Tuesday, May 23, 2023


KARA SWISHER: Thank you. So we have a lot to talk about. I'm so glad Ukraine has solved all our technology problems. It would be really nice to have an app like this in the United States, but we don't, and probably never will. Good for them. Anyway, we're going to bring them on right now. Oh, I wish we had things like that here. It would be nice. I want to bring on Samantha Power and Minister Fedorov to talk about this. Thank you.

Alright. That was a lot of stuff you're doing there with Diia and in non-conflict times, it would be super impressive and it's more impressive and also sad, all the things you have to use it for right now. But let's start with – you started developing it in 2016, and this was quite a long time ago, before the war, but also before COVID. What did you learn using Diia during COVID that became useful once the conflict with Russia started?

VICE PRIME MINISTER MYKHAILO FEDOROV: I want to make a small correction. Diia was conceptualized in 2019, and we launched it in February of 2020. The most important part of the philosophy of this Diia is caring about the human being. So when COVID started, we began to look for an answer. “What is it that troubles our people?” They need to know where they can come and get vaccinated. They need to sign up to be vaccinated. And we became the first country in the European Union that issued digital certificates for vaccination. But it's important to note that a real technological revolution took place during COVID. The first day when a pandemic was announced, I gave a phone call to the prime minister and said, let's discuss this strategy. Let us cancel and stop making face-to-face meetings and do them online. Until today, we hold many government meetings online. We created another special app to allow people, who stay home, continue working from home. There's no doubt that any critical situation is an incentive for development of new technologies.

MS. SWISHER: Okay, so Diia now includes a chat bot for citizens to report on Russian troop movements. There's all kinds of things. How did you shift the application of it? Because that's a dramatic shift from vaccine information to here are the Russians and this part, or here are the troops or things like that.

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: It is the same philosophy. The invasion starts, and the main question is what it is that the people need right now. Information in real time. So we launched this TV, radio in Diia. Quick payments of subsidies for evacuation. So we launched that service. Once airstrikes began to happen and missiles were hitting people's homes, we launched the service to register the damages. And so on. So we keep thinking about the Ukrainian person and their needs, we keep this in our minds.

MS. SWISHER: Okay, let me just ask, so when you're doing that, say U.S. tech companies are thinking of something, oh, they need a dating service, a laundry service, all this silliness, most of the time. Who sits around and goes, “ah, where's the bombs?”, who thinks of that within your group? Because that's a very, even though you're giving information, it's a very different thing than, you know, basic services most people use these apps for in other parts of the world.

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: The main task of a government is to understand the needs of the people, to frame them, and to find ways to resolve them. We are not a creative team who invents some entertaining projects. We have a clear cycle of policy making. We do an ongoing sociological survey. We collect data on our boards and we analyze those data. And it's very important that the culture in our Ministry is different from a typical government culture. We have people who came to serve this mission.

MS. SWISHER: So what is the most important of the things that you've added on? You know, you were painting a picture of normal times where you would use all these services and try to make government more efficient and less corrupt. But what is the most useful thing right now in the conflict of just one feature that you have that's been most useful?

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: That's a good question because we have many very good, cool, services. But I think the most useful is not really a service, it's the new culture in the government. Government officials are competing to get their product a priority in launching that new service. It's a change of thinking, change of mindset. They are now thinking of how to address and resolve people's needs as conveniently as possible.

MS. SWISHER: So, Administrator Power, cybersecurity has been a focus of USAID work in Ukraine since 2020. Explain why that is because part of the development, was it part of the development of Diia or a different project? It's gotta be top of mind here, given Ukraine is ground zero for Russian disinformation. That's where they've tested out everything long ago and have continued to attack.

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Absolutely. Before I answer that, if I could just bring home why and how Diia matters and how sort of, in a way, removed we are here from the ground situation in Ukraine. As we were walking in earlier this morning, Deputy Prime Minister Fedorov was showing me photos of his neighborhood, which was bombed overnight and showing photos of the damage to the roof. Well, first of all, that's harrowing and brutal, and the Russians have to be held accountable for these crimes, one. Two, somebody will be going and snapping a picture of the damage to their roof, uploading it into the app, and at some point getting back an estimate of what the damage is. And at some point, actually, restitution for that damage will come via the government to the citizen. It's just mind blowing how, in real time, how useful this is just to, to your exchange with him.

