KYIV, Ukraine – In the months that Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders – and in the years since the Russian invasion in 2014 – Ukrainian authorities have worked to prepare their country for a any new attack.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said his country is ready for hybrid warfare from Russia, that is, a mixture of conventional attacks, such as an invasion, as well as other forms of warfare, such as cyberattacks, misinformation and political maneuvering.
But experts and authorities on the ground paint a more mixed picture of the country’s level of preparedness.
Ukraine is vulnerable to a major cyberattack
Ukraine has repeatedly been the target of cyberattacks, especially since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. In the years following the annexation of Crimea – which is not recognized by the international community – Near-constant cyberwarfare, largely from Russia, has targeted nearly every sector in Ukraine, from its power grid to its treasury to its media companies.
Just two weeks ago, another massive attack temporarily destroyed dozens of Ukrainian government sites, including the Foreign Ministry.
Since 2014, the United States has spent tens of millions of dollars equipping Ukraine with hardware, software, and training to secure its critical infrastructure. These efforts have intensified in recent months.
But security experts are skeptical of Ukraine’s ability to prevent Russia from destroying its networks.
“The reality is that you’re not going to secure Ukrainian networks in the next two weeks here. It’s a Herculean task,” said Dmitry Alperovitch, a cyber defense expert who served as a special adviser to the US Department of Defense.
But Russian disinformation has become less effective
Disinformation has also been a major factor in Ukraine in recent years, used by Russia to scare and confuse Ukrainians.
When war broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, fake news from Russia flooded the border in an attempt to spread panic in parts of the country with greater sympathy for Russia, such as the Crimea, diverting them from the Ukrainian government and into Russia.
Russian public television broadcast false stories about “fascists” on the streets of Kiev, the banning of the Russian language in Ukraine, and the impending food riots and rationing. A story, broadcast on Russian state television, claimed that Ukrainian soldiers had brutally murdered and crucified a three-year-old boy. (This story was debunked by a group of Ukrainian journalists called StopFake.)
These Russian narratives may have helped Russia annex Crimea – but 2022 is a different story, experts say.
“It worked, but it worked for a limited time. It doesn’t work anymore,” said Olga Tokariuk, disinformation researcher at the Center for European Policy Analysis. “I think the Ukrainians are better prepared. They are more aware of how Russia works.”
An example: a series of bomb threats have been raised in Ukrainian schools in recent weeks, but many parents have ignored these threats. Those bomb threats were attributed to Crimea, Zelenskyy said on Friday.
Kyiv authorities are working to prepare the city
There hasn’t been much disruption to daily life in Kyiv yet, but the capital – home to around three million people – is around 100 miles by road from the border with Belarus, where Russian troops are gathered, apparently for military exercises with the Belarusians. .
Although an invasion seems unlikely for many Kyiv residents, city officials say they are not as prepared as they would like.
Alina Mykhailova, deputy director of Kyiv City Council and a veteran of the Ukrainian army, says the city is psychologically ready, but less practically.
“If you’re talking about bomb shelters, no. If you’re talking about informing residents, no. If you’re talking about the general security of the city, too bad,” she said. “It’s been eight years of war in Ukraine, and the city could have been better protected.”
Kyiv has thousands of bomb shelters that date back to the Soviet era, when part of the USSR’s nuclear arsenal was based in Ukraine.
Over the past few months, authorities have worked to get as many shelters back into use as possible.
But many are still unusable. Some have been flooded, others are inaccessible. Some shelters have even been taken over by hairdressing salons or bakeries that have settled inside. “The authorities will have to deal with this situation and take it more seriously,” Mykhailova said.
COVID-19 slows down preparation. As in much of Europe, the omicron variant has led to a surge in cases, meaning many city administrators and employees are sick instead of helping with preparations.
The Ukrainian army has been strengthened since 2014
The Ukrainian military has made great progress since 2014, when the annexation of Crimea was made possible partly due to the weakness and inexperience of the Ukrainian armed forces.
“We have full confidence in our armed forces. They are not rookies. They are not rookies,” Zelenskyy said this week, a sense of confidence echoed by US officials.
“Ukrainian troops are well trained, they are well equipped and they are very motivated. Ukrainians in general and the Ukrainian military are very patriotic. They love Ukraine. They are ready to fight to save it,” Kristina said. Kvian. , the top US diplomat in Kiev, in an interview with All things Considered Friday.
This improvement came with major assistance from international donors, primarily the United States.
The United States has committed more than $5.4 billion in assistance to Ukraine since 2014, according to the State Department. On half of this total has been a security aid, with the Biden administration announcing an additional $200 million on Wednesday.
Over the years, this military aid has taken many forms: Humvees, patrol boats, counter-artillery radar, joint training center in western Ukraine.
79 tons of security aid for the armed forces of 🇺🇦.
Tonight, the third shipment of $200 million in aid authorized by President Biden arrived at Boryspil airport in Kyiv. The 🇺🇸 stands with 🇺🇦, and we will continue to give 🇺🇦 the support it needs. pic.twitter.com/RIPMLMOmIY
— U.S. Embassy Kyiv (@USEmbassyKyiv) January 25, 2022
This week, US officials highlighted recent deliveries of Javelin anti-tank missiles, anti-armour systems and 283 tons of “critical ammunition and non-lethal equipment to Ukraine’s frontline defenders”, according to the Secretary of State. State. Antony Blinken described it Wednesday.