YES WAR ROOM. The Future is Being Decided in Ukraine. Summary of the Second Day of the Yalta European Strategy (YES) Annual Meeting

11 September 2023

The Annual Meeting of the Yalta European Strategy (YES) – “YES WAR ROOM. The Future is Being Decided in Ukraine” – was held from 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.

During the 2nd day of the YES meeting, speakers and participants discussed topics including: ‘Institutions, Mechanisms and Plans for Ukraine’s Reconstruction’, ‘The Economy of Survival and the Economy of Recovery’, ‘Reforms, Democracy and Ukraine’s Accession to NATO and the EU’, Healing Ukraine: Rehabilitation and Mental Health’, ‘The Military Front’, ‘Has the West Learned from its Mistakes After Many Years of Neglecting Ukraine to Work with Russia?’, ‘Path to Victory: A View from the US Government’, ‘Of 8 Billion People, How Many are on Ukraine’s side?’, and ‘What is the Definition of Victory as of September 9, 2023?’.  

Olena Zelenska, First Lady of Ukraine, spoke openly about how she is dealing with her feelings about the Russian war on Ukraine, and said, “The mental health problem is relevant for the whole world, and everyone should understand that taking care of oneself is not selfishness but responsibility.”

She went on, "After the discussions about mental health in general that took place within the framework of the 'How are you?’ programme, I think the most important theme we have discovered for ourselves, and the world, is one of Ukrainian resilience. This keeps us together and helps us survive all these terrible months. But what does it consist of? We believe that it is in our common values: love, both for each other and our homeland, and in many ways, it is rooted in our history, culture and art. All this resilience can only be nurtured by exploring ourselves, our history in depth, and remembering and developing our culture."

The First Lady made the point that the first issue we must confront when considering how to deal with mental health, is social stigma, saying, "Unfortunately, it is the feeling that a strong person does not ask for help; a strong person copes with their difficulties on their own; if you are sad, you are just tired, or if you are scared, you are just a coward. Many of these patterns still exist in our society, which do not allow people to think freely, even sometimes, about their mental health.”

This topic is important for the whole world. Mental health has no borders.” the First Lady concluded

Denys Shmyhal, Prime Minister of Ukraine, spoke about the ‘Economy of Survival and the Economy of Recovery’ and said that in considering the economy of the future, “the phrase ‘Winning the War, but Losing the Peace’ is most relevant.” He said that all the money Ukraine earns, is spent on defence, pointing out that before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia the annual budget was between 1.2 and 1.3tn UAH, whereas now, the budget for military spending alone is 1.8tn UAH. He thanked both Ukraine’s business-people, saying that despite a 30% reduction in the economy Ukraine has made 100% collection of taxes, and its international partners for their efforts to provide funding not only for the military, but for social payments and reconstruction efforts. He said the process of rebuilding Ukraine would be a great opportunity for the country, and confirmed that the process will be carried out in accordance with the ‘Build Back Better’ principle. He also reiterated calls for the funding for rebuilding Ukraine to come from confiscated Russian assets.

“We suggest a compensation mechanism, an international instrument that will allow us to obtain the funds that are necessary for Ukrainian recovery. The compensation mechanism will consist of a compensation fund, where the funds confiscated from Russian oligarchs and Russia as an aggressor state will actually be channelled; a compensation commission, that is, an international institution that will determine how to effectively use the funds, where to allocate them; and a verified register of losses.”

Lieutenant General Budanov, Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, joined the meeting for a discussion with Stephen Sackur, BBC, and Zanny Minton Beddoes, Editor in Chief, The Economist. Asked by Stephen Sackur if he had seen any of the much-vaunted Russian ‘super tanks’ in Ukraine, he said, “No we have not seen one of these. T14s, T90s, are burning. Everything is burning, there are no unbeatable weapons here.” He said that the Russian professional army does not have equipment anywhere as near as advanced as that which it ‘shows off’ to the world, commenting, “They show ideas, but the reality is nil.”

The Lieutenant General went on to say, "The war has not benefited the Putin regime: The economy is failing, and that's a fact. Finances rest on reserves, and military power has been severely decimated during the war. Generally speaking, the professional army ran out last autumn. Now mobilised soldiers are fighting in their army. The production of new weapons and equipment is utterly insufficient.”

Asked by Zanny Minton Beddoes if he believes the Russians are adapting to the new types of warfare Ukraine has successfully innovated, he said, “In terms of flexibility, we still have the edge on them. They are rather crusty and dusty and still very vertical – which means they take longer to adapt to changes. The regime is not as strong as it used to be, but they must be overcome, and in doing this we must not underestimate them, we should not think they are stupid. They have made some changes, for example the massive use of drones; they are adapting, that is a fact.”