In terms of cybersecurity, there's no way to imagine retaining the trust of the people. If the system that every week offers more and more services to the people, is vulnerable to Russian hacking. So as a design feature of Diia, very much following the lead of the Ukrainian officials who were designing it, they said to us, we have to do these two things in parallel. We have to think about citizen services. We have to think about this as an anti-corruption tool, but we can't have our cybersecurity protections for the government living over here and Diia living as this sort of trusting being over here. And so, we have been working with the Ukrainian government since 2014 on cyber protections more broadly. You know, to electricity infrastructure, to, you know, government bank accounts and the like. But once this became embedded into the Ukrainian government infrastructure as it happens, digital infrastructure, and once it was clear that citizens’ lives would all live in this single device, that became incredibly important. And these hackathons that they have, I mean I know there are hackers everywhere, but they have somewhat appear to be extremely sophisticated hackers hacking themselves day in, day out, looking for those vulnerabilities. And this is the dog that has not barked in this war, in this phase of the war. We should be hearing every day about – given how much Russia is investing in bringing down Ukrainian systems – every day we should be hearing about that. Occasionally there's a temporary outage and then the systems are back up and running. And that's in part because not only with Diia, but with the rest of the functioning of the State, cybersecurity is not an afterthought. It's sort of like turning the lights on. You know, you can't think about anything that the State does without thinking about the Russian federation's attempt to destroy it.

MS. SWISHER: Exactly, no, that's just Twitter on a daily basis. But, anti-corruption efforts were an important – I saw you laugh – anti-corruption efforts are at the heart of developing Diia and with the government. How does it fight corruption? Explain that. You were talking about no more lines, et cetera, et cetera, which is appealing to anyone who uses government services. But corruption remains a problem in Ukraine. The Chief of the Supreme Court was arrested on May, I think, 18th and a high level corruption case expands. So talk a little bit about the corruption issues, because that was the original thought of this, is to solve this problem that plagues many countries around the world.

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: First of all, we haven't really started working on the courts.

MS. SWISHER: Oh, no. Neither have we. Neither have we, but go ahead.

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: But, this sphere where we did apply our effort – construction, such cases you won't find there. I really was always interested in how independent government institutions are built in the U.S. and we as a team studied your history, we understand that this is the path we are going to walk on for a hundred percent sure. The anti-corruption infrastructure is quite powerful now. So what we are focused on right now, our task is to remove the role of a human agency in those services where corruption risks are the highest. What we are trying to accomplish is that information that needs to be verified and checked in the registries is done automatically without human involvement. So when an individual wants to start a construction and they file an application for a permit, registries automatically verify, one registry talks to another registry to see if there are any restrictions imposed for certain construction. So, it's impossible that there'll be a subjective decision of an official saying, “I'm not going to allow this.” The principle of our work is all services are launched automatically. So you can always arrange it in such a way that the human factor will be minimized.

MS. SWISHER: So no humans, is the solution? All bots. Yes, he’s like: “yes all bots.” That's coming.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Can I add one quick thing on this because it's such a good question, but like we say more transparent, more visible, but how, practically, does it work? One of the things that Congress has given USAID, since this full-scale invasion began, is an unprecedented amount of money in direct budget support. Which sounds kind of obvious, of course, we would do that, we want to stand with Ukraine. But it's totally unprecedented this kind of scale of investment, and we're talking in along the lines of about $15 billion in a sense cash to the Ukrainian government. Which was famously corrupt, you know, in past years and still has work, as you noted, to do on corruption today. I don't know if we could have gotten that money out of Congress if not for Diia. Because what Diia allows us to do is that direct budget support goes yes, to the Ukrainian government, but then it goes to pay teachers, to pay healthcare workers, to pay first responders and there's a digital trail. It's not, you know, some official deciding this or that, it actually is going directly into the bank accounts in a manner that just, it would've been untraceable in a prior regime.

