September 2023 Fletcher Eurasia Club Lunch Seminars 

By Nayan Seth, MGA 2024 Candidate, The Fletcher School

The Future of Western Support for Ukraine 

As the Russia-Ukraine war grinds on, there have been concerns over the longevity of military and economic support from Western countries to Ukraine. 

On September 12, 2023, the Russia and Eurasia Program and Eurasia Club at The Fletcher School organized their open house to discuss the state of the war and the future of Western support for Ukraine.

Professor Daniel Drezner, who serves as Co-Director of the program and teaches economic statecraft, U.S. Grand Strategy, global political economy, and power in world politics at Fletcher, shared his thoughts on the Ukrainian gains in the war against Russia and the assurances of Western support in future. 

Calling the response of the West to the Russian invasion of Ukraine “unprecedented,” Drezner argued that the U.S. anticipated Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and that helped build consensus with its allies. 

“The United States knew this was coming six months out; the United States managed to persuade most of the Europeans, a lot of European elites.”

Drezner also evaluated the success of the U.S. grand strategy in Ukraine with respect to its European allies, asserting that the war “fundamentally altered how Europe thinks about the world.”

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused them to completely rethink that to the point where Putin had been holding the energy weapon, as a sort of force tool over Western Europe. And that no longer exists. And that’s a significant strategic gain for the United States,” Drezner said. 

But, he believes, “for a Grand Strategy to be sustainable, it has to be durable.” And the U.S. presidential election in 2024 remains a key determining factor. “So, the wildcard in all this is, to what extent is, what is the likelihood that Donald Trump wins re-election again in 2024.”  

Former U.S. president Donald Trump has claimed, on multiple occasions, that he would end the war in 24 hours, without providing a coherent roadmap.

According to Drezner, some of the European allies’ recent push to support Ukrainian membership in NATO stems from their uneasiness about Trump’s return to the White House. “I think, is one of the reasons why you’re seeing movements from Eastern European countries from France, to maybe try to admit Ukraine in NATO sooner rather than later. Because if you get Ukraine in NATO, Trump in theory could pull out of NATO, but you know, the important thing is, it makes it that much harder for him to do,” Drezner said.

He also spoke about China’s dilemma over the war in Ukraine. “China’s stuck in a situation where they need to at least offer Russia rhetorical support, but at the same time, you know, they don’t want it to escalate,” Drezner said.

On the question of any possibility of negotiations to end the war, Drezner was not particularly optimistic. “The problem is that both sides continue to have a plausible theory of victory. Until one side recognizes that they’re not going to win, there is no negotiation to be had.”

Analyzing U.S. Cybersecurity Support to Ukraine 

As Ukraine continues its counteroffensive to recapture the annexed territory from Russia, there is another war that is being fought in cyberspace. And here too, Ukraine is holding the fort with U.S. assistance. 

On September 26, 2023, as part of the Fletcher Eurasia Club lunch seminar series, Professor Josephine Wolff, who teaches cybersecurity policy at Fletcher, shared her insights about U.S. assistance to enhance Ukrainian cybersecurity before and during the Russian invasion.

Wolff highlighted the lesser-known aspect of the war in Ukraine, sharing how the Biden administration sent teams of experts to Ukraine to bolster its cyber defenses. “There are teams from the Department of Defence that go over to Ukraine, they’re also teams from the Department of Homeland Security that go over Ukraine, both in the months leading up to the war, and during the war.”

She revealed that the U.S. teams worked on various pieces of the Ukrainian cyber defense systems and dealt with several weaknesses in its critical infrastructure, especially its power grid, which on previous occasions was targeted by Russian hackers. “The Ukrainian critical infrastructure has held up much better than it did in 2015, 2016, and 2017 to cyber attacks from Russia.”

She argued that the Russian malware attacks have been “much less impressive” during the course of the war. “Russia does not have a lot of malware going throughout the course of 2022. They have a few pieces and they just keep sending it over and over again to different targets.” 

She further expanded, “I think it’s pretty fair to say, not just sort of Russia didn’t prepare well in cyber for this war, but they don’t have people working on it actively who really know what they’re doing.”

Focusing on public messaging, she explained the U.S. strategy of publicizing security support to Ukraine and indicating to other countries that the U.S. government was “really trying to help.” 

“I think one of the reasons you’ve seen so much coverage of the help that they provided to Ukraine, it’s a little bit of a PR effort for the US as well to try and signal to other countries. We (the U.S. government) really do care a lot about securing infrastructure all over the world. And this is a sort of effective way of sending that message.”

On the question of similarities and differences between the Russian and Chinese cyber operations, Wolff said that the Chinese “almost entirely focus on espionage.” 

“China has never tried to shut down somebody’s power system, China has never even really tried to disrupt operations in any very significant way. So their skill set is much more geared towards how you infiltrate a system and not wipe everything on that computer, which is kind of a very blunt tool, but instead, maintain that access, evade detection, and keep exfiltrating data for as long as possible.”  


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