Analysis | Russia-Ukraine conflict: back to the future? By Raphael Jerusalmy

On the one hand, the initial conflict is a war of words and images. On the other hand cybernetic hacking.

With the potential use of suicide drones, electronic warfare, tactical nuclear power or hypersonic missiles, the Russia-Ukraine conflict presents the attributes of ultramodern warfare. However, on the edge of the battle and the new technologies used by the two armies, there is a double conflict of an entirely different order that may be more decisive than the troops on the battlefield. On the one hand, this is a war of words and images. On the other hand cybernetic hacking.

Russia loses on the battlefield, but wins on social media

Even if these actions use the same advanced technologies as drones, they stem from a very old strategy advocated since ancient times: psychological warfare. At the beginning of the year, Ukraine’s Department of Strategic Communications announced that nearly 400 Russian soldiers had been killed in Ukraine’s shelling of a Russian base in Makivka, Donetsk region. Moscow denies. The spokesman of the Russian army speaks of 63 dead. Then, on January 2, the Russian Ministry of Defense, in turn, rushed to announce on all possible social networks and mass media that 70 “foreign mercenaries” were killed by Russian troops in the Kharkiv region.

Dominique Faget (AFP)

In addition to these loud declarations, the second front is the scene of battles that are as fierce as those that take place in the media and social networks, hidden, secret. It is about the cyber sabotage of vital infrastructures, including those who allow homes, government agencies and businesses, and even private companies to overheat. These techniques, which affect the enemy’s morale rather than their physical fighting ability, are linked back to a tradition established by the 6th century BC Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War.

For Sun Tzu, knowing the opponent’s mentality and state of mind is a key factor in any military victory. Which can be obtained by losing the will to fight. All it seems is that Russia, which is losing ground on the battlefield every day, is trying to do just that. But it wins in social networks and especially in the field of cyber sabotage.

Vladimir Putin appears to have less confidence in his missile arsenal than in long-term victory, given the enemy’s exhaustion and the possibility that Ukrainian nerves will eventually be released by force. For their part, the Ukrainians are taking advantage of the lack of motivation of Russian troops and the embarrassment that Putin’s tactical failures on the ground have given him.

The most striking thing is that psychological and cybernetic warfare determines the selection of targets, factories, public places with high symbolic importance, and the planning of operations, which discourage the enemy militarily rather than weakening them militarily.

Some experts talk about “hybrid war”. As early as February 23, 2022, the day before the Russian invasion, Moscow used the Wiper virus against 200 Ukrainian computer networks. Recently, a private Ukrainian company was attacked by Wiper. The metal it produced for civilian purposes was recycled to create anti-tank barriers.

Dominique Faget (AFP)
Dominique Faget (AFP)

Of course, Russia is losing the media war with European and American public opinion. But it prevails in most of the less informed Asian and Third World countries. The label “Nazis” attached to Ukrainians has made way for many brains. In any case, false and inflammatory slogans are combined on both sides.

When it comes to insults and insults, one is never short of ammunition. Sun Tzu claimed that by affecting the morale of the troops, a war can be won without even fighting a single battle. Or an entire population. So, yes, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is taking us back to ancient practices of the art of war, including scorched earth, torture of prisoners, looting and rape. Back to the future? Will this conflict go down in the history books? Cyber ​​is only a new tool to destabilize the enemy. And the drone, an upgraded catapult.

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