25 February 2024

Cheap Russian Oil Fuels India’s Response to Ukraine War

Biswajit Dhar

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has revived Cold War sentiments and triggered a major realignment of the global economy, with India at the center of it all.

In the first days of the conflict, the United States-led Western alliance imposed a slew of sanctions on Russia, including a ban on key Russian banks from the world’s dominant financial messaging system, SWIFT.

The ban prevented these banks, representing over 80 percent of total Russian banking sector assets, from conducting transactions quickly and efficiently.

The sanctions dealt a body blow to Russia’s ability to trade with partners, including India, one of Russia’s closest allies going back to the Cold War era.

Prior to its invasion of Ukraine, Russia was a relatively small trader with India, not figuring among India’s top 20 partners. In the 2021-22 financial year (1 April to 31 March), trade between India and Russia accounted for a meager 1.3 percent ($13 billion) of India’s total trade.

Where their relationship has been close has been in the supply of armaments, which has spanned decades. Since 2000, India has been the largest importer of Russian armaments, which was valued at $39.5 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Russia’s supply of armaments to India is critical for a country in one of the most militarized and politically volatile regions of the world. In comparison, India’s imports from the U.S. were almost $5 billion.

India’s Compute Conundrum


As the conversation on artificial intelligence (AI) continues to evolve around the risks and opportunities involved, an issue coming into sharp focus is “compute.”


In technical terms, compute is a measure of the calculations that can be performed by a processor, usually represented in floating-point operations per second, or FLOPS. For reference, the world’s most powerful supercomputer clocks nearly 1.2 exaflops—more than a billion-billion calculations per second.

A more holistic understanding of compute is that it is a technology stack that combines a hardware layer of graphic processing units (GPUs), an infrastructure layer of data centers and server optimization algorithms, and a software layer of development frameworks.

Another way to think about compute is that it provides the sophisticated technical capabilities required to generate meaningful insights from large volumes of data for specialized operations such as natural language processing and object recognition. In fact, studies have shown that, on average, the performance of a large language model (LLM) improves with an increase in the compute power made available to it.


Access to compute creates the promise of technological progress, which explains why it is considered a strategic geopolitical asset. However, even as demand for compute continues to climb around the world, governments are facing an acute supply shortage.

This problem of scarcity stems from a combination of various factors: the high cost of the raw materials and specialized equipment required to manufacture silicon chips, the shortage of skilled professionals capable of developing and maintaining advanced compute systems, and the concentration of these resources in the hands of a few private corporations.

India’s AI Strategy: Balancing Risk and Opportunity


India’s national strategy on artificial intelligence (AI) is the pursuit of a delicate balance between fostering innovation and mitigating risk.

At the Global Technology Summit (GTS) 2023, India’s AI strategy was a key topic of discussion—India’s ministerial representative talked about the need for policy enablers and guardrails, industry leaders presented a use-case-led AI strategy, while global policymakers emphasized the value of India’s governance model for the rest of the world.

In this essay, we dig deeper into these questions and share insights on the key elements of India’s national AI strategy and the trade-offs involved in balancing risks and opportunities.


Over the years, the Indian government has actively encouraged AI applications for social welfare. Some examples include applications to detect diseases, increase agricultural productivity, and promote linguistic diversity.

India’s proposed model to deliver impact at scale using technology is compelling. For example, its recent efforts to leverage digital public infrastructure (DPI) to promote financial inclusion have been endorsed by the World Bank in glowing terms.

Now, with the world’s attention quickly moving to the transformative potential of AI, India’s national strategy will be influential. In particular, India’s pro-innovation and welfare-based approach to AI holds immense value for developing countries in the Global South.

On the global stage, India has delivered this message emphatically. The recent G20 leaders’ declaration, signed in New Delhi, advocates a “pro-innovation governance approach” to AI. Subsequently, at the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence Summit, which was also hosted by India, the concept of “collaborative AI” was formulated, wherein member states agreed to promote equitable access to AI resources for the developing world.

Where Others Dither, Japan Delivers on Aid to Ukraine

James Kaizuka

As we reach the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, questions are being raised over the long-term commitment of Kyiv’s allies to its full victory and the liberation of all occupied territories. With political games continuing in Washington, and European countries struggling to plug the gap caused by U.S. inaction, Russia has entrenched itself on the battlefield as it has perpetuated atrocity after atrocity. The war has seemingly no end in sight, and there is a palpable sense of frustration among Ukrainians that they are not being provided with the equipment and ammunition they need to banish Russia from their territory for good, even as soldiers continue to give their lives on the front line.

