Following the international spread of a media report that Australia and the US were negotiating with Ukraine about providing retired Australian F/A-18 aircraft, doubts about the alleged deal have emerged. 

Yesterday, the Australian Financial Review (AFR), a highly respected newspaper, published a report by two very well-regarded journalists that Australia, the US and Ukraine “are discussing sending 41 Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 Hornets to Kyiv.” 

AFR further said that “the retired F/A-18s are sitting in a hangar at the Williamtown RAAF base outside Newcastle and, unless sent to Ukraine, will either be scrapped or sold to a private sector aviation company, RAVN Aerospace, to use in the US as ‘enemies’ for military aviators to train against.”

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Unnamed sources were cited as telling AFR that “the US, which recently gave permission to other Western allies to supply Ukraine with advanced fighter aircraft is favorably disposed to the idea of gifting Ukraine the F/A-18s.”

AFR then said that Robert Potter, “an Australian security expert advising the Ukrainian government”, confirmed negotiations were underway, but a specific deal is yet to be finalized.

During a recent interview, Potter has also been referred to by Sky News Australia as “an advisor to the Ukrainian government and defense force.”

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Given the Ukrainian government has repeatedly said that fighter aircraft are critical to their country’s defense, Kyiv Post sought to establish the bona fides of developments reported by AFR.

First, while fighter aircraft are a key imperative for Ukraine in general, Kyiv Post that understands that they are not on the “list” of official Ukrainian government requests of Canberra, as Australia has other capabilities that Ukraine seeks on a priority basis.

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles did not provide either confirmation or denial to AFR regarding alleged Hornet negotiations, but is believed to be finalising a further package of military aid for Ukraine, potentially to coincide with the NATO Summit in Vilnius.

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Second, Ukraine’s Ministry for Digital Transformation’s aims are cyber-security and providing digital services to the Ukrainian public; it has no stated role in defense procurement outside of cyber-security.

Kyiv Post has therefore emailed the Ministry for comment on whether it has been especially tasked to negotiate with Australia about fighter aircraft, the potential status of those negotiations, and the role of Robert Potter in them.

Thirdly, the self-declared participation of Robert Potter in any potential negotiation – no less it being made public – appears unconventional. Potter is the Co-CEO of Internet 2.0, a Canberra-based cyber security company.

 As separately reported by AFR, in December 2022, Internet 2.0 signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ukraine’s Ministry for Digital Transformation to train Ukrainian war veterans in cybersecurity to ward off hackers.

Ukraine’s for Deputy Minister for Digital Transformation Yegor Dubinsky and Internet 2.0 co-chief executive Robert Potter. 

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 “As a part of the agreement, Internet 2.0 technologies will be trialed and deployed, veterans and temporarily displaced persons will be trained in cybersecurity and other digital skills, and the company will open an office in Ukraine,” Potter then said.

There is no mention of defense procurement in the media report about the MoU, whether for cyber-security or otherwise.

On the company’s website, Potter’s biography says he “invented the company’s core patented technology” and “is an experienced cyber security leader.”

It continues that he “has held roles as Head of Cyber Operations at BAE Systems, GM of WithYouWithMe Cyber, advisor to the Australian Shadow Cabinet for Cyber Security, and lead SME [subject matter expert – ed.] for North Korean Cyber Security for the United States Department of State (CTR Program).”

About its products and services, Internet 2.0’s website says that it’s technology solution “provides a critical defense barrier for your business against attack” and that it employs “world-class experts comprised of ex-military and intelligence specialists.”   

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The website does not make any mention of the company’s potential work or capabilities in the areas of defense procurement or international relations, but Potter has appeared as a general media commentator on Australian outlets on Ukrainian events.

Potter’s LinkedIn profile indicates he has been Co-CEO of Internet 2.0 since March 2019.

It then lists him as a “Cyber Security SME” for: the US State Department from September 2019 to the present; for Global Affairs Canada from October 2020 to the present, and; for CRDF Global from September 2019 to the present. The profile suggests that some of this work involved North Korean hacking, and another AFR media report is provided.

In May 2021, AFR reported that “working with the US State Department, Canberra-based start-up Internet 2.0 has run cyber security training across Latin America, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific, including with Australia’s closest neighbors.”

 “We essentially help institutions globally in the financial services space build up their defenses and become more aware of the kind of threats to their environment from North Korean hackers,” Potter told AFR in that interview.

The SME engagements appear to be consultancies performed by either Potter or his company for clients.

Potter’s last job outside consulting appears to be, according to LinkedIn, two years and two months with WithYouWithMe, a “social impact organization” that may recruit people for employment using digital means. Its website has only an email contact, but it lists offices in Washington, Ottawa, London and Sydney.

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The website says that “given our extensive network of veterans and strong relationships with militaries across the Five Eyes, we hold one of the largest talent pools of security-cleared technologists in the world.”

Potter’s LinkedIn date for completing at WithYouWithMe is March 2020 – which cuts across his current Co-CEO role and his SME appointments. Kyiv Post has contacted the company for confirmation.

His profile also says that Potter was Head of Cyber Operation at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence from Jan 2017 to Dec 2018, and that he also previously worked as a political staffer for a State Government and as a research assistant to former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, while the latter was based at Harvard University. 

It also notes he was an “advisor to the Australian Shadow Cabinet for Cyber Security.” There does not appear to be any known formal position of such a description; the office of the former Australian Shadow Minister for Cyber Security has been contacted for comment.

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Kyiv Post has contacted Potter via Internet 2.0’s corporate email to ask him about the status of the negotiations about the Australian jet fighters, and his qualifications, role and mandate in such negotiations.

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