1152 Yuval Noah Harari on Ukraine

The War in Ukraine could change everything

a TED talk with Yuval Noah Harari


Bruno Giussani: We are at the end of day six of the war in Ukraine or, more correctly, of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, launched on February 24 by President Vladimir Putin. We are all shocked and saddened by the events and by the human suffering they are causing. And as we speak, really, a Russian military convoy is headed towards Kyiv, other Ukrainian cities are being bombarded, half a million Ukrainians have already fled to neighboring countries and much more. It's still early days, and it's difficult to predict how the situation will evolve even just in the next few hours. But this is a war that should concern everyone, everywhere. And so today, in this TED Membership conversation, we want to try to give it a broader context with our guest, historian and author, Yuval Noah Harari. Yuval, welcome.


Yuval Noah Harari: Hello. Thank you for inviting me.


BG: I want to start from Ukraine itself and its 42 million people and its particular place between the East and the West. What do we need to know about Ukraine to understand this war and what's at stake?


YNH: The most crucial thing to know is that Ukrainians are not Russians, and that Ukraine is an ancient, independent nation. Ukraine has a history of more than a thousand years. Kyiv was a major metropolis and cultural center when Moscow was not even a village. For most of these thousand years Kyiv was not ruled by Moscow. They were not part of the same political entity. For centuries, Kyiv was looking westwards and was a part of a union with Lithuania and Poland until it was eventually conquered and absorbed by the Russian Empire, by the czarist empire. But even after that, Ukrainians remained a separate people to a large extent, and it's important to know that because this is really what is at stake in this war.


The key issue of the war, at least for President Putin, is whether Ukraine is an independent nation,whether it is a nation at all. He has this fantasy that Ukraine isn't a nation, that Ukraine is just a part of Russia, that Ukrainians are Russians. In his fantasy, Ukrainians are Russians that want to be back in the fold of Mother Russia, and that the only ones preventing it is a very small gang at the top, which he portrays as Nazis, even if the president is Jewish; but OK, a Nazi Jew. And his belief was, at least, that he just needs to invade, Zelenskyy will flee, the government will collapse, the army would lay down its arms, and the Ukrainian people would welcome the Russian liberators, throwing flowers on them. And this fantasy has been shattered already. Zelenskyy hasn’t fled, the Ukrainian army is fighting. And the Ukrainian people is not throwing flowers on the Russian tanks, it's throwing Molotov cocktails.


BG: So let's unpack that and maybe take the different pieces one way one. So Ukraine has a long history of being dominated and occupied. You mentioned the czar, but also the Soviet Union, Hitler's armies. It also has a long history of mistrust of authority and of resistance, which goes some way to explain the current strong resistance that the Russians are encountering. Anne Applebaum, the journalist, even suggests that this mistrust, this resistance to authority, is the very essence of Ukraine-ness, do you agree?


YNH: We did see in the last 30 years Ukrainians twice rising in revolt when there was a danger of an authoritarian regime being established -- once in 2004, once in 2013. And when I was in Kyiv a few years ago, what really struck me was this very strong feeling of the desire for independence and for democracy. And I remember walking around this museum of the Revolution of 2013-2014 and seeing these images, like these two elderly women who were bringing sandwiches to the demonstrators, to the fighters. They couldn’t throw stones and they couldn’t do anything else, so they prepared sandwichesand brought this huge tray full of sandwiches to the demonstrators. And this, yes, this is the kind of spiritthat inspires not just the Ukrainians but everybody who is now watching what is happening there.


BG: Help me understand the actual nature of the threat here in terms of Russia moving into Ukraine. So in your last book, when you write about Russia, you describe the Russian model as: “not a coherent political ideology, but rather a sort of practice of monopolizing power and wealth by a small group at the top." But then, in his actions against Ukraine, Putin in the last few weeks seems to move very much by an ideology, an ideology of empire, of denial of Ukraine's right to exist, as you mention. What has changed in the four years since you wrote that book?