MS. SWISHER: So what kind of aid is USAID concentrating on Ukraine right now? I think $43 million is here in this effort. Is that correct?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: If you're talking about the Ministry of Digital Transformation in Diia, yes.

MS. SWISHER: Yes. Small amount of money.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: That's fairly modest.

MS. SWISHER: That’s what, like, Jeff Bezos has in his pocket. But go ahead. It’s not a lot in tech.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: It's not, but the Deputy Prime Minister can speak to it better than I have because he's lived this flurry of advance over these last four years. But, you know, on their accounts it's 80 percent between us and the United Kingdom’s support. It's 80 percent of what they needed to launch this. It didn't take much because they had some of the necessary infrastructure before. And I think one of the biggest achievements that we haven't really talked about, as we Americans envy this, is the coverage. You need a critical mass for this to really become what it has become. And they have crossed that tipping point. You know, they have around half of eligible adults, but they have an older population. So now the target in this next phase, which is very difficult to reach in wartime, is an elderly population that may not have smartphones or may not be online, but that's a manageable challenge. You know, it's a challenging challenge, don't get me wrong, but imagine an entire country, again, able when President Zelenskyy comes forward and says, “we'd like to introduce this piece of legislation,” being able to go thumbs up, thumbs down, you know, with a click. Imagine them being able to crowdsource new services and new ideas in the post-war reconstruction phase. And this point that Mr. Fedorov made about construction, imagine in a reconstruction phase, not having the ability to take your smartphone, go up to a construction site, look at the QR code, take a photo with the QR code, see who the contract went to, see who the subcontractor is, the sub to the sub, that's rife for corruption. And if there's corruption, you're not gonna see international investment at the scale that they need.

MS. SWISHER: So getting that money, even though it works for them, it's a small amount of money, do you perceive any pushback to that because there has been growing pushback.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: In the United States?


ADMINISTRATOR POWER: No, on this specifically, no. As you say, it's very small compared to the direct budget support number I just gave you of more than $15 billion. I mean, USAID is working in the agricultural sector, helping farmers store their grains while Putin tries to, you know, slow roll getting the grains out. We work with independent media, giving journalists flak jackets and making sure that public television can broadcast. We work with NGOs fighting misinformation. So we do a lot in a lot of different sectors. I think you're right that questions have been raised on Capitol Hill about the sustainability of these investments, but, you know, you also may have heard most recently Speaker McCarthy talking about how much he recognizes that Ukraine has to win this war. And I think what's so important about this conversation is that most of the media interest in U.S. support has been in weapon systems. But this is its own weapon. I mean, not only because citizens are using it to report on Russian troop movements – that's true. But imagine, again, if the democracy were either to just stay in place, just be at a standstill, or if the lights were to go out. And that's why I mentioned the link between Diia and being able to continue to vouch for the assistance going where it is intended. We need that in order to be able to go up and defend investments that are just as critical to Ukraine winning this war as the latest weapon systems.

MS. SWISHER: So talk then about, Minister, about the idea of surveillance. Because I think that's a big worry in this country. The idea of a single app, here, I don't see ever happening in the United States, even though a lot of people have talked about it. There's deep worries about government surveillance, privacy hacking, everything else. We don't have a national privacy bill in the United States, still, 20 years in. It's not just hacking, but the idea of having, when it said unified system, I have to say, I was like, no, no, no, no. Even I'm very digital, and digital forward-leaning. Talk about that idea of getting yours. It feels like there's a vulnerability part that could come into play. Especially as the Russians, if the Russians gained control of it, for example – or any authoritarian State did.

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: We were starting to create Diia in 2019. At that time, Ukraine already had a war, an ongoing war. So we understood our challenges. So from the very beginning, our architecture was focused on maximum security. Diia does not store personal information, for example. The information is stored in registries outside your Diia, and Diia is just a platform who communicates with them, communicates and facilitates changes. We are now opening the code of Diia.

MS. SWISHER: To other countries, right?

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: We are going to make it open code so anybody could see the architecture of Diia. We are going to put in a tool where, like when you come to visit a doctor, Diia will inform you that now the doctor is opening your medical file. So we want an individual to be protected, not just from Russian hackers or like them, but also from abuse by officials. We've done that now with credit history checks.

