Aspen Institute UK: the ninth #UkainianDialogue on how to stop the Russian aggression

Aspen Institute Kyiv held the ninth #UkrainianDialogue international discussion with its partner Aspen Institute UK. Penny Richards, CEO of the Aspen Institute UK, moderated the session. Yuliya Tychkivska, Executive Director of Aspen Institute Kyiv, made an introductory speech at the beginning of the event.

Andriy Zagorodnyuk:  Russian civil society is weak and does not have its subjectivity

Andriy Zagorodnyuk is the Head of the Board of the Centre of Defense Strategies. Andriy was the Minister of Defense of Ukraine from 2019 to 2020. Andriy is sure that the thesis “It is not Russia, but Putin” who started the war is not the case. Russians significantly support the military invasion. No matter whether this is due to propaganda or the lack of democratic tradition, it is a problem of the weak civil society. 

Also, Russians not only support but eagerly take part in the war effort. 

— We intercept a lot of calls they make and there are a substantial number of statements. There is significant support coming from the homes of Russian soldiers to the battlefield. It is shocking how easily they talk about murders, rapes, tortures, etc. After hearing that, we cannot solely say that it is just a one-person problem. 

Andriy stressed that Russian civil society is weak and does not have the strength to go against the dictator and say: “We don’t want to be involved in these crimes”. Some Russian people try to do that, but the proportion of such people is too small.  

Lesya Vasylenko: Russian so-called opposition can be in opposition to Putin but if you ask them how they feel about Ukraine they will give a very Russian answer

Lesya Vasylenko is a member of the Parliament of Ukraine. Lesya said that during the 100 days of the war, which has felt more like 100 years, Ukrainians discovered the strengths they never knew they had.  

Lesya stressed that Russia’s policy towards Ukraine was always about Ukraine having no right to exist as a nation. This is written in their national doctrine “The Russian World”. That doctrine is espoused by any who comes to power in Russia and has been nourished for generations and generations amongst Russians. 

— The Russian so-called “opposition” can be in opposition to Putin but if you ask them about Crimea and other aspects of Ukrainians being Ukrainian, they will give a very Russian answer. This in essence means that Ukrainians do not have the right to exist. This bitter fact has to be faced in Ukraine and the world. 

Lesya added that the global community cannot continue to live with an illusion of a romanticized Russia, a kind of controlled Wild West where you can go, have a different kind of experience and still come back. That is not what Russia is about. Russian narratives are those of empire, colonial powers, aggression, and suppression. 

— As a global community, could we feel safe living next to such a huge country with 140 million inhabitants who have a mindset of aggression, of jumping to the sovereignty of another country just because they can? I think the answer is obvious. We need to think about solutions.

Anton Drobovych: If you believe in human rights and democracy, you must take weapons and defend your way of thinking

Anton Drobovych is the Head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance. After the beginning of the Russian war against Ukraine, he joined the Territorial Defense Forces. Anton compared his recent three months of experience to one from the movies or books about war. 

Anton underlined that this war is a test of humanity and it could lead to catastrophe for the world unless we all stop Russia together:

I suppose one of the morals of the situation is if you believe in human rights and democracy, you must take weapons and defend your way of thinking because Russia aims to destroy an independent Ukraine and destroy freedom in Eastern Europe.  

Anton stressed that history lessons became significant for Ukrainians in the Russian-Ukrainian war:

Millions of people realized that warnings from the past were not in vain. The bloody Russian empire decided to subdue us by force, and one morning we woke up with the necessity to recall centuries of experience in resistance. But now, after three decades of experience of freedom and political independence, no one in Ukraine is surrendering without a fight. 

Anton underlined that Russia aims to deceive and assimilate Ukrainians as they did with the Tatarstan people, Chechens, Bashkirs, Kalmyks and others. Russia wants to destroy Ukrainian freedom, dignity, language and culture. Ukrainians stand with an ultimatum: either we stop being ourselves and live or die. That is why there can be no compromise with Russia.

Dasha Zarivna: Russia still tries to divide the world by its propaganda

Dasha Zarivna is a communications advisor of the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine. She said that the Russian-Ukrainian war is existential not only for the Ukrainian state, but also a matter of personal existence for each Ukrainian, and each one has his motivation to win. 

Dasha said that Russia still tries to divide the world by its propaganda and explained about two types of their narratives. The first type is permanent, the core ones, which they used against Ukrainians for a long time:

The core ones they use to describe Ukraine either as one nation with Russia or a brother nation. In the second case, they describe Ukraine as a younger brother who needs support and help from the elder brother. This strategy also includes taking the best from Ukrainian culture and branding it as a part of Russian culture. It is also about building the inferiority complex in Ukraine. Part of this narrative is the statement that Ukraine does not exist as a nation and that Lenin created it (that was the quote of Vladimir Putin).

The second category in the Russian propaganda narrative is more dynamic and situative. They have taken place now, aiming to shake Western support:

The first one is that Ukraine has nothing to fight for and the West will not help. The second is Ukraine taking attention from crucial global problems. The third is Ukrainians needing to start negotiations with Russia. But in fact, there is nothing to negotiate for.

The main objective of the #UkrainianDialogue project is to create a dialogue platform between Ukrainian leaders and international representatives about how to support Ukraine in achieving victory.