Battleground: Ukraine

A history podcast that explores the narratives, turning points and characters that shape conflicts, encompassing a blend of social and military history. Following on from the series on the Falklands War, best-selling military historians Patrick Bishop, and Saul David turn their attention to the war in Ukraine.

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22. The Cyber War

22. The Cyber War

Fri, 06 Jan 2023 02:00

The unseen conflict happening in cyberspace is a key battleground in the war in Ukraine. So to tell us in detail about a relatively unknown area of the conflict, we spoke to one of Britain’s greatest experts, David Alexander - an academic who has worked at very senior level on the development of both national cyber policy and operational capability for both the UK Government and Ministry of Defence. Patrick and Saul also discuss Putin's New Year's speech, the Ukrainian HIMARS strike in Makiivka, and answer some listeners questions.

Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

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Hello and welcome back to a new episode and a new year, with me Saul David and Patrick Bishop. Well it got off to a dark start with Vladimir Putin's traditional new year address to the Russian people. Putin's words gave little hope that Russian strategy is likely to change anytime soon. Instead he doubled down on the war rhetoric, telling Russians that the conflict in Ukraine was an existential struggle forced on them by Western aggression and one which they had no choice but to win. The speech came as Russia suffered yet more casualties on the battlefield in a series of successful Ukrainian strikes that left many dead. Well body counts are just one element on how this war is playing out and today we'll be hearing in detail about another fascinating facet of what's going on. That's the huge struggle being fought out in cyberspace. To tell us all about it is one of Britain's greatest experts David Alexander who's an academic who's also worked at a very senior level on the development of both national cyber policy and operational capability both for the British government and for the British Ministry of Defence. But first what do you think about that speech Saul? It was a sort of combination of the usual same old same old but also quite chilling when we consider it in the round but let's talk a little bit about the detail. He talked in it about difficult but necessary decisions obviously he means going to war about the need to restore full Russian sovereignty which is a very clear indication that Ukraine comes within Russian sovereignty and that's not just a bit of Ukraine that's all Ukraine. He drew a clear line between courage and terrorism on the one side and betrayal and cowardice on the other and this of course is a threat to anyone who undermines the war effort. Events he said have become pivotal even fateful. They have become the frontier where we lay the foundation for our common future our future independence. So this is really a hinge moment in history. There's an existential threat to Russia and that the whole country needs to be united in its determination to defeat Ukraine. And it's all the fall to the west of course who hypocritically assured our side the Russians of their peaceful intentions but in fact we're encouraging the neo-Nazis the Ukrainians of course in every possible way says the west lied to us about peace we're preparing for aggression. You know it's a bit kind of rallying call as well isn't it he's sort of saying you know he's talking about unity and brotherhood all these kind of old Soviet tropes really and it's all delivered at this very schmultsy kind of tone you know full of references to the kind of you know great Russian spirit and how they all help each other out in times of of strife. So it's it's a real attempt at unity and he also has some encouraging stuff to say about sanctions doesn't he? Yeah and he also talks about how the western attempt to destroy Russia or at least force a collapse economic collapse through sanctions hadn't been that effective he said that it did not happen because we have been strengthening our sovereignty in a vitally important field in the economy well that's a really open to doubt I suspect I mean we can see that just about every economic metric the Russian economy is contracting he may have a point in the sense that it's probably not contracting as quickly as some in the westward of hope but nevertheless huge damages being done I mean he went on to say in the speech this should be an inspiration for other states in their quest for a just multipolar world order and that's quite clearly a rallying call to China we'll say a little bit more about China in a moment but you know the overall point here Russia a moral example to the world. So all in all really saw a total inversion of the truth and I was amused to see that you know everything about it is phony including the visuals you know so he surrounded by these soldiers made both men and women and someone has done some internet sleuthing and discovered that they actually pop up in loads of propaganda videos involving Putin and the suspicion is that they're actually members of his security details and are not members of the armed forces are told who may or may not be trusted to actually be that close to the leader but the crucial takeaway I think for all of us is that Putin's taking everything on victory not partial victory not returning to the status quo anti of February 24th 2022 but on Russia winning outright now that strikes me as a very risky strategy wouldn't you say yeah I absolutely would I mean we get the sense that the war is heading the wrong