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Russia’s Ukraine war has already seen the first use of hypersonic missiles. Other firsts may lie in wait

March 22, 2022, 9:47 AM UTC

Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

Much has been written about how Russia’s war in Ukraine echoes its past military operations in Chechnya and Syria—as Putin leveled Grozny and Aleppo, so he is destroying Mariupol and Kharkiv. But this is also becoming a war of firsts.

There’s already been one: the use of hypersonic missiles. On the weekend, Russia claimed to have struck two targets in Ukraine—including an underground military depot near the Romanian border—with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles that fly at up to 10 times the speed of sound while also being maneuverable. Such weapons are near-impossible to defend against, for now, and have never before been used in war.

President Joe Biden confirmed Russia’s claim yesterday, as he addressed CEOs at the Business Roundtable’s quarterly meeting. “It’s the only thing that they can get through with absolute certainty,” he said. “As you all know, it’s a consequential weapon, but with the same warhead on it as any other launch missile. It doesn’t make that much difference, except it’s almost impossible to stop it.”

However, as China demonstrated last year, you can stick a nuclear warhead on a hypersonic missile. And of the scariest and most plausible potential firsts in this war, the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield is right up there. It’s a contentious point, but some argue that Russia’s military doctrine could lead the country to use tactical nuclear weapons on an “escalate to de-escalate” basis—in other words, to make a very small nuclear explosion to get the enemy to back down. With his military continuing to underperform, it’s not unreasonable to suspect Putin might go that far.

Biden also told the CEOs Russia might use biological weapons in Ukraine, which would also be a grotesque first.

And then there’s the “cyber” front. We’ve already seen the first attempt at using deepfake videos in a war setting—a rendition of Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy calling on his fighters to surrender that was absurdly fake-looking and implausible, though it won’t be the last example of its kind, and, as we all know, tech keeps improving.

For readers of this newsletter, the No. 1 first to worry about would probably be large-scale cyberattacks on critical infrastructure. Both sides in this conflict have been whacking each other in the virtual realm, but serious international spillover is possible, and Biden yesterday warned businesses that “the federal government can’t defend against this threat alone.”

“Most of America’s critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector, and critical infrastructure owners and operators must accelerate efforts to lock their digital doors,” he said. “If you have not already done so, I urge our private sector partners to harden your cyber defenses immediately…We need everyone to do their part to meet one of the defining threats of our time.”

We can’t stop this from being a war of firsts—but we can at least prepare for some of them. More news below.

David Meyer
@superglaze

david.meyer@fortune.com

TOP NEWS

Meta Russia

Facebook and Instagram are now both banned in Russia, after a court said they were “extremist” organizations—a first for a foreign company. They were already blocked in the country. However, Meta’s WhatsApp is not blocked or banned, because it’s not used to publicly disseminate information. Bloomberg

Okta hack

A concerning hack appears to have taken place at Okta, provider of authentication services to thousands of companies. A group called Lapsus$ posted credible screenshots of Okta’s internal tickets and Slack chats, and said they were focusing “ONLY on Okta customers.” So if you’re one of those, keep a close eye on things. Reuters

SpaceX boost

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is getting a lift from the Russia-Ukraine war, because its biggest rival in the rocket-launching business is Russia’s Roscosmos. The British (and partly government-owned) satellite internet provider OneWeb has now turned to SpaceX to get its satellites in the sky, after Roscosmos made some extraordinary and unwelcome demands. Fortune

Evergrande again

China Evergrande says it probably won’t report its audited 2021 results on time. It’s not the only big Chinese developer to announce earning delays, either: Sunac and Shimao have both done the same. Bloomberg

AROUND THE WATERCOOLER

Oil prices

Oil prices rose around 8% yesterday on reports that the EU might ban the importation of Russian fossil fuels—it should be noted that this fresh stage of sanctions is proving quite divisive in the EU, owing to concerns over the impact on Europe’s energy supply. (Bonus read: Saudi Aramco’s profits more than doubled last year.) Fortune

CROWN Act

Legislation that would ban hair-related discrimination is on its way to the Senate, after being cleared by the House on Friday. If passed, it would make it illegal to deny people educational or employment opportunities because of their hair texture or hairstyle. “CROWN” stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” Fortune

Vitalik Buterin

If you’ve heard the name Vitalik Buterin in connection with Ethereum and would like to know more about the cryptocurrency’s founder, Fortune’s Taylor Locke has you covered. Fortune

Ulta Beauty

Fortune’s Phil Wahba spoke to Ulta Beauty CEO David Kimbell about how he intends to ensure Ulta keeps up with a rapidly changing beauty business. Kimbell: “Because diversity is so inherent to the beauty category, it is critical to our efforts, and to our success long term.” Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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