The Ukraine Case Studies

A multidisciplinary group of researchers are undertaking case studies of the information war over Ukraine which preceded and reinforced the Russian invasion of 24 February 2022 as well as the devastating warfare tied to the invasion of a sovereign nation. The focus is on information, communication and cyber-attacks related to influence operations that have implications not only in the present war but also for a long-term global crisis of trust in public information, communication, and security practices and policies.[2]

There are countervailing viewpoints on developments surrounding the information war tied to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its long-term global consequences. Are actions largely a reflection of similar events overtime and in other parts of the world? Alternatively, is the present crisis qualitatively more consequential and in significantly new ways – a virtual techno-apocalypse for global information, communication, and security? Alternatively, are there aspects of continuity and change in the unfolding developments of this war.

The motivation behind the development of case studies documenting these developments is an assumption that the conflict could be transformative – a serious game changer. Trust, reliance, and the security of media, information, and communication technologies, such as the internet and social media, could be undermined not only in the conflict zone but across the world. Based on this possibility, the research team will conduct an overarching case study of the broad range of developments around influence, networks, and security in the Ukraine crisis, broadly defined. In addition, the team will conduct a set of embedded case studies of particular developments within Russia, Ukraine and internationally in relation to public and private geopolitical allies and adversaries across the world.[3]   

The Multidisciplinary Research Team 

The research team is international, including Oxford DPhil students, early and late-career researchers, and links across the university and globe to experts in areas of central importance to this study. We have key research staff who can conduct in-depth interviews and synthesis of documents in Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusian, German, and other languages. The initial research team includes:

William H. Dutton, Martin Fellow at the Oxford Martin School, supporting the Global Cybersecurity Capacity Centre (GCSCC), and Senior OII Fellow, University of Oxford. He is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Southern California, and Director of The Portulans Institute, Washington D.C.

Niva Elkin-Koren, Professor of Law at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law, former Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Haifa, and was founding director of the Center for Cyber, Law and Policy (CCLP), and the Haifa Center for Law & Technology (HCLT) 

Professor Sadie Creese, GCSCC, Department of Computer Science, Oxford University

Professor Soumitra Dutta, Co-Founder and President of Portulans Institute and Peter Moores Dean and Professor of Management in the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford

Elizaveta Chernenko, Research Associate, and DPhil Student, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Studies Underway and in Development

A basic foundational case study will be as broad as necessary, initially including study of developments across five interrelated areas critical to local and global information, communication, and security: influence operations, public reception, international networking, cybersecurity, and innovation. Each of these areas are interrelated, but each as a primary focus. Influence Operations concern the development and communication of narratives, such as defining the aggressor or defender, the victim, a war versus a special military operation, or even national boundaries. Public Reception, including opposition, rejection, or resistance to competing narratives, focuses on whether and how the attitudes or beliefs of different sectors of the public are reshaped as a consequence of different information operations, such as various forms of propaganda. International Networking concerns how Ukraine and Russia have enrolled international support in public arenas, such as the UN, and in trade and the supply of arms. How have international alliances, opposition, and neutral actors been defined and changed overtime and with what effect. Security is principally concerned with cybersecurity of information and infrastructures, such as surveillance, data collection, disruption of critical infrastructures, and hacking, but also in relation to other dimensions of security such as in cognitive warfare being linked to kinetic warfare. Innovation and R&D cross-cuts all of the other areas in addressing whether this conflict is leading to new developments and investments in particular areas, from security to information warfare, for better or worse.

These areas are preliminary and open to being consolidated or refined overtime, but each has been central to early geopolitical processes underway around the conflict in this evolving techno-sphere. While these areas are closely related, they have been separated because they can be tied to different areas of research and expertise. The study of influence, for example, is a key topic in political communication. The use of television for propaganda in World War II was a major impetus for the development of media studies in the US and Europe. It could well be that the influence operations in Russia will become a similar driving force in returning to, and up-dating, the study of propaganda and influence for the digital age. The study of public reception, rejection, and resistance to narratives of different states, adversaries, and other actors is related to political communication and closely linked to the study of influence. For example, prominent political communication theories, such as the spiral of silence, could be valuable to the case. However, the study of reception faces major methodological issues especially in the context of Russia, where reliable data on public opinion and media use is difficult if not impossible to obtain. However, there are mechanisms for teasing out insights from some surveys and trace data that enable us to know more about the validity of some claims and counter claims.

The study of international networks is global and the topic of many, if not most, news and public affairs treatments of the crisis, but it can gain from a variety of other methods and theories that could be used in this area, such as more systematic network analyses. Oxford University is particularly rich in research expertise on international relations which we wish to draw from.