direction for Putin and therefore we might have imagined there would be the little indication in this speech that you know peace talks might be in the offing if he gets what he wants but really the round of this speech is a clear indication that Ukraine the whole of Ukraine is part of Russia not just the bits that they now claimed they've sort of absorbed into Russia even though they don't control all of them those four provinces in eastern Ukraine so yeah it is a little bit chilling so Ukrainian missile strikes couldn't really have come at a worse time this was just one minute into the new year when high mars missiles slammed into a technical school used as accommodation for soldiers in the industrial city of Makiiivka which is in the Donetsk it's been under occupation since 2014 now the Russians admit that it killed 89 people it's very unusual for them to actually say anything about casualties and this is the highest number they've acknowledged Ukrainians of course say it's much higher 400 dead and 300 wounded and a lot of them seem to be men cooled up in the partial mobilization in September and these are not as we've seen before people from the outlying regions at least some of them are from Samara which is in Russia proper on the vulgar and we've actually seen images of you know gatherings there to mourn the dead now the the Russia has also done something unusual which is admitting that it was caused by lax procedures someone using unauthorized them mobile phone when they weren't meant to those which plays into what you were saying last week about this I pad up the Ukrainians are using saw yeah I mean we don't know absolutely that that's what they did here but clearly they are gathering intelligence and this lax operational security as you pointed out Patrick has allowed them to identify that they're an awful lot of people operating out of that location and it may be even worse than that actually because there are strong indications both from Russian and Ukrainian sources that the reason the death toll was so appalling and 400 if that's accurate is an absolutely horrific number of people to be killed in one series of Ukrainian missile strikes we compare it to what's going on in Ukraine you know you get one dead here and a few dead there bad as that is but 400 it's appalling so how could that have happened well there are indications that either the barracks itself had ammunition in it or it was right next to an ammunition dump and it's just the sort of criminal stupidity that the ultra nationalist Russian mill bloggers are constantly going on about you know and there's a swift move to say that the guilty will be brought to justice by the Russians but that's pretty much admitting that there was a problem in the first place so how long is it before Putin gets the blame it's all very well blaming it on his military commanders but he is the boss so that brings us to consideration of how things are going to play out in 2023 now in all of this as always or I'm the I'm the odd it's you are the pessimist so I'll just set out a little a few thoughts if you like on what may happen now it seems to me that since that speech Putin really has got no choice but to attack that's the only way he's going to get back this you know the territory that they say is theirs so all this talk of a big spring offensive that we were hearing a few weeks back we at the time thought it might be a classic case of masquerovka you know disguise a deception but you know I'm beginning to think that maybe it is for real and if that is the case then it provides you crane with a with a great opportunity I'm thinking actually of what happened on the western front in 1918 and I have to admit I owe this insight to my daughter honor who's currently revising for history GCSE mocks and we were talking about this and she actually drew my attention or reminded me of what happened there in the Ludendorff offensive launched in March 1918 when the Germans were hoping to finish off the job before the Americans actually came into the war properly and they did extremely well they got to within 120 kilometers of Paris they were using new tactics stormtroopers rather than the big mass attacks supported by artillery but they overstretched themselves and the Allies quickly recovered launched the 100 days offensive that basically finished the war off I mean it was it really was brought about by a collapse at home where people had no real idea that how badly the war was going and then led by the mutinies of the sailors in Vilams Harbour and Kiel that precipitated the internal collapse of course the problem with that is that there's no real in Russia there's no real organized opposition if there was in Germany then okay now you're going to give me the pessimistic a few now that's all what what how do you think it's going to go now I like that potential scenario very much maybe more wishful thinking than anything else Patrick I think you're right in one sense he is boxing himself into a corner I mean when you when you come out with a speech like this and say that you know there's a there's an existential battle going on and and Ukraine is basically part of Russia where do you go you to win a victory you've got to attack but I simply don't believe that they are in a position to do so and that if they do the Ukrainians will be licking their lips so agree with you up to a point it's just that I'm not convinced that the Russian army either has the capability I'm not a go to say stupidity because it's shown incredible sort of ineptitude since the start of this campaign but if it does do that it is going to be defeated on the battlefield now the broader question is whether it's going to lead to the removal of