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Behind the veil: Information warfare in Ukraine paves a shadowy path to war

Ukraine experiences major information warfare campaign in February. (MoD Crown Copyright 2015)

Tensions have been rising in eastern Europe since late 2021 when Russia started amassing troops on the border of Ukraine, a former member of the Soviet Union. Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe, detailed on 18 February that 169,000–190,000 Russian personnel had moved to the border, up from previous estimates of 150,000 Russian personnel.

On 21 February Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics in the Donbas region as independent states and directed the Russian defence ministry to deploy troops in the regions to carry out supposed “peacekeeping” functions. Putin announced a military invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, although the first explosions were heard outside the capital, Kyiv, early 23 February.

In the days leading up to the invasion, Ukraine has experienced a series of critical cyber attacks on its national infrastructure and has been the target of a disinformation campaign. Such tactics are commonly described as ‘hybrid warfare' – where non-traditional force multipliers such as cyber and social media intelligence attacks are employed – and use network infiltration, denial of information, denial of internet services, and other advanced persistent threats (APTs) to achieve strategic political and military effects.

Warfare in the cyber domain

According to the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine (SSSCIP), cyber aggression in the form of distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks have been ongoing since 15 February, but intensified on 23 February.

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