MS. SWISHER: So you can see people seeing you – or looking for you?

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: That's right. One can see and, and get notified that somebody is checking your credit history in the registry. And that's why people trust Diia. It’s technologically safe. One cannot get served by the system without your facial signature. So if you lose your phone, someone else cannot use it instead of you. And these new notifications will be another addition to trust.

MS. SWISHER: In an article for the Atlantic Council Minister Fedorov wrote,”‘since the invasion began, Ukraine has demonstrated readiness to innovate, that more conservative Russian military simply cannot match.” Sort of fighting a 20th century war, but is tech enough? You mentioned that through tech, this will work. I've heard that a lot. The idea that tech can solve a war, help a war along. How important is stressing tech in this situation compared to weaponry or other things?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I don't think I, at least I didn't intend to overstate and say, you know, when cruise missiles are raining down on your head your smartphone is the answer. I mean, this is a multifaceted response. What I'm saying is that, the idea that you can win on one battlefront and not continue to strengthen the rule of law, fight corruption, strengthen democracy, keeps citizens feeling like their government is delivering for them, because it would be very easy for citizens to sour, you know on lots right now, given the human toll of this conflict on them. You know it's not every day that you're taking town after town back, you know, they need to be sustained in other ways. Moreover, just the sheer hardship of losing temporarily, a large chunk of your country, the number of people who are displaced and who have no place to go. The fact that, and this, again, I very much share the questions about privacy, and I'm really interested in the checks and balances that they've built in, but they're able to verify whether you're an internally displaced person, in part by being geo-located on your phone, thereby, creating eligibility for money, additional money, to be put into your bank account. You know that countries like USAID and others – like the United States and others are – are supporting. So I don't think anybody is suggesting that tech is the answer. It is a comparative advantage. There's nothing comparable happening on the other side of the front lines. Just as the Ukrainian will to fight, and the fact that they're defending their homes rather than invading somebody else's country, is a comparative advantage and it's that set of comparative advantages that have them defying the odds in having won the Battle of Kyiv, won the battle for winter. Putin tried to weaponize winter, you know, turn the cold against the Ukrainian people, their ingenuity, not through tech, but through rebuilding you know pipes.

MS. SWISHER: Broadly speaking innovation.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Innovation, but also determination. That combination and USAID – $400 million of USAID support for boilers, generators, again, replacement pipes and the like. So it takes, at the core, it's the Ukrainians who have turned the tide on Russian aggression. But you know, it's the rallying of democracies behind them in service of these other features of defense.

MS. SWISHER: So one of the things that you've talked about, you've written a lot about, Minister, is talking about not just air defense missiles and long range drones, but weapons are kind of obvious. You've done two things that you call the IT army, which includes, you said, “I think the future is with tech, and this is why we will win. Governments must move towards becoming more and more like tech companies rather than being rigid, like a tank, like a war machine.” And then you've noted, “after all, success in modern wealth warfare depends primarily on data and technology, not the numbers of 1960s tanks you can deploy at your willingness to use infantry as cannon fodder. Ukraine has used everything from drones and satellite imagery to artificial intelligence and situational awareness tools in order to inflict maximum damage on Russian forces while preserving the lives of Ukrainian service personnel.” Talk about this idea of military tech, how important it is, because that's not, it's not just this app, it's other ways, especially through drones.

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: This is a separate project we are working on. We are running this project called the Army of Drones in Ukraine. And we already increased manufacture of drones in Ukraine dozens of times. To that end, we change the government policies that regulate drone manufacturing. The margin that is allowed for private contractors is now bigger than even NATO countries had. So, these new startup centers, that's where innovations come up. We have seen this market emerge in front of our eyes and grow. At the beginning, there were only seven companies that could be government contractors in this field, now there are hundreds, more than a hundred. So we started the project named Brave One, and that's a military cluster of projects, products, and innovation is developing there. This is a new, a big sphere. And in months, or maybe a year, there'll be a big revolution here coming up as well.