YNH: The imperial dream was always there, but you know, empires are often the creation of a very small gang of people at the top. I don’t think the Russian people [are] interested in this war. I don't think that the Russian people want to conquer Ukraine or to slaughter the citizens of Kyiv. It's all coming from the top. So there is no change there. I mean, when you look at the Soviet Union, you can say that there was this mass ideology, which was shared by a large proportion, or some proportion, of the population. You don't see this now. You know, Russia is a very rich country, rich in resources, but most people are very poor. Their standard of living is very, very low because all the wealth and power is kind of sucked by the people at the top, and very little is left for everybody else. So I don't think it's a society where the masses are part of this kind of ideological project. They're being ruled from the top. And you have this classic imperial situation, when the emperor, which controls the largest country in the world, feels that, "Hey, this is not enough. I need more." And sends his army to capture, to extend the empire.


BG: I said at the beginning that it's difficult, of course, to make predictions. But yesterday, you published an article in "The Guardian" titled: “Why Putin has already lost this war.” Please explain.


YNH: Well, one thing should be very clear. I don't mean to say that he's going to suffer an immediate military defeat. He definitely has the military power to conquer Kyiv and perhaps the whole of Ukraine.Unfortunately, we might see this. But his long-term goal, the whole rationale of the war, is to deny the existence of the Ukrainian nation and to absorb it into Russia. And to do that, it's not enough to conquer Ukraine. You also need to hold it. And it's all based on this fantasy, on this gamble, that most of the population in Ukraine would agree to this, would even welcome this. And we already know that it's not true. That the Ukrainians are a very real nation; they are fiercely independent; they don’t want to be part of Russia; they will fight like hell. And in the long-run, again, you can conquer a country, But as the Russians learned in Afghanistan, as the Americans learned also in Afghanistan, also in Iraq, it's much harder to hold a country. And again, the big question mark before the war was always this. Before the war started, many things were already known. Everybody knew that the Russian army is much stronger than the Ukrainian Army. Everybody knew that NATO will not send armed forces into Ukraine, troops into Ukraine. Everybody knew that the West, the Europeans, would be hesitant about imposing too strict a sanction regime for fear of being hurt by it themselves. And this was the basis for Putin's war plan. But there was one big unknown. Nobody could say for sure how the Ukrainian people would react. And there was always the option that maybe Putin's fantasy would come true. Maybe the Russians will march in, Zelenskyy would flee, maybe the Ukrainian army will just capitulate and the population would not do much. This was always an option. And now we know this was just fantasy. Now we know that the Ukrainians are fighting, they will fight. And this derails the whole rationale of Putin’s war. Because you can conquer the country, maybe, but you won't be able to absorb Ukraine back into Russia. The only thing he's accomplishing, he is planting seeds of hatred in the hearts of every Ukrainian. Every Ukrainian being killed, every day this war continues is more seeds of hatred that may last for generations.Ukrainians and Russians didn't hate each other before Putin. They’re siblings. Now he's making them enemies. And if he continues, this will be his legacy.


BG: We're going to talk a bit about that again later but, you know, at the same time, Putin needs a victory, right? The cost, the human, economic, political cost of this war, not even a week in, is already astronomical. So to justify it and also to remain, by the way, a viable leader at the head of Russia, Putin needs to win, and even win convincingly. So how do we square these things?


YNH: I don't know. I mean, the fact that you need to win doesn't mean that you can win. Lots of political leaders need to win, and sometimes they lose. He could stop the war, declare that he won, and say that recognizing Luhansk and Donetsk by the Russians is what he really wanted all along, and he achieved this. Maybe they cobble this agreement, or I don’t know. This is the job of politicians, I'm not a politician.But I can tell you that I hope, for the sake of everybody -- Ukrainians, Russians and the whole of humanity -- that this war stops immediately. Because if it doesn't, it's not only the Ukrainians and the Russians that will suffer terribly. Everybody will suffer terribly if this war continues.


