As Ukraine prepares for a renewed Russian assault in the eastern part of the country, it is worth taking stock of how the Kremlin’s forces came unglued despite expectations to the contrary. When a missile bombardment signalled the start of the assault on Ukraine on February 24, the prediction was Russian tanks would follow swiftly, and Kyiv would fall in a matter of weeks. The Russian advance, experts anticipated, would be supported by air cover, protected against the Ukrainian air force by the sophisticated S-400 surface-to-air missile system, and complemented by the Krasukha electronic warfare system, which would counter drones. Now, seven weeks later, predictions of a swift and decisive victory have turned to dust. Northern Ukraine has become a graveyard for Russian armour, and many of the fearsome Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) have been rendered combat ineffective. The number of Russian troops killed in action has been estimated to be as high as 10,000 or more. Zelensky cites Korean war in appeal to Seoul to send anti-aircraft weapons When Moscow pulled its troops from the north, its diplomats called the move “a concession to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiation” over a ceasefire. In reality, it was a shallow attempt to camouflage what was an abysmal retreat. Many experts have analysed the conventional war, and how and why Ukrainian forces managed to stave off the expected rout. But perhaps what is much more interesting is Kyiv’s successes in the information sphere – and a preview of what is to come in future conflicts. The Ukraine war is not the first conflict in which data recorded on smartphones, CCTV networks, or even dashcams have been weaponised. In 2013, the Middle East offered a glimpse of what was coming, with Islamic State using commercial drones for advanced scouting and propaganda. In 2020, similar means were used in the 44-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh to document the pummelling of armour by drones. Japan grapples with higher energy bills as war forces Russia ties rethink In Ukraine, the game has been upped. People around the world can get live-streams from the frontline, on everything from apartment security cameras showing Russian paratroopers arresting civilians to commercial drone footage of a lonely Ukrainian tank ambushing an entire Russian armoured convoy. Specially-created Telegram channels, meanwhile, provide subscribers with free, gruesome daily footage and images of dead Russian soldiers, surrendering conscripts, and destroyed equipment. But all this begs the question: How much of what we are seeing is true? Or is this new front providing a false perception of control and understanding of the narrative? How can different camera angles skew reality? One widely-viewed video highlights the problems inherent in an age of constant, unfiltered access – and reach – of new media. In the early days of the conflict, a Ukrainian citizen filmed from her apartment a Strela, a Russian surface-to-air missile launcher, deliberately changing lanes at high speed to crush a civilian vehicle. From her point of view, it appeared very clear that the armoured vehicle’s crew had murderous intentions. But another video that surfaced just a few days later presented a different narrative. This video appeared to show the armoured vehicle taking evasive action after the convoy it was part of was ambushed. A third narrative highlighted the fact both the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces use the exact same equipment, calling into question whether the action was deliberate, part of a manoeuvre, or staged to fit the narrative of the invader as a barbaric force with no regard for civilian life. The original video garnered more than 1.3 million videos in a matter of days. Whatever the case may be, it appears that, just as it is on the real battlefield, Moscow is using an outdated playbook to run its information and cyber ops. Thai royalists defend Putin as pro-democracy camp condemns war One noteworthy example is the video of a precision munitions strike on the TV Tower in Kyiv at the beginning of the conflict. In battles past, destroying media communications equipment, or the enemy’s narrative, was an effective tactic. Who can forget “Baghdad Bob”, who swore Iraq was on the verge of victory against American invaders as the sound of US munitions hitting targets nearby provided a background soundtrack? In Ukraine, the attacks on communications infrastructure have had little effect on the battle for information supremacy. Instead, new media champions – Elon Musk’s provision of his Starlink platform to Ukraine, for instance – have held sway. Wearable technology is also upending the war. Looting is the norm during wartime. Unfortunately for Russian soldiers, their taste for expensive mobile phones is proving their undoing: the phones contain commercial tracking technologies, turning thieves into targets in double-quick time. Everyday devices that one can order from the nearest Apple Store or Amazon are making Clausewitz’s fog of war ever more impenetrable. Woman raped by Russian soldiers says ‘I don’t want to live’ This phenomenon raises another compelling question: What is the legal status of civilians who use everyday technology to collect data that is useful for the Ukrainian military’s targeting operations? Can a civilian drone pilot scouting for enemy vehicles be considered a legitimate target? Military equipment can easily track and take out such an operator. Does that constitute a war crime? The quantity of daily data emerging from Ukraine calls for a new legal paradigm. As war crimes investigations gather pace, regulators will have to grapple with the questions posed by users of new civilian technologies. Unfortunately, with the war set to enter a new, bloodier phase, there will be no shortage of harrowing case studies for investigators to sift through. Dr Alessandro Arduino, the Principal Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, specialises in evolving forms of warfare.