As the war in Ukraine continues, Kyiv and its allies are already planning for a long-term peace that is not only prosperous but secure. Ukraine already has a strong technology sector, but there are plans to make it a tech ‘super-player’ to rival Israel, another start-up nation where security is paramount.
Ukraine and its allies do not only seek a military and political victory—they want the resilient country to emerge from the conflict economically and technologically stronger. And at the Tech Emerging Europe Annual (TEEA) Meeting held in Warsaw on March 31, there was a clear consensus about not only the vision, but how to achieve it.
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Mircea Geoană, the Deputy Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), told the TEEA Meeting, “Many people say that Ukraine could be an Israel of Europe—a country that will have to defend and invest a lot in defence and national security. This is something we continue to help Ukraine with.”
Mykhailo Fedorov, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine for Innovation, Education, Science and Technology — Minister of Digital Transformation, told the meeting that he hoped Ukraine would be “the next Israel”.
In Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer concluded that Israel—a young, small nation without considerable natural resource wealth plagued by existential security concerns—leads the world in start-ups and venture capital per capita largely because mandatory military service prepares Israelis to find technical and cross-disciplinary solutions.
After the war, Ukraine will also have a large pool of individuals with both military and university education—on top of a well-established established tech industry—who could similarly apply their experience to pioneer the development of dual-use technologies with both civilian and military application.
To help realise this potential, NATO is registering its Innovation Fund, the world’s first multi-sovereign venture capital fund, and expanding its Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) to “support the development and adaptation of dual-use emerging technologies to critical security and defence challenges”, said Geoană.
Geoană had opened the European headquarters of DIANA in London March 30, and confirmed that innovators “participating in DIANA’s programmes will have access to a network of more than nine Accelerator Sites and more than 63 Test Centres across Europe and North America”.
The NATO deputy chief hopes that these programmes, along with those supported by the International Monetary Fund, will allow Ukraine to become a tech “super-player”.
Pavlo Kartashov, the CEO of the Ukrainian Start-up Fund—a state fund launched to develop and increase the global competitiveness of pre-seed and seed stage tech start-ups, stressed it is important to ensure Ukrainian start-ups maintain operations and jobs within the country rather than relocate.
“There are a lot of start-ups, unicorns, that have Ukrainian founders but are based outside Ukraine,” Kartashov said. “Our approach is you should have your headquarters in Ukraine, as well as your R&D centre.”
Tech as resilience
“Prior to the war, Ukraine managed to build a strong digital infrastructure, and it became the basis for our resilience during the full-scale war”, said Mykhailo Fedorov. “This is related to strong cybersecurity, well-developed telecommunications infrastructure, migration of state registers to cloud environment, and—of course—Diia”.
Diia is an e-government service and app that allows Ukrainians to do everything from apply for social benefits to report the location of Russian troops to officially register as an internally-displaced person. Estonia, a world leader in digitising public services, is launching a similar programme, mRiik, using code from Diia.
Both the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Congress are supporting Diia and promoting its adoption by countries in other regions of the world. Fedorov hinted Diia will soon announce expansions to other countries.
Ukrainian engineers are also prolifically developing new military technology. Yegor Dubynskyi, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation, told the TEEA meeting, “Unfortunately, we are the best place in the world right now to develop and test your active cyber defence and other digital instruments which will help you to protect your country.”
Engineers innovate quickly, but sometimes war moves quicker than their products can be provided to those in need of them. “We really need to streamline that process of procurement to the war fighters on the frontline so they have the technology now and not when it is already obsolete and the product is lost because we couldn’t get it there in time,” said Roboneers CEO Anton Skrypnyk.
Shared intelligence, shared security
While NATO and Ukraine are working closely, paradigms are still shifting and there is room for more cooperation in many key areas.
“The war has been a geopolitical reawakening for the alliance, but it has not yet been a technological reawakening for the alliance,” said Daniel Korski, CEO and co-founder of PUBLIC and a member of the UK Digital Economy Council. “If you look at the great initiatives the Deputy Secretary-General spoke about, like the DIANA project, these are all laudable, fantastic, and represent the tiniest part of NATO’s defence expenditure.”
“What we hear when the Deputy Secretary-General speaks is the beginning of the alliance realising that what’s going on in Ukraine isn’t just important for Ukraine but could potentially be transformative for good and for bad for our own military capabilities,” Korski added. “But we are only at the very beginning of that realisation”.
Ukrainian officials have emphasised that Ukraine and NATO’s security are inseparable, and they are pushing for more collaboration.
“We have to share cyber intelligence, we have to share counter-disinformation intelligence,” said Dubynskyi. Disinformation is one of the weapons of this war, together with cyber weapons, together with kinetic weapons, together with cruise missiles. We have to fight against them together, and we have to use the most advanced technologies, including AI. The digital space has no borders. We have to protect it together.”
CyberUnitTech co-founder Yegor Aushev agrees.
“Sharing information is the most important part of this war so we need to share information between our partners, between our companies, between our countries,” he said “We should create digital ambassadors in our countries. We need to spend more time on cyber diplomacy, IT diplomacy. We should build a community.”
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