Putin we would love to see that of course but there is still no real indication although the war clearly isn't popular in Russia that there is enough of an organized opposition or even enough people in the sort of inner circle prepared to risk their lives by toppling him I mean we talked before about Hitler now difficult it was to get rid of him although there were various plots and you can imagine it's going to be a similar scenario so I think it's going to be more attritional struggle personally into 2023 and that actually if anyone's taking an initiative it's probably going to be the Ukrainians yeah on that point about generals making a move I think you're right it's not going to be the generals but it could be people inside the the real security kings in the setup which of course is the FSB and your reference to the generals plot against Hitler they were plotting against Hitler before the war even began so it really did take the imminent collapse of the whole military effort for it to become so pressing that they were prepared to really stick their necks out literally because they ended up being strung up by them when the plot failed but I do think there comes a point when it's just you know as always this question of the survival of the plotters they have to make an existential decision for themselves about whether they stick with a kind of leader who's losing or risk everything in a coup attempt you know I am a believer just purely instinctively that something big could happen that would completely change the situation now China of course is always you know a huge kind of question mark over what they do next do they actually have to wear with all the power the influence to tip things one way or another has been an interesting development there hasn't there so yeah I mean rather bizarre no face-to-face meeting but a so-called video summit between a president she of China and Putin and Putin seems to be done most of the talking which I think is quite telling he said that he hoped the Chinese leader would make a state visit to Russia to demonstrate and this is a quote to the whole world the strength of Russian Chinese ties on key issues in the face of unprecedented pressure and provocations from the west now that's his line but the Chinese response was much cooler the official Chinese statement on the summit made no mention of a state visit and instead if anything highlighted the differences in their approach to the alliance from the Russians approach it said that Beijing's position on the war in Ukraine would remain objective and fair and you can read between those lines Patrick and imagine that really they're staying they're continuing their neutral stance and all of this is important because we've had people suggesting that it's you know the real threat in 2023 is if they come in and support Russia militarily watch this space okay that's enough from us next we're going to hear about a hidden but vital aspect of the conflict and that's the cyber war now this really is the Russia versus the West struggle as David Alexander who's one of Britain's greatest authorities on the subject told us very eloquently when we spoke to him David welcome to the podcast before we talk about the war in Ukraine can we just get a little bit of a sense of what cyber warfare is and how it differs from something that's probably a bit more familiar to most of the listeners and that cyber espionage yes certainly cyber espionage is the covert and normally unobtrusive collection of information of intelligence through computer networks so it's closely related to SIGINT and that's why it's practiced by the same people it do signage GCHQ when the NSA and the other organizations are at NATO cyber warfare is the offensive part of the process whereby you use computers to actively reach out and disrupt the activities of your of your enemy now obviously we would consider that to be something you would do to disrupt the military as far as some nations including Russia concerned that includes targeting civilian assets parts of what we call the critical natural infrastructure such as power water communications and things like that which they they try and justify by saying it has a military use but under pretty much any legal definition that the reasonable world would not be considered acceptable targets okay so let's talk a little bit about rules of conduct and I think most of us can imagine that Russia are pretty much ignoring these rules but are there any rules and who is abiding by them there are rules there is in the same way that you have rules such as the Geneva conventions and the Hay Convention and the the San Remo manual and International Law applicable at C there is a manual called the Talim manual which covers the international rules of war for cyber operations and these were written after the 2007 attack on Estonia by Russia will they have actually turned off their their internet network connectivity for four or five days and it's called the Talim manual because it's after named after the capital of Estonia where a lot of the work was done and based and in fact where NATO now has its cyber-central operations so that's where the name comes from and this book details the things that under international law that military and legal experts have written that say this is how you determine what would constitute you said below what would constitute an act of war what would be a lawful approach and also it covers the aspect of attribution because of course the cyber attack now you haven't got a battle ensign you're not wearing uniform you haven't got roundels the sit on an airplane of a record record recognizable design how do you tell where an attack comes from and that that