Surely, then, the news from the Japan-Ukraine Conference for Promotion of Economic Growth and Reconstruction on February 19 will have been welcome in Kyiv. In a demonstration of long-term commitment stretching beyond the symbolic, the conference brought pledges for grant-based assistance with landmine clearance, the opening of a JETRO trade office in Kyiv, the easing of travel restrictions, the start of negotiations on a bilateral investment treaty, and more than 50 memoranda pledging cooperation from the Japanese private sector. This comes in addition to around $10 billion of aid already pledged, and a further $1.35 billion fund to encourage private sector investment in Ukraine.

Japan is doing all it can to prove to the Kremlin that it will ultimately be Ukraine, not Russia, that will prosper when the war is over. It is the latest demonstration of what Japan has claimed is its “unwavering support” for Ukraine.

While much of this will take time to materialize, it is in stark contrast to the gloomy mood of the almost-simultaneous Munich Security Conference, where participants and commentators lamented the lack of firm commitments and the danger of U.S. abandonment. In particular, Eastern European and Baltic leaders, who are among Kyiv’s most steadfast supporters and have long warned of the dangers of a Russian victory, have decried the current, limited approach to supporting Ukraine.

The U.S. Is Playing the Wrong Game in the Competition with China

Christopher A. Preble

The Pentagon has defined China as the “pacing threat” driving U.S. military spending and strategy. Hawks on Capitol Hill have come together in a virtual Greek chorus sounding the alarm about how Beijing is outstripping the U.S. militarily—or will soon do so unless U.S. taxpayers spend far more on national security. These claims are both misleading and misguided. When it comes to competing with China for global influence, Washington is playing the wrong game.

One preoccupation of the “confront China” lobby is the assertion that Beijing spends far more on its military than meets the eye for two reasons.

First, China’s official defense budgets don’t cover all defense-related expenditures. Second, China supposedly gets more bang for its buck, spending less than the United States to achieve an equal increment of military power, be it ships or aircraft or numbers of uniformed personnel. To compensate for the latter problem, some analysts rely on purchasing power parity (PPP) to obtain a figure for comparison.

Even accounting for these differences, however, U.S. military spending continues to dwarf that of the PRC. The U.S. defense budget was at least four times larger than China’s official number ($905.5 billion vs. $219.5 billion) and more than twice as large as the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimate for China’s spending, adjusting for differences in purchasing power ($407.9 billion). The just-released edition of IISS’s Military Balance notes that China’s “official defense budgets have fallen as a percentage of GDP to an average of 1.23 percent between 2019 and 2023, from 1.28 percent between 2014 and 2018. The small increase in national-defense burden in 2023 to 1.24 percent of GDP mainly stems from the relative slowdown in economic growth.” By contrast, U.S. defense spending as a share of GDP has risen in the last three years, from 3.26 percent in 2021 to 3.36 percent in 2023.

Online Dump of Chinese Hacking Documents Offers Rare Window Into Pervasive State Surveillance

Frank Bajak and Dake Kang

Chinese police are investigating an unauthorized and highly unusual online dump of documents from a private security contractor linked to the nation’s top policing agency and other parts of its government – a trove that catalogs apparent hacking activity and tools to spy on both Chinese and foreigners.

Among the apparent targets of tools provided by the impacted company, I-Soon: ethnicities and dissidents in parts of China that have seen significant anti-government protests, such as Hong Kong or the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang in China’s far west.

The dump of scores of documents late last week and subsequent investigation were confirmed by two employees of I-Soon, known as Anxun in Mandarin, which has ties to the powerful Ministry of Public Security, China’s internal-facing intelligence and security apparatus. The dump, which analysts consider highly significant even if it does not reveal any especially novel or potent tools, includes hundreds of pages of contracts, marketing presentations, product manuals, and client and employee lists.

They reveal, in detail, methods used by Chinese authorities used to surveil dissidents overseas, hack other nations, and promote pro-Beijing narratives on social media.

The documents show apparent I-Soon hacking of networks across Central and Southeast Asia, as well as Hong Kong and the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.

The hacking tools are used by Chinese state agents to unmask users of social media platforms outside China such as X, formerly known as Twitter, break into email, and hide the online activity of overseas agents. Also described are devices disguised as power strips and batteries that can be used to compromise Wi-Fi networks.

A cache of leaked Chinese hacking documents just confirmed experts' warnings about how compromised the US could be

Kwan Wei Kevin Tan 

A trove of leaked Chinese hacking documents might have given the world a glimpse of how widespread and effective China's hacking operations could be.

