Fedorov, for his part, says Russia “can spin this whatever way they want. But the fact of the matter is, there are tens of thousands of Russians dying in Ukraine, and we are just providing this information to their families because that serves, among other things, a humanitarian purpose.”
There is a propaganda element to Kyiv’s use of face recognition technology as well.
“This facial recognition plays to our, let’s say, to our advantage in the information space,” Fedorov says. Moscow has projected the image of a professional and volunteer fighting force. “We’re trying to say that, for example, Russia is sending conscripts … we are proving that and justifying that with a lot of factual information. We can give you a list of hundreds of people who are 18 and 19 years old, with their names and with their birth dates and how and where specifically, they were conscripted. So that gives some substance to our claims.”
Fedorov says the utility goes beyond just identifying the dead.
“One interesting case study of how we used Clearview AI,” Fedorov says. “There was a man who was found in a Ukrainian hospital, claiming that he was a Ukrainian soldier who suffered from shell shock or some kind of trauma and that he forgot everything. And he was claiming that he was Ukrainian. So the doctor sent the picture to us, and we were able to ID him in a matter of minutes. We found his social network profile, and we established that he was Russian and, of course, he was brought to responsibility.”
Ukrainian officials have said that the frequency of Russian cyberattacks tripled immediately prior to the war, and they have aggressively targeted critical infrastructure since the war began.
But Viktor Zhora, deputy head of Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection, says Moscow may have maxed out its ability to launch attacks. “Russian cyber operations likely reached their full potential,” he says.
Zhora told WIRED that years of training, exercises, and cooperation with NATO have made Ukraine far more resilient to cyberattacks. Some attacks are easier to defend against than others—as we spoke, Zhora said he was monitoring an active attack on the state administration of Lviv, which had been publicly announced by Russia hours earlier.
But Zhora stresses that while it is wrong to overestimate how powerful Russia’s cyber capabilities are, it would also be wrong to underestimate its more “sophisticated” operations. “We should continue to observe their potential, like Sandworm, like a Fancy Bear, like Gamaredon, many other groups that are still active, and still very dangerous,” he says, referring to a number of Russian government hacker groups.
Brandon Valeriano, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in cyber operations, says offensive cyber operations don’t mesh well with traditional, kinetic warfare. At best, he says, “they’re enabling, they’re complimentary … they don’t transform it.”
Valeriano points to a slowdown in the tempo of Russian-backed cyberattacks targeting the United States as evidence that Moscow’s capacity isn’t as expansive as some have assessed. “They’re not organized for offensive cyber operations in the way that we think they are,” he says.