Article / Webinars – Yeshiva University: War by Other Means: The Legal, Cyber and Economic Fronts in the War in Ukraine

On Wednesday, March 9, 2022, 95 people attended the second in the series of Ukraine workshops hosted by Yeshiva University. (The first one, “Ukraine Under Attack: The YU Community Comes Together,” was on Feb. 28.)

Moderated by Dr. Ronnie Perelis, director of the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs, the evening featured opening remarks by Dr. Selma Botmanprovost and vice president of academic affairs, and commentary on the economic, legal and cybersecurity challenges brought on by the war by Dr. James Kahn (Henry and Bertha Kressel University Professor of Economics;  Chair, Department of Economics), Prof. Deborah Pearlstein (Professor of Law, Cardozo School of Law; Co-Director, Floersheimer Center for Constitutional Democracy) and Sivan Tehila (Program Director, M.S. in Cybersecurity, Katz School of Science and Health).


ukraine legal cyber economic


Dr. Perelis began the proceedings with an acknowledgement that “the shock and horror we experienced when we gathered last week has only become darker” but that events like these discussions, designed “to help us come together in search of insight and understanding and wisdom,” gave us the tools “to battle helplessness and to fight against apathy, to better understand the situation and see how we can help.”

Dr. Botman echoed Dr. Perelis’ sentiments, saying that “our hearts go out to the Ukrainians for the death and pain and destruction that they are experiencing” but also noting that the kinds of expertise represented on the panel “demonstrate the depth of the knowledge of our faculty” and their ability to “step up and help us understand this crisis.”

Each panelist then gave a quick summation of the most salient points about the economic, legal and technological challenges created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Dr. Kahn gave listeners a quick but thorough primer about the instruments available to policymakers during a time of conflict to inflict economic damage on an enemy, a practice, he pointed out, “as old as war itself.” Governments can use such tools as blockade, embargo, freezing and/or appropriating assets, and excluding Russia’s financial institutions from global payment systems to cause a liquidity crisis in the Russian economy, with the intent of making the war so economically painful that Putin will pull back of his own accord or the populace will be emboldened to push for political change to achieve an end to the war.

He also acknowledged that all these tactics have their downsides, what he called “spillovers,” such as higher oil prices or a default on debts, and that there can be real damage to the global economic system if the world’s 11th largest economy has a meltdown.

His conclusion is that sanctions could have an adverse impact on Russia (which he thinks they will be able to weather) but equally possible is that they will also cause significant harm to the integrated economies of the world.

On the legal front, specifically as it concerns the identification and prosecution of war crimes, Prof. Pearlstein noted while there are distinct definitions of what constitute war crimes enshrined in a number of treaties and resolutions, there are limited means to address them, which raises the question of how possible it will be to hold combatants accountable for criminal activities once the war ends.

She cited four possibilities: Ukraine’s own justice system; countries with statutes declaring that they have universal jurisdiction authority, such as Germany (but not the United States); the International Criminal Court (though the United States, Russia and Ukraine are not parties to the ICC); and a special tribunal (such as with Yugoslavia or Rwanda).

While each of these, or a combination of them, might do the job, her concern was whether the prospect of indictment and conviction would have any deterrence effect on Russia’s actions. She did not think so, but the prospect may have an inspiring effect on those opposing Putin. She admitted that “I think the conflict is likely to get worse before it gets better in terms of violence against civilians and that the best hope we have is to leverage the tools we have to persuade the persuadables among the Russian forces to avoid a life in prison. At a minimum, it will be exceedingly difficult for any of these individuals to travel anywhere outside Russia for the foreseeable future, not just because of sanctions but because of the very real threat of criminal prosecution.”

Russia’s cyber hacking efforts have been the focus of much news reporting in the past few weeks, and Sivan Tehila admitted that “the cyber front is fascinating, even for security professionals who have been working in the field for a while.” She explained how Russia has had a history of cyber attacks against Ukraine “well before there were tanks on the ground” and that observers are now seeing cyber becoming “one of the main fronts in this war.”

She also noted that, given this history, Russia, a “hacking superpower” (she named and described the three established groups that do the Kremlin’s cyber work), has been restrained in using cyber as a weapon in Ukraine. She is sure that the Russian government has targeted critical infrastructure, such as railways, airports and health care systems, “but that, for them, it is not the right time to use them because they have other decisions to make. Deciding on when to launch a cyberattack is usually much easier when you have everything ready.”

On the Ukrainian side, “there are thousands of tech workers who are now taking active part in the cyber attacks on Russia,” though they are not as organized as their Russian counterparts, and alongside them are groups like Cyber Partisans (based in Belarus) and Anonymous, the hacker collective that has declared its own war against Russia.

There are steps that businesses and individuals can take in light of the cyber war being waged to fortify themselves, and the advice is not much different than the advice people who work with computers should always follow. Businesses should develop business continuity and disaster recovery plans in case they are hacked or attacked by ransomware. The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency ( has a program called “Shields Up” to help organizations work through these challenges.

Everyone regardless should also validate all remote access and ensure that VPNs (virtual private networks) are safeguarded. Initiate multifactor authentication, do periodic backups of vital information and respond to cyber attacks in real time to deny the ability of hackers to infect systems.

The evening ended with a brief Q&A about such topics as the role of tech companies in archiving material for possible criminal prosecutions even as they remove misinformation from their platforms, whether sanctions can achieve their goal of stopping the war, the outlook for war crime prosecutions, and how contributing to one of the many humanitarian aid organizations working to alleviate suffering can balance one’s despair and anguish.

Attend these upcoming events on Ukraine through

Freedom, Human Rights and Jewish Values: The War in Ukraine
Tuesday, March 15, 2022 | 8 p.m.


  • Rabbi Yosef Blau: Mashgiach Ruchani [spiritual supervisor] of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
  • Suzanne Last Stone: University Professor of Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at Cardozo Law School; Professor of Law; Director, Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization
  • Dr. Joseph Luders: David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in Political Science; Associate Professor of Political Science; Chair, Department of Political Science


Elegy for Odessa
Monday, March 28, 2022 | 8 p.m.

Moderated by

  • Dr. Jess Olson: Associate Professor of Jewish History


  • Dr. Jacob Wisse: Associate Professor of Art History
  • Val Vinokur: Associate Professor of Literary Studies, the New School
  • Alyssa Quint: Associate Editor at Tablet; a Senior Research Scholar at Yeshiva University’s Center for Israel Studies; contributing editor of The Digital Yiddish Theater Project


Trauma and Repair: Psychologists and Social Workers Reflect on the Ukraine Crisis
April 6, 2022 | 8 p.m.

Moderated by

  • Dr. Jess Olson: Associate Professor of Jewish History