Over 570 files and documents were posted to the developer platform GitHub last week, per The Washington Post. The documents, which track hacking activity across multiple countries, belong to iSoon, a private security contractor with ties to China's Ministry of Public Security, according to the Post's report on Wednesday.

"We have every reason to believe this is the authentic data of a contractor supporting global and domestic cyber espionage operations out of China," cybersecurity expert John Hultquitist told the Post.

On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that Chinese police are investigating the leak, citing two unnamed iSoon employees it spoke to. The employees told AP that the documents belonged to the group.

The leaked files mentioned at least 20 hacking targets, including countries like the UK, India, South Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia, per the Post. Besides foreign governments, the files said data had also been extracted from foreign telecommunications firms.

China’s Rush to Dominate A.I. Comes With a Twist: It Depends on U.S. Technology

Paul Mozur, John Liu and Cade Metz

In November, a year after ChatGPT’s release, a relatively unknown Chinese start-up leaped to the top of a leaderboard that judged the abilities of open-source artificial intelligence systems.

The Chinese firm, 01.AI, was only eight months old but had deep-pocketed backers and a $1 billion valuation and was founded by a well-known investor and technologist, Kai-Fu Lee. In interviews, Mr. Lee presented his A.I. system as an alternative to options like Meta’s generative A.I. model, called LLaMA.

There was just one twist: Some of the technology in 01.AI’s system came from LLaMA. Mr. Lee’s start-up then built on Meta’s technology, training its system with new data to make it more powerful.

The situation is emblematic of a reality that many in China openly admit. Even as the country races to build generative A.I., Chinese companies are relying almost entirely on underlying systems from the United States. China now lags the United States in generative A.I. by at least a year and may be falling further behind, according to more than a dozen tech industry insiders and leading engineers, setting the stage for a new phase in the cutthroat technological competition between the two nations that some have likened to a cold war.

“Chinese companies are under tremendous pressure to keep abreast of U.S. innovations,” said Chris Nicholson, an investor with the venture capital firm Page One Ventures who focuses on A.I. technologies. The release of ChatGPT was “yet another Sputnik moment that China felt it had to respond to.”

An online dump of Chinese hacking documents offers a rare window into pervasive state surveillance


Chinese police are investigating an unauthorized and highly unusual online dump of documents from a private security contractor linked to the nation’s top policing agency and other parts of its government — a trove that catalogs apparent hacking activity and tools to spy on both Chinese and foreigners.

Among the apparent targets of tools provided by the impacted company, I-Soon: ethnicities and dissidents in parts of China that have seen significant anti-government protests, such as Hong Kong or the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang in China’s far west.

The dump of scores of documents late last week and subsequent investigation were confirmed by two employees of I-Soon, known as Anxun in Mandarin, which has ties to the powerful Ministry of Public Security. The dump, which analysts consider highly significant even if it does not reveal any especially novel or potent tools, includes hundreds of pages of contracts, marketing presentations, product manuals, and client and employee lists.

They reveal, in detail, methods used by Chinese authorities used to surveil dissidents overseas, hack other nations and promote pro-Beijing narratives on social media.

The documents show apparent I-Soon hacking of networks across Central and Southeast Asia, as well as Hong Kong and the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.

The hacking tools are used by Chinese state agents to unmask users of social media platforms outside China such as X, formerly known as Twitter, break into email and hide the online activity of overseas agents. Also described are devices disguised as power strips and batteries that can be used to compromise Wi-Fi networks.

A War Putin Still Can’t Win

Lawrence D. Freedman

In the two years since Russia invaded Ukraine, the brutal war has often defied expectations. In the weeks after February 24, 2022, when Russian forces poured over the Ukrainian border, Ukraine surprised the world, and possibly itself, as it mounted an effective resistance and quickly ended the siege on Kyiv. Then, after the war moved south and east, Ukraine again caught observers off guard with its lightning campaign to push Russian forces out of Kharkiv Province in early September 2022.

But in addition to these stunning results, there were also disappointments. Rather than signaling a larger change in momentum, for example, the Kharkhiv offensive resulted in newly hardened frontlines that, other than Russia’s belated withdrawal from an untenable position in Kherson, moved little in the months that followed. And perhaps most of all, after stirring hopes among many Western analysts and politicians, Ukraine’s long-awaited 2023 counteroffensive was unable to achieve a decisive breakthrough. It was not many weeks old before Ukraine’s commanders had to accept that their forces were not well suited to large-scale operational maneuvers.

