Dr. Julien Nocetti is a senior associate fellow at IFRI (French Institute for International Relations) and an affiliate researcher at GEODE Centre (Geopolitics of the Datasphere – University Paris 8). He also heads the Chair in Cyber risk governance at Rennes School of Business. Julien was previously an associate professor in International Relations and Strategic Studies at Saint-Cyr Military Academy between 2019-2023, and a research fellow at IFRI between 2009-2019. His expertise deals with the intersection between technology and global politics, most particularly cyber conflict, information warfare, and the geopolitics of artificial intelligence. He is also a specialist in Russia’s foreign and cyber policies. He is completing a book on the geopolitics of tech platforms.
Brothers in (digital) arms? Assessing the U.S. tech platforms’ assistance to Ukraine’s cyber resilience
The assistance of major tech companies to the benefit of Ukraine has remained in the background in the study of the international and strategic relations of the Ukrainian war. Among these private players, the major American technology platforms stand out both in terms of the scale and the effects of their support for Kyiv. Beyond the well-known GAFAM (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft), the assistance of Elon Musk’s Starlink, and of Palantir, deserve careful observation as these equipments have become de facto military assets. Big Tech support has materialized in three main ways, demonstrating the intertwining scales of the Ukrainian conflict. First, some Big Tech have distinguished themselves by contributing to the remediation and prevention of certain cyberattacks suffered by Ukrainian organizations. Ever since the Russian invasion, Microsoft and Google have played a central role in this. Second, Big Tech has supported the Ukrainian state's "information warfare" effort, most often with a view to preventing the dissemination of false information or, at the very least, the virality of the Kremlin’s rhetoric and its information nebula. Third, US platforms have mostly followed the sanctions adopted against Russia since February 2022; this approach illustrates the accelerated dismantling of the digital interdependencies that had been woven between global tech and Russia since the late 1990s. Mainly defensive, the assistance of Big Tech signifies an evolution of their stance in a war. Before February 2022, the major platforms showed little ability to quickly adapt to a context of war: they rather avoided taking a (firm) stance during the main conflicts that marked the 2010s (Ukraine, Syria, Myanmar, etc.). This paper seeks to examine the sources of Big Tech’s involvement in Ukraine in order to distinguish more precisely the issues and the limits of the assistance provided by these actors to a party in conflict.