in itself is is an important issue which gets very complex when you're dealing with just electro when you're strabbing down the wire is there a NATO red line David on what constitutes an attack on one of its members that would trigger a NATO response yes NATO has formally included cyber in its article five descriptions so that there are specific acts that we would consider to be a cyber act of war on which we could then respond either with those cyber or by parking our tanks on their lawn and in fact back in April last year Joe Biden gave a list of 16 targets to to the Russians that he said as far as we were concerned these are some part of the critical national infrastructure they are unacceptable targets to attack and if you do so we reserve the right to respond in kind so we made a very clear way to very clear red line in front of Putin of about where we think the red line stands according to international law or those we've seen the Russians appear to face the country guard to that what were those targets can you give us some some idea of what we're talking about that I mean that they would include things like electrical power systems so generation distribution they'll include the water supply gas this is inside the NATO yes inside NATO petrol and oil systems telecommunications those kinds of things so the things that we need to keep the lights on and keep civilization going there's a well-known phrase that any civilized society is only three hot meals from from revolution and it's designed to make sure we don't get to that point and in fact Estonia need you reach that point because literally when people run out of cash they had no way to pay for anything and people were starting to go hungry and that's caused considerable unrest so it's it's been proven that cyber warfare can actually have a major effect on the nation state if used properly David we had defense analyst Robert Fox on the podcast a few weeks ago without giving us much detail but claiming that NATO was already assisting Ukraine in its cyber capability before the Russian invasion can you tell us a little bit about that certainly it's no secret that Russia has been launching cyber attacks on Ukraine since about 2013 and these have especially ramped up the first ones occurred during the Maidan revolution and they've been going on ever since the 2014 invasion of Luhansk and Denetsk and the kind of help that we've been given the Ukrainians in response and I should say that Ukraine is a major IT nation they do a lot of work in IT they're very IT savvy they have their own cyber capability both defensive and offensive what we have done it's been openly declared that both the US and UK and other parts of NATO have been helping to not only train the Ukrainians in how to detect and respond to cyber attacks but also helping them with information that we've got on on how the Russians are working so we've seen unprecedented levels of openness so information that we've seen in the public domain we've actually had public pronouncements from the five eyes organizations which are pretty rare we've also seen public reports that the US cyber command and also the UK have been providing training and information to the Ukrainians so there's there's a great deal of work going on behind the background both to train and enable their people provide them with tools and technology but also provide them with information to help them attack the Russians and I think it's going very well because certainly before the war started Russia regarded as one of the world's top three cyber capable nations and I was expecting to see a lot more disruption and damage done to Ukraine than has actually happened I've been very pleasantly surprised to see that they haven't suffered and when they have suffered they've been held very cover very quickly and that's is strong evidence of the fact that they've had a lot of help and they've learned in the same way they've learned fast on the battlefield they've learned fast in cyber as well what sort of damage is cyber attack capable of doing in a military situation for a star if you can turn off the electrical system you can disrupt a lot of the the capability for air defense no you can you can have an effect on both the communications on any modern army now is totally dependent upon its data networks to conduct war I was actually in the room at a conference when a US 4 star general said I cannot go to war without my networks and the C4 ISDAR as it's called relies on data communications right down to know the cockpit down to the the tunnel in the arm and fighting vehicle if you can disrupt those then no you can have a major adverse effect on the battlefield and at the same time if you can turn off power supplies you can disrupt the factories that are actually producing new munitions and conducting repairs you can disrupt transport logistics now if you have a railway system that's dependent on overhead no power lines if you can turn the power off you can stop the trains moving you stop supplies and the troops moving so there's all sorts of things you can do and of course it has an effect on civilian morale as well which is really what the Russians are trying to do at the moment they're trying to destroy the will of the of the Ukrainian people to fight a war but I don't know what your opinion is but I think of the blitz spirit I think the more that you do this the stronger the result gets to overcome the the person who's attacking you well that was very thought-provoking stuff do join us after the break to hear what else David told us let's talk a bit about some of the specifics of what Russia has actually attempted or we think they've attempted in in a cyber sense since the