Today marks one year since Russia invaded Ukraine, drastically escalating the conflict that began with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
What began as a Kremlin-backed “special operation” quickly evolved into the biggest war since World War II. With the invasion, Europe was not only faced with its largest refugee crisis in eight decades, but has also witnessed unprecedented levels of emerging technologies used in an armed conflict, including cyber operations and drone warfare.
As the war wages on, the impact will continue to spread beyond Ukrainian borders, affecting food security in the region and supply chains across the globe.
By the Numbers
As of February 2023, the Russian military has likely lost over 150,000 soldiers and private security members in the conflict. This is over 13 times the number of personnel lost by the Soviet Union during their decade-long war in Afghanistan. By comparison, Ukraine has most likely lost 100,000 soldiers and non-combatants. The Russian Army has lost approximately 2,000 tanks; with the capacity to produce only 40-60 tanks per year, their ability to be fully mission-capable has been set back by at least 40 years.
Russia has also lost an estimated 300 fighter planes, and nearly that many helicopters. The loss of soldiers and equipment is likely due to a number of factors: Ukranian military and social resistance, poor tactical decisions from the Russian military command, and corruption in the Russian military.
While Ukrainians have received massive support from its allies in terms of military equipment and training, the soldiers of the Ukrainian military have fought exceptionally well. Russian military command and the Wagner group have made poor decisions on the ground, throwing badly trained and poorly-equipped soldiers against Ukrainian defenses in human wave attacks.
Finally, these two factors are compounded by the corruption in the Russian military. Videos and pictures of Russians being issued obsolete or unserviceable equipment, being told to provide their own equipments, and jets with commercially available radios and GPS systems are all evidence that the Russian military leaders have sold off their equipment in peacetime or have massively misrepresented their combat readiness to their senior leadership.
Personal enrichment of those leaders has cost thousands of Russian soldiers their lives.
Inside The Occupied Territories
From the onset of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian troops and their collaborators have been under constant threat from Ukrainian partisans inside areas occupied by Russian forces. According to a source inside the Ukrainian Special Forces, information from partisans was initially the only intelligence they had. Using sophisticated communication methods that included mobile applications, Ukrainians could send information on Russian troop routes and numbers directly to the Ukrainian military.
We assess with a high degree of confidence that as of February 24th, 2023, at least 14 occupation officials have been assassinated by partisans; However, we believe the number may be higher, and specific reporting has not met the high threshold of confidence to be officially counted. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on February 10th that members of the “Atesh” partisan movement blew up a car carrying Russian military personnel and occupation officials resulting in the death of two and wounding of two others in the port city of Novaya Kakhovka on the east bank of the Dnipro River.
The threat posed by partisans to Russian military and occupation officials diverts resources and attention away from the front lines. We assess that this will continue to be an effective tactic employed against Russia for the duration of its occupation in Ukraine.
The Impact of Cyber and Disinformation Campaigns
Ukraine has also served as a stage for the world’s first conflict involving large-scale cyber operations. While Russia has long targeted Ukrainian infrastructure and data, Ukrainian cyber defenses have proved to be as resilient as their military.
Rather than targeting data, many cyber attacks are focused on disrupting internet access and other telecommunications services. Despite higher-profile attacks such as that on the Viasat KA-SAT satellite network, the majority of Russia’s post-invasion cyber attacks have been generally regarded as unsuccessful.
In addition to spreading malware, the Russian state has proved persistent in spreading propaganda. Russian disinformation campaigns warped the fabric of reality for its citizens, complete with claims that Ukraine was developing bioweapons, intending to invade sovereign nations, and even supporting Al Qaeda and ISIS.
As many nations rushed to provide support to Ukrainian forces on the ground, other companies stepped in to support Ukraine in cyberspace.
Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov presented Ukraine’s first “Peace Prize” to Google Vice President Karan Bhatia. The award recognized not only Google’s swift efforts to stop the spread of misinformation and defend against cybersecurity threats, but also Google.org and Google employee donations and grants that totaled over $25 million.
Self-serving Sino-Russian Relations
More recently, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke at the Munich Security Conference. He claimed to have information proving China’s consideration of supplying assistance to Russia in the war, potentially in the form of lethal aid.
China has denied the claims, accusing the U.S. of “pointing fingers” at a growing Sino-Russian relationship.
Despite concerns over the implications of Chinese involvement in the war, Russia’s relationship with China is not black and white. The current relationship could be described as self-serving, as the countries seek out alliances in moments of convenience, without putting in the work to maintain a reliable, long-lasting partnership.
While both countries have permanent seats on the UN Security Council and claim to support the goals of this organization, their actions and words have betrayed their shared belief that larger countries should be able to redraw their borders by force as they see fit.
The full-scale invasion of Ukraine has drastically changed Europe and the rest of the world. NATO, in recent years, was not seen as an asset to national security and stability. Several U.S Presidents had failed in their efforts to get NATO members to increase defense spending.
Putin has succeeded in reinvigorating the NATO alliance and expanding it with the potential membership of Finland and Sweden. Further, as the war continues, we will likely see other European nations increase their security posture to deter Russian aggression.
With reports that China may supply Russia with lethal aid in Ukraine, the potential for escalation remains high. Ukrainian forces will continue to be tested as Russia pours more resources and troops into the war, further destabilizing the region.
Additionally, the war will continue to have a significant impact on the global economy, especially in nations that heavily rely on Ukraine and Russia’s grain exports.