BG: Explain why.


YNH: Because of the shock waves destabilizing the whole world. Let’s start with the bottom line:budgets. We have been living in an amazing era of peace in the last few decades. And it wasn't some kind of hippie fantasy. You saw it in the bottom line. You saw it in the budgets. In Europe, in the European Union, the average defense budget of EU members was around three percent of government budget.And that's a historical miracle, almost. For most of history, the budget of kings and emperors and sultans, like 50 percent, 80 percent goes to war, goes to the army. In Europe, it’s just three percent. In the whole world, the average is about six percent, I think, fact-check me on this, but this is the figure that I know, six percent. What we saw already within a few days, Germany doubles its military budget in a day. And I'm not against it. Given what they are facing, it's reasonable. For the Germans, for the Poles,for all of Europe to double their budgets. And you see other countries around the world doing the same thing. But this is, you know, a race to the bottom. When they double their budgets, other countries look and feel insecure and double their budgets, so they have to double them again and triple them. And the money that should go to health care, that should go to education, that should go to fight climate change, this money will now go to tanks, to missiles, to fighting wars. So there is less health care for everybody, and there is maybe no solution to climate change because the money goes to tanks. And in this way, even if you live in Australia, even if you live in Brazil, you will feel the repercussions of this war in less health care, in a deteriorating ecological crisis, in many other things.


Again, another very central question is technology. We are on the verge, we are already in the middle, actually, of new technological arms races in fields like artificial intelligence. And we need global agreement about how to regulate AI and to prevent the worst scenarios. How can we get a global agreement on AI when you have a new cold war, a new hot war? So in this field, to all hopes of stopping the AI arms race will go up in smoke if this war continues. So again, everybody around the world will feel the consequences in many ways. This is much, much bigger than just another regional conflict.


BG: If one of Putin's goals here is to divide Europe, to weaken the transatlantic alliance and the global liberal order, he seems to kind of accidentally have revitalized all of them in a way. US-EU relations have never been so close in many years. And so how do you read that?


YNH: Well, again, in this sense, he also lost the war. If his aim was to divide Europe, to divide NATO, he's achieved exactly the opposite. I mean, I was amazed by how quick, how strong and how unanimous the European reaction was. I think the Europeans surprised themselves. You even see countries like Finland and Sweden sending arms to Ukraine and closing their airspace. They didn't even do it in the Cold War.It's really amazing to see it. I think another very important thing is what has been dividing the West over the several years now, it’s what people term the “culture war”. The culture war between left and right, between conservatives and liberals. And I think this war can be an opportunity to end the culture war within the West, to make peace in the culture war. First of all, because you suddenly realize we are all in this together. There are much bigger things in the world than these arguments between left and rightwithin the Western democracies. And it's a reminder that we need to stand united to protect Western liberal democracies. But it's deeper than that. Much of the argument between left and right seemed to be in terms of a contradiction between liberalism and nationalism. Like, you need to choose. And the right goes with nationalism, and the left goes more liberalism. And Ukraine is a reminder that no, the two actually go together. Historically, nationalism and liberalism are not opposites. They are not enemies.They are friends, they go together. They meet around the central value of freedom, of liberty. And to see a nation fighting for its survival, fighting for its freedom, you see it on Fox News or you see it in CNN. And yes, they tell the story a little differently, but they suddenly see the same reality. And they find common ground. And the common ground is to understand that nationalism is not about hating minorities or hating foreigners, it's about loving your compatriots, and reaching a peaceful agreement about how we want to run our country together. And I hope that seeing what is happening would help to end the culture war in the West. And if this happens, we don't need to worry about anything.


You know, when you look at the real power balance, if the Europeans stick together, if the Americans and the Europeans stick together and stop this culture war and stop tearing themselves apart, they have absolutely nothing to fear -- the Russians or anybody else.


