Yalta European Strategy held Online Conversation with Yuval Noah Harari, Timothy Snyder and Anne Applebaum on War in Ukraine and the Future of the World

04 March 2022

To watch the full conversation online, please go to the link.

On March 2, 2022, Yalta European Strategy (YES) held an online conversation “The War in Ukraine and the Future of the World.” Two of the world’s leading thinkers Yuval Noah Harari and Timothy Snyder, joined by a participant of territorial defense forces, MP, Chairman the Ukrainian delegation to the NATO PA Yegor Chernev, spoke with historian and staff writer at The Atlantic Anne Applebaum on what Ukraine’s brave fight means today. What is happening and how can we adapt to this new world?

The idea of the event was to call the international community all over the world to support Ukraine and Ukrainians. YES invited the audience to do this with medical materials or by supporting Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence or by donating to humanitarian aid via standforukraine.com, Povernys Zhyvym, Dobro.ua, Ukraine’s Armed Forces, NBU Fundraising Account for Humanitarian Assistance to Ukrainians Affected by Russia's Aggression.

Anne Applebaum started with an observation about what makes Ukrainians unique: “To me, one of the unique things about Ukraine is the way in which the national identity, the definition of who we are, has been bound up in an idea of democracy. Because we want democracy, because we want western integration, because we want that form of civilization, that makes us Ukrainian.”

Yuval Noah Harari said: “Ukraine is a very, very real nation. Zelensky didn’t flee, the army is fighting like hell and the population is throwing Molotov cocktails on the Russian tanks, not flowers. And in this sense, Putin has already lost the war, because this is the war about the very existence of the Ukrainian nation.”

He added that by its own example, Ukraine showed to the West that nationalism and liberalism can be allies. “If you understand nationalism not as hatred of foreigners, or hatred of minorities, but as loving your compatriots and taking care of them, then nationalism and liberalism go together, they unite around the value of freedom and of taking care of your fellow citizens.”

Yehor Cherniev thanked the West for their support of Ukraine and said that the Russian army is in “agony”, as it started firing at civil population: “Because they cannot occupy any big city in Ukraine, they are facing the highest level of resistance not only from the army, but also from the Ukrainian people.”

“Putin’s main strategic mistake was that he thought that everything would happen as it was in 2014,” he said, referring to Russian’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of Donbas.

Timothy Snyder, in turn, suggested: “The problem with the first stage was that the Russian people were not prepared for a long war and this creates an important opening. I think the idea was that this all will happen so quickly that we don’t have to prepare the Russian people for a war, and that’s why the Russian propaganda this time around has been so obtuse and unconvincing. I think now what we have is a Putin who has been defied. And we have the second stage of the war, which is a kind of random fury. I think it too has not been very carefully planned, because the leader is angry and spiteful, we will see standard Russian tactics, which involve attempts to encircle and destroy the populations inside cities.”

Proceeding with the discussion, Yuval Noah Harari touched upon what’s the biggest problem for Vladimir Putin: “The most fundamental problem of every dictator is that people around him are so afraid to tell him the truth that eventually he becomes completely convinced of his own lies. He said so many times that there is no Ukraine, and people around him said the same, that he lost touch with reality. The dangerous thing is that when such a person with so much power crashes against reality, he doesn’t acknowledge his mistake”.

Timothy Snyder echoed the view, saying that Putin is a “classic situation of tyranny” comparing him to an “aging old tyrant who cannot listen and has to escalate”. “Putin has a myth that for a thousand years there was Ukraine, Belarus, Russia together, and if something disturbs that myth, it must be an alien outsider, it must be the West who is responsible.”

Commenting on weapons’ supplies from the West to Ukraine, Yuval Noah Harari said: “I think what’s happening now is that people in Germany and elsewhere realized that this is it, that’s the moment of truth and there is no point reserving it for another day. The day has come, now is the moment of truth.”

“They realized it all thanks to Ukrainians. If you really do have values like democracy and freedom, there’s an inherent risk associated with those values and those values don’t come on their own, there’s no larger historical process that guarantees them, there’s no arrangement that reserves them. There come moments when individuals’ choices matter and are essential. And I would say that this is one of those moments. Ukrainians made it easier for Germans and Americans and everyone else to recognize these values and defend them,” Timothy Snyder added.

Sharing views on the future steps that the West should take, Yuval Noah Harari called on for cooperation: “It’s always best to cooperate, to join some organization. Fifty people cooperation within an organization to help, let’s say refugees, can accomplish far more than 500 isolated activists.”

Timothy Snyder called on for donating for the right cause and reaching out to Russians with true and verified information: “We can try to get in touch with Russians through the Internet. And if you do this, make sure you are posting true and accurate information yourself. There’s plenty of good sources about what’s happening in Ukraine. You can do your part to make sure that Russians actually understand that, so that they can make the correct decisions for themselves. And we can take part in demonstrations, get out there, this is something that’s worth - putting your body into public space, Ukrainians are putting their body into the public space in the way that risks their lives. The least that we can do is to put our bodies into public space in the way that shows that we care.”

“If you are a European leader at the end of this war, which may come soon, Ukrainians need to see a future, they need to have a future inside Europe, they are going to be able to come out of this war with something that they didn’t have when this war started. It’s not just that they deserve it, this is part of that better future, which now we can start to imagine, Ukraine needs to have a prospect of joining the European Union,” he added.

In closing remarks, Yuval Noah Harari said: “The war is about the existence of the Ukrainian nation. And in this sense, Putin has already lost it, because even people who didn’t know anything about Ukraine a week ago, now know that this is a very real nation fighting for its survival.”

Back to news list
Yuval Harari
Yuval Harari
Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 16th YES Annual Meeting, 2019
«Our global problems demand global solutions.»