Starlinks, mObywatel, Cyber Security, and support for Ukraine. Interview with Krzysztof Gawkowski, Minister of Digital Affairs of Poland

Krzysztof Gawkowski, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Affairs of Poland, paid a work visit to Kyiv, Ukraine on May 6. In a conversation with AIN.Capital, he talked about the meeting with his Ukrainian colleague Mykhailo Fedorov, during which they discussed a number of issues regarding cooperation between the two countries in the digital field, namely the Starlinks systems provision, the mObywatel and Diia platforms, Cyber Security, and support for Ukraine.

How is your visit in Ukraine, in Kyiv?

First of all, I really like Kyiv. This is not my first visit here. I really like the fast roads, very good conditions. And, in fact, everything is very well attended from the security and safety point of view.

Very glad to hear that. Can you share some developments or agreements between our governments that you are working on during this visit?

We talked about several directions of cooperation, in particular, assistance in providing Ukraine with the Internet, in particular, the Starlink systems, which is very important for the security of Ukraine and which is a priority aspect of Polish assistance.

We also talked a lot about the Tallinn Mechanism [ed. A new format of assistance to Ukraine in the field of cyber security] and about the principles of cooperation in order to develop the back-office within the framework of this mechanism. We talked a lot about how to ensure long-term cyber security mechanisms.

We also talked about the role of the Republic of Poland during its presidency in the European Union in 2025 and about the support Ukraine during this period.

Krzysztof Gawkowski
Image: Ministry of Digital Affairs of Ukraine

In addition, we talked about the fact that Poland is currently in 3-4th place globally in terms of support for Ukraine from all countries of the world. For Poland, this means 2.5% of annual GDP. Also, some databases and servers of Ukrainian enterprises are now localized in Poland and we declared our readiness to guarantee the security of this data in the future.

I also invited Deputy Prime Minister Fedorov for a return visit to Poland, where I hope he will present the successes we talked about today.

We have a lot to discuss, so let’s start with digital government services Diia and mObywatel. We know that mObywatel 2.0 was released in July 2023, which equated the Polish Digital ID to plastic cards. Almost a year has passed since then. How is the implementation process going and can you share the results?

This process gives a sense of increased possibilities and opportunities to use digital reality to Polish citizens. We can say that mObywatel is the most popular application in Europe today. In the European Union.

We have a rather similar situation with the Ukrainian Diia.

Actually, Diia is the most popular in Europe, but not in the European Union.

Immediately after the Russian attack on Ukraine, some Ukrainian documents appeared in the mObywatel system. Are there any plans at all to further integrate these two applications so that more documents and services have this kind of cross-interaction?

Actually, we also talked about this with the Deputy Prime Minister. Now, with the help of mObywatel, Ukrainian citizens have the opportunity to legally confirm their identity and the legitimacy of their stay in Poland. We want to expand these possibilities in the future.

Ukrainian documents in mObywatel. Source: Judicial and legal newspaper

Every year more and more services are added to these platforms. Could it be that the Ukrainian Diia somehow influenced the development of mObywatel itself? Maybe some functionalities inspired something during the development process?

I would say that it was mObywatel that influenced the development of Diia a few years ago. And now Diia has a greater influence on mObywatel regarding the development of the application. Therefore, it can be said that this is such a brotherhood and sisterhood, like a brother and sister who go to Europe together.

Now back to the topic we discussed earlier. We know that Poland is one of the largest donors of the Starlink systems to Ukraine. In December 2023, this figure reached about 20,000 Starlinks. Can you update us on the current numbers?

Poland provided more than 20,000 of the Starlinks systems to Ukraine. Starlinks ensure the operation of broadband Internet, which is very important for the security of Ukraine, for the interaction between citizens and the authorities. The Internet apparatus is very important because it also provides communication for the military, for hospitals and important infrastructure facilities.

Therefore, to the question of the Deputy Prime Minister, I assured that Poland is ready to continue financing Starlinks.

Very glad to hear that. There are talks that Poland may also start financing of the Starlink subscription service. Are there any official plans or news on this at all?

Does Poland plan to finance the Starlinks it has already acquired? Of course. Poland has been doing this for a long time.

Sure, then another question. How does this mechanism work now?

We just pay for these Starlinks monthly and quarterly. That is, I personally periodically sign this money transfers.

Now to the topic of war. Ukrainian energy, infrastructure and communications, as well as virtual services, very often become victims of russian cyber attacks. Is Poland also experiencing such cyber attacks?

Actually, the threats from russia, if we talk about cyberspace, are the same for both Ukraine and Poland. Every day we see cyber attacks and other cyber threats from russia. The russians are particularly keen on using Malware and Ransomware.

Therefore, it is a priority for us to close these holes in the protection. To do this, we increase our spending on cyber security every year. And now we are working on changes in legislation that will protect more and more sectors of our everyday life with such a cyber shield.

How do Poland and Ukraine generally cooperate in the field of cyber security? Can you share this with us?

We work very closely together and we work very secretly.

But there are things I can talk about openly. For example, from September to December 2023, russian special services started using such programs, called SVR, which could make changes in programming. And the Polish services, together with the American and British services, blocked the access of the russian special services to our servers, which could also be dangerous for Ukraine.

It has already been mentioned that Ukraine has registers in Poland. Is it even possible to transfer or backup these registers on the territory of Poland in general, in order to avoid their physical or virtual destruction?

I think that this is a question for the Ukrainian side, not mine.

Of course. We will try talks to the Ukrainian government regarding this issue. But is Poland open to this at all?

Poland is open to very broad cooperation in the digital field. This is what the memorandum signed today should serve to cooperate in the framework of it on digital protection, data protection, data storage, access and operation of the Internet. We are open to everything, but the decision will be made by the Ukrainian side

And can I ask a little about the details of this newly signed memorandum? What does it cover?

We agreed with Mr. Prime Minister Fedorov that he will talk about the details of the memorandum signed today. Therefore, I will allow myself not to answer this question, because I will talk about these details in Poland. This way, everyone will do their job.

Image: Ministry of Digital Affairs of Ukraine

And now to the last question for today. We know that many Ukrainian startups and IT specialists moved to Poland after the war. How has this affected the Polish IT ecosystem, and in short, how is it doing now?

Actually, the IT ecosystem in Poland is developing very well. And this is also due to the fact that there are a lot of specialists who work in Poland, but who are citizens of Ukraine working remotely. Neither Polish nor Ukrainian specialists are competitors for each other because they complement each other well and develop this field together.

I am very happy that 47% of Ukrainian startups that moved to Poland after the start of the full-scale invasion plan to return to Ukraine because it will help the Ukrainian economy.

In addition, Poland, for its part, aims to provide conditions for Ukrainian startups to use European Union funds. That is why, often when such startups decide to relocate from Ukraine, they choose Poland. Ukrainian startups also receive support from Polish and foreign IT companies. And we plan to continue this in the future.