The NYT has reported that US cyberwar unit has placed malware in Russia’s electric grid that could potentially shut it down. It also alleges that Trump has been kept out of the loop on this decision.
My short take is that this is a nothingburger aimed primarily at US domestic consumption.
We know that there is a self-styled “Resistance” within USG that is going all out to sabotage Trump, especially on anything to do with Russia. This was obviously an intentional leak, and meant to underscore the point that Trump is too unreliable to be trusted with national security decisions – as well as too incompetent to stop patriotic seasoned professionals from doing what they must to check Putler.
Obviously, I am not in a position to know whether or not the US has actually inserted said malware onto Russia’s electric grid. It is certainly a lucrative target, since it is in the midst of a $25 billion digitalization drive over the next six years. But there is reason to be skeptical over its potential to shut down a modern industrial economy. One can always shift it over into manual control in an emergency, as happened in the Western Ukraine during an alleged Russian attack in December 2015. Power was only cut off for a few hours. This could be ruinous if Russia hosted many companies that produced things such as semiconductors, where even momentary losses of power can ruin entire batches. But Russia is not Taiwan or South Korea. It doesn’t have many such manufactories.
Meanwhile, the single most serious accusation that Russia had penetrated the US electric grid with malware boiled down to one laptop belonging to the Vermont electric utility company having been infected with a virus similar to those used by Russian hackers. That this example of literal fake news was the single biggest story about Russia “compromising” the US electric grid strongly suggests that Russia does not view it as a worthwhile strategic priority.
The NYT even suggests that a cyberattack on Russia’s electric grid might not only “plunge [it] into darkness,” but also “cripple its military.” The latter idea is so mind-numbingly stupid that it amounts to additional support for the theory that this was an exclusively domestic political play.