Victoria Nuland, Acting Deputy Secretary of State, US Department of State, told the conference, “We Are Impressed by Ukraine’s Progress in the Counter-Offensive. “This counter-offensive has been kilometre by kilometre, but we are impressed by the progress made, especially in the south,"

The acting US Deputy Secretary of State told the YES Annual Meeting participants that Russia has built, over many months, strong defences in the occupied south of Ukraine, which she nevertheless believes can be overcome given continued close cooperation between the governments of the United States and Ukraine.

She also said the US had been explaining to all partners in Europe, Asia, and Africa what negative consequences there would be for global security, if Ukraine does not win this war, saying, “If Ukraine does not win, if Putin succeeds, this type of evil will be normalised across the world. Ukraine stands on the right side of democracy and needs our support.”




Some of the other important points coming out of the 2nd day’s discussions were: 


On: ‘Institutions, Mechanisms and Plans for Ukraine’s Reconstruction’

“The GDP will grow by 4%. Sceptics say that growth will be approximately 3%. We see improvement in the key industries. The grain harvest will be about 50 million tons. We have certain problems with exports, but I believe the situation will improve due to alternative routes,”

Yulia Svyrydenko, First Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine – Minister of Economy

“We greatly appreciate the financial support of our partners from all over the world. More than 100 billion dollars in military aid, refugee support, and humanitarian aid have been provided. It is natural that such long-term support leads to fatigue. This may turn into a very big mistake for the world if it allows this fatigue to destroy our plans.”

Danylo Getmantsev, MP, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine


In fact, it is very important to be able to show to European citizens that their money is being used effectively. It is also essential to ensure the visibility and clarity of aid to Ukraine – as this will send clear signals to the private sector and the international community.”

Pierre Heilbronn, France’s Special Envoy for Aid and Reconstruction at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France

“Judicial reform is required to reassure investors and the international community that the courts and other public institutions can operate effectively. This is key to attracting private investment.”

Michael Gahler, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), CDP, Germany


“Italy will make a major contribution to the preservation of UNESCO cultural heritage sites that are under Russian threat. We will become patrons of Odesa in order to rebuild it, to turn it into a modern city. We are very attached to the city of Odesa: it was founded by an Italian; there is a strong Italian community there; and it is a part of our shared Italian-Ukrainian history.”

Davide La Cecilia, Special Commissioner for the Reconstruction of Ukraine of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy


On: ‘Reforms, Democracy and Ukraine’s Accession to NATO and the EU’

“Ukraine is determined and quick to comply with all of its commitments in order to integrate with the EU and NATO. I can assure you that, during this full-scale war, we have managed to accomplish almost everything required of us. Of course, there is criticism that we are currently facing new challenges – but our commitment remains firm.”

Olha Stefanishyna, Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine 

"There is a complicated issue of national minorities and there are some differences in the EU's and Ukraine's views, but nevertheless, significant progress has been made. And I'm fairly confident that about 80% of it has been achieved. And this is a cautious estimate. This is just the beginning of this challenging journey. EU accession negotiations are a long process."

"This process has become much faster than anyone could have predicted a few years ago. I think that Ukraine's membership will be dominating the upcoming EU-level meetings in October. Next, we will discuss prospects and opportunities, and there will be a European Council meeting in December, which will also address this."

Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden (2006-2014), Prime Minister of Sweden (1991-1994), member of the YES Board

"I very much hope that next year, Washington will find ways to ensure Ukraine's accession to NATO. There are different points of view among the alliance leaders, but the progress is tangible."

Jim Costa, Congressman, US House of Representatives

“I think that at the summit in Washington, NATO must invite Ukraine to become a member. We are not talking about membership, which the Americans might not support because of the threat of the US being drawn into the war. We're talking instead about an invitation to membership, followed by a membership acquisition that may take 2-3 years. It's not a question of 'if', but of 'when.' In my opinion, it should happen next summer.”

Michael McFaul, Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford

On: The Military Front


One of the most important factors (in our success) is international aid, because without modern equipment, long-range weapons, and powerful ammunition, it would be very difficult to penetrate and break through the Russian line of defence. That's why we count on it. Our warriors and our armed forces, believe me, are experienced enough in planning and conducting active offensives to achieve the strategic goal, which is the complete liberation of our territory from the aggressor.”

Vadym Skibytskyi, Major General, Deputy Chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine

"We are ready to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. Our support is unwavering, we will continue doing so for as long as Ukraine needs”

"I can promise you that we will honour our commitments, we will continue to support Ukraine and we will accelerate our support. Along with sending supplies, we also understand the importance of training the Ukrainian military”

Christian Freuding, Director of Planning and Command Staff of the Federal Ministry of Defence of the Federal Republic of Germany

On: Has the West Learned from its Mistakes After Many Years of Neglecting Ukraine to Work with Russia?

"In my discussions with Europeans I tell them that there is no need to try to normalise relations with Russia. It will never be democratic, it is more like an invader with a shahid belt on. The real question is how to stop this invader."