BG: I'm going to ask you a question later about the stories the West tells itself, but let me zoom out for a second and get a larger perspective. You wrote another essay last week in “The Economist”, and you argue that what's at stake in Ukraine is, and I quote you, "the direction of human history" because it puts at risk what you call the greatest political and moral achievement of modern civilization, which is the decline of war. So now we are back in a war and potentially afterwards into a new form of cold war or hot war, but hopefully not. Elaborate about that essay you wrote.


YNH: Yeah, I mean, some people think that all this talk about the decline of war was always just a fantasy. But ... Again, you look at the statistics. Since 1945, there has not been a single clash between superpowers, whereas previously in history, this was, you know, the basic stuff of history. Since 1945,not a single internationally recognized country was wiped off the map by external invasion. This was the common thing in history. Until then and then it stopped. This is an amazing achievement, which is the basis for everything we have, for our medical services, for education system, and this is all now in jeopardy. Because this era of peace, it wasn't the result of some miracle. It wasn't the result of a change in the laws of nature. It was humans making better decisions and building better institutions, which means also that there is no guarantee for the future. If humans, some humans, start making bad decisions and start destroying the institutions that kept the peace, then we will be back in the era of warwith budgets, military budgets going to 20, 30, 40 percent. It can happen. It's in our hands.


And I'll just say one more thing, When, not just me, but other scholars like Steven Pinker and others,talked about the era of peace, some people understood it as kind of encouraging complacency. That, oh, we don't need to worry about anything. No, I mean, the message was really the opposite. It was a message of responsibility. If you think that there is no era of peace in history, it's always war, it's always the jungle, there is a constant level of violence in nature, then this basically means that there is no point struggling for peace and there is no responsibility on leaders like Putin because you can't blame Putin for the war. It's just a law of nature that there are wars. When you realize, no, humans are able to decrease the level of violence, then it should make us much more responsible. And it should also make us understand that the war in Ukraine now, it’s not a natural disaster. It’s a man-made disaster, and a single man. It's not the Russian people who want this war. There's really just a single person who, by his decisions, created this tragedy.


BG: So one of the things that has come back in the last weeks and months is the nuclear threat. It's moved back into the center of political and strategic considerations. Putin has talked about it several times, the other day he ordered Russia's nuclear forces on a higher alert status. President Zelenskyy himself at the Munich Security Conference essentially said that Ukraine had made a mistakeabandoning the nuclear weapons it had inherited from the Soviet Union. That's a statement that I suspect many countries are pondering. What's your thinking about the return of the nuclear threat?


YNH: It's extremely frightening. You know, it's like it's almost Freudian, it's the return of the repressed.We thought that, oh, nuclear weapons, yes, there was something about that in the 1960s with the Cuban Missile Crisis and Dr. Strangelove. But no, it's here. And, you know, it took just a few days of difficulties on the battlefield for suddenly -- I mean, I'm watching television, like, the news and you have these experts explaining to people what different nuclear weapons will do to this city or to this country.It rushed back in. So, you know, nuclear weapons are -- in a way they also, until now, preserved the peace of the world. I belong to the school of thought that if it was not for nuclear weapons, we would have had the Third World War between the Soviet Union and the United States and NATO sometime in the 1950s or '60s. That nuclear weapons actually, until today, served a good function. It's because of nuclear weapons that we did not have any more direct clashes between superpowers because it was obvious that this would be collective suicide. But the danger is still there, it's always there. If there is miscalculation, then the results could, of course, be existential, catastrophic.


BG: And at the same time, you know, in the '70s after Cuba and Berlin, and so in the '60s, but in the '70s,we started building a sort of international institutional architecture that helped reduce the risk of military confrontation of nuclear weapons, we used, you know, anything from arms control agreements to measures designed to build trust or to communicate directly and so on. And then in the last decade or so, that has been progressively kind of scrapped, so we are even in a more dangerous situation than we were let's say, at the end of the last century.