Now, as the war enters its third year, according to much current commentary, Ukraine is in an increasingly dire situation and Russia has the upper hand. Underlying the deep pessimism are reports of acute shortages of munitions and manpower on the Ukrainian side, doubts about continued U.S. support, and the perception that Russian forces, unconcerned about their own losses, are prepared to take advantage. The problem is not with the quality of predictions, which are always difficult in war, but rather that the way the war develops over 2024 will depend not only on how Ukraine faces its military challenges but also on how much—and in what ways—the West supports it.

Ukraine certainly faces steep challenges. Given how stretched the country’s warfighting resources are now, there will be few opportunities for major operational moves against Russia in the year ahead. And if a major new package of U.S. aid dies in Congress, it could drastically impede Ukraine’s ability to cope and leave too much of the initiative with Moscow. But the West knows far less about the pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin faces and how that might intensify if he fails to get quick results from all the investments made in this costly and frustrating war.

Russia's Papa-Class Titanium Submarine: Something the Navy Couldn't Match

Kyle Mizokami

Summary: The Soviet Project 661 submarine, also known as the Papa-class, exemplifies the Cold War era's exploration of speed in submarine warfare. Conceived in 1959, its design focused on high-speed interception of American carrier task forces, using advanced titanium alloy construction for lightweight and speed enhancement. This innovation allowed the submarine to reach record speeds of up to 44.7 knots, significantly faster than contemporaries. However, the benefits of speed came with drawbacks, including high construction costs, noise levels that compromised stealth, and structural damage at high speeds. Despite these issues, Project 661 paved the way for future advancements in submarine technology but was deemed too costly and problematic to produce in numbers. The only vessel of its class, K-222, served until decommissioned in 1984, marking a bold but isolated chapter in naval engineering.

Speed has often held a mixed appeal in submarine warfare. After all, even very quiet submarines become noisy when they're tearing through the ocean at their maximum speed of 20 to 30 knots. As typically the goal in submarine warfare is to detect an unaware adversary and launch torpedoes without being detected in return, many submarines cruise at little more than a brisk jog to minimize noise.

However, speed also enables more aggressive maneuvers against alert enemies and incoming torpedoes, and the ability to close with or disengage from adversaries as the situation dictates. And sometimes speed is desirable simply to get a submarine where it needs to be to engage a fast-moving enemy.

Such was the thinking behind the Soviet’s Project 661 submarine Anchar that was conceived in 1959: a speedy submarine that could race forth to intercept American carrier task forces cruising at 33 knots, blast them with long-range cruise missiles fired from underwater, and then get the hell out of Dodge.

What the Pentagon has learned from two years of war in Ukraine

Alex Horton

As the general paced the briefing room, he displayed a piece of lethal technology and detailed the death and chaos it has caused in Ukraine.

Almost 90 Russian soldiers were slain in a single attack in 2022, explained Army Maj. Gen. Curtis Taylor, when Ukrainian forces dropped U.S.-provided rockets on buildings pulsing with electronic signals.

Here in the Mojave Desert, where Taylor oversees simulated war designed to prepare U.S. troops for the real thing, the same behavior abounds, he warned.

Taylor held up his cellphone. “This device,” he said, “is going to get our soldiers killed.”

The U.S. military is undertaking an expansive revision of its approach to war fighting, having largely abandoned the counterinsurgency playbook that was a hallmark of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan to focus instead on preparing for an even larger conflict with more sophisticated adversaries such as Russia or China.

What’s transpired in Ukraine, where this week the war enters its third year with hundreds of thousands dead or wounded on both sides and still no end in sight, has made clear to the Pentagon that battlefield calculations have fundamentally changed in the years since it last deployed forces in large numbers. Precision weapons, fleets of drones and digital surveillance can reach far beyond the front lines, posing grave risk to personnel wherever they are.

The war remains an active and bountiful research opportunity for American military planners as they look to the future, officials say. A classified year-long study on the lessons learned from both sides of the bloody campaign will help inform the next National Defense Strategy, a sweeping document that aligns the Pentagon’s myriad priorities. The 20 officers who led the project examined five areas: ground maneuver, air power, information warfare, sustaining and growing forces and long range fire capability.

Ukraine in maps: Tracking the war with Russia

Russian forces take Avdiivka

Ukraine has withdrawn its troops from Avdiivka - a key eastern town besieged by Russian forces for months - and the nearby coke factory which allowed Kyiv to resupply its forces there.

Since last October, Moscow has launched wave after wave of attacks towards the town - which would have been a possible gateway for Ukraine to reach the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk.

