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EXCLUSIVE War in Ukraine Interview

Ukraine’s Gerashchenko on Russia’s drones, hacking, spies, and fraud

Turn the subtitles on, please (settings- subtitles – English) Anton Gerashchenko, one of Ukraine’s foremost security experts, advises the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He discusses how Ukraine is comb

Oct. 28, 2022

Turn the subtitles on, please (settings- subtitles – English)

Anton Gerashchenko, one of Ukraine’s foremost security experts, advises the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He discusses how Ukraine is combatting Iranian drones, preventing Russian hacking, arresting Russian spies, severely prosecuting grifters for charity fraud, the Russian National Republican Army (NRA), and continuing to keep Ukraine’s people safe.

Read the text version of the interview below:

Anton, thanks for coming today. I know you’re very busy these days. Your work in the Interior Ministry is so important for Ukraine while it is fighting for freedom against Russian aggression. Could you tell me about your job in a few words? 

The Interior Ministry is the reliable rear of our Armed Forces. The ministry includes such structures as the National Guard, the State Border Service, the National Police, the Migration Service and the State Emergency Service. The ministry’s forces make up 25 percent of Ukraine’s defenses. As an adviser to Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky, I carry out liaison with the mass media. I communicate with journalists to provide objective, credible information on what the ministry is doing to help our Armed Forces defend the country. A large part of my job is providing information on Russian crimes carried out on Ukrainian territory, on how Russians try to misinform Ukrainian society and the international community. I have personal pages on social networks. My Telegram channel, Pravda Gerashchenko, has more than 500,000 subscribers and my personal account has around 200,000 subscribers.

I believe that this war is fought not only on the battlefield but also in the information space. In order to organize the invasion of Ukraine, Putin developed a huge propaganda machine that deceives millions of people in Russia and across the world. And by the way, the deadliest weapon is not nuclear. A nuclear bomb can kill tens or hundreds of thousands, and propaganda can kill tens of millions, as the experience of WW II shows. Now Putin’s propaganda is doing what Hitler’s propaganda did in the 1940s. Hitler set Germans against Jews, and Putin set Russians against Ukrainians. To Russians we are a nation that must be exterminated. I say once again, propaganda is Putin’s most dangerous weapon. We’re fighting against it, including through this interview.

Can you say a few words about yourself, how did you get here, what do you do?

I’ve been in professional politics since I was 19. I was the first to run for deputy at the age of 19. At the age of 23, I was a deputy of the Kharkiv City Council, at the age of 25, I headed it (Kharkiv City Council) when Arsen Avakov was the head of the Kharkiv regional administration, I headed the Krasnogradsky District of the Kharkiv region. I was engaged in entrepreneurial activity and after the victory of the Maidan, I started working in the Ministry of Internal Affairs again. First as an adviser, then I worked as Deputy Minister of Internal affairs, and now, when Denis Monastyrsky became a minister, he invited me to work as an adviser on media and communications.

Let me ask you about unmanned aircraft. Iran sends its kamikaze drones here. What’s the situation with them?  

Right now we are about 500 meters from an apartment building that was struck by an Iranian kamikaze drone. Five people were killed, including a young couple expecting a child. Iranians supply Russia with thousands of drones. They are actually Russia’s allies in its war against us. We consider this to be interference and aggression on the part of Iran. The calls from the Ukrainian president, parliament and society to our Western allies have fallen on deaf ears. We have been asking right from the very first days of the war to close our skies and give us more air defense systems and aviation. They haven’t given us a single Western-made military plane. Unfortunately, it’s only now that we are beginning to receive Western air defense systems such as IRIS-T and NASAMS, but they are supplied in meager numbers.

This is a drop in the ocean. We need not one but 30-40 IRIS-T systems, not two but 30-40 NASAMS systems. It is due to the fact that Russia possesses tens of times more battle aircraft that our Armed Forces suffer heavy losses. It’s because they have more cruise missiles than we can shoot down that our civilian infrastructure and energy sector suffer huge losses. So, my message to the Western audience is: please pressure your governments into providing us with more air defense systems. Currently, Russian missiles do not reach America or Canada. But they attack Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro. Therefore, please put pressure on your government to provide more air defense systems. I would like to note that some Western politicians say that their systems are so complex, so Ukrainians will not be able to master them. This is not true. Ukrainians are mastering the most modern weapons systems. See how we use HIMARS, Bayraktar. Before this war, no one knew that there were such weapons at all, and now there is a queue of buyers from all over the world for HIMARS. Because our armed forces have shown how they can be used.

Which is the biggest threat to Ukrainians, drones or planes, or what? 

Russian planes don’t risk crossing into our airspace. More harm is done by cruise missiles. Their warheads have 400-500 kilos of explosives, and can kill very many people. But they have way too many drones. The president says Iran is going to give Russia 2,400 drones. According to our figures, we should down 70 percent of drones. The remaining 30 percent consists of 700-800 drones that are able to reach targets, so we need more air defense weapons. A cruise missile can only be shot down by a missile or from a plane, but kamikaze drones are successfully shot down by heavy machineguns and artillery systems, which the West has in great supply. We just need more of them, plus the munitions.

Recently, there has been so much talk about Starlink. Is it so important for Ukraine?

Starlink caused a revolution in Ukraine’s military and civilian telecommunications. Without it, the quality and speed of decision-making and execution would have been much lower. They say there are some 20,000 Starlink units operating in Ukraine, which is more than in New York City. When the full-scale war began, we had few modern radio stations. Russians have some serious electronic warfare systems that can even jam Western-made radio stations.