YNH: Completely, I mean, we are now reaping the bad fruits of neglect that's been going on for several years, not just about nuclear weapons, but in general, about international institutions and global cooperation. We’ve built, in the late 20th century, a house for humanity based on cooperation, based on collaboration, based on the understanding that our future depends on being able to cooperate,otherwise we will become extinct as a species. And we all live in this house. But in the last few years we stopped -- we neglected it, we stopped repairing it. We allow it to deteriorate more and more. And, you know, eventually it will -- It is collapsing now. So I hope that people will realize before it's too late that we need not just to stop this terrible war, we need to rebuild the institutions, we need to repair the global house in which we all live together. If it falls down, we all die.


BG: So we have, among the audience listening, Rola from -- I don't know where she's from, she grew up in Lebanon -- and she said, "I lived the war, I slept on the ground, I breathed fear. All the reasons were explained to me that the only remaining learning came the war is absurd. We talk about strategy, power, budgets, opportunities, technologies. What about human suffering and psychological trauma?"Especially, I assume what she's asking is what about, what's going to remain, in terms of the human suffering and the psychological trauma going forward?


YNH: Yeah, I mean, these are the seeds of hatred and fear and misery that are being planted right now in the minds and the bodies of tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people, really. Because it's not just the people in Ukraine, it's also in the countries around, all over the world. And these seeds will give a terrible harvest, terrible fruits in years, in decades to come. This is why it's so crucial to stop the war immediately. Every day this continues, plants more and more of these seeds. And, you know, like this war now, its seeds were, to a large extent, planted decades and even centuries ago. That part of the Russian fears that are motivating Putin and motivating people around him is memories of past invasions of Russia, especially, of course, in Second World War. And of course, it's a terrible mistake what they are doing with it. They are recreating again the same things that they should learn to avoid. But yes, these are still the terrible fruits of the seeds being planted in the 1940s.


BG: It's what in same article you call the fact that nations are ultimately built on stories. So these seeds are the stories we are starting to create now. The war in Ukraine is starting to create the stories that are going to have an impact in the future, that's what you're saying.


YNH: Some of the seeds of this war were planted in the siege of Leningrad. And now it gives fruit in the siege of Kyiv, which may give fruit in 40 or 50 years in more terrible ... We need to cut this, we need to stop this. You know, as a historian, I feel sometimes ashamed or responsible, I don't know what, about what history, the knowledge of history is doing to people. In recent weeks, I have been watching all the world leaders talking with Putin, and very often he gave them lectures on history. I think that Macron had a discussion with him for five hours, and afterwards, said, “Most of the time he was lecturing me about history.” And as a historian, I feel ashamed that this is what my profession in some way is doing. I know it for my own country. In Israel, we also suffer from too much history. I think people should be liberated from the past, not constantly repeating it again and again. You know, everybody should kind of free themselves from the memories of the Second World War. It's true of the Russians, it's also true of the Germans. You know, I look at Germany now, and what I really want to say, if there are Germans watching us, what I really want to say to the Germans: guys, we know you are not Nazis. You don't need to keep proving it again and again. What we need from Germany now is to stand up and be a leader, to be at the forefront of the struggle for freedom. And sometimes Germans are afraid that if they speak forcefully or pick up a gun, everybody will say, "Hey, you're Nazis again." No, we won't think that.


BG: That's happening right now. I mean, lots of things that were inconceivable just 10 days ago have happened in the last few weeks. And one of the most striking, to me in any case, is Germany's reaction and transformation. I mean, the new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, the other day announced that Germany will send arms to Ukraine, and will spend an extra 100 billion dollars in building up its army. That reverses completely the principles that have guided Germany's foreign policy and security politics for decades.So that shift is happening exactly at this moment and very, very fast.


YNH: Yeah. And I think it's a good thing. We need the Germans to ... I mean, they are now the leaders of Europe, certainly after Britain left in Brexit. And we need them to, in a way, let go of the past and be in the present. If there is really one country in the world that, as a Jew, as an Israeli, as a historian, that I trust it not to repeat the horrors of Nazism, that's Germany.


