17th Yalta European Strategy (YES) Annual Meeting considered how Ukraine is defending all our freedom

10 September 2022

The 17th Annual Meeting of Yalta European Strategy (YES) – “Ukraine: Defending all Our Freedom” – was held from September 9-10, 2022 in Kyiv. Over 400 leading politicians, diplomats, businessmen, civil activists and experts from more than 20 countries took part in the conference organized by YES in partnership with the Victor Pinchuk Foundation.

This year’s YES meeting focused on Ukraine’s efforts to defend sovereignty, independence and freedom. The panel discussions considered questions including: What is the place of this war in human history? Can Ukraine’s economy survive until victory? What can everyone contribute to victory? What is the current situation of the war, what are the outlooks and perspectives? Overcoming fatigue – can the West maintain unity in supporting Ukraine against the Russian aggressor? and, the Future of Ukraine – what country should we dream of, and how do we get there?

Speakers at the forum included globally relevant decision-makers, historians, politicians, investors, security and media experts. 

Victor Pinchuk, founder and member of the Board of Yalta European Strategy, businessman and philanthropist in his opening speech at the event, made the following remarks, “Ukraine is a post–soviet, post-colonial, post-imperialist state and must not be dragged back to an ugly and terrible past. This is not a war for territory, it is a war about sovereignty, and the future of our nation, our people. Ukrainians are fighting for their independence and we say thank you to them. We thank you too, it is good that you are here, but we need to remember that a few hundred kilometres away Ukrainians are dying for their country. We have to take messages to New York, London, Berlin, Paris and all the other global capitals – so that Moscow feels the results. And, we need to look past the current horizon to understand what we will do next. There are many smart people in this room, and we need your help to come up with the ideas that will take us beyond this horizon and enable us to rebuild our country for the future..”

President Zelenskyy used his speech to reiterate his belief that Ukraine is fighting not just for territory, but for democracy, and its idea of itself and its future, and stated emphatically that it can and will win the war. He also said that this winter will be a difficult and decisive winter for Europe, and for the world, as Russia steps up its efforts to disrupt the energy and food supply. He asked the world to remain focused on Ukraine’s success, and to remain unified in its response to the Russian threat, and to what he believes will be an escalation in anti-Ukrainian propaganda. 

President Zelenskyy then took part in a conversation with Egils Levits, President of the Republic of Latvia, Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Poland, and Fareed Zakaria, CNN, to discuss the theme “Defending All Our Freedom”. 

Fareed Zakaria asked the President if we are seeing the beginning of a major counter offensive, which the President dismissed, stating that the counter offensive started on 24th February 2022 when full-scale war broke out. “Our mission is survival. This is our major counter offensive. We cannot talk about where we can go – there is no way out, this is our home. We are staying here alive, whatever it takes. Our weapon is our faith. Our sense of readiness, our sense of victory, is why we will win. We are always ready to protect and defend our country,” stated Zelenskyy.

When asked about international support President Levits stated that the EU, having granted Ukraine candidate status, should be ready to begin negotiations. He said that Latvia and Poland are already pushing for this. “I am convinced that after the war is over, Ukraine will be one of the strongest European nations, with this experience behind them, and the rebuilding they will do, they will be stronger. And we (the rest of the world) must do our part regarding energy prices and food security, because that is our contribution to the fight against Russia and to the freedom of Ukraine”, he said.

Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Poland agreed: “If your neighbour’s house is on fire, then your house is not safe. This should be the knowledge and understanding of all of Europe, not just the countries in the East. Apart from my deep belief that Ukraine will win, there will be a new shape of Europe created. What Ukraine is doing today will change the world – it is fighting for all our freedoms – and for the freedom of the free world.

Indecision and delay, procrastination and hesitation, are the parents of failure – this is why we are organising and influencing public opinion in the west to support Ukraine as much as they can. What is the role of Poland, and our friends in the free world? To continue to provide military support and finance. It is essential for victory to create a better society and freedom from war.”

