Liberating territories, returning people home, bringing war criminals to justice and integrating Ukraine into the Euro-Atlantic community: opinion leaders name criteria for Ukraine's victory

11 September 2023

Liberating territories, returning people home, bringing war criminals to justice and integrating Ukraine into the Euro-Atlantic community: opinion leaders name criteria for Ukraine's victory

This was the conclusion reached by politicians, experts and opinion leaders when asked about the criteria for victory at the Annual Meeting of Yalta European Strategy (YES) - "The Future Is Being Decided in Ukraine", organised by YES, in partnership with the Victor Pinchuk Foundation.

"It should be a military victory. We have to be realistic, the only way to end this war is to win it militarily," said Timothy Snyder, a professor at Yale University and an expert on Eastern European history, adding that he first heard the word "victory" in Ukrainian as early as on the third day of the Russian invasion.

Niall Ferguson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, shared his opinion, adding that only a military victory would lead to the full liberation of the occupied territories. "Victory must mean the return of the illegally captured territories to Ukraine," he stressed.

In Niall Ferguson’s opinion, Ukraine has already won in a sense, primarily by changing dramatically the way it is perceived globally.

"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," he said.

At the same time, former U.S. State Department Special Representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, stressed that the territorial issue is not the key one. In his opinion, the main thing is to have a decisive victory over the global idea of imperialism professed by the aggressor state.

"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," he said.

Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia (2016-2021), and member of the YES Board, added that one of the key criteria for victory should be the return of all children abducted and deported by the invaders.

"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.” she said. 

Her opinion was echoed by Michael Gahler, a member of the European Parliament: "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.”

US Congressman Jim Costa asked, “If not now, then when?”. He said, 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.”

Ukrainian MP David Arakhamia agreed, telling the audience that surveys of the Ukrainian people show that for them, victory means the complete liberation of all Ukrainian territories, that this view becomes more entrenched with every report of another Russian atrocity,  and that society will not accept any interim measures. 

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

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Joschka Fischer
Joschka Fischer
6th YES Annual Meeting, 2009
«Europe’s energy sector needs to be depoliticized and diversified»