BG: Yuval, I want to touch quickly on three things that have to do with the fact that this feels like the first truly interconnected war in many ways. The first, of course, is the basics, which is, on one side, you have a very ancient war -- we have tanks and we have trenches and we have bombed buildings -- and on the other, we have real-time visibility of everything through cell phones and Twitter and TikTok and so on.And you have written a lot about this tension between old ways and new tech. What's the impact here?


YNH: First of all, we don't know everything that is happening. I mean, surprisingly, with all this TikTok and phones and everything, so much is not known. So the fog of war is still there, and yes, there is much more information, but information isn’t truth. Lots of information is disinformation and fake news and so forth. And yes, it’s always like this; the new and the old, they come together. You know, with all the talk about interconnectedness and living in cyberspace and all that, one of the most important technologies not just of this war, but of the last decade or two have been stone walls. It's Neolithic. Everybody is now building stone walls in the era of Facebook and Google and all that. So the old and the new, they go together. And it's ... It is a new kind of war. People are sitting at home in California or Australia, and they actively participate in the war, not just by writing tweets, but by attacking websites or defending websites. You know, in Spain, in the Civil War, if you wanted to help fight fascism, then you had to go to Spain and join the international brigade. Now the international brigade is sitting at home in San Franciscoand is still in some way part of the war. So this is definitely new.


BG: So indeed, just two days ago, Ukraine's deputy prime minister, I think, Fedorov, announced via Telegram that he wanted to create a sort of volunteer cyber army. He invited software developers and hackers and other people with IT skills to somehow help Ukraine fight on the cyber front. And according to “Wired” magazine, in less than two days, 175,000 people signed up. So here is a defending nation that can kind of recruit almost overnight, 175,000 volunteers to go to battle on his behalf. It's a very different kind of war.


YNH: Yeah. You know, every war brings it surprises. Sometimes it's how everything is new, but sometimes it's also how everything is old.


BG: So a few people in the chat and in the Q and A, have mentioned China, which of course, is an important actor here, although for now is mostly an observer. But China has a stated policy of opposing any act that violates territorial integrity. So moving into Ukraine, of course, violates territorial integrity.And it also has a huge interest in a stable global economy and global system. But then it needs to square this with the recent closeness with Russia. Xi Jinping and Putin met in Beijing before the Olympics, for example, and kind of had this message of friendship that went out to the world. How do you read China's position in this conflict?


YNH: I don't know, I mean, I'm not an expert on China, and I certainly can't just ... You know, just reading the news won't get you into the mindset, into the real opinions and positions of the Chinese leadership. I hope that they take a responsible position. And act -- because they are close to Russia, they are also close to Ukraine, but especially because they are close to Russia, they have a lot of influence on Russia,I hope that they will be the responsible adults that will put down the flames of this war. They have a lot to lose from a breakdown of the global order. And I think they have a lot to win from the return of peace,including in terms of the gratitude of the international community. Now, whether they do it or not, this is with them. I can't predict, but I hope so.


BG: You have mentioned before the several European and Western leaders that have gone to Moscow in the weeks before the invasion. Varun in the chat, asks, "Is the Ukraine war a failure of diplomacy?" Could have ... Something different happened?


YNH: Oh, you can understand it in two questions. Did diplomacy fail to stop the war? Absolutely, everybody knows that. But is it a failure in the sense that a different diplomatic approach, some kind of other proposition, would have stopped the war? I don't know, but it doesn't seem like it. I mean, looking at the events of the last few weeks, it doesn't seem that Putin was really interested in a diplomatic solution. It seemed that he was really interested in the war, and I think, again, it goes back to this basic fantasy that if he really was concerned about the security situation of Russia, then there was no need to immediately invade Ukraine. There was no immediate threat to Russia. There was no discussion of right now, Ukraine joining NATO. There was no invasion army assembling in the Baltic states or in Poland.Nothing. Putin chose the moment to start this crisis. So this is why it doesn't seem that it's really about the security concerns. It seems more about this very deep fantasy of re-establishing the Russian Empireand of denying the very existence of the Ukrainian nation.