Radoslaw Sikorski, Member of the European Parliament, Chair of the Delegation for Relations with the United States

“Can the West distance itself from Russia economically? I think it has been very complicated in the last two years, because Russia supplies commodities around the world,”

“I do not think that sanctions will be decisive for Ukrainian victory. Much more important here is the courage and resilience of Ukrainians, as well as military and economic support for Ukraine.”

Zanny Minton Beddoes, Editor-in-Chief of the Economist

On: Of 8 Billion People, How Many Are on Ukraine’s Side? 

“We have to recognise that when we talk about dialogue with non-Western countries, we cannot treat them all in the same way. This is why our traditional approach of working with voters, with people, in the Western world, will not work. We need to work with civil society, with elites, because, for example, in some countries elites have managed for 40-50 years. We need to work differently with the countries who we need to help us because many of these countries are not able to be active without support of others, like China (supporting many African countries).”

“We understand why many African countries abstained – we had had no communication with them. For the past 30 years our efforts have been with Western world, not African countries. We tried to fix it, but in a time of war, we could only give our words, our hearts and we started to do that. When we added something practical to our dialogue, such as creating a corridor for grain, when we asked Western countries to collect Ukrainian grain and take it to African countries like Djibouti, like Somalia, it started to make a difference because it was practical help."

Oleksandr Korniyenko, Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine

"There is a narrative that the rest of the world, except for the West, does not support Ukraine. I think this is not right. It is unfortunate when you simplify complexity. It is important that we properly understand where a country is coming from. If you look at people in countries where governments tend to lean towards Russia, you will see that ordinary people still support Ukraine.

“These are the countries where the West has failed in its policy. It's not so much their love for Russia, but the consequences of the West's mistakes,"

Comfort Ero, CEO, President, International Crisis Group

"The war in Ukraine is not the only one in the world, you are not the only one fighting today, and for many countries your war is far away. I'm sorry to say this, but it's true."

Niall Ferguson, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

"Do you want to know how to get more votes and change the UN vote? To win! If Ukraine wins, then all those who hesitate will be inclined towards the liberal democratic world. So, if you care about how the UN votes, help Ukraine win, and then we will have a unanimous vote at the General Assembly,"

Michael McFaul, Director, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

"India initially viewed this war through the prism of U.S. policy against Russia. But this view is already changing. Now there is a growing understanding in India that this war must end, although this change in view is slow. India does not change very fast."

"The fact that China and Russia are getting closer is something that really worries India."

“India should play its cards as an arbitrator in this conflict. India should push the Russians to go back to the grain deal.”

Happymon Jacob, Founder, Honorary Director, Council for Strategic and Defence Research; Associate Professor, Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University

On: What is the Definition of Victory as of September 9, 2023?

"It should be a military victory. We have to be realistic, the only way to end this war is to win it militarily,"

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

"Victory must mean the return of the illegally captured territories to Ukraine."

"We have to recognise what Ukraine has already won. First, it humiliated Russia and buried the idea that Russia is a superpower. Second, Ukraine gained the right to join the European Union and NATO. Third and most important, it has changed its reputation."

Niall Ferguson, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

"Ukraine is engaged in an existential struggle against an imperialist power. The last time this happened was during World War II, and we thought we’d won that fight then. Looking at the situation in Ukraine, the only decisive victory will be a victory over the ideology of imperialism that Russia is trying to justify."

Kurt Volker, former U.S. State Department Special Representative for Ukraine

"All Ukrainian children must be returned to Ukraine, and all Russian children need to be educated so that this never happens again. We must remember that this is not about territories, it is about people. People who are being tortured and who are dying.”

Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia (2016-2021), and member of the YES Board

"I would like to build on what Kersti Kaljulaid said, “We all agree on the territorial aspect, and it is also important that all the people who were deported return to Ukraine. But institutional victory is important – when Ukraine is in the EU and NATO it will be a victory for us. It needs to be a systemic victory – the rest of the world must note that Ukraine has won, and is in the EU and NATO – that is something to note and will be important for the world.”

Michael Gahler, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats), Germany

“If not now, then when?”

“If the US and EU is all in – we will win – and we need to define win to the people in our countries. Ukraine is a long way from the US, and what is most effective with constituents I talk to is making the distinction between good and evil. The international tribunal for war crimes must happen, the children must be brought back. This is not Afghanistan or Iraq – this is the test of our time – we will be judged by historians on whether we stood up and defended a rules-based economy, human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of the press etc. this is our time – if not now, then when will we stand up for what we believe in as democratic countries? We have to provide all the necessary support to ensure victory.”

Jim Costa, Congressman, United States House of Representatives

"For Ukrainians, the victory is, without question, the complete liberation of our territory and the return of our people,”

David Arakhamia, Member of Parliament, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine

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Alec Ross
Alec Ross
Senior Advisor on Innovation to the Secretary of State of the United States, 9th YES Annual Meeting, 2012
«The government role in innovation and entrepreneurship should principally be to unleash it»