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Ukraine braces for more Russian cyberattacks, an ex-infrastructure minister says


I'm A Martinez in Kyiv, where world leaders have been descending, one after the other. We got across town yesterday moments before streets shut down for French President Emmanuel Macron's visit.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: French President Emmanuel Macron taking the lead, arriving in Kyiv today to meet with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy one day after his marathon talks with Vladimir Putin. And Macron's saying...

MARTÍNEZ: Macron is acting as a go-between, a mediator, between Russia and the Western NATO alliance. And while he's kept the dialogue going with the man of the hour, Russian President Vladimir Putin, he has not secured any commitments from him. Here in Ukraine, pretty much everyone is listening closely.

VOLODYMYR OMELYAN: My name is Volodymyr Omelyan. I'm politician, board member of the European Solidarity political party, former minister of infrastructure in 2016, 2019.

MARTÍNEZ: We met up with Omelyan at the offices of his political party. Talking to him, we learn he believes his future lies with Europe. His office is modern on the inside, post-Soviet looking on the outside. It's located near war memorials, museums and just a few blocks from the world's deepest subway station. Omelyan tells us that in his years in government, he had to deal with repeated Russian cyberattacks, and he remembers a big one from 2016.

OMELYAN: They attacked our logistics components, such as Ukrainian railways, Ukrainian seaports, airports, and only because we immediately switched to our reserve systems, which are isolated from the outer world, we survived. But still, it was very tough. But then we realized, even if governmental services are operational, banking system is damaged. Gasoline stations, which are in private hands, are damaged and blocked. You cannot function normally. And this is the biggest issue as of today as well because we never know how far Russians are ready to go.

MARTÍNEZ: I asked Omelyan about Nord Stream 2, a years-in-the-making, controversial pipeline that would lower gas prices for Europeans.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the natural gas pipeline that's directly from Russia to Germany, seems to be at the center of a lot of what's going on between the U.S., France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia. And it delivers gas directly to Germany, bypassing Ukraine's transit infrastructure. How much revenue does Ukraine stand to lose if that pipeline becomes fully operational?

OMELYAN: If we talk about money, it's between 5 and $10 billion annually. But it's not about the money; it's about geopolitics and about the impact on all other areas of economy and politics. In our strong opinion, next day when Nord Stream 2 is fully operational, Russia attacks Ukraine. And existing main gas pipeline coming through Ukraine supplying gas to European Union is the main obstacle for Russia to attack Ukraine because if they do so, existing pipeline could be easily damaged, and Russia doesn't get money from European Union for supply of gas. And it's also big impact for Russian economy. I was very happy to hear news from Mr. Biden and Scholz just recently in Washington.

MARTÍNEZ: He's referring to President Biden's meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. After the meeting, Biden said that if Russia invades, the pipeline will be shut down.

OMELYAN: When they declared clearly that if there is any tank of Russia crossing Ukrainian border or any other troop to invade Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 is frozen and blocked and destroyed.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so there's the threat that if the pipeline becomes operational that they would invade Ukraine right away. That's your belief...


MARTÍNEZ: ...That Russia would invade Ukraine if the pipeline becomes operational. So why wouldn't, then, Vladimir Putin back off on the troops now, allow the pipeline to start and then invade? Because right now the threat from the United States and the West is that if they invade, the pipeline goes away. So why not just back off and let it happen?

OMELYAN: I believe that Putin miscalculated the situation. He thought that European Union is very weak and divided and that Germany and France will be in favor of Russian actions, and they will simply neglect Ukraine, and the United States will be very much preoccupied with internal situation and with China and will give, like, all possibilities to Russia to do whatever they want in Eastern Europe. And things got - it didn't happen that way. Plus, economical situation - economical crisis, pandemia (ph), prices for gas, fuel, all resources, went up dramatically. And Russians are getting - not Russians, but Kremlin is getting richer and richer every day. All this gave perspective to Putin that situation is under his control and totally is in his favor. He was wrong, saying that. And we see united reaction. We see one-voice policy - whatever it takes. And only one can win.

MARTÍNEZ: President Biden has pledged support through diplomacy, through equipment, but he has said absolutely no American troops will be on Ukrainian soil if Russia invades. If that happens, would you like to see American troops here?

OMELYAN: Definitely, I would feel myself much safer. But I would say that all Ukrainians will stay here in Ukraine and will fight Russia, and there is no doubt about that. We are ready for war. And we are very grateful for military support because I do remember 2014, when this support was absent, totally absent, and we were left on our own. 2022 is much different. You know, after Afghanistan, definitely, it's very difficult to explain to Americans why should we take care about Europe this way. And I'm very grateful to President Biden's administration that they're trying to explain why it's so important. So it's not the issue of Ukraine itself; it's the issue about what system and what values will prevail at the end. And I'm happy to see that U.S. citizens at least getting know about the picture, and they understand that if you want to remain No. 1 nation in the world, you should fight for that.

MARTÍNEZ: Volodymyr Omelyan. He's the former infrastructure minister of Ukraine.


Lisa Weiner is a line producer on Morning Edition. For NPR, she's covered the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and traveled to Ukraine to cover the Russian invasion in 2022. Prior to joining NPR, she held positions as an editor at WTOP-FM, as an engineer at Radio Free Asia and recorded audio books for the Library of Congress. Weiner has a master's degree in audio technology from American University. She got her start in radio working the late-night shift as a student DJ in the basement of WRUR-FM at the University of Rochester. Weiner has lived in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Budapest, Hungary.
Reena Advani is an editor for NPR's Morning Edition and NPR's news podcast Up First.