Defense & National Security — Russian cyberwar campaign not ending soon

·7 min read
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Russia’s war on Ukraine through the cyberspace alone has shown how the shadowy world of cyberattacks will be a central battleground in the future of global conflicts.

We’ll detail Moscow’s online tactics and what this means for the war going forward, plus China’s latest missile interceptor test and Biden’s upcoming trip to Europe.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

What the Ukraine war means for cyber warfare

Russia’s war on Ukraine has been largely defined by indiscriminate shelling and grinding exchange of artillery, but it has also shown how cyberspace will be a central battleground in the future of global conflicts.

Early Russian cyberattacks were a harbinger of a ground war to come, and the battle for hearts and minds is now largely playing out online. And Russia has strategically timed cyberattacks for advantage in its on-the-ground assaults.

The hypothesis: Experts said all of these components will likely be present in future global conflicts, with the Russia-Ukraine war cementing cyberspace as an intrinsic component of modern warfare.

  • “I believe the future of cyberwarfare is going to be more complex, more sophisticated and a lot more destructive,” said Paul Capasso, vice president of strategic programs at Telos, a cybersecurity firm based in Virginia. 

  • “It’s not going away; it’s here to stay,” he added.

A new form of warfare: In particular, he said more countries will learn to weaponize the internet and social media to influence the public in their favor.

“Everybody wants to win the hearts and minds of their enemies without firing shots,” Capasso said. “The battle of the mind is real.”

According to a report released in May by cybersecurity firm Mandiant, Russian-backed hackers launched several disinformation campaigns intended to demoralize and alienate Ukrainians.

No sign of letting up: Though Russia’s effectiveness in cyberattacks has likely been blunted by Ukraine’s cyber defenses, strengthened through Western support in recent years, Moscow has not shown any signs of retreat.

Since the invasion, Russian-backed hackers have repeatedly launched cyberattacks against Ukraine, targeting the country’s critical sectors and key government institutions. Some attacks were successful, while others failed.

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Zelensky expects fighting to intensify

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday said he expects Russia to intensify its attacks ahead of the European Union’s decision to potentially accept Ukraine as a new member of the 27-nation economic bloc.

  • Zelensky added that other countries could also be threatened by Russian aggression. 

  • “We should expect greater hostile activity from Russia. Purposely, demonstratively. This week exactly,” Zelensky said in an address. “And not only against Ukraine, but also against other European countries.”

Earlier: On Friday, the European Commission recommended Ukraine and Moldova be accepted as members of the EU, a big step forward in an otherwise long process to join the economic and trade alliance.

Ukraine applied to become a member of the EU shortly after Russia invaded the country in late February.

Read that story here

China tests land-based missile interceptor

China held a successful missile intercept test, the country’s Defense Ministry said Sunday, adding it was not intended as a message to any country.

  • A “land-based mid-course missile interception test” took place within China’s territory on June 19 “and achieved the desired test objective,” the country said in a brief statement. “The test is defensive in nature and not targeted against any country.”

  • Beijing has been increasing its research and development of missiles that range in use, including those that can launch astronauts or parts into space, destroy already orbiting satellites or potentially carry nuclear weapons. 

  • China, which says it has conducted anti-missile-system tests since at least 2010, last revealed it had tested a missile interceptor in February 2021 and in 2018. 

Why it matters: The newest test comes as China has been ramping up pressure and threats against Taiwan, a self-governing island which Beijing claims as its territory. China in recent years has asserted the island could be annexed by military force if needed.

Such a conflict — which has increasingly come up as a hypothetical with Russia’s recent attack on Ukraine — would likely draw in the U.S., Taiwan’s main provider of weapons. Washington is also legally obligated to help Taiwan in some way should it be attacked.

Read more here

Biden says Ukraine visit unlikely during Europe trip

President Biden said Monday that he’s unlikely to visit Ukraine during a trip to Europe later this week.

  • Biden told reporters in Rehoboth Beach, Del., that any decision to go into Ukraine would depend on “whether or not it causes more difficulty for Ukrainians, whether it distracts from what’s going on.”

  • Asked if he would visit the country on his upcoming trip to Europe, Biden answered: “On this trip, not likely.” 

Biden’s schedule: Biden is scheduled to travel to Germany on Saturday for a Group of Seven (G-7) leaders’ summit and will from there head to Spain where is he attending a NATO meeting.

The White House has previously made clear that any presidential trip to Ukraine would not be announced ahead of time for security reasons.

Earlier visits: Several European leaders have visited Ukraine amid the Russian war, including most recently the leaders of France, Italy and Germany. Those trips have raised questions about whether Biden will eventually travel into the country.

  • On Friday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Kyiv for a second time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February. 

  • And first lady Jill Biden also made a surprise trip into Ukraine earlier this year on Mother’s Day to meet with Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska. 

Constant communication: During an impromptu press gaggle on the beach in Rehoboth on Monday, Biden noted that he often speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the Russian invasion.

Biden spoke by phone with Zelensky last week to brief him on a new $1 billion weapons package that the U.S. is sending to Ukraine to help the country thwart the Russian invasion.

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FROM THE WEEKEND

Lawmakers say new Iran nuclear deal unlikely

Senators in both parties briefed recently by senior Biden administration officials on negotiations with Iran say they doubt Tehran will agree to any new deal to limit its development of nuclear weapons.

  • Lawmakers say the administration has an offer on the table, but that Iran is showing little willingness to reestablish the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which placed significant restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. 

  • An update: Former President Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 2015 deal, which was one of former President Obama’s biggest foreign policy accomplishments. 

Biden officials said in January that they were on the cusp of restoring the agreement but cautioned at the time that it would be up to Tehran to accept it.

Four months later, Iran still hasn’t shown any serious interest in accepting the offer from the United States and its European allies, which means one of President Biden’s top foreign policy priorities remains in limbo.

Read that story here

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • George Washington University’s Defense Writers Group will host a media conversation with Meredith Berger, acting Undersecretary of the Navy/assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations, and the environment, at 8 a.m.

  • The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol will hold a hearing at 1 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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