The quotes summary of the 1st day panel discussions:

“One of the ways in which outsiders and Europeans misunderstand this war is that they think it is about territory. It’s not. It’s about how people will live in those territories, whether they will be Russian or Ukrainian, what language they will speak, whether they will live in an autocracy or a democracy. It’s a war of ideas.”

Anne Applebaum, Staff Writer, The Atlantic

“When I think about this war – I also think about Pericles – who said that we put our bodies on the line to defend our values, to take a risk, because that’s what ethics means. I think about Zelenskyy saying “I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition”, and even more, about his standing on the pavement just after the beginning of the war and saying “The President is here” – not just as a statement of fact, but as a statement of will, of his agency, his willingness to take a risk and defend the values he stands for.”

Timothy Snyder, Richard C. Levin Professor of History, Yale University

“The thing about empires is that they are big. Russia is bigger than Ukraine, its GDP is bigger than Ukraine’s and its population is bigger than Ukraine’s. You might therefore assume that Russia will prevail. But history shows that smaller countries fighting for their freedom do win. This is because Empires rot. Russia has not recognised that, after WWII, its empire was also over. What this war has shown is just how rotten the Russian Empire has become. 

This war is like one of those great 19th century wars of nationalism against rotten empires, there is something of the Garibaldi in Zelenskyy. Ultimately Empires lose and that is the most important thing to take away”.

Niall Fergusson, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

“The Soviet Union, which many thought was the end of the Russian Empire, was rather just one of the chapters in the history of the decline of the Russian Empire. We see that in the language used by Russia now – which is much the same as that of the 19th Century – including the idea that Ukrainians don’t deserve to exist. Empires don’t usually fall on their own – they are usually helped. We can put the Ukrainian defensive war in the long, long line of wars of liberation starting with the American Revolution. 

Ukraine makes history. It began doing that with the revolution of dignity in 2014, it is not only changing itself but is forcing the rest of the world to change too. The Russian Empire continues its collapse, Ukraine continues its role in this collapse (it was one week after Ukraine left the federation that the USSR collapsed).

The resistance that Ukraine demonstrates has astonished everyone.”

Serhii Plokhii, Director, Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University 

“Ukraine needs reliable, legally founded, and workable security guarantees. The best guarantee is Article 5 of NATO. We have made clear our aspiration to join NATO for many years. We have shown that we are a good partner. Ukraine is on the frontline of defending democracy. Ukraine deserves security guarantees. In our working group with Rasmussen Global we have been defining how this would work, because we need these guarantees now. This neighbour will always be on our borders.”

Andriy Yermak, Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine

“Decisions about the shape of the war, and about if and when to negotiate with Russia, are decisions for the Ukrainian armed forces and the democratically elected President of Ukraine.

The pressure the Ukrainians are putting on the Russians in Kharkiv and Kherson is having an effect. Ukraine is going to contest these areas and not simply let Russia take them. We are proud to be supporting the Ukrainian armed forces with a steady supply of military equipment, and financial support for their efforts. 

Russia invaded Ukraine, Ukraine did not start a fight with Russia and we are not expecting Ukraine to push forward further than the Ukrainian borders into Russia. Our job is to strengthen Ukraine’s hand on the battlefield and to support them in that, and to continue to support them when theyare ready to negotiate. Zelenskyy has always said that the war will end in negotiation, and it is up to Ukraine to decide the shape of those negotiations.

The unity is strong. The unity between the US, EU, UK and G7 is not going to crack. But Putin is trying to sow the message, he wants the unity to dissolve, but that won’t happen. I was on a secure call with President Biden and G7 leaders yesterday, and I came out even more convinced that we will remain united in our support for Ukraine. Biden said the US will support Ukraine for as long as it takes, and he is a man of his word. If he says that, you can take that to the bank. Ukraine, the west and the free world will come out of this stronger and more united than ever.”

Jake Sullivan, United States National Security Advisor

To see more content from the YES Annual Meeting 2022 on our social media channels: 

Twitter @YES_Ukraine

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Yuval Harari
Yuval Harari
Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 16th YES Annual Meeting, 2019
«Technology is now really upgrading humans into gods.»