Avdiivka has been a battlefield town since 2014, when Russian-backed fighters seized large swathes of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Almost all of Avdiivka's pre-war population of more than 30,000 people have left and the town itself is almost completely destroyed.

Its fall marks the biggest change on the more than 1,000km-long (620-mile) front line since Russian troops seized the nearby town of Bakhmut in May 2023. Bakhmut remains a key flash point along the front line along with the areas around Robotyne and Krynky further south.

Ukraine, Russia, and the Minsk agreements: A post-mortem

Marie Dumoulin

The question of whether talks can bring the war in Ukraine to an end has, in many ways, become a faith-based argument. Some maintain that all wars end through negotiations; others say that Putin can only be stopped on the battlefield. Both perspectives have valid aspects. But observers too often ascribe to the Russian leadership behaviours that it never actually demonstrates.

Indeed, each view overlooks the way in which Russia has acted in and around past negotiations about Ukraine – the most prominent results of which were the Minsk agreements. These have long since become a byword for the West’s failure to deal with the post-2014 conflict in eastern Ukraine. In the debate relating to the Minsk agreements, they tend to either be branded a de facto capitulation to Russia or made out to be the main reason for Russia’s full-scale invasion of 2022, because of a supposed failure by Ukraine to implement these agreements (a view which echoes the Russian narrative, whether knowingly or not).

Putin’s decision in 2022 to recognise the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics killed off the Minsk agreements. Now that they are indubitably dead, a post-mortem can provide lessons for how the West and Ukraine should position themselves ahead of any future negotiations to end the war.

What were the Minsk agreements?

Negotiated under the auspices of France, Germany, and the OSCE, the Minsk agreements were signed by Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE special representative in September 2014 and February 2015. These agreements are often – improperly – called “Minsk I” and “Minsk II”, although the second text was expressly conceived as a “package of measures” to implement previous agreements.

Rice and Fertilizer are the Linchpins of Global Food Insecurity


From Bloomberg last week: India’s restrictions on rice exports have already sent ripples around the world. Those curbs may now be extended, threatening to keep food inflation in many countries higher for longer. The world’s top shipper started restricting sales of key varieties last year to help keep local food prices in check ahead of national elections. The impact of existing measures is evident in the high cost of the staple that’s vital to the diets of billions of people in Asia and Africa — home to some of the world’s poorest countries. Benchmark Asian prices are near a 15-year high. India’s exports of the grain to its major markets have slumped from usual levels, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, according to recent analysis from the International Food Policy Research Institute.

For example, in the four months through November, India’s exports to West Africa slid some 54% from a year earlier. Shipments to East Africa and Central Africa dropped 58% and 80%, respectively, the Washington-based IFPRI said in a note. “Rice-importing countries in sub-Saharan Africa have felt the greatest impacts, scrambling to find alternative sources,” said the note’s authors Joe Glauber and Abdullah Mamun.

About half of the global population relies on rice for daily diets. The key question now is how long India’s export curbs will remain in place. If exports continue at their current sluggish pace beyond India’s elections in the coming months, it will likely result in higher prices and more pressure on rice-importing nations, the IFPRI warns.

“…restrictions have tempered cost increases at home, but they’ve hurt vulnerable importing nations, pushing the global price to a 15-year high and raising the possibility of social unrest in reliant regions such as Africa.”

Back in November, Bloomberg provided a detailed report of the on the ground conditions in India India’s farm sector is fraying. That’s bad news for its 1.4 billion people, for tens of millions of cultivators, for a government seeking reelection — and for global food supplies. The world’s most populous nation is today a leading producer of rice, wheat, milk, sugar and more. But its agricultural sector still leans heavily on ill-equipped smallholders. Farm plots have been shrinking for decades, infrastructure remains rickety and climate change is only bringing more disruption.

Ukraine Can No Longer Win

Joe Buccino

Reassessing American Aid After Avdiivka

As the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of the country to its west nears and the latest aid package for Ukraine stalls in Congress, we must be clear-eyed about the future: there is no path for Ukraine to win this war. American support will not change this reality.

Early Success: Ukraine Defies Expectations

Two years ago, the Ukrainian Armed Forces defied expectations immediately. Days before Russia's massive combined arms incursion at dawn on February 24, 2022, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley spoke for the U.S. military when he predicted to Congress that Kyiv would fall within 72 hours. Many military analysts similarly predicted the Russian Armed Forces would quickly route the overmatched Ukrainian Armed Forces. American leaders encouraged Zelensky to leave the country lest Russian troops assassinate him.