BG: So you live in the Middle East. Someone else in the chat asks, "What makes the situation so uniquecompared to many other wars that are going on right now in the world?" I would say, aside from the nuclear threat from Russia, but what else?


YNH: Several things. First of all, we have here, again, something we haven't seen since 1945, which is a dominant power trying to basically obliterate from the map an independent country. You know, when the US invaded Afghanistan or when the US invaded Iraq, you can say a lot of things about it and criticize it in many ways. There was no question of the US annexing Iraq or turning Iraq into the 51st state of the United States. This is what is happening in Ukraine under this pretext or this disguise, this is what's at stake. The real aim is to annex Ukraine. If this succeeds, again, it brings us back to the era of war.


I was struck by what the Kenyan representative to the UN Security Council said when this erupted. The Kenyan representative spoke in the name of Kenya and other African countries. And he told the Russians: Look, we also are the product of a post-imperial order. The same way the Soviet empire collapsed into different independent nations, also, African nations came out of the collapse of European empires. And the basic principle of African politics ever since then was that no matter what your objections to the borders you have inherited, keep the borders. The borders are sacred because if we start invading neighboring countries because, "Hey, this is part of our countries, these people are part of our nation," there will not be an end to it. And if this now happens in Ukraine, it will be a blueprint for copycats all over the world.


The other thing which is different is that we are talking about superpowers. This is not a war between Israel and Hezbollah. This is potentially a war between Russia and NATO. And even leaving aside nuclear weapons, this completely destabilizes the peace of the entire world. And again, I go back again and again to the budgets. That if Germany doubles its defense budget, if Poland doubles its defense budget,this will spread to every country in the world, and this is terrible news.


BG: So Yuval, I'm jumping from topic to topic because I want to use the last few minutes to ask a few questions from the audience. A few people are asking about the link to the climate crisis, particularly when it relates to the energy flows. Like, Europe is very dependent, part of Europe, is very dependent on Russian oil and gas, which is, as far as we know, still flowing until today. But could this crisis, in a sort of paradoxical way, a bit like the pandemic, accelerate climate action, accelerate renewables and and so on?


YNH: This is the hope. That Europe now realizes the danger and starts a green Manhattan Project that kind of accelerates what already has been happening, but accelerates it, the development of better energy sources, better energy infrastructure, which would release it from its dependence on oil and gas.And it will actually undercut the dependence of the whole world on oil and gas. And this would be the best way to undermine the Putin regime and the Putin war machine, because this is what Russia has, oil and gas. That's it. When was the last time you bought anything made in Russia? They have oil and gas,and we know, you know, the curse of oil. That oil is a source of riches, but it’s also very often a support for dictatorships. Because to enjoy the benefits of oil, you don't need to share it with your citizens. You don't need an open society, you don't need education, you just need to drill. So we see in many placesthat oil and gas are actually the basis for dictatorships. If oil and gas, if the price drops, if they become irrelevant, it will not only undercut the finance, the power of the Russian military machine, it will also force Russia, force Putin or the Russians to change their regime.


BG: OK, let me bring up a character that everybody here in the chat seems to find quite heroic, and that's the Ukrainian president. So Ukraine kind of finds itself with a comedian who turned almost accidental president, who turned now war president. But he has shown an impressive conduct in the last few weeks, especially in the last few days, which can be summarized in that response he gave to the US when they offered to kind of exfiltrate him so he could lead a government in exile, he said, "I need ammunition. I don't need a ride." How would you look at President Zelenskyy?


