Victor Pinchuk Foundation and YES held discussion “What Do We Fight For? Shared Goals and Differences” during informal YES gathering “One Year - Stay in Fight”

24 February 2023

On 24 February 2023, the Victor Pinchuk Foundation and Yalta European Strategy (YES) held a discussion “What Do We Fight For? Shared Goals and Differences” on the occasion of the informal gathering One Year - Stay in Fight dedicated to the first anniversary of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Speakers discussed Ukraine’s fight for freedom and independence, and what needs to be done to make sure Kyiv wins this war this year.

Gillian Tett, Editorial Board Chair, Editor-at-large, Financial Times, moderated the discussion. Among the members of the panel were Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary, National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine; Olha Stefanishyna, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine; Bob Seely, Member of the UK Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons; Alexander Vershbow, Distinguished Fellow, Atlantic Council; Victor Pinchuk, businessman and founder of Yalta European Strategy, and others.

Opening the event, Victor Pinchuk called on the participants in the meeting to stay united in their support of Ukraine: “Stay in the fight, because we need your support and weapons as fast as possible. We need to win as fast as possible.” 

Olha Stefanishyna stressed Ukrainians’ willingness to fight: “We see that the whole world supports Ukraine and whenever we ask for tanks, long-range artillery or jets, we never hear ‘no’, we just see delays. But everyone knows that Ukrainians will fight even without long-range artillery and fighter jets. Ukrainians will fight, even with their bare hands, dying. That is why we ask for weapons to save our soldiers and save our lives.” 

Bob Seely focused on the timeline of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, saying that from his perspective, the Ukrainian war started after the Orange Revolution in 2005: “I think that in 2005 Putin said ‘I want Ukraine back’. “The critical point for me was actually 2014, not 2022,” he added.

He also voiced concern that the backing of Western allies might weaken if Kyiv doesn’t win by the end of this year: “If Ukraine doesn’t win this year, some of its western backers are going to start thinking what the option B implies. The best thing to do and this is what’s morally right to do is to give Ukrainians the tools to finish the job. This is also the least dangerous thing to do because the longer the war continues, the more dangerous it is. But there is absolutely no guarantee that Ukrainians will win.

Aleksander Kwasniewski said that Vladimir Putin has been obsessed with suppressing Ukraine for a while: “In 2002, the idea of a 'Greater Russia' was Putin's dream. In 2005, after the Orange Revolution, it turned into a plan, and after 2014, it became his obsession. These are the three stages of how his understanding of Ukraine developed."

Alexander Vershbow, in turn, suggested: “I think that Putin hasn’t changed his long-term goal yet. I think he still wants to erase Ukraine and Ukrainian identity from the map. And I think that he will only agree to possible deescalation, and as soon as he can regroup, he will move back to his original objectives. He cannot accept the possibility of successful Ukraine.”

“Attrition warfare might be what Putin is hoping for. I think that right now he knows that he cannot win, so he is playing not to lose. That is why the challenge for us is not to allow that to become a dominant narrative. I think that with enough Western support Ukraine still can win.”

Oleksiy Danilov pledged to stop paying excessive attention to Vladimir Putin, anticipating Russia’s collapse in the near future:  "The fragmentation of Russia has already started. Just as the fragmentation of the USSR started in March 1989, the fragmentation of Russia began on 24 February, 2022. Keep in mind that in the next three, five or seven years, the state of Russia, as it exists today, will no longer exist. This should be taken very seriously."

He urged Western allies to prepare a plan of actions for that scenario: "You will not be able to keep the situation under control, you will not be able to rely on Putin or anyone else. These processes are governed by completely different laws. And believe me, it will happen, and the West needs to get ready for this." 

Julia Payevska said: "We have to put an end to this suffering, that we have endured for nine years. Unfortunately, there is no one to talk to there, because they do not understand words. They only understand force. We need more weapons, more air defense systmes and more money."

"Everyone who is with us today can count on our help and our alliance in the future. We will not let you down, so please, don’t let us down," she called on Western leaders.

Andrii Melnyk said: “I hate to hear that Ukraine has to win this year. It sounds like as if we don’t win this year, that plan B will be evident. And I hate this thought.” He also stressed the importance of providing Ukraine with all the needed weaponry on the battlefield: “The support is crucial, which is everything that our army needs, - fighter jets, long range missiles, navy. We need everything that our partners are able to give right now without any further hesitation. Another crucial point is the amount.”

“Ukraine’s victory means that we should liberate all the territory, and we need to ensure that a new war doesn’t break out afterwards. We need to prevent a new war,” he concluded. 

Marie Yovanovitch called for rethinking the slogan of Ukraine’s western allies saying “We’ll support Ukraine as long as it takes”. “I think that the slogan ‘we’ll be there as long as it takes, we will provide support as long as it takes’, needs to be updated a bit. I think it should sound like this: “we will provide as much as it takes, as quickly as possible for the Ukrainian victory”. We need to be clear about that.”

Carl Bildt said: “The date of 24 February will redefine the future of Europe in much the same way as the date of 30 November 1989 did. 30 November 1989 played out for a long period of time, and 24 February 2022 will play out over a prolonged period of time. We will not get peace back in Europe for quite some time. Irrespectively of what happens with the conflict, peace is a very illusive concept at the moment.”

He continued listing two conditions for restoring peace in Europe - a change of regime in the Kremlin and Ukraine’s integration into the EU and European security structures: “Until we have reached these two conditions, I don’t think we will have proper peace.”

Luke Harding chipped in drawing attention to Russia’s ideology behind this war: “I was here a year ago and was around the front line last week, and it seems to me that what is going on is Russian fascism. I think that we shouldn’t be shy about using that word. This is our kind of 1930s moment as Europe and as a community.”

Volodymyr Yermolenko warned against using the language of weakness in terms of the power balance in this war: “We are now in a situation where we are jointly exhausting Russia. We are speaking right now from the position of moral, economic and military force that we have. It really astonishes me - the way the West uses this language of weakness. I feel sometimes that the West perceives itself as a weaker part of the equation, but it’s not. I think that Ukraine is showing right now that democracy is strong. And it’s really important to remember that.” 

Video from the discussion panels will be available on the YouTube channel @PinchukFoundation

Photos are available at https://yes-ukraine.org/

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Yuval Harari
Yuval Harari
Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 16th YES Annual Meeting, 2019
«We are already in the midst of an AI arms race, with the USA and China leading the race, while most countries are being left far behind.»