MS. SWISHER: So what my last few questions are around what comes next because here you're applying all this technology to a wartime situation and you're trying to innovate in the middle of a war, using, whether it's drone technology, whether it's situational awareness, all kinds of things. It's also a testing ground for what's to come, not just in war tech, but in the future of Ukraine. Now Ukraine had been quite technological, along with Estonia, Latvia, and Russia itself. How important is tech going to be for the future of Ukraine in terms of coming back? Obviously agriculture's a huge market. I'd love you both to think about what that means afterwards. Cause you said reconstruction, very hopefully, many people feel, it's gonna drag on for a while. But what does first reconstruction mean and what technology will be part of that? And then, how do you look at that after this? I guess you could go add a dating app later, but not today. Because you've got other concerns, but talk about what it means.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah and again, we just know reconstruction's going to happen at some point. None of us can predict when that starts in terms of full-scale reconstruction, but reconstruction is happening now. Every time, for example, in Mykhailo’s neighborhood, we're gonna have reconstruction probably starting as early as tomorrow, on the basis of the strike that occurred overnight. So I think tech, there's not going to be a big on/off switch necessarily where it's like reconstruction today. Every time Ukraine takes back territory, it seeks to repopulate it and rebuild. And so some of these anti-corruption features of Diia, and the Deputy Prime Minister talked about the change in culture in government, it's also a change in culture among citizens. Who believe that it is their right and that they are entitled to see what government is doing, to hold them accountable and that's a transformative shift.

To your question about tech more broadly, one of the industries that USAID has invested in, since really 2014, is the tech industry. There are major issues, of course, attracting private investment to Ukraine, facilitating trade from Ukraine in a live war zone. But last year, the tech sector saw its most substantial increase in the export of services ever. And actually tech as an industry along with grain, again, for which Ukraine is famous and this burgeoning crop of young IT professionals, this is one of the largest growing sources of revenue for a Ukrainian government that has to continue to take in revenue from its citizens, from its private sector, from its economy in order to be able to fuel the war, and ultimately be able to fuel the peace.

So if you hear nothing else I think today it's just that Ukraine is not standing still. It is working on anti-corruption reforms, adding new services to Diia. When we first started talking about doing this event, I think they were at 90 services that you could get through Diia. You know, every month new things are added, but so too, a sector that was in one place on February 24, 2022 when Putin invaded, is now light years ahead of where it was in terms of what it's already providing to the rest of the world.

Last thing I'll say, just because you asked about the future, and it's probably my last word, is we are really excited about this as a model for many of the other developing countries that we're working in. And what's great about the way the Ukrainians are engaging other countries is they're saying it's a menu. You know, we right now are doing assessments of what the digital infrastructure looks like, what their capacities are, but citizens and countries are the ones to decide which of these features are going to run afoul of our privacy concerns. Which of these features are premature because we don't have the cybersecurity infrastructure that Ukraine has. And, and so, you know, this is now something that other countries can look to, which is a, you know, at a time when Putin is trying to win an information war in the global south for Ukraine, to be also highlighting this aspect of what Ukraine is and does, namely a democratic aspect, a crowdsourced aspect, an aspect focused on anti-corruption. That's also a very important message as well as a very important tool in the global south.

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: I think the most important thing about the post-war reconstruction, that it's going to be not so much reconstruction as rather transformation. The key transformation I anticipate is that out of a country that was selling some resources or developing something again for export, this will be a country that will be making products for others. Diia is a product. And now that we have dozens and hundreds of companies that will be making those advanced drones that the whole world is going to be buying. So I think our task right now as we are receiving all this aid is to build our own institutions, so in the future, they will be able to work effectively and deliver. We want our partners to understand that we also want to create value, add value, work effectively, and this will be a win-win situation.

MS. SWISHER: And my very last question, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask what you need from U.S. tech companies. Obviously at the beginning of the war, you press them to, take down Russian propaganda, you ask them for all kinds of help. I'd love to do a quick lightning round of what you need from some of these companies. Apple computer for example.

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: I ask them to not stop. We have excellent relationships with them. We continuously think how we can be useful for them. And we now have built very good, normal, partnership relations. It may sound strange, but I do not have any requests right now.

MS. SWISHER: Really? Okay.


MS. SWISHER: Okay. Thank you so much.

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