These projections of immediate success for Russia misread the progress Ukrainian troops have made in capability and readiness since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. They also overestimated the Russian forces' readiness, air superiority, and command cohesion.

Against All Odds: Unrealistic Expectations

One year ago, the people of Ukraine saw encouraging signs in their gruesome war with Russia from almost every corner. A year into Russia's massive invasion, Ukrainian forces were bloodied but held on to territory in the east in defiance of most expectations. Successful counteroffensives allowed Ukraine to regain territory in the south. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy defiantly declared the coming year one of "our invincibility." American aid into the country offered a king's ransom in artillery and anti-tank weapons through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, and the flow seemed unceasing. Inspired by Ukraine's stunning success against the much larger and more advanced military, the West galvanized behind Volodymyr Zelensky

How Russia, Ukraine’s militaries stack up after two years of war : Analysis

Alex Gatopoulos

Ukraine has been fighting Russia for two years to liberate its lands and drive Russia back – but supply, tactics and the flat terrain have meant that the much-vaunted Ukrainian counteroffensive of last year has produced few tangible results.

In the wide-open agricultural land of southern Ukraine, there is not much in the way of cover for an attacking force.

Russia had months to prepare its defences, and built them in depth.

Row after row of trenches, anti-tank obstacles, ditches and reinforced bunkers have formed a barrier, often kilometres deep, effectively containing Ukrainian forces as they have repeatedly tried to break through into the open country beyond, with little success.

The counteroffensive has bogged down into slow, attritional warfare, as Russia’s strategy of making Ukraine pay for every metre it tries to take is showing signs of succeeding.

The quality of Russia’s soldiers may be questionable, but they are still able to slow down Ukrainian advances, protected in fortified dugouts, along with the help of surveillance drones that stop Ukraine’s military from springing surprise attacks on them.

Even so, a mixture of new and old weaponry has changed the dynamics of the modern battlefield and the war fought in Ukraine.

Some new tactics are being developed and successful weapons systems have been brought into play as old ones, such as the tank, have been kept on.

Yet despite all the 21st-century innovations, the battlefields of southern Ukraine are starting to take on an eerie World War I dynamic. A general from a century ago would have no problem understanding the brutal slog of this conflict.

Russian Hackers Target Ukraine with Disinformation and Credential-Harvesting Attacks

Cybersecurity researchers have unearthed a new influence operation targeting Ukraine that leverages spam emails to propagate war-related disinformation.

The activity has been linked to Russia-aligned threat actors by Slovak cybersecurity company ESET, which also identified a spear-phishing campaign aimed at a Ukrainian defense company in October 2023 and a European Union agency in November 2023 with an aim to harvest Microsoft login credentials using fake landing pages.

Operation Texonto, as the entire campaign has been codenamed, has not been attributed to a specific threat actor, although some elements of it, particularly the spear-phishing attacks, overlap with COLDRIVER, which has a history of harvesting credentials via bogus sign-in pages.

The disinformation operation took place over two waves in November and December 2023, with the email messages bearing PDF attachments and content related to heating interruptions, drug shortages, and food shortages.

The November wave targeted no less than a few hundred recipients in Ukraine, including the government, energy companies, and individuals. It's currently not known how the target list was created.

"What's interesting to note is that the email was sent from a domain masquerading as the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine, while the content is about drug shortages and the PDF is misusing the logo of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine," ESET said in a report shared with The Hacker News.

"It is possibly a mistake from the attackers or, at least, shows they did not care about all details."

The Ukraine War at two years: By the numbers

Two years ago on Feb. 24, 2022, the world watched as Russian tanks rolled into the outskirts of Kyiv and missiles struck the capital city.

Contrary to initial predictions, Kyiv never fell, but the country today remains embroiled in conflict. The front line holds in the southeastern region of the country, with contested areas largely focused on the Russian-speaking Donbas and port cities around the Black Sea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, having recognized the Russian-occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent days before the invasion, has from the beginning declared the war a “special military operation” to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine. His goals have alternated, however, between existential — bringing all of Ukraine into the influence of Russia — and strategic — laying claim to only those Russian-speaking areas in the east and south of the country.

It is in the latter that Russia has been much more successful. Yet after two winters of brutal fighting and hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides, as of the end of 2023 Russia only laid claim to 18% of Ukraine’s territory, as compared to 7% on the eve of the war and 27% in the weeks after the invasion.

Meanwhile, the West’s coffers have been opened — and, as some say, drained — to help Ukraine’s government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, defend itself against Moscow.

