38th by 41st: Echoes of the inter-Korean tech gap in Eastern Europe
The prospect of a Korean-style division of Ukraine, which Kyiv’s intelligence service believes to be the Kremlin’s goal, is hardly the only parallel between the Korean Peninsula and Ukraine. Within Russian national discourse, the idea that the Russian Federation could become another North Korea – namely an economic and political pariah as a result of Moscow’s aggressive campaign – has taken on increasing prominence.
In one recent Russian-language piece in Ukrainian media, however, tech specialist Valeriy Yarovenko takes things further, not only by likening Russia’s future to the present reality in the DPRK in terms of technological development and progress (or rather the lack thereof), but also sounding a hopeful note that Ukraine could follow South Korea’s path in terms of technological greatness. The piece, while still speculative at best, indirectly raises several important points open to further speculation in terms of how Pyongyang and Seoul may relate to Russia and Ukraine, respectively in the technological sphere.
If Russia’s Internet goes the way of North Korea – namely in moving toward more of a national Intranet – what sort of digital axis might Moscow and Pyongyang form at a time when fears abound in Seoul that Russia could enhance North Korean cyber capabilities? If North Korea has been so heavily dependent upon Russian technology up until this point, how might the two sanctioned countries cooperate to advance their interests in contrast to those of the United States? Conversely, might the ROK use its famous tech savvy to help improve Ukraine’s own technological situation? After all, if Korean firms are interested in Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction, helping to strengthen Ukraine’s tech capabilities may be a good place to start.
“Russia will hit a technological floor: in 10 years they’ll be another North Korea”, Valeriy Yarovenko, Focus.UA, June 8, 2022.
“Neither import substitutions, nor smuggling nor their own developments can help Russia catch up with the civilized world. They’ve already lost the tech war.” Opinion.
The people occupying Ukraine would love to crow about space exploration, innovative developments and any victories toward those ends, yet it’s one thing to pump Russian state TV full of propaganda and flag-waving, and quite another to actually influence people’s perceptions globally.
Russia has long persistently copied off Western technology, yet its impossible to say the country can achieve superiority in the space or IT fields. The only remaining capability they have is to use their satellites to damage the infrastructure now developing around the world. It’s really no secret, for example, that Starlink satellites are seriously harming Russia’s efforts – they even admit this publicly. The aggressor nation makes no secret of its efforts to destroy the possibility of a global Internet – propagandists constantly go on about the Kremlin’s desire to damage satellite systems. But can Russia provide an an alternative to Western satellite technology? No. First, Russia has lost access to that very technology. Compounding this is the illogical financial model Russia’s space technology industry follows. The fact is, Russia cannot carry out satellite launches and make up for its losses, nor can it replenish equipment in orbit, because the cost of one launch is immeasurably high compared with the cost of a launch in the US.
If talking about influence on existing technologies, Russia can try to damage any existing networks, yet I believe that the amount of satellites launched by allied countries is so high, and the speed at which they can replenish them is so fast, that Russian encroachments simply don’t make any sense.
One other important factor is the space and technological initiatives the Russian Federation likes to brandish. The truth is, Russia has never even produced anything that we could rightfully consider “high tech.” All of these have either been copies or clones (lagging behind more recent generations) or have had logos stuck on them (which can be traced back to sanctioned imports). Sure, there is still the option of import substitution. For example, it is said they will start using GLOSNASS instead of GPS. However, they don’t have enough satellites to guarantee normal coverage. This was already a problem even a few years ago. If the US decides to cut Russia off the GPS system, more problems will arise. I haven’t even gotten into how GLOSNASS can be off by dozens, even hundreds of meters in contrast to GPS.
As relates to the production of microelectronics – for example processors – yes, some of them can be produced using their own capabilities, some will be produced with the assistance of countries that haven’t joined sanctions, and some will be smuggled in. It’s only a question of the scale of production and of money. But there are also secondary sanctions, which are very real and something many companies and countries fear. And the number of both countries and companies that will walk away from a toxic relationship with the country will only grow.
In spite of the Kremlin’s efforts to somehow support IT companies by making use of their services, IT specialists are nevertheless leaving the country, and the IT industry, which could until recently be considered highly-developed, is buckling now (“Yandex” is showing poor financial results, and “Sberbank”, known for its innovativeness, is curtailing projects). Even now, under the aegis of import substitutions, the Kremlin is trying to keep Russia’s IT market afloat. Again, maybe some solutions will help, but I don’t see any long-term fix to this increasingly-complicated problem. There’s only one end to this journey. People will get out of there, not because things are so bad for them now, but because they know there’s no future for them there.
Russia will hit a technological floor. Over the next five-to-ten years they will try to substitute technologies that they consider pertinent to the production of chips, semiconductors and other electronic components. They will be busy meeting basic demands for their population and creating a facade of success. Look at North Korea and South Korea. Russia is to North Korea as Ukraine is to South Korea. Our country has intellectual and technological potential, with financial potential on the horizon. Unlike Russia, Ukraine has chosen the path of development, not stagnation.
Russia has reached a technological dead end – that’s a fact. But of course, people won’t find out about how things are here in Ukraine. They won’t allow people to see how Ukraine is developing, how people in Lithuania live or, God forbid, in the US. They will not only be underdeveloped technologically, but highly limited in terms of information.
It’s not appropriate to speak of contention between Russia and the civilized world in the realm of high tech and space tech. The Kremlin has clearly lost this war.
Original article by Valeriy Yarovenko, co-founder, DroneUA. Translated by Anthony V. Rinna.
 Source: “Russia will hit a technological floor: in 10 years they’ll be another North Korea”, [Россию ожидает технологическое дно: через 10 лет она превратится в Северную Корею]”, Focus.UA, June 8, 2022, https://focus.ua/amp/digital/518398-rossiyu-ozhidaet-tehnologicheskoe-dno-cherez-10-let-ona-prevratitsya-v-severnuyu-koreyu
 The South China Morning Post recently published allegations that North Korea has even been using GLOSNASS technology acquired from Russia, although the veracity of this assertion is difficult to confirm: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3163727/north-korea-using-russian-satellite-navigation-system-instead
 Translator’s note 1: although the original text doesn’t say “the country”, it can be implied through this particular use of the verb in Russian. Furthermore, remaining independent Russian media outlets, particularly on YouTube, regularly advertise training in IT as a potential avenue to help leave the country as the economic situation worsens.
 Translator’s note 2: while not as strong as the “collective ‘we’” in Korean culture, the concept of “us” and “our” is stronger in Russian-speaking cultures than it is in the Anglosphere as a matter of social identification.