Despite backing from the West, the Kyiv government is still struggling to organise the leadership for the “cyber troops” it created in late August. The shape of this future command will largely depend on the choice of its deputy minister of defence in charge of cyber, whose appointment is causing no end of headache to defence minister Oleksi Reznikov, appointed on 4 November, and President Volodymyr Zelensky. The lack of decision-making has not prevented the EU from offering Ukraine’s cyber security apparatus a significant boost with extensive investments. Meanwhile, tensions continue to rise between Kyiv and Moscow, extending into the digital domain.
Kyiv, a cyber exception
Through its European Peace Facility (EPF), the European Council granted €31m in aid to Ukrainian defence over 36 months on 2 December. This includes support on cyber, for which Kyiv is one of only four countries to receive such aid under the EPF alongside Georgia, Moldova and Mali.
This is not the European Union’s first effort to strengthen Ukrainian cyber defence, though there has been little impact so far on the ground. As we understand, USAID’s cybersecurity for critical infrastructure in Ukraine programme, run by US company DAI Global since 2020, has been essentially treading water. And for good reason: DAI, specialised in economic and social development, has not carried many cyber projects of any note.
To make up for this lack of experience, DAI has surrounded itself with both US and Ukrainian specialists. The Cyprus-based Information Systems Security Partners (ISSP), led by Ukrainian Roman Sologub, is involved in the project. This cybersecurity firm is familiar with the types of hybrid warfare practiced by Moscow as it has a large presence in Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan. DAI also calls on the expertise of US firms Catalisto, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Veterans First Initiative, Florida International University, and the Ukrainian NGO SocialBoost. This organisation is involved in numerous international aid programmes in the country, being a partner to the British equivalent of USAID, UK Aid and the United Nations Development Programme.
Led by a former Microsoft executive Ihor Malchenyuk, USAID’s ambitious programme comprises various projects to improve Ukraine’s cyber defences and develop its cyber ecosystem that the US has already been building up over the past few years.
This EU aid – proposed by the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borell, who has been very proactive on the Ukrainian issue and the new impetus given to the EU’s Eastern Partnership – will also go towards the provision of military medical units, including field hospitals, engineering, mobility and logistics units. It was not an easy decision for Brussels, which although quick to voice its support for Kyiv is still treading very carefully almost eight years after fighting began in the east of the country.
Washington has proven to be a more demonstrative ally, loudly condemning Moscow for nearly two months, and has somewhat forced the EU’s hand with its decision to deploy military instructors to Ukraine in late November. For its part Canada is reluctant to take its promises of human support further, while Kyiv continues to ask for Ottawa to send over 500 military instructors. Globally, the NATO member states are being cautious, seeking to respect the provisions of the all but obsolete Minsk agreements, namely the non-deployment of lethal capacity units on Ukrainian territory, out of a concern for maintain a certain equilibrium as Moscow tries to impose its red lines.