YNH: His conduct has indeed been admirable, and he gives courage and inspiration not just to the Ukrainian people, but I think to everybody around the world. I think to a large extent the swift and united reaction of Europe with the sanctions and sending arms and so forth, to a large extent, this is also to the credit of Zelenskyy. That, you know, when politicians are also human beings. And his direct appeal to them, and you know, they met him many times in person and to see where he is now and the threat that not only him, but his family is also in. And you know, they talk with him, and he says, and they know, that this may be the last time they speak. He may be dead, murdered or bombed in an hour or in a day. It really changes something. So in this sense, I think he made a huge personal contribution, to not just the reaction in Ukraine, but around the world.


BG: So Sam, who’s listening, asked this question: "Can you provide some historical context for the force and the meaning of economic and trade sanctions at the level where they are currently imposed. How have previous would-be empires, would-be aggressors, or aggressors, been constrained by such isolations and such sanctions?"


YNH: You know, what we need, again, to realize about Putin's Russia is that it's not the Soviet Union. It's a much smaller and weaker country. It's not like in the 1960s, that in addition to the Soviet Union, you had the entire Soviet bloc around it. So it's easier in this sense to isolate it. It's much more vulnerable.Again, does it mean that sanctions would work like a miracle and stop the tanks? No. It takes time. But I think that the West is in a position to impact Russia with these kinds of sanctions and isolation much more than, let's say, with the Soviet Union. And also the Russian people are different. The Russian people don't really want this war, even the people in the immediate circle around Putin. You know, again,I don't know them personally, from what it seems, it's that these people, they like life. They have their yachts and they have their private airplanes and they have their house in London and they have their chateau in France. And they like the good life, and they want to keep enjoying it. So I think that the sanctions can be really effective. What's the timetable? That's ultimately in the hands of Putin.


BG: So Gabriella asks: “I remember the war in former Yugoslavia and the atrocities there. Is there any possibility that this war would escalate into such a situation?" I think an extension to that is: Is this war kind of stirring dormant conflicts like in the Balkans, for example, or in the former Central Asian republic?


YNH: Unfortunately, it can get to that level and even worse. If you want an analogy, go to Syria. You look at what happened in Homs. At what happened in Aleppo. And this was done by Putin and his airplanesand his minions in Syria. It's the same person behind it. And to think that, "No, no, no, this happened in the Middle East. It can't happen in Europe." No. We could see Kyiv in the same situation as Homs, as the same situation as Aleppo, which would be catastrophic, and, again, would plant terrible seeds of hatredfor years and decades. So far, we've seen hundreds of people being killed, Ukrainian citizens being killed. It could reach tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. So in this sense, it's extremely painful to contemplate. And this is why we need again and again to urge the leaders to stop this war, and especially, again and again, tell Putin, "You will not be able to absorb Ukraine into Russia. They don't want it, they don't want you. If you continue, the only thing you will achieve is to create terrible hatredbetween Ukrainians and Russians for generations. It doesn't have to be like that."


BG: Yuval, let me finish with one question about your county. You are in Israel. Israel has close ties with both Russia and Ukraine. It's actually home of many Russian-born and many Ukrainian-born Jews. How is the country reacting to this conflict, I'm talking about the government, but also about the population?


YNH: Actually, I'm not the best person to ask. I've been so, kind of, following what's happening around the world, I didn't pay so much attention to what is happening right here. And even though I live here, I'm not an expert on Israeli society or Israeli politics. Definitely, the sentiment in the street, in the social media is with Ukraine. You see Ukrainian flags, you see on social media people putting Ukrainian flags on their accounts. And another thing, so many people in Israel, they came from the former Soviet Union.And until now, everybody was simply known as Russians. You know, even if you came from Azerbaijan or you came from Bukhara, you were a Russian. And suddenly, "No, no, no, no, no. I'm not Russian. I'm Ukrainian." And again, these seeds of hatred that Putin is planting, it's reaching also here. That suddenly people are saying no, Russian, Ukrainian, until a very short time ago, it's the same thing. No, it's not the same thing. So the shock waves are spreading.


BG: Yuval, thank you for taking the time and being with us today and sharing your knowledge and your views on the situation. Thank you very much.