beginning of the war can you tell us a bit about that yes we know that there was a lot of work done beforehand to prepare for this invasion and they have form if you look back to the invasion of Georgia in 2008 cyber attacks started three weeks beforehand we also know the the Ukrainian internals cyber security organization has found and disrupted at least what we call bot farms for mobile phones and internet connections more than 10,000 SIM cards and a lot of hardware has been confiscated that was in place inside Ukraine to help spread disinformation over Ukrainian mobile telephone networks now that that takes a lot of time and effort to set up in advance so that was certainly done by by the FSB and other such organizations in advance there was also pre-positioning of code in things like the energy systems to try and disrupt energy supplies but again the Ukrainians were watching for that they were ready for it but we knew this war was coming I in spite of the denies people in the cyber world could see that this was coming and a lot of work was done to harden the systems and also we saw some attacks that happened on stack comms there was a attack that temporarily disabled satellite communications not just in Ukraine but also in parts of western europe and again that's the problem with cyber attack how do you how do you target it precisely and not have any unintended consequences any collateral if you look at the the old stocks net attack that was designed just to attack one planting Iran but it spread around the world within days and that's a that's a major problem how do you how do you stop that kind of thing happening and that that's been one of the things that has a limited the kind of attacks that that Russia has done because it is nervous of causing disruption in places like the US and crossing the red line that we talked about earlier but also about would it attack their own systems as well that would they effectively score no goal can we move on to the information aspect of cyber warfare this is something the Russians have invested hugely in with the bot farm with all the rest of it do you actually credit it with having any real effect i often wonder whether the amount of energy that and resources they put into it actually justify the outcomes i don't think that they have on this occasion had any real effect but in part that's because the west has changed its its approach it's changed its philosophy in how we deal with this when the Russians have always been considered to be absolute experts in the field of what they call mascarovka in a misdirection the use of this kind of propaganda however we've seen the west to be a lot more open about what we can see what we know what the reality is almost at sometimes an advance of the Russian pronouncements coming out only last week Jeremy Fleming the head of gc HQ said that there has been a what's this code there's been a sea change in the way that we can we conduct these kind of operations and we are releasing information on in part that's because we now have access to much higher resolution satellite imagery social media that people are posting stuff from the front line and from the cities you can see these kinds of things happening and it's possible to the geo locates and confirm that these locations actually exist and it's not fake it's much much harder in the modern world especially in in light of this new approach for Russians to succeed so I think the fact that the world is much more aware of what they're trying to do and is spending and we're spending a lot more time trying to counter it means that as Patrick says I think a lot of the effort has been wasted and actually has just made the Russians look pretty stupid in fact the Belarusians in the very early days of the war were actually publishing video that purported to show Ukrainian troops waving white flags and surrendering they reported that the Ukrainian leadership had fled the country now stuff that was obviously written to fit in with the Russian battle plan but which of course never actually happened they very rapidly stopped doing it because all they did was make themselves look pretty stupid. A couple of fascinating sidelines to the cyber warfare have been one the the number of volunteer hackers who've been assisting the Ukrainian so I'd be interested in your take on whether that's made much difference and the other thing is the ability or at least the opportunity for cyber criminals and other nation states to take advantage of this so can you tell us a little bit about both those aspects yes certainly as with all these things you have a frontline nation state capability primarily based usually in the military to conduct offensive cyber warfare and those people have course have extensive training they have fantastic tools and a lot of capability that's backed up on the nation state and those are normally based in the military because a lot of countries now have laws that mean it is illegal for civilians to conduct offensive operations that would be hacking if I were to do that I'd be breaking our compute and misuse act however that doesn't mean that there aren't people who we generally refer to as hacktivists who will attempt to do this kind of thing out of patriotic furver should we say some are better than others there are organizations such as anonymous who have devoted considerable time and effort and they do have some people with real talent and they have achieved some success in disrupting Russian cyber they've even managed to do things like hacktiv stations and get no messages on to air albeit temporarily talking about the real state of the war also was an amusing side they managed to get the electric car charging points in