber units are believed to have successfully deployed destructive malware against several Ukrainian military targets.
  • The Ukrainian Satellite Internet Provider, for instance, was the target of one such cyberattack, leading to widespread communications outages.
  • A series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against Ukrainian banking and defense websites occurred simultaneously.
  • In addition, Wiper malware was introduced into several Ukraine Government networks, while the websites of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry and military targets faced a series of DDoS and phishing attacks.

But no Armageddon

  • The string of small-scale cyberattacks cannot be said to have had any material impact on the conduct or outcome of the conflict.
  • Russia has not embarked on a massive All-out cyber offensive.
  • It is very likely, and possibly a fact, that there are major difficulties in planning and executing massive cyberattacks on a short timeline to ensure higher efficacy of kinetic attacks.
  • The fact that both Russia and Ukraine, which have powerful armies of cyber specialists, more so hackers (Ukraine even tried to create an international army of hackers to target critical Russian systems), have not succeeded in causing a cyber Armageddon can possibly be seen as a reprieve.
  • There has always been a view among cyber experts that ‘Cyber Space is nozonear zone’, and that it is fundamentally a civilian
  • Cyber Power is yet to achso-calledso called threat potential in terms of decisive impacts in battlefield situations.
  • As of now, cyberattacks have an impact that is well below the threshold of what a nuclear war, even a limited one, could produce.

The West’s Line

  • West is currently busy floating some ‘red herrings’ that Moscow may be planning to embark on a nuclear conflict.
  • The West believes that Russia could possibly employ tactical/battlefield nuclear weapons to drive home Ukrainian defenders.
  • West has from time to time observed that Russia is a firm believer in ‘the value of nuclear weapons as a tool of statecraft’
  • Employing low-yield nuclear weapons, would help send a clear message not only to Ukraine but also to NATO and the United States as well, in regard to the extent of Russia’s determination not to allow any further extension of NATO to the east.

Way Forward

Conjuring up such a scenario by the West with little evidence to support this argument could be dangerous. It could well turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are inherent dangers attached to all such speculation. A Nuclear War though a low scale one may not augur well for the world.

Source – The Hindu

February 2024