Regardless, Ukraine’s military forces have been wholly depleted as they compete with a much more resourced and populous Russia. While Ukraine’s military campaign was able to take advantage of Russian tactical mistakes in the first year, its much-heralded counteroffensive in 2023 failed to provide the boost needed not only to rid the country of the Russian occupation, but also to put Kyiv in the best position to call for terms.

The Plight of Nagorno-Karabakh

James Cowan

It was a deadly accident in the rugged Caucasus mountain region south of Russia.  

After September’s lightning incursions by the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan into the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, over 100,000 Karabakhi Armenians were fleeing their homes towards the safety of neighboring Armenia.  

There was only one road out and that was now packed with vehicles – a traffic jam from hell. Among those in the bumper-to-bumper queue were nearly 100 employees of the HALO Trust, the landmine clearance charity I head, and who were fleeing with their families.

As the traffic jam out of Nagorno-Karabakh shuddered once again to a halt, a woman traveling in an SUV got out of the back door to get some air.   

Behind the car was a truck. Its driver stepped out of his cab. Somehow, his handbrake disengaged, and the truck rolled forward. The woman was crushed and died. 

Also in the car were the woman’s husband, a senior HALO deminer, and their two children. Our colleague had to put his children in another car and drive the dead body of his wife into Armenia.  

Stories of loss and tragedy were all too common as a whole population fled, with reports of hundreds dead or injured following an explosion at a fuel depot near the largest city, Stepanakert. Most of the people in the huge column of vehicles were also hungry and exhausted. For almost a year, Nagorno-Karabakh had been blockaded. Grocery shops had empty shelves and a lack of fuel meant vital farm machinery was idle; crops were rotting in the fields. People had to queue for many hours to get the simplest of things such as bread. 

Politics Can’t Stop at the Water’s Edge

Elizabeth N. Saunders

American politicians and analysts have long argued that it is dangerous to politicize U.S. foreign policy and national security. “U.S. foreign policy is stronger when it enjoys bipartisan support,” wrote Democratic Senator Chris Coons in a 2020 Foreign Affairs article. “For the United States to play a steady, stabilizing role in world affairs, its allies and adversaries must know that its government speaks with one voice and that its policies won’t shift dramatically with changing domestic political winds.” Following the 2016 election, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, and Nancy Lindborg, the president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, argued that a “bipartisan approach to foreign policy is achievable and remains essential for our security.” Such statements invoke the words of U.S. Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, who shaped the 1948 Republican Party platform with a call for Democrats to “join us under the next Republican Administration in stopping partisan politics at the water’s edge.”

But it would be a mistake to yearn for a foreign policy devoid of politics. After all, national security has always been political. George Washington’s administration engaged in spirited debates at home about how the United States should conduct itself in the world. Republicans and Democrats sparred over whether the United States should enter World War I and whether it should join the League of Nations afterward. Before 1941, the parties debated whether the United States ought to aid the United Kingdom in its fight against the Nazis. And during the Cold War, politicians argued intensely over how best to contain the Soviet Union. As in any democracy, politics is a natural part of how the U.S. government makes foreign policy choices.

Most of this politicking happens at the elite level, and it includes what Americans might consider unseemly behavior when applied to national security—bargaining, horse-trading, and careerism. In fact, elected officials frequently accuse their opponents of playing politics with national security. But these political tools are simply how policy gets made. When the Red Scare engulfed the State Department’s China specialists in the early 1950s, for example, the Truman administration asked Vandenberg for help in appointing a Republican adviser to provide cover for the administration’s embattled Asia policy. Truman also knew he would need Republican votes for his military rearmament program in Europe. 

America on autopilot to self-inflicted destruction


At a recent hearing in the US Senate, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas apparently had trouble understanding that a citizen of Singapore can look like a Chinese, talk like a Chinese and yet not be a member of the Communist Party of China. In Cotton’s questioning of Chew Shou Zi, the chief executive of TikTok, even the fact that Chew’s wife and children are American citizens seemed suspicious to him.

This was all serious stuff for Cotton and his fellow senators as they probed in the name of safeguarding America’s national security against the looming threat of China. Apparently, Cotton’s Harvard education did not tell him that Singapore is thousands of kilometers from Beijing and is a sovereign nation independent of China. Or maybe he was just grandstanding to cater to the lowbrow mindset of his constituents.

At around the same time, the South China Morning Post reported that Chinese scientists had developed a “game-changing military surveillance device for electronic warfare.” In effect, the paper said, their breakthrough will enable the People’s Liberation Army to find and pinpoint the quadrants of a military target in real time with no place to hide.

