If Big Tech 'comes together,' Ukraine could defeat Russia faster, says Ukraine’s digital minister

Mykhailo Fedorov, a 33-year-old former digital marketing expert turned Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister for Innovations, Development of Education, Science & Technologies
Mykhailo Fedorov, a 33-year-old former digital marketing expert turned Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister for Innovations, Development of Education, Science & Technologies Copyright Efrem LukatskySource:APCopyright
By Pascale Davies
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Euronews Next speaks to Ukraine's digital minister and deputy prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov, the brains behind the country's tech defences.

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From an army of drones protecting Ukraine’s borders to daily messages on social media from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, technology has saved lives and helped the country stand its ground against Russia’s full-scale invasion.

The mastermind behind these tactics is Mykhailo Fedorov, a 33-year-old former digital marketing expert turned Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister for Innovations, Development of Education, Science & Technologies - Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine.

"We don't have as many people as the Russian Federation has, and that’s basic maths," he tells Euronews Next in a Zoom interview from Kyiv.

"This is why technology has a very specific competitive advantage that allows us to stop the enemy where they are and provide some asymmetric action".

Unmanned technologies are a "game changer," he says. Ukraine’s self-detonating drones have been a cheap and effective weapon in the war to gather intelligence and destroy Russia’s expensive military equipment.

In recent weeks, Ukraine’s drones have attacked Russian oil facilities and hunted down Russian ships in open sea and at naval bases.

The electronic war

Ukraine’s self-detonating drones are a staple to its arsenal. But Russia has strong electronic countermeasures and has pedigree in these skills.

It's a technology war which is evolving very rapidly
Mykhailo Fedorov
Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister for Innovations — Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine

Russia has significant jamming equipment that can overpower Ukrainian signals by blocking or interfering with wireless communications used by its drones.

Fedorov says the country’s engineering school is delivering a cohort of engineers who code and are proving their worth against Russia. He also says Ukraine has opened the market and created a lot of competition with private electronic warfare companies.

Staying on top of the latest technology is vital as "it's a technology war which is evolving very rapidly," he says.

But Russian jamming of GPS systems has also been reported in Europe’s far north in the Arctic Circle region where Norway and Finland border Russia.

A Ukrainian soldier prepares a drone to launch on the front line in the village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024
A Ukrainian soldier prepares a drone to launch on the front line in the village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko

Asked if NATO countries should be worried about Russian jamming, Fedorov says: "Our partners should follow what is happening in Ukraine because the pace of change is incredible".

"If you are not actively engaged in this continued pace of wartime adaptation, and your manufacturing is not adapting to the pace daily, it is very difficult to catch up later," he adds.

There are also other challenges, such as air defence saturation, in particular Russia’s use of Iranian "Shahed" drones that fly towards their target and detonate on impact.

As such, Ukraine is offering its allies and companies a testing ground to test its defences and even battleground testing.

AI as a weapon

One of the latest technologies taking the world by storm is now being put through its paces on the battlefield. Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a role in electronic warfare as it is a network-centric war with a lot of digital technology like sensors used for real-time and battlefield awareness systems.

"Artificial intelligence allows you to recognise events on the battlefield and respond accordingly, which means that we are to expect more use of AI-enabled systems in the future," Fedorov says.

But AI drones are still in their infancy and cannot lead a drone to its target on a full trajectory.

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To combat this, Fedorov says they are constantly analysing data from the battlefield and they are field-testing some new technologies for electronic warfare.

On Russia’s side, he says they are using AI-assisted drones and AI in computer vision applications to enable target acquisitions of Ukraine’s drones, as well as in machine learning.

Bringing Big Tech to the battlefield

Since the start of the 2022 invasion, Fedorov asked Big Tech to support Ukraine in the war by urging the chief executives of YouTube, Apple, Google and Netflix to block or limit their Russian services.

If they [Big Tech companies] made a comparable effort in defence tech and support for Ukraine we would be much, much more powerful than Russia.
Mykhailo Fedorov
Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister for Innovations — Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine

He also took to X, then known as Twitter, to ask SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to activate its Starlink network in Ukraine to provide satellite Internet.

"While you try to colonise Mars - Russia try to occupy Ukraine!" Fedorov wrote on February 26 2022.

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"We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations".

Fedorov got his way and the satellite Internet terminals have proved vital to military operations but also in hospitals and business operations.

Other tech giants such as Microsoft and IBM have also offered Ukraine support.

While Fedorov says the country is thankful for the support, he says they "definitely need more assistance" from tech companies as their reaction and response time is "slightly less” than it was since the outbreak of the invasion.

Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister for Innovations, Development of Education, Science & Technologies
Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister for Innovations, Development of Education, Science & TechnologiesEfrem Lukatsky- The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

"We understand that life goes on and sometimes Ukraine goes in and out of headlines, but, at the same time, we need to remember that Russian strikes continue, people keep dying, and this is a horrendous war," he says.

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"If they [Big Tech companies] made a comparable effort in defence tech and support for Ukraine we would be much, much more powerful than Russia," he adds.

He says the country needs support with cloud services and to be able to open R&D facilities, which could allow the development of dual-use technologies and a place to exchange expertise and resources.

Asked what message he would like to convey to Big Tech, he says: "To be more involved and just to understand that we have a major war and this concerns everybody.

"If we come together we can stop this much faster. But we need to come together".

The information war

Another way global tech companies can come together to support Ukraine is by combatting disinformation and misinformation.

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After the war, we want to cement our status as the coolest state in terms of digital transformation.
Mykhailo Fedorov
Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister for Innovations — Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine

"We work with international, companies which help us block Russian bot networks and channel networks," Fedorov says, adding that the country could still use more help from tech companies around the world to limit Russia’s capabilities.

At the moment, Fedorov says Ukraine has official government bodies that respond quickly to disinformation to prevent "Russian propaganda taking hold".

Another stronghold is the country’s citizens who are very well-versed in counteracting, misinformation, which is nevertheless very powerful and evolving.

However, he says the most powerful thing in the information war is national communication via President Zelenskyy, who "is a very powerful communicator".

In this March 6, 2022, image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in video in Kyiv.
In this March 6, 2022, image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in video in Kyiv.Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

"Every day the president comes out to his people and talks about the things that happened".

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It is not just Zelenskyy who has risen to the ranks to become a global icon for strong leadership during an invasion from one of the world’s most powerful countries.

Fedorov, too, has gone from being Ukraine’s youngest minister to the architect of Ukraine’s digital defence strategy.

He was making waves even before the war when he launched Diia, an app to create the most convenient governance system.

The app provides citizens with a digital ID and allows them to register a business or obtain many other government services.

But it has created other features during the war such as the ability to file a claim if homes are damaged by Russian shelling, get evacuation assistance, and submit reports and videos of Russian troop movements.

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It was even used to stream a World Cup final during a blackout.

"After the war, we want to cement our status as the coolest state in terms of digital transformation," Fedorov says.

"But we also want to become a trendsetter in defence and military tech for decades to come because our experience is invaluable for the world, for each and every country," he adds.

"And this can become a major part of our economy in the future".

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

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Video editor • Roselyne Min

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