Russia to display how should I keep this clean somewhat unhealthy messages about putting himself on their charging screens but there's also other works so the rest of it's at one point that up to 400,000 people were attempting to hack the Russians now that's a numbers gain whilst a lot of them won't have any success by sheer dint of of pressure and trying everything going some of them will have got through and will actually have achieved success and it also means that the Russians have to devote a lot more time to defense than they would otherwise have to do so that the attackers have to get lucky once or the defenders have to be successful 100% of the time so someone's going to get through when we have seen examples of that happening and in some ways that causes embarrassment but also it helps the real story to get through into Russia and there are other various tools like BitTorrent and the Tor browser which can be used and a lot of work has gone into helping the Russian public to find out how to use things like a virtual private network which gets them out through the great far wall of Russia to find trustworthy news sources reporting what's actually going on and not using the state media so gradually slowly the word is being spread and of course medium such as telegram my troops on the front line ascending messages home and telling them what the realities are so gradually and exibly that the truth is getting to the Russian public it's a question of how long can the state media not necessarily win the battle but control is spread so that that's a lot of work going on at the same time coming out of Russia you have got not just their professional state sponsored attackers you've also got a lot of organized crime gangs now many of the world's organized crime gangs are based in Russia simply because Russia tolerates their presence as long as they don't attack Russian assets the the quid probe is that in times of national emergency or no special military operations such as this they're expected to come to the aid of the state and assist in attacking whatever target is is nominated by the military of course in this case it's Ukraine so those gangs we did see major attacks on the rest of the world and commercial organizations by the organized crime gangs dropped very considerably in the early days of the war I did speculate at the time how long that that detention would last because of course these gangs are motivated and driven by money you know they they have a lifestyle the people working for them have to be paid where's that money going to come from I doubt the Russian state is going to give them that money because they're hurting for money aid because of sanctions and be because they've got to pay for the kinetic war so we've seen over time that the assistance has dropped off and the we've seen a lot of resumption of cyber crime aimed at the rest of the world by these gangs because they've got a cash flow problem and they've stopped helping Russia and there are also patriots ordinary citizens who have been involved in doing some work and we saw that back in Georgia in 2008 as well but their effect is limited again because they don't necessarily have the tools or the all the knowledge now you need a lot of specialist knowledge to be able to do this kind of attack well you need to be a sad geek like me to really understand how it all works and to really have a major effect but Russia is losing that war simply because of numbers and because no of the of the operational model the cybercrime gangs have gone back to doing what they used to do which is trying to make money but that in itself has been made much harder because of course there is now much more focus on Russia on the traffic that's going in and out of Russia and it's increasing the difficult aid for them to conduct the attacks and be to get the money that they make back into Russia because the cybercrime and laundering were working very hard to make sure that Russia doesn't receive any money from outside till they can't prosecute the war. In your brilliant briefing paper which you very kindly sent us David you tell a story about how the FSB has been hit very hard by a cyber leak naming a big cohort of their agents can you tell us a bit more about that? Yes in this modern world it's much harder to be a James Bond to be a spy and it used to be because of course passports are now have biometric details in them. You are biometrically tied to having a single identity so the days of intelligence agents having a a cupboard with no 15 or 20 different legends as they call it in different paperwork and passports is increasingly impossible because you cannot cross borders without your biometric data tying you to an identity so being able to identify an agent and reveal who they are effectively burns their cover and makes them pretty much useless and that's one of the reasons why after things like Salisbury and the attacks in the hage a lot of work went into it publicly outing these agents because it renders them pretty much useless and Ukrainians have published the details of something like 620 people who they say are FSB agents all of whom were listed as listing of living at the Lubyanko which is headquarters of the FSB and it includes their names their pictures their depresses phone numbers card details it's a kind of doxing attack and if if it's true if those people genuinely are FSB agents they no longer have any value outside because we know who they are and the moment they cross a border they will be identified to have 620 of your agents identified in that way it is a catastrophic blow David he's strong suggested to us when we had him on the podcast not that long ago that while cyber along with