But Starlink operates on frequencies that are beyond the scope of Russian capacities, so our commanders can communicate a lot of information. It’s also important that Starlink has greatly improved our military management system, because conventional radio stations were designed for voice messages. Starlink allows you to transfer a huge amount of information from tablets, phones, and drones. As soon as our Commander receives some information on the spot, such as a video from a small drone, he can upload this video in a few minutes and transmit it to the headquarters in Kyiv, where the decision to cause fire damage to the enemy is made. Therefore, Starlink is undoubtedly a huge weapon in our hands and it is very good that the Russians do not have such technology.So, Starlink is undoubtedly a powerful weapon in our hands and it’s very good that the Russians don’t have this technology.

Have you observed an increase in the number of Russian cyberattacks lately?

Objectively, I can say that cyber-attacks were active in January and February, before the war. There were very many false reports back then of bombs planted in schools, kindergartens, subway stations and railway stations. Russians did this before the invasion to sow panic. Once the war started no bomb calls could scare us. As far as I know, Russian hackers attack our servers, those of government agencies and organizations that work with the military, but they can’t do much harm. The worst harm is done by their missiles and other weapons that kill our people.

I think we read about the National Republican Army, the Russian anti-government organization that attacks IT infrastructures in Russia. Whats your opinion on that score?

I can say that any associations or groups of Russians that want to topple the Putin regime are our friends. Their actions aimed at destroying it by informational or other means can help us gain victory sooner, and it won’t just be Ukraine’s victory. The Russian people are Putin’s hostages. He kills them by sending them to fight against us. According to our General Staff, more than 67,000 Russian troops have been killed and more than 100,000 have been wounded – not by Ukrainians but by Putin.

By the way, Alexander Nevzorov, a well-known Russian journalist, is a friend of mine. He openly opposed Putin and had to emigrate from his country, where he is a wanted man. He says that while the war continues all Russian opposition forces that have competed for 20 years should unite. Let them settle their accounts after we have danced on Putin’s grave. And until then, we want the NRA and other organizations in the Caucasus, Siberia and elsewhere in Russia to do everything they can to undermine the Putin regime. We want them to not just speak out but act: to disrupt the mobilization, derail military trains and sabotage other military facilities, and help Ukraine by providing important intelligence.

What do you thing is going to happen next?

Ukraine will definitely win. The whole civilized world will win, because this is not Russia’s war against Ukraine. This is a war waged by Russia and its undemocratic allies, China, Iran, North Korea and Belarus, against democracy in the entire rest of the world. This is a war against America, Europe and other liberal democracies, a war for the future of the world. Some believed that after the defeat of Nazism and Hitlerism it would never come back. But before the eyes of the whole world Putin built up a huge military-industrial complex and a huge propaganda machine. Unfortunately, he was assisted by some European leaders or with their connivance. I mean German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who was paid by Putin for lobbying his interests in Germany. I mean Angela Merkel, who was warned many times that Germany’s critical reliance on Russian natural gas jeopardized her country and the whole of Europe. I want to remind you that at the beginning of this year, 55% of gas was supplied from the Russian Federation. Could have Germany diversified its gas supplies? Definitely yes. Currently, Germany is building 6 terminals for receiving liquefied natural gas. But this was not done, because Putin financed huge lobbying companies, entire public organizations that said that Germany should abandon nuclear energy, hydropower. That only green energy and Russian gas are needed. Here we are smearing the situation in which gas now costs more than two thousand per thousand cubic meters. And this is the result of the shortsightedness of individual European politician.

Many Americans and Europeans donate money to Ukraine. If it becomes known that some foundation misuses and embezzles this money, is Ukraine ready to take action?

Embezzlement or other misuse of humanitarian aid is liable under a separate article of the Criminal Code. If someone helps Ukraine, this aid must reach the people and they must receive it free of charge. There are cases of humanitarian aid being stolen, misused and sold, but the sums are not too large. There are cases when Ukrainians raise funds online and then pocket the money for themselves. We track such people down and bring them to account. There are, unfortunately, such cases, but they are not widespread and they should not  dissuade people from aiding Ukraine. But, as I have said, first and foremost Ukraine needs help with weapons.

I believe that Western countries, first of all the U.S., could give Ukraine several times more weapons. They have huge stocks of weapons and equipment, they have thousands of trucks and pickups and other vehicles they don’t actually need, and we need them badly. Ukraine is unable to withstand on its own. Putin expected to defeat Ukraine and take Kyiv in five or seven days, and that nobody would help us. Now the whole world is helping us, but we need more help to win sooner. Because every single day of this war means more deaths of Ukrainians. Like most Ukrainians, I see our victory as the full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, including Crimea. I am sure that our Armed Forces are fully able to oust the Russians from our mainland. As to Crimea, it’s going to be more difficult because of certain geographical obstacles.

But if Putin plans to retain Crimea, there is need to be more sanctions. In this regard I can say that the next step should be a complete halt to trading with Putin. Unfortunately, Western countries maintain trade with him. Did you know that America and Europe have their uranium enriched by Russia’s Rosatom, [the state-owned nuclear energy corporation]? The Russians have been deliberately dumping prices on the uranium enrichment market for the last 20 years, encouraging Western countries to close down their own hazardous facilities. As a result, the Western nuclear power sector is now dependent on Russia. The same situation exists in many other industries, such as the production of titanium and certain other metals. For example, Ukraine has huge deposits of titanium ore, but everything was done over the course of 30 years to keep Western investors away from this sector. Ukraine could have replaced Russian titanium, which is used by the U.S. defense industry. There are very many ways in which to put pressure on Russia, but first of all it is necessary to deprive it of all opportunities to make and spend money on this war. As long as Putin is earning big money, he will spend it on weapons against Ukraine. This must be stopped.