Why Russian Cyber Dogs Have Mostly Failed to Bark

Editor’s note: Don’t miss our comprehensive guide to Russia’s war against Ukraine


Nearly three weeks ago, U.S. President Joe Biden was purportedly presented with a range of cyber options to counter the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So far, not much is known about the administration’s cyber calculus as the Western response remains focused on imposing punishing rounds of economic sanctions (which include travel bans, asset freezes, and the removal of specific Russian banks from SWIFT) against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the top cadre of military officials and oligarchs in Russia. Though it is possibly the strongest economic sanctions package imposed to date — and has been joined by the imposition of limitations to online services and advanced technology access by tech’s Big Five — it still remains unclear if the sanctions will actually compel Putin to change course and stop the invasion.

Is there then a case to be made for the use of cyber operations to compound the pressure on Russia by increasing costs? And would U.S. cyber action against Russia in the light of invasion of Ukraine expand the conflict — including to the use of conventional or nuclear weapons?



Given the limited achievements of the Russian military to date, Putin faces increasing pressure to show concrete results on the ground. The broad use of cyber capabilities could thus propel the West further up the escalation ladder without clear de-escalatory crisis off-ramps. This may suggest a more limited role for cyber in this conflict.

The notable absence of cyber options employed so far has puzzled cyber security experts. While Ukraine has certainly been on the receiving end of Russian cyber assault, cybergeddon-scale attacks are missing. Scholars suggest that cyber operations employed by Russia against Ukraine prior to the invasion have been a failure in that the Kremlin has not successfully forced Ukraine to shift eastwards and reorient towards Moscow. However, policymakers and experts remain concerned about the cyber escalation potential and speculate about several explanations for the lack of large-scale cyber events launched by Russia to date. First, as media reports…