A global conflict between the great powers of the world is already "in full swing,” according to a senior Russian diplomat, and it's happening in cyberspace.

"The war [in cyberspace] is underway and unfolding very intensively,” the Russian Foreign Ministry’s international information security director, Alexander Krutskikh, told a political science conference on Thursday. “The media rightly says that this [is] a Third World War, and what matters now is to calculate the damage and determine who will lose it in the end and what shape the world will eventually acquire as a result of this war.”

Russian cyberattackers have enjoyed some high-profile successes against U.S. targets in recent years, according to U.S. intelligence officials, including the 2020 SolarWinds breach, which left thousands of entities vulnerable to Russian cyberspies for months. President Joe Biden threatened to retaliate against Russia’s energy sector if so-called ransomware attacks against American critical infrastructure continue, but Krutskikh’s comments foreground cyberconflict as a regular feature of geopolitical tensions.

“No matter how hard we may try to say that all this is disguised and that it isn’t that war or this war, in actual fact, military activities in cyberspace are in full swing,” said Krutskikh, a special adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin.


A public relations struggle between Russian and Western officials has intensified in recent weeks, as Ukrainians warn that the Kremlin is preparing to expand the war in the eastern part of their country and Russian envoys maintain that it is NATO creating the potential for conflict.

“The only way to resolve the situation is to jointly develop long-term agreements that would prevent NATO’s further expansion to the east and the deployment of weapons systems that threaten us in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said earlier this month.

Putin and other Russian officials maintain that the conflict in Ukraine is a civil war between the central government in Kyiv and ethnic Russians who, in Moscow’s telling, were driven by Ukrainian persecution to establish the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian and NATO officials maintain that Russia invaded those regions after annexing Crimea, an account fortified by a new verdict in a criminal case involving a Russian civilian in the military nutrition industry.

“This food was intended to be sent to military units of the Russian Armed Forces stationed on the territory of the DNR and LNR,” a Russian court noted in a verdict convicting the executive of fraud.

That statement was spotted by the Moscow Times, which noted that “the ruling was no longer visible on the court's website as of Thursday afternoon.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s top lieutenant for European and Eurasian affairs, Assistant Secretary Karen Donfried, traveled to Moscow this week, and Russian officials reiterated their demand for “security guarantees in the context of the persistent attempts by the U.S. and NATO to change the European military and political situation in their favor” following a Wednesday meeting with Donfried.

American foreign policymakers are attempting to deter another invasion of Ukraine by threatening to impose “devastating economic sanctions” on Russia.

“The Russian banking sector would be wiped out,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said earlier this month. “Sovereign debt would be blocked. Russia would be removed from the SWIFT payment system ... What is being discussed is at the maximum end of that spectrum, or as I have called it, the mother of all sanctions.”

Krutskikh, the information security director, cited that threat in the course of his discussion of the ongoing cyberstruggle.

"When we face threats of being disconnected from SWIFT, from financial flows, those not being on the scale of ordinary actions, this is also an issue of national security,” he said, per state media. “In other words, this technology has involved certain issues in the questions of war and peace probably for the first time in recent years.”

And Krutskikh implied that unless political analysts figure out “how to get out of this situation,” such digital dangers could move into the physical world with existential consequences.


“Otherwise, humanity will destroy itself in line with the predictions of our great forefathers,” he said.