“We were all extremely impressed with how effectively the Ukrainian Armed Forces used the equipment we provided to them,” said Laura Cooper, the Pentagon’s senior Russian policy official. “Kremlin observers were also surprised by this, and how they slowed the Russian advance and performed extremely well on the battlefield.”
Even the elements sided with the Ukrainian army at the start of the war. Bad weather in northern Ukraine has grounded some Russian attack planes and helicopters, a senior Pentagon official said. Many Russian vehicles that left main roads to avoid the stranded convoy got stuck in mud, making them more vulnerable to attack, officials said.
Russo-Ukrainian war: what you need to know
But American intelligence also has its limits. Mr Biden’s ground rules prohibit flying surveillance planes over Ukraine, so they must look over the border, just as surveillance is often conducted over North Korea . It relies on new small satellites, providing images similar to those provided by commercial companies like Maxar and Planet Labs.
A war in cyberspace that has only just begun
One of the odd features of the conflict so far is that it runs the gamut of ancient and modern warfare. Trenches dug by Ukrainian soldiers to the south and east look like scenes from 1914. Russian tanks rolling through cities evoke Budapest in 1956. But today’s battle that most strategists hoped to mark first days of war – the computer networks, power grids and communication systems they control – have only just begun.
US officials say this is in part due to extensive work done to bolster Ukraine’s networks after Russian attacks on its power grid in 2015 and 2016. But experts say that can’t explain everything. Maybe the Russians didn’t try very hard initially or they are keeping their assets in reserve. Perhaps a counteroffensive led by the United States – part of what General Paul M. Nakasone, head of Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, calls a doctrine of ” persistent engagement” in global networks – explains at least part of the absence.
Government officials are understandably tight-lipped, saying ongoing cyber operations, which have been moved in recent days from an operations center in Kyiv to one outside the country, are among the most classified elements of the conflict. But it is clear that the cyber mission teams tracked some familiar targets, including the activities of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence operations, in an attempt to neutralize their activity. Microsoft has helped, producing patches within hours to kill malware it detects in unclassified systems.
This is all new territory when it comes to whether the United States is a “co-combatant.” According to the American interpretation of the laws of cyberconflict, the United States can temporarily interrupt Russian capability without carrying out an act of war; permanent disability is more problematic. But as experts acknowledge, when a Russian system fails, Russian units don’t know if it’s temporary or permanent, or even if the United States is responsible.