An interesting, even surprising aspect of the war in Ukraine has been the role of commercial technology and private companies. Exporting weapons from the west to Ukraine has made a lot of headlines, and at the same time, Western companies have also had an important role in the war and how the Ukraine state works. It might be a big difference between free economies and totalitarian countries that private companies, their technology, and innovations also help to survive in difficult situations.
WSJ reported earlier how the technology giants, like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle have helped the Ukrainian government save its data in clouds outside Ukraine and also fight against cyberattacks. However, giant software and internet companies are not the only ones that have been playing a significant role. For example, SpaceX’s Starlink offers satellite communications for Ukraine. It has become important, especially in the areas where mobile networks don’t work anymore.
Ukraine is receiving satellite pictures from private companies. Also, the role of cybersecurity companies, mobile networks, and drones have been important in the war, especially for Ukraine which receives support from Western companies. Twitter has proved to be useful in war-related communications and PR for the Ukraine government.
At the same time, Russia starts to have more and more problems with its technology, when it is not able to get any more support and components from Western companies.
Private companies stepping in
I wrote earlier about how dual-use technology becomes more important in the military, when it often offers faster development with lower costs. Now we can see that it is not only dual-use technology, but also the role of private tech companies that is important in wars. This is not really a new phenomenon. For instance, in WWII, private companies already had an important role to make weapons, vehicles, and technology. In the US, for example, Coca-Cola became an American symbol when it delivered its drinks to soldiers. We have also seen American companies offering products, such as communications technology, for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What is more unique in the war in Ukraine, companies are not only supporting their home countries and working for the government contracts, but they have taken a more active and independent role in the war. Some of the company boards have decided that they want to take a side in the war, and they use their own resources to support Ukraine.
Just follow sanctions or take extra steps
The financial ecosystem is crucial for any country. Sanctions against Russia have limited Russian banks, businesses, and individuals from using finance services and transferring money. Yet, finance and fintech companies haven’t been as active as many other tech companies. They have implemented sanctions when they had to and some still offer services to Russians if they are not sanctioned.
The COVID time and Russian sanctions have reminded us that governments have the final word and that governments can control and limit the freedoms of individuals and businesses. But we can also see how companies and their technologies are very crucial for governments and the implementation of state policies. They couldn’t develop and operate all services alone. The symbiosis of businesses and governments is nothing new and should not be a surprise. But it is something that has been easy to forget during the last decades; the current situation is a reminder of how different parties have their own important roles.
The history of the Soviet Union demonstrated how the centralized system failed and the country couldn’t anymore be successful in the arms race; finally, it had to use almost all its resources for the military. Now we can see a return to a new type of Cold War era, where the technology race is actually very important. We can also see that different countries and governments have very different approaches to managing this race, some more centralized, and some others much more business-driven.
Corporate activism and modern warfare
It is also interesting how some companies have been willing to take sides in this military conflict. Western companies especially showed how they are willing to support Ukraine voluntarily. This has been typical especially for the tech companies that have otherwise received quite a lot of criticism about how they want to create their own rules in many areas and get a big control in the societies when they facilitate data, communications, and information.
At the same time, many more traditional companies have been quite reluctant and slow to close their Russian operations. They have talked more about their commitment to their Russian employees, the complexity of closing down operations, and the financial impact. Perhaps one difference is that many tech giants have one or a few strong owners that can make fast decisions; while more traditional corporations have very distributed ownerships and the salary management is in a more important role.
As a whole, we can say that Ukraine’s situation would be much worse without support from private companies and volunteer people. It demonstrates that people and businesses also have an important role to impact on the world. It can start from small actions or pieces of equipment and it doesn’t always require government’s and official’s decisions.
This also reminds that private companies and technological development are really important factors not only in making economies and businesses more successful and earning more money but also in helping ordinary people to survive. Advanced technology is crucial for the military, but it is also mandatory to keep a country and society to work.