opinion | The future of European digital democracy is playing out in Ukraine

When did Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine begin? The answer seems obvious: February 24 with the first missile strikes of the Russian army. In fact, everything is not so simple.

In the months leading up to the invasion, Russia stepped up its attacks in the cyber realm, with Ukrainian civil services subjected to hacking attempts. At the same time, information pressure increased due to disinformation, rumors on social networks and on TV channels. Given the hybrid nature of the war, it was already under way on 24 February.

Even military specialists are prisoners of the old concept of war. War is always perceived as kinetic. But conflicts are no longer caused by attacks in the physical world. The war in the digital world starts earlier: digital first. Constant monitoring of events in cyberspace is the basis for ensuring security.

Digital Minister addresses Elon Musk via Twitter

In addition, crowdsourcing allows you to quickly solve social and logistical problems. Groups of volunteers installed on digital platforms help citizens coordinate the purchase of medicines, the distribution of humanitarian aid, as well as conduct cyber attacks on the websites of the Russian authorities and organize educational flash mobs.

Basically, the initiative for these actions comes from below, and even civil servants are forced to behave like ordinary users. For example, the Minister of Digital Transformation Mikhail Fedorov turned to Elon Musk for help simply through Twitter.

In addition, this technological decentralization strengthens the position of Ukraine in the territories from which the army has been temporarily withdrawn. The occupation administration can be physically present and try to impose its orders. However, the Ukrainian state is present in the digital space and remains in touch with its citizens.

Technology can be dual purpose

The conflict in Ukraine also shows us that the division between military and civilian technologies does not make much sense. Starlink distributes Internet to farmers, drones deliver packages – this is how it works in peacetime. During the war, it’s different: Internet artillery is distributed via satellite, and intelligence officers use civilian drones. Any digital innovation becomes a weapon. This is a dual purpose technology.

Since technology is value neutral, it can be used to increase control and authoritarianism, but also for the opposite: to speed up democratic processes, to increase solidarity, to help exercise rights.

And this dual use extends to political life as well. Since technology is value neutral, it can be used to increase control and authoritarianism, but also for the opposite: to speed up democratic processes, to increase solidarity, to help exercise rights.

A strategic understanding of the military and political potential of each technology and the need for developers to discover it could be an important part of European cyber regulation.

Ukraine shows that democracy can be quickly digitized

Finally, democracy can compete with authoritarian regimes when it comes to digitalization. Before the start of the war, Ukraine largely digitized itself, embodying the idea of ​​a “smartphone state”. Thanks to the Diya application, the citizens got access to many services: they no longer had to carry their passports with them. It was possible to register a legal entity directly by phone.

The war accelerated digitalization. Too many citizens were cut off from physical service centers. Only digital services can solve their problems.

It is often said that digital democracy does not work well because there is no motivation to implement solutions quickly. The experience of Ukraine shows that with such a goal, democracy can be effectively digitized. This goal does not replace the strategic vision, but is an important element of it.

The European digital democracy is still in its infancy. Its foundations and competitive differences from the authoritarian models of China and Russia are being laid. This will require a strong strategic vision, of which the current Ukrainian experience provides important indications.

Anton Tarasyuk philosopher

Nastya Travkina neuroscientist

Sergei Zhdanovspecialist in digital technologies and digital ethics

Translation by Ekaterina Tarasyuk