Nothing Scares the PRC More Than a Russian Defeat in Ukraine


By: Jen Easterly, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency

Last month, Ambassador-At-Large for Cyber and Digital Policy Nate Fick and I traveled to Kyiv for the International Cyber Resilience Forum at the invitation of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council. As the leader of America’s cyber defense agency and America’s top tech diplomat, it was an important opportunity to show our unified support for the defense of global cyberspace. In meetings with key leaders across the Ukrainian government, we saw firsthand the spirit of resilience, the bravery of the Ukrainian people, the power of innovation, and most clearly—the absolute criticality of continued U.S. support for the defense of Ukraine.

We stand at a critical juncture concerning Congressional funding for Ukraine’s defense. Now more than two years after Russia’s full-scale invasion and even despite recent losses on the battlefield, Ukraine has accomplished what few expected at the outset of this conflict, in no small part due to U.S. assistance. Despite being outnumbered according to nearly every meaningful metric—and even with recent setbacks on the battlefield—Ukraine has retained the vast majority of territory it controlled two years ago. Russia – a nuclear power covering 40 percent of European soil – has lost 87 percent of the number of active-duty ground troops it had prior to the invasion, and two-thirds of its pre-invasion tanks. Ukraine has largely withstood the onslaught, while galvanizing global support, advancing its European integration, strengthening NATO, and showcasing an array of security-related technology innovations. Russia, on the other hand, is isolated, and capable of transactional relationships with only the world's most irresponsible actors.

Those relationships, however, especially on technology issues among Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, are alarming. We face a world increasingly at war where seemingly disparate conflicts—from Ukraine to the Korean Peninsula, from the Red Sea to the Taiwan Straits—include a strengthening alignment of cyber and technology collaboration among the United States’ adversaries and competitors. Thus, U.S. support for Ukraine is not only principled support for the rules-based international order or proof that the United States honors commitments to its allies. Our support for Ukraine is inextricably linked to U.S. national security and the security of our homeland.

This is true on many levels, but in particular in cyberspace where the digital age has largely dissolved physical barriers that once shielded us, making our critical infrastructure, the backbone of our society, vulnerable to attacks from afar. We’ve witnessed a barrage of cyber-attacks, and of course kinetic attacks, by Russia on Ukraine’s infrastructure, attacks which Ukraine has met with impressive resilience. At the same time, we know that China—which has pledged a “no-limits” partnership with Russia—has been burrowing deep into our own critical infrastructure, potentially preparing to launch destructive cyber-attacks in the event of a major conflict. This is a world where such a conflict, halfway across the planet, could well endanger the lives of Americans here at home through disruption of pipelines, pollution of our water systems, severing of our communications, and crippling of our transportation nodes—all to incite chaos and panic and deter our ability to marshal military might and citizen will.

In this context, the war in Ukraine is not an isolated event but a potential preview of destructive cyber attacks the U.S. and our allies could face elsewhere, and what we could face here at home at the same time. A failure to defend Ukraine will not just empower Vladimir Putin and strengthen the Sino-Russian partnership and a global order that favors autocracy over democracy; a failure to defend Ukraine is a failure to deter other states with territorial or ideological ambitions, including China.

The PRC is watching Ukraine closely, with an eye towards Taiwan. As Congress considers providing additional support to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, we must remember that the fight in Ukraine is related to the conflict in the Middle East, and to stability in East Asia. Continued western support to Ukraine can serve as a strong deterrent. Now is not the moment to pause or to dither – now is the time to help Ukraine finish the fight.