YES WAR ROOM: Yalta European Strategy (YES) Annual Meeting discussed how the future is being decided in Ukraine

10 September 2023

1st Day Summary

The Annual Meeting of the Yalta European StrategyYES War Room.The Future is Being Decided in Ukraine was held on September 8 – 9, 2023 in Kyiv. Over 500 leading politicians, diplomats, businessmen, civil activists and experts from more than 29 countries took part in the conference organized by YES in partnership with the Victor Pinchuk Foundation. 

The first day of this year’s YES meeting focused on the ramifications of the Ukrainian-Russian war for countries around the globe. What is the importance of this war in the context of human history and civilization? What are the consequences for the world’s morality? What will it mean if aggressors are not held to account, and will it lead to more conflict? Why has the West’s containment of Russia failed, and what can it do to support Ukraine? How can Ukraine obtain the weaponry it needs to regain its territory? What Ukrainians fight for and give their lives for? 

Victor Pinchuk, founder and member of the Board of Yalta European Strategy, businessman and philanthropist, in his opening speech at the event, remarked: “The way this war ends will carry consequences for the decision about where billions of people will decide to go — will they go with Russia and China — or will they support the US, Europe, and the West?” A good leader does what is possible, when possible, whereas great leaders do what is possible when needed. Western leaders need to be great leaders — to recognize that they need to act now — for the future of all humankind”. 

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy noticed in his speech: "Human morality must win this war. And this is not only a matter for Ukraine as a state, it is a matter for Ukraine as all of us. Everyone in the world who values freedom, who values human life, who believes that people must win. And our success, the specific success of Ukraine, depends not only on us, on Ukrainians, but also on the extent to which the entire vast moral space of the world wants to preserve itself. On the extent to which the world remains morally mobilised. And I strongly believe in this. And that is why we are here".

Rustem Umerov making his first public appearance as a new Minister of Defense, stressed the need for more material support for Ukraine’s fighting force, noting, “Our army today is one of the strongest and most motivated in the world because we know what we fight for. But we need more military equipment. We need it today, we need it tomorrow, we need it now. We are grateful for the support, but we need more heavy weaponry, heavy weaponry and again. Heavy weaponry.”

Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, echoed these sentiments, noting the need for a military victory and saying that a peaceful solution with Vladimir Putin is impossible to achieve. 

The world needs to prove that the values of democracy and freedom are working, and for that, they must protect Ukraine until the very last Russian soldier has left Ukrainian soil. 

According to Johnson, the best guarantee for a peaceful solution is having Ukraine join NATO: “We need to have Ukraine in NATO as fast as possible. It has proved that it works. The argument was that Putin might get provoked, but look what has happened without NATO.” 




Some of the other important points coming out of the 1st day’s debates were: 


On What Does This War Mean for the Future of Mankind and Today’s Civilization? 


“This is not a war in which the aggressor has some vision, some outline of the future. Rather, on the contrary, for them, everything is black, formless, and the only thing that matters is force. Russians cannot tolerate that there may be any alternative to their vision, that people may have a different idea of what is better.” 

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


“Depending on the outcome of this war, a lot may change in other countries. Georgia, Moldova and Kazakhstan — each of these countries will be immediately affected in the event that Russia wins, withstands, and is able to keep the captured Ukrainian territories. Russia is encroaching on the sovereign territories of these countries. Until this war, almost no one in the region would have accepted the idea that China would dare to use force against Taiwan and overthrow the democratically elected government of that country.”

Francis Fukuyama, Senior Fellow, Stanford University


“I come from Nigeria, the largest country in West Africa. We have a saying that when Nigeria sneezes, all of West Africa catches cold. The same can be said about Ukraine and its influence on the European security architecture. How this war ends will mean a lot not only for Europe, but also for the rest of the world, because when Europe sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold.” 

Comfort Ero, CEO, President, International Crisis Group 


“What can happen if, God forbid, Ukraine does not win? I would want to turn to the Greco-Persian wars. There are many similarities: we have the Greeks, democrats, who fought with the first great empire of the Persians. There is a debate among historians about what would have happened if the Greeks had lost that war. The answer is the following: there would be neither Socrates, nor Plato, nor Aristotle, nor Descartes, no Newton, no smartphones, not even the YES conference — that is what could have happened. And this is very important. If Ukraine does not win this war, it will mean the end of civilization.”

Yaroslav Hrytsak, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor, Ukrainian Catholic University


On What Heroes Fight For and Give Their Lives For 


“We are fighting for our right to be happy. We have been unhappy for so long; now they are destroying everything which is dear to us, our freedom. If we don't have freedom, we will never be happy.” 

Yehor Firsov, Junior Sergeant, Combat Medic of the 109th Brigade, Armed Forces of Ukraine


“We need to get our victory. Our best people are dying, those who should shape the future of Ukraine, that is why it is necessary to reduce our losses; the world must help us, because we are fighting for global democracy.”

Dmytro Finashyn, Intelligence officer of the National Guard of Ukraine, Hero of Ukraine 


“Each of us needs personal support, every soldier should have support: family or a loved one, or any person who does not avert their eyes and understands what we are fighting for.” 

Alina Mykhailova, Officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, deputy of the Kyiv City Council, Civic Activist


“I want my friends who are not mobilized to never be mobilized. I do not want to be someone that says all go to war, I want nobody to go to war. I want everyone to survive, I wage a war, because my father told me that freedom is the right to choose.”

Masi Nayem, Founder of the Miller Law Firm, Military Officer, Armed Forces of Ukraine 


“I do not want my, or anyone else’s children to see what the eyes of these heroic people have seen.”

