We assess that Russia would consider initiating a cyber attack against the Homeland if it perceived a US or NATO response to a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine threatened its long-term national security. Russia maintains a range of offensive cyber tools that it could employ against US networks—from low-level denials-of-service to destructive attacks targeting critical infrastructure. However, we assess that Russia’s threshold for conducting disruptive or destructive cyber attacks in the Homeland probably remains very high and we have not observed Moscow directly employ these types of cyber attacks against US critical infrastructure—notwithstanding cyber espionage and potential prepositioning operations in the past.
This document is intended as a primer—a brief, informative treatment—concerning the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. It is an unclassified expansion of an earlier classified version that drew from numerous classified and unclassified sources, including key US Department of State diplomatic cables. For this version, the authors drew from open source articles, journals, and books. Because the primer examines a very recent conflict, it does not reflect a comprehensive historiography, nor does it achieve in-depth analysis. Instead, it is intended to acquaint the reader with the essential background to and course of the Russian intervention in Ukraine from the onset of the crisis in late 2013 through the end of 2014.
Ukraine is positioned between Eurasia and Europe, and the region has been influenced by many major civilizations. Ukraine, whose name means “borderland,” has lived under foreign powers for most of its existence. This is most recently evidenced by the creation of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, controlled by the centralized establishment in Moscow under the communist regime. Even today the capital, Kiev, struggles internally between Moscow and the West, forcing Ukrainians to more closely identify with either their own cultural brethren or a new, more independent direction for the country.
During the current presidential election campaign, the five most prominent candidates — President Viktor Yushchenko, Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych, Front for Change leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and businessman Serhiy Tihipko — all established an Internet presence as part of their election campaign strategy. According to media assessments, however, the Ukrainian candidates have not understood the intricacies of Internet marketing and therefore have not used the web in an effective manner during this election campaign. Internet use is growing rapidly in Ukraine and future candidates’ sophistication in the use of web tools will likely increase out of necessity.