MK: Recently, you’ve returned from Kyiv where you held a meeting with your counterpart, Minister Mykhailo Fedorov. In accordance with the declaration, Poland will transfer to Ukraine and cover the operating costs of 20,000 Starlink terminals. Additionally, the memorandum expanding the potential for Polish-Ukrainian cooperation in the digital sphere has been signed. Could you please give our readers more details of this cooperation?

Krzysztof Gawkowski: It was a very successful visit, during which I had highly productive meetings confirming that Poland is Ukraine’s strongest and most faithful partner in the fight against Russian aggression. I traveled to Kyiv to discuss Polish-Ukrainian cooperation in the digital transformation sphere, resulting in the signing of a memorandum on further common work. We look forward to further deepening this collaboration, implementing the agreed-upon principles, and also plan to provide Ukraine with the mentioned Starlink terminals. Poland is currently the world’s largest provider of technology ensuring internet connectivity in Ukraine. This is noteworthy because these terminals provide crucial assistance to the Ukrainian military, hospitals, and the maintenance of civilian broadband internet connections.

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A joint cabinet meeting of Poland and Ukraine took place in Warsaw on March 28, 2024. How is this cooperation developing, and how does it concern the Ministry of Digital Affairs of Poland?

As a result of the meeting in Warsaw, I proceeded to visit Kyiv, where I met with Minister Mykhailo Fedorov and his colleagues at the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine. The cooperation thus far has been satisfactory, but we aim to enhance it by engaging Polish and Ukrainian public entities and businesses. We believe it’s crucial to jointly pursue the standardization of 5G networks, implement cloud solutions, and develop intervention-informative systems for digital infrastructure. We also face the question of how to effectively combat Russian disinformation, which is becoming an increasingly significant problem. One of the main topics of my visit to Kyiv was combating Russian propaganda.

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Poland is Ukraine’s best ambassador in the EU.

Let’s look at the topics of cybersecurity and disinformation for a moment. According to experts, there is an ongoing war in cyberspace, and the frequency of cyberattacks is increasing. However, for many people, this is a new and not entirely familiar domain. How do such cyberattacks impact both states and people’s lives?

Russia’s regime threats to Ukraine and Poland are the same. I’d like to emphasize that we experience cyberattacks and other hostile actions in cyberspace from Russia on a daily basis. The number of these attacks is increasing, and they become more frequent. Ukrainians also recognize that there are more and more attacks targeted at both Ukraine and other European countries. We can confidently say that we face a cold war with Russia in the cyber domain, primarily involving operations such as APT (advanced persistent threat) and DDoS (distributed denial of service). Russians, as well as Belarusians and various groups sponsored and backed by them, attack Polish critical infrastructure and spread disinformation. In doing so, they aim to destabilize the socio-political situation. We recognize this and have taken up the challenge. We take part in the cyber arms race. This is the first gate through which Russia would like to enter and we must confront it and combat it, which we consistently do.

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In parallel with cyberattacks, we observe widespread disinformation campaigns. It primarily concerns social media platforms, which are filled with content aligned with Russian propaganda. Disinformation campaigns target issues related to Ukraine and Russia, as well as other socially sensitive topics, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Many experts believe that it’s designed to destabilize the domestic affairs in target countries by fueling political disputes and social tensions. How does Poland counteract this?

Firstly, let’s call a spade a spade – disinformation is a systemic threat that affects state structures, public opinions, and social moods. It simply cannot be underestimated. Since the outbreak of the Russian invasion, Poland has been supporting Ukraine, including the wartime narratives ground. Praising Russia’s aggression of Ukraine in public is a crime in Poland. It’s being combatted at the legislative level and within EU policy by implementing the Digital Services Act, among others. Based on these regulations, we cooperate with the Ukrainian side to fight Russian disinformation. This was one of the main topics during my visit to Kyiv. We also discussed pressuring major digital platforms to take even more decisive action in combating disinformation. It’s high time for Meta, Google, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok and other technology giants to clearly declare which side they are on – whether they support democratic states and provide a sense of security to those defending themselves in this information war, or whether they turn a blind eye and yield ground to states that undermine the foundations of democracy, the free world, and instigate wars. For me, as someone who has been involved in digitization for many years, sitting on the fence in a time of war is unacceptable. I expect that Big Tech companies will declare explicitly that the era in which propaganda was tolerated on the internet has come to an end.

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War is not shades of gray. Either we are on the side of those fighting for their freedom or those attacking.”

Where do we draw the line between freedom of expression and the security of the state and society? Surely some people may question this.

