The West Should Help Expand Ukraine’s Cyber Offensive against Russia

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In response to the US’s recent ambiguity as to whether it will either continue to support Ukraine or instead capitulate to Putin’s aggression, Russia continues to throw human waves at their offensive in the East of Ukraine. Ukraine’s new top military general Oleksandr Syrskyi has said Ukraine is switching to a strategy of defense. While the physical frontline may remain static for some time, the cyber front is more important than ever.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine triggered not only the largest war in Europe since World War II, but also the start of the first open cyber war. Western governments believed Ukraine would be quickly defeated on the physical battlefield and experts predicted that Ukraine would face a “Cyber Pearl Harbor.”

Instead, Ukraine shocked the world with its heroic resistance on the battlefield while Russia’s vaunted cyber campaign was also thwarted. More than ever, Ukraine needs Western weaponry on the physical battlefield to defeat Russia. But at the same time, Ukraine must be supported with additional capabilities that will enable it to expand its cyber campaign against Russia. In turn, this cyber campaign enhances Ukraine’s military and political objectives.

A few months after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began two years ago, Russia threatened that Western cyberattacks against Russia risked a direct military clash, and that any attempts to challenge Russia in the cyber sphere would lead to targeted countermeasures from Moscow. Russia said that its critical infrastructure was being targeted by cyberattacks coming from the United States and Ukraine.

Despite Russia’s vocal threats against the advanced weaponry supplied by the West to Ukraine, such as ATACMS or Storm Shadow missiles, Moscow has, so far, refrained from following through on its cyber threats. No one knows where the red lines stand. Yet, despite Putin’s posturing, there has been no strong reaction from Russia to tactics like increasing the supply of weapons, nor to recent Ukrainian strikes on occupied Crimea. The disconnect between Russia’s vocal saber-rattling and the reality of their muted response suggests the West may be too cautious in its approach to supporting Ukraine on the physical battlefield. The same lesson ought to be applied to the cyber domain.

The withdrawal of Western technology from Russia accelerates the pressure on Russian state actors, who may soon face technological debt due to a shortage of essential hardware and software updates, also potentially forcing a turn to less-reliable Chinese alternatives. This situation could gradually undermine the security and efficiency of Russia’s domestic telecommunications, surveillance infrastructure, and advanced cyber research organizations.

If Russia continues using Western tech, it is harder for Western and Ukrainian cyber warfare entities to exploit zero-day attacks because Western countries don’t have a good way to handle the potential collateral damage. However, if Western tech is removed from Russia, and it must use its own or Chinese alternatives, attacking with zero-day exploits becomes easier because there’s less worry about accidentally damaging Western systems. As a result, the West should expect the amount of vulnerabilities, including zero-days, to rise domestically in Russian infrastructure.

It is in the interest of the West to help give Ukraine the cyber weaponry that is needed to address the West’s security concerns in the region. This includes sharing, prior to public disclosure, information on zero-day vulnerabilities—known to Western technology firms, security researchers, and intelligence agencies—with Ukraine. Such intelligence sharing would enable Ukraine to strategically target Russia’s economic and infrastructural capacities, further undermining its war efforts.  Tech companies and governments in the West should carefully assess the risks and, where suitable, contemplate supplying intelligence to Ukraine.

However, in addition to assisting Ukraine in conducting wider cyberattacks against Russia, such transfer of cyberweapons to Ukraine could also lead to greater Russian pressure to attack Ukraine. If Ukraine (and the West) were willing to take this risk, it could allow Western countries to study how zero-day vulnerabilities will be exploited in future wars, helping them to adapt defensive strategies accordingly. Much as Ukraine was a testing ground for Russian cyberattacks in 2014–2022, Russia could become a testing ground for Western cyberweapons launched by Ukraine.

The West must reframe its thinking about how it supports Ukraine as it helps to improve Ukraine’s capabilities to conduct a larger cyber offensive against Russia in support of its battlefield objectives. Russia’s cyber war against Ukraine and the West is part of its wider campaign to prevail on the physical front and destroy Ukraine before moving further West. Supporting the defence of Ukraine won’t bring victory and peace, but giving it the abilities and means to win on the digital and physical fronts will protect the Western world.

If the West fails to properly support Ukraine in this cyber war, it will also undermine its own ability to fight on the battlefield in the future. It further undermines the West’s investment in conventional armaments if physical operations are not supported by cyber.

What happens on the cyber front isn’t merely related to Ukraine and Russia, but has a direct impact on the West because Russia has already been waging hybrid warfare for years. As cyber remains a grey area, Russia will continue to increase its attacks on the West, especially as the world becomes even more digitally dependent. Thus, reinforcing Ukraine’s cyber capabilities not only addresses immediate threats but also strategically curbs Russia’s capabilities.

The 19th-century wartime strategist Carl von Clausewitz understood that only great strength of will can lead to the desired outcome. Clausewitz emphasized the importance of willpower in achieving victory, both on the part of military leaders and their forces. He understood that war is not only a physical struggle but also a moral one, where the determination and resolve of the combatants can be as critical as their material resources.

If the West is genuinely committed to supporting Ukraine’s victory on the battlefield, it must broaden its consideration of the resources it provides. This support should encompass not only conventional weaponry for physical combat but also include advanced cyber capabilities to bolster Ukraine’s defense and offensive strategies in the digital realm.

Assisting Ukraine’s cyber campaigns will help to begin defining cyber red lines for NATO that do not currently exist as Russia continues to push boundaries and attack critical infrastructure. If Ukraine is able to wage larger-scale cyber campaigns against Russia with Western support effectively, it could serve to deter other nation states like China, Iran, and North Korea from launching devastating cyberattacks in the future.


David Kirichenko is a freelance journalist and an Associate Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank. He can be found on X @DVKirichenko.

The views expressed in this article belong to the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of

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