Denys Zaikov, Assistant to the Head of the Headquarters Section S-2, the 25th Air Assault Brigade, Armed Forces of Ukraine 


“I had seen how far Ukrainian forces had come since 2014. I was very confident that Ukraine would fight and I went against popular opinion. But even then Ukrainians' have gone beyond that, you have fought brilliantly, tenaciously, adaptation, to inspire the entire world, with extraordinary courage.”

David Petraeus, Partner and Chairman KKR and KKR Global Institute 


On What Works in Today’s World and What Must Be Changed?


“The peace formula is constructed in such a way that the last, tenth point, is a legal confirmation of the end of the war. But until that happens, all that hard work must to be done in the rest of the previous nine points of the peace formula. It is their consistent implementation that enables the creation of a new system that will guarantee real security for Ukraine.” 

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


“The main question of our century is how will we defend human beings? Their rights, their freedoms and their human dignity? Can we rely on the law or just instead on weapons? To defend the rights of people in occupied territories, that answer is to provide weapons to be able to defend ourselves.”

Oleksandra Matviichuk, Head of the Centre for Civil Liberties, Human Rights Lawyer, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2022


“Ukraine needs to get weapons now. My question to friends from other Western countries is why are we waiting? Get on with it now and we will save lives and we will bring this disastrous conflict to an end. We always end up give what is needed but we always do it months and months too late.” 

Boris Johnson, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 


“The confidence I have that Ukraine will win is because there is a huge cadre of educated Ukrainians. When these people come into their own they are going to remake the country.” 

Francis Fukuyama, Senior Fellow, Stanford University 


On Security and Justice in an Unsafe World: Concrete Steps 


“We will still fight for justice for years and maybe for decades. The most important court is the International Criminal Court, for war crimes and the crime of genocide. Nobody in history was punished for the crime of aggression. So, the crime of aggression must be punished.” 

Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine 


“I am a UK Government Minister and I hope our presence here shows our support for Ukraine is unwavering. We want to assist through the way, and justice is part of that. Justice is a huge part of this support.” 

Leo Docherty, Minister for Europe, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the Government of the United Kingdom 


“We should give credit to South Africans for not waiving the restrictions. This creates an important precedent that ICC warrants must be respected. If our strategy is that soil should burn under Russian boots then we have to fight them on every corner of the world, in the international arena. The most important part of this ICC warrant is that ICC has no fear and is not limited by political considerations.”

Andriy Kostin, Prosecutor General of Ukraine


A Conversation with George W. Bush (online). Ukraine and NATO: Looking Back to 2008 and to the Future


“During my presidency there was indeed a strong suggestion that Ukraine join NATO. I wanted to provide a membership pathway for Georgia and Ukraine. But the idea was pushed back by France and Germany, but Latvia, Poland, Lithuania all liked it. But then Merkel put her foot down quite hard. Some people say this was the provocation – but Putin was already on the warpath – this was already on his mind. He feels that Russia was part of a diminished power. 


We will all support Ukraine until it expels all Russians from its land. When people fight for their freedom, it gives an extra incentive to support. I don't know if this support will be stable. The first thing that Ukraine should take care of in order to ensure support from the USA is the fight against corruption, because we spend money on this, and many Americans get annoyed if this money goes into someone’s pocket instead of fighting with Russia.” 

George W.Bush, The 43rd President of the United States (2001-2009)The 43rd President of the United States (2001-2009)

On Supporting Ukraine Is the Best You Can Do For the Global Economy?


“There is a great opportunity after the cessation of hostilities to build Ukraine into a strong capitalistic democracy. Where investors worldwide can seek to put money. We need to make sure Ukraine can maximise its natural resources to come out of this crisis.”

Larry Fink, Chairman & CEO, BlackRock  


“Some people in the US – will say that investment in the Ukraine war is a waste of money. But this is not the case – this war is an extraordinarily efficient war with a decent prospect of success even without the miracles that might have been good from the counter offensive, but we have seen meaningful attrition. 

This is a value for money war. But it is a value for money war for the west as well as for the Ukrainians.” 

Niall Ferguson, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University 


“Ukraine could be the new Silicon Valley of Europe. The largest answer is the security – this is not all about the ceasing of hostilities – the guarantee is needed that this will not happen in the years to come to secure the future of Ukraine for decades. Ukraine minerals could help wean the US and the west off the Chinese.” 

Rostyslav Shurma, Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine


On The Power of Ukraine’s Ideals 


“In my subjective opinion, we now have a fundamentally different sense of history and ourselves. Let’s use a metaphor to compare Ukrainian society with Russian society, Ukrainian society is a young punk band that is going to fill stadiums. And we will definitely do this. For us, everything just has started, there is a huge reserve of strength, energy, and most importantly, there is an understanding of strategy and where to go. The Russians are a jaded, slightly elderly cabaret singer, who has lost his audience and popularity but tries to create an illusion of success and glamour.” 

Eugene Hütz, Frontman of the Gogol Bordello Band 


“Ukrainians have the power of a beehive. They all work as a group. And if you disturb them, these people can respond. They will unite and sting.” 

Serhiy Zhadan, Poet, Novelist, Artist, Zhadan i Sobaky

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Christopher Pincher
Christopher Pincher
Minister of State for Europe, United Kingdom, 16th YES Annual Meeting, 2019
«Russia’s attempt to play the strongman and imprison Ukraine in its supposed ‘sphere of influence’ harks back to a very unhappy and dark age that we all thought had been consigned to the history books.»