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I strongly advocate for freedom of speech, but also for responsibility for what is said, including lies. I cannot imagine a situation in which someone, invoking freedom of speech on digital platforms, frightfully attacks those who defend themselves on the front lines. War is not shades of gray. Either we are on the side of those fighting for their freedom or those attacking. In my opinion, tolerating various internet trolls on digital platforms, spreading propaganda, spreading disinformation, and implementing pro-Russian narratives, is destroying the foundations of the democratic world. It leads to a situation where Putin might feel emboldened to take further steps. As a leftist, I believe that the heads of digital corporations bear responsibility for this. If someone allows Russian propaganda to be spread on social media platforms, they have blood on their hands. The heads of these corporations have blood on their hands.

Coming back to your visit to Kyiv – it wasn’t about politics only. You visited UNIT.City innovation park, the “Ukrainian Silicon Valley” where you met with representatives of the startup industry. What prospects for cooperation between Poland and Ukraine are emerging in this regard?

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I am truly impressed that despite the ongoing war, Ukraine has continued to develop places like UNIT.City, where scientists, young talents, and experienced mentors live, work and cooperate. This is an excellent environment for developing new technologies and building a digital infrastructure for a country at war. It was very inspiring for me. I plan to organize a meeting in Poland to encourage Polish institutions and companies to collaborate. Moreover, there are many Ukrainian companies that could work together with Polish ones, which would bring beneficial effects for building competitiveness in the market and mutual development.

Apart from Poland and Ukraine, the high-tech industry is also developing dynamically in Estonia, which has the highest number of startups per capita in the world, in Lithuania, and in other countries of Central-Eastern Europe. Can this industry be considered crucial and promising for the economic development of the region?

The growth of Polish startups in the high-tech and digital industry is progressing at an excellent pace. Recently, I have had many meetings with entrepreneurs operating in this sector. They come up with great innovative ideas and the Ministry of Digital Affairs of Poland supports them and will support them even more – we will allocate significant funds for this purpose – especially for development of AI based solutions. We believe that this is one of the main directions for further development.

Referring to my conversation with Minister Fedorov – he asked me about the conditions Poland creates for Ukrainian entrepreneurs. I would like to emphasize that they are equal for everyone – anyone who wants to operate in this sector has the same rights. Minister Fedorov also asked me if I have any objections to Ukrainian entrepreneurs operating in this field returning to Ukraine. Of course, I have no objections – companies can develop, implement their ideas and achieve their goals in any location. We have a free market, and it depends on individual business decisions only.

I am also very pleased that tens of thousands of Ukrainians are working in the Polish high-tech and digital industry. Many of them work in Poland onsite, but also there is a large group of Ukrainian IT specialists who work remotely, some are based in Ukraine. They are employed by Polish state institutions, private companies as well as remotely working online companies, which I am very happy about. I believe that Polish-Ukrainian cooperation within the framework of the digital transformation of our states will bring us a lot and innovation is motivating factor for everyone who wants to develop their initiatives.

Speaking of Polish-Ukrainian relations, in the last couple of months there have been some tensions related to border blockades, farmer protests and so on. What is the future of Polish-Ukrainian relations and what challenges lie ahead for them?

Relations between Poland and Ukraine should be built on dialogue and mutual understanding. Poland has its interests, and Ukraine has its own, too, which I also addressed during my visit to Kyiv. There are certain issues from which Poland will not back down – for example Polish transport and logistics industry, which we will continue to support. Ukraine also has its priorities and in difficult matters we must seek compromises.

However, in fundamental issues, including military and economic support, Poland is one of Ukraine’s largest partners and donors. In terms of supporting Ukraine on a global scale, Poland ranks third. Poland has also welcomed millions of refugees, some of whom have moved to Western countries, but some have remained. Since the outbreak of the Russian aggression, 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees have received a Polish PESEL number, which enable them to access public services and social benefits to the same extent as Polish citizens. This is a significant commitment. Poland was also one of the main designers of the Tallinn Mechanism and currently plays analytical and coordinative roles within it. The Tallinn Mechanism makes support for Ukraine, including the cyber domain, more effective. The initiative involves several European countries, the US and Canada.

Ukraine’s accession to the European Union is also crucial for Poland – the sooner Ukraine becomes a member state, the better. Within EU structures, Poland shapes Ukraine’s strategic agenda for the next five years, taking into account joint support for Ukraine at the political, military, and financial grounds. It all shows Poland’s significant commitment to Ukraine. Poland is Ukraine’s best ambassador in the EU and it is also in the interest of the Polish state.

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