Earlier this year, China and Russia declared their friendship has “no limits” as they strengthened their alliance. Some experts have stated that Russia actually delayed their invasion of Ukraine so it would not interfere with the Beijing Olympics. Now, the two countries are echoing the same warning to the United States when it comes to their support of Ukraine in cyber warfare. Russia has launched a massive cyber campaign against Ukraine. Although attacks have increased during Russia’s invasion, Ukraine has been defending itself from Russian cyber operations for years. The United States has publicly stated they will support Ukraine by arming the country and helping them defend against cyber-attacks, although they have promised not to directly engage Russian forces. China and Russia are now questioning the actions of the United States and warning them of potential consequences. In a foreign affairs briefing, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry Zhao Lijian stated, “The US needs to explain to the international community how these ‘hacking operations’ are consistent with its professed position of not engaging directly in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.” Zhao also alluded to the idea that these actions could eventually lead to a kinetic or nuclear conflict with the United States. The day after the comments were made by Zhao, the director of the Department of International Information Security of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia said, “Militarization of the information space by the West and attempts to turn it into an arena of interstate confrontation have greatly increased the threat of a direct military clash with unpredictable consequences.” Although China has never condemned the invasion of Ukraine, they have been relatively quiet publicly until now. It is no surprise China supports Russia and is watching closely to gather intelligence on U.S. cyber capabilities as they are deployed in support of the Ukraine.
These will likely not be the last statements made from Russian and Chinese officials condemning U.S. cyber operations in Ukraine. Neither country has commented on the onslaught of cyber operations launched at Ukraine prior to Russia’s invasion, or the reported war crimes that have taken place by Russian soldiers in Ukraine. China’s warning of a kinetic war shows that Russia vastly underestimated Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, both from a kinetic war and in the cyber domain. It appears Russia also underestimated the amount of global support Ukraine would receive and is now leveraging its alliance with China in an attempt to slow down cyber-attacks from western countries. This situation will continue to evolve until Russia withdrawals from Ukraine. Analysts will continue to follow the situation to see if China will further involve itself in support of Russia by carrying out an attack of their own, or if Russia will launch a cyber-attack against U.S. critical infrastructure to prevent further support of Ukraine. If either country takes action, it will then be up to the United States and other western allies to decide how respond or deescalate the conflict.