This is the latest of a series of technological advances China has made in military arms that indicate it has either caught up with or surpassed the US in weapons development. Others include hypersonic missiles, stealth fighters and drones, advanced launch system on aircraft carriers, and the capacity to build many more naval vessels than the US.

While the US has been busy hunting for spies from the “whole of China” under every bed, China has been investing in hardware and software developments to neutralize American military superiority.

Each time, as China develops a counter to America’s advanced weaponry, this simply feeds US paranoia about China’s threat and causes the Pentagon gnomes to go scurrying for more budget allocations to develop the next-generation killing machine. Thus, you top me and then I will top you for topping me, and the vicious circle goes on.

Open source vs closed source AI: What’s the difference and why does it matter?

Pascale Davies

The battle between generative artificial intelligence (AI) companies is underway with two competing camps: open source software versus closed source.

Key to the debate is how the tech is democratised, but safety and profit take precedence in the dispute.

Generally speaking, open-source software is where the source code is available to everyone in the public domain to use, modify, and distribute. It encourages creativity and innovation as developers can build on AI algorithms and pre-trained models to alter their own products and tools.

Closed source AI, on the other hand, means the source code is restricted to private use and can not be altered or built upon by users; only the company that owns it can. But funding these open-source companies is easier, meaning that they have greater capital to innovate.

The definition of what makes a company open-source is also not that clear-cut.

The definition of open source technology

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is the steward of the definition of open source technology.

It states that “open source doesn’t just mean access to the source code,” and that it must comply with 10 criteria, including having a well-publicised means of obtaining the source code at a reasonable cost or for free, not being discriminatory, and the license not restricting other software.

But complying with all of the OSI’s requirements is a rarity and most open source companies are only partly open source, such as the French AI champion Mistral. It open sources its model weights - the numerical parameters that influence how an AI model performs - but not the data or training process.

Pentagon explores military uses of large language models

Eva Dou, Nitasha Tiku and Gerrit De Vynck

After the initial delight around the world over the advent of ChatGPT and AI image generators, government officials have begun worrying about the darker ways they could be used. On Tuesday, the Pentagon began meetings with tech industry leaders to accelerate the discovery and implementation of the most useful military applications.

The consensus: Emerging artificial intelligence technology could be a game changer for the military, but it needs intensive testing to ensure it works reliably and that there aren’t vulnerabilities that could be exploited by adversaries.

Craig Martell, head of the Pentagon’s Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office, or CDAO, told a packed ballroom at the Washington Hilton that his team was trying to balance speed with caution in implementing cutting-edge AI technologies, as he opened a four-day symposium on the topic.

“Everybody wants to be data-driven,” Martell said. “Everybody wants it so badly that they are willing to believe in magic.”

The ability of large language models, or LLMs, such as ChatGPT to review gargantuan troves of information within seconds and crystallize it into a few key points suggests alluring possibilities for militaries and intelligence agencies, which have been grappling with how to sift through the ever-growing oceans of raw intelligence available in the digital age.

“The flow of information into an individual, especially in high-activity environments, is huge,” U.S. Navy Capt. M. Xavier Lugo, mission commander of the recently formed generative AI task force at the CDAO, said at the symposium. “Having reliable summarization techniques that can help us manage that information is crucial.”

Microsoft and OpenAI Issue a Stark Report and a $10M Bounty from the State Department


Competing cyber capabilities (on a spectrum from nation-state to non-state actors alike) and cyber-based conflict will continue to restructure, reformulate, and transform the very essence of what power, prestige, international governance, and geopolitical strategy are in the 21st century – and large language models are the new force multiplier. Microsoft and OpenAI have quantified the breadth and scope of this new threat vector – including the major state sponsored actors. Meanwhile, the State Department goes with an old school bounty to counter the ransomware threat.

“The prolific threat group and its affiliates are behind some of the most high-profile attacks in the last year.
  • ”The State Department offered up to a $10 million reward for information about the identity or location of leaders affiliated with the AlphV ransomware group. The bounty includes a reward up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of anyone participating in a ransomware attack using the AlphV variant, the agency said Thursday.
  • The FBI and international law enforcement agencies disrupted the prolific ransomware group’s infrastructure in December, but the group regenerated itself mere hours later and continues naming new victims on its data leak site.
  • The State Department said the reward is complementary to law enforcement’s disruption campaign against AlphV. The ransomware group, also known as BlackCat, has compromised more than 1,000 entities and received nearly $300 million in ransom payments as of September, according to the FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

“Threat groups linked to Russia, China, North Korea and Iran were using AI in preparation for potential early stage hacking campaigns.”