many other capabilities was important it wasn't a real game change you still actually had to win on the battlefield I mean is he correct in that absolutely cyber is something that facilitates the action noted that you're taking in the kinetic war but now it is still true that to take ground you need tanks and infantry and air support and artillery obviously that cyber won't do those things for you it can disable the opposition it can limit their ability to respond but it's not going to stop their troops on the ground from fighting you still have to go out there and win the hard yards so people like yourselves are never going to be out of work there's always going to be stuff to write about it's good to hear just one final question from me David none the less having said that it seems that NATO does have considerable overmatch in comparison to Russia can you give us some idea of how great that overmatch is there are quite a few parts of NATO that have openly declared that they have an offensive cyber capability everybody has a defensive ability and of course because we have been watching what Russia has been doing in Ukraine and elsewhere we have a fairly good idea of how the Russian no tools tactics and techniques work we know what to look for I mean they're incredibly good they are some of the world's best at getting into people's systems without being seen and then having the ability to stay there undetected for a long time however those nations that have worked out how to do it are sharing that information with other people so this is one of the reasons why Ukraine has proven so resilient because if the Russians have attempted to get into those systems they've normally detected it and been able to stop it happening and limit the damage very quickly in terms of our ability to respond if Russia were foolish enough to actually launch it or inadvertently conduct a cyber attack that affected parts of NATO certain countries have an ability to respond we have tools and capabilities that allow us to identify and attack systems in Russia or anywhere else that caused us a problem with fairly devastating effect we could do to them what they were doing to us and the fact that there's a lot more of us with a lot more capability means that in the same way that what's the expression that quantity has a quality all of its own and simply the Russians would not have enough resources to be able to defend against everything that we could do to them we could effectively cut them off from the outside world if we chose to we could isolate Russia from the internet and they've conducted exercises about doing it for themselves but the reality is that so much business and commerce depends on it these days is that you've become your own threat to do it and in fact the Americans actually removed a couple of sanctions that they put in place on Russia in the early days because some of those sanctions included not providing news feeds into Russia and they realized that actually providing those news feeds and letting the Russians know what was happening what the outside view of the world was made a lot more sense and would help with the propaganda war so yes there are things that we could do to them we could conduct a crippling blow on them if we if we chose to we could make them work very hard and we could make them like we could express our displeasure however in the same way that it's a article five for us it would know it would be probably you said bellow as far as the Russians are concerned so it's not something that I think we would ever use as a first strike capability it is as I said as Biden said if you cross this red line we reserve the right to responding kind and it will hurt. The last question from me David we're slightly mystified at the number of people who contacting us officially and unofficially in terms of the podcast and suggesting that you know we're underestimating Russia it still has extraordinary capabilities both militarily cyber and in every other aspect we don't entirely agree it seems to us that and I think you might agree that Russia's not only losing the kinetic voice losing the communications and cyber war two do you think that is the case and if it is is there anything Russia can do to turn the tide. I'm convinced that Russia is losing I'm not a military expert and I would be wrong of me to comment on the kinetic war but certainly from a cyber point of view they have not had anything like the impact that we thought they were capable of they they have under-formed considerably and given the the way things are going for them on the ground I think that if they had a cyber capability beyond what they have displayed so far they would have used it the fact that they haven't the only logical conclusion that I and my colleagues can come to is that they don't have that kind of capability after all or we have managed to neutralize it and I think the preparation the work that we've done in advance know the the know your enemy the intelligence work has been conducted in advance that in terms of cyber means that we've been able to to neutralize the threat and Ukraine is effectively launching the attacks under advice and guidance from us and the fact that they're able to do so I think indicates that if the Russians were was stupid enough to actually challenge NATO in the cyber environment we have the ability to to stop and contain and make them bitterly regret that they ever did so well that was really illuminating interesting the Russians actually seem to have helped Ukrainians prepare for the big conflict by launching all these endless attacks on their cyber capability from 2014 onwards yeah he confirmed what we heard from Robert Fox of course and that