Finally, cybersecurity is clearly central to developments with the Prime Minister of Estonia claiming that Ukraine is a “masterclass on cyber-defence” (Kallas 2023). And it is tied to all the other areas of study as it entails the propagation of disinformation, the use of digital media for surveillance and collection of data about the public and military, and the use of hacking and cyber-attacks to disrupt nationally critical infrastructures and services, including information and communication networks. The expertise required in this area includes backgrounds in cybersecurity policies and practices that seek to address these issues, such as education and awareness campaigns, the development of cyber expertise, and cybersecurity capacity building (Creese et al 2021).

Early studies of Ukraine have been most often focused on particular issues, such as implications for internet fragmentation. While valuable in their own right and for contributing to the present study, these specifically focused studies risk losing site of the bigger picture – how the individual aspects of this crisis are interrelated with implications beyond any specific area. The broad case study will aim to capture the overall patterns and themes emerging across these key areas. As particular areas, such as cybersecurity rise in significance, the study can be opened to additional embedded case studies, or even more focused and more embedded studies of security.  

The Case Study Approach

Case studies are a major approach for research on policy and practice particularly in areas that are new or not well developed nor heavily researched. They enable researchers to discover patterns and themes that enhance understanding of otherwise less coherent or disconnected events and actions. Case study research is well developed and covered by major works such as Robert Yin (2017) and Paul Diesing (2008). Embedded case studies focus on an identifiable part of a larger case study but follow the broad methodological approaches of case study research in general (Scholz and Tietje 2001).

Limitations of Case Studies

A case study cannot prove a theory or confirm a hypothesis. A case is unique, by definition – a particular case. However, it can be a means for discovering patterns and themes that could be sufficiently descriptive or explanatory that they can support actions, such as policy or practices to address this area or a similar area, such as a subsequent conflict. And case studies can be richly suggestive of theoretical concepts or other research that should be pursued.  

One of the features of systematic and in-depth case study research is that the findings are rarely a simple confirmation of initial expectations. They almost inevitably lead to new insights and discoveries that become suggestive of theory and concepts that can be further explored by additional research and critical debate.  

Status of the Ukraine Case Studies

These case studies are in early stages of development through working papers and the organisation of roundtable discussions. These roundtables have been designed to help launch the case research but also to refine our approach, illuminate key research questions, and identify potential ties with researchers in other universities and institutions.

Roundtable Discussions

The first roundtable was held at HIIG in Berlin in June 2023. Entitled, “Is the Invasion of Ukraine Reshaping ICT, R&D, and Cognitive Warfare?”, the workshop led to a range of questions that will be pursued in the second roundtable.

The second roundtable will be held in Oxford at the Said Business School from 10am to 3pm on 26 September 2023.

Working Papers and Publications

Dutton, William H. (2023), ‘Geopolitical Realities Emerging from the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Undermining the Foundations of Globally Networked Societies’, Working Paper in Progress, GCSCC, University of Oxford.

Blogs and Short Notes

Cognitive Politics:    

Support for this Project

Initial support for this project comes from the Portulans Institute, which complements support from researchers in Oxford’s Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre (GCSCC), the Saïd Business School, and the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) in collaboration with researchers at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG). The Portulans Institute, an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute based in Washington D.C. sees this project contributing to development of work on the societal issues of global networking, which are entangled with this case study, and its research in creating longitudinal data on global networking, such as the Network Readiness Index (NRI).


Creese, S., Dutton, W. H., Esteve-Gonzáleza, P., and Shillair, R. (2021), ‘Cybersecurity Capacity Building: Cross-National Benefits and International Divides’, Journal of Cyber Policy, 6(2), 214-235. Available at:

Diesing, Paul. (2008), Patterns of Discovery in the Social Sciences. London: Routledge.  

Dutton, William H. (2023), ‘Geopolitical Realities Emerging from the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Undermining the Foundations of Globally Networked Societies’, Working Paper in Progress, GCSCC, University of Oxford.  

Kallas, Kaja (2023), ‘Kaja Kallas says Ukraine is giving the free world a masterclass on cyber-defence’, The Economist, 17 April.  

Scholz, Roland W., and Tietje, Olaf (2001) (eds), Embedded Case Study Methods: Integrating Quantitative and Qualitative Knowledge, 1st Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.  

Yin, Robert (2017), Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods, 6th Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Zhora, Victor. (2023), Cyber Operations in Ukraine. Presentation on cyber operations in Ukraine at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), 25 April.