The UK has pledged more than £5m of funding to Georgia to support the county’s cyber defences against Russia during the conflict in Ukraine.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the move today at the Nato Leaders’ Summit in Madrid. Russia is likely to view this intervention from the UK, as well as moves by the other Nato nations to assist Georgia, as aggressive, an analyst told Tech Monitor.
The announcement came on the same day as Georgia’s prime minister Irakli Garibashvili and Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the summit. The UK will provide funding to help Georgia deliver its national cybersecurity strategy, while British experts will also support the implementation of the strategy. Nato countries are expected to also provide backing for Georgia in the form of defence training.
“The people of Georgia live every day on the frontline of Russian aggression,” PM Johnson said in his speech to the summit. “Putin cannot be allowed to use Georgia’s sovereign institutions to sharpen the knife of his cyber capability.
“The support announced today will protect not just Georgia, but also the UK and all other free democracies threatened by Russian hostility.”
UK cybersecurity support for Georgia
The UK’s support for Georgia against Russian aggression pre-dates the current conflict. In February 2020, the then-defence secretary Dominic Raab publicly denounced Russia after a cyberattack directed at Georgia took out up to 15,000 Georgian websites, including many operated by the government.
“The GRU’s reckless and brazen campaign of cyberattacks against Georgia, a sovereign and independent nation, is totally unacceptable,” Raab said at the time. “The UK will continue to expose those who conduct reckless cyberattacks and work with our allies to counter the GRU’s menacing behaviour.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means the UK and the other Nato countries were always likely to step up their support for Georgia and Ukraine’s other neighbours, explains Alexi Drew, CEO and founder of Penumbra Analysis. “Cyber is an interdependent ecosystem, meaning that a flaw in one ally’s defences could potentially impact the UK,” she says. “An inability for Georgia to protect itself against a cyberattack could go on to affect Nato as well.”
Since the start of the Ukraine conflict, Microsoft has detected Russian network intrusion efforts on 128 organisations in 42 countries outside Ukraine. According to its report entitled ‘Defending Ukraine, Early Lessons from the Cyber War‘, “Russian targeting has prioritised governments, especially among Nato members. But the list of targets has also included think tanks, humanitarian organisations, IT companies, and energy and other critical infrastructure suppliers.”
Drew says the type of support offered to Georgia represents a “reasonable response” to Russia’s aggression, but Vladimir Putin’s regime is unlikely to see it this way. “The only snag in this plan is that we have seen Nato defence measures rile Russia up before, as in the case of its BMD missile protection,” she says – referring to Nato’s decision to develop a ballistic missile defence (BMD) system in 2012, which prompted harsh reactions from Russia’s leaders.
“Russia has demonstrated that it views any change in the balance of defence capability as potentially escalatory. These actions, therefore, may be seen as aggressive by Russia,” Drew concludes.