is that NATO or the West in general were helping Ukraine with their cyber capabilities before the invasion in February 2022 and that this must have helped to prevent Russia from taking out vital infrastructure I like the idea these volunteer hackers don't you coming to Ukraine's aid and not launching their own private war with with the Russians in cyberspace also kind of struck by just what a criminal space Russia is you know where they they allow these gangs to basically hack into our bank accounts with impunity in all the rest of it as long as when they're called upon to do their patriotic duty they do actually step up to the plate although it seems their basic motivation agreed is now coming into conflict with that call to arms from the Kremlin that the good news I suppose that we are winning this one and we've got huge overmatch even though it's not actually a war winning capability yeah I think for the broader point here is that while cyber isn't hugely important and as you say the good news is that Russia is losing this as well as the kinetic war it's not you know it's not the be all an end all it is an add-on as Hustrand told us it's a force multiplier they can't win the war alone that still needs to be done by troops on the ground and a raw military power okay well now for a few of your questions one from Chris Hyde here he's asking what's the COVID situation in Ukraine whether it's impacted on their ability to defend themselves well I did a bit of research on that the answer is zero practically I mean it's strangely the worst sort of COVID peak was right at the beginning of the war and it's now down to about zero so that's one area where COVID isn't actually disrupting things too much yeah and the good news Patrick is we know that not a vast amount of Chinese people are flying into Ukraine anytime soon so that's probably gonna help matters slightly now the question from Philip Gluxman who said thanks for answering his last question and giving his brother-in-law a mention it made their Christmas well he asked an interesting question about China China very often seems to be passive in this conflict maybe even more supporting Russia than Ukraine I think we'd agree with that he goes on to say I think the only real solution for ending this war is to use the Carroton stick method to put more pressure on China to support Ukraine she being is the only person put in the listens to China as the only trade partner that really matters for Russia well all of that's true of course Philip but I think the possibility of the West forcing China into a position where it effectively withdraws any kind of support for Russia unless it ends the war I think that's a bit optimistic frankly I mean China's playing a very clever waiting game to see what happens on the battlefield because in the end its own strategic interests are tied up in this war in so far as a victory for Russia will be a green light for it with Taiwan so no I don't think China is vulnerable to Western Blackmail I'm afraid yeah and of course there will they won't they the stars actually creates a leverage for the middle of sorts of other areas there is one here that I think makes an amusing point from Rick Travers in Vermont who asks us about the extent of humanitarian aid that Ukraine is getting this is a subject we haven't really addressed properly and we're definitely going to do it in an upcoming pod but he makes it what I think is quite a fun point at the end he says in the World War II the US gave Russia the equivalent of $180 billion worth of support in terms of armament all sorts of kits clothes fuel etc and he says I think we want our money back nice idea but it does put me in mind if you know the UK provided a huge amount of help to Russia during the war tanks jeeps trucks aircraft etc I've never got a word of thanks from Stalin all we ever heard from Moscow is give us more that's not enough so I don't think you're you're going to get you're going to send back of that Rick no just an interesting one the last question we're going to do with this week Tom from Essex hi guys after listening to episode eight shaping perceptions I was surprised that social media didn't really get a mention as it's been a major aspect of the information war surrounding Ukraine from Russian mill bloggers and independent Vox pops with everyday Russians to Ukrainian drone compilation videos etc etc what are your thoughts well he's absolutely right it has played a key role I think you know the general feeling when when you talk about social media and politics in other words can you get a sense of you know people's opinions political opinions through social media no I think it can be exaggerated it can be a real echo chamber but in the case of this war I think social media has played an absolute vital role but Ukraine has really been dominating it it's been showing these little clips and videos and you know all of its successful military strikes for example and frankly social media of course because it's very difficult to control in terms of information probably isn't helping the Russians on the other side on the one hand you've got the mill bloggers as Tom points out who are basically criticizing the war effort in many cases and on the other hand you've got ordinary Russians hearing stuff from the west if they can get access to western social media and of course you almost always can so frankly social media is hugely an advantage for Ukraine I would suggest okay well let's always got time for this week if you've got any questions please email them to battleground you crane all one word at and do join us next week when we'll be speaking to former British general and Russian specialist Somelike Jackson goodbye