On Monday, June 6, The Aspen Institute UK partnered with Aspen Kyiv to hold a timely and important conversation on the Russia-Ukraine war. This was the ninth international discussion in the #UkraineDialogue series co-hosted by Aspen Kyiv and Aspen Institute International Partners.
The event featured a distinguished panel of speakers: Andriy Zagorodniuk, the Chairman of the Board of the Center for Defence Strategies, former Minister of Defence of Ukraine; Lesya Vasylenko, Ukrainian MP, Co-Chair of Ukrainian British parliamentary friendship group; Dasha Zarivna, communications advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine; and Anton Drobovych, public speaker, researcher, and expert in education and culture, who is currently taking part in the battles for Kyiv in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The dialogue was moderated by Penny Richards, the CEO of the Aspen Institute UK. Yulia Tychkivska, the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Kyiv, opened the discussion with an introductory speech.
We have summarised some key points from the discussion below and you can see some of this and other conversations in the Ukrainian Dialogue series on the Aspen Kyiv YouTube page.
We will shortly be releasing the audio of the podcast both on the Aspen Kyiv Ukrainian Dialogues podcast and the Aspen UK podcast. Subscribe to be the first to catch the discussion when it is released.
Aspen Kyiv-Aspen UK – Ukrainian Dialogue
How has the last 100 days of the war been for the panellists?
Reflecting on the last one hundred days, the panellists emphasised that the war has had a profound on each of them. For Lesya, she said it has felt like one hundred years and that her life has been reduced to a war-life balance. The war has been existential, Dasha explained, it’s a matter of existence not just for the state but for every Ukrainian personally. By now each Ukrainian has their own pain, their own motivation to fight. Serving on the frontline, Anton’s experience has been particularly stark – patrolling the streets and hiding from Russian bombs.
How do you explain Ukraine’s remarkable morale?
According to Andriy, the morale of the Ukrainian armed forces has been extraordinary. He stressed that Putin’s ultimate objective is to destroy Ukraine, so Ukraine needs to win. Normal life therefore no longer exists, everything is now directed towards the war effort. Anton added that after three decades of freedom and political independence, no one in Ukraine is surrendering without a fight. He said if you believe in the ideals of freedom, human rights and democracy, then you must fight.
What are the Russian narratives?
Dasha explained that there are two categories of Russian narratives. The permanent narrative describes Ukraine as a ‘younger brother, who needs support and help from the older brother’ – this narrative is about creating an inferiority complex. The second category is more dynamic and aims to shake Western support: the first is that Ukraine has nothing to fight for and the West will not help. The second is that Ukraine draws attention and resources from important global problems. And the third is that it’s the Ukrainians that need to start negotiations with Russia.
Is this Putin’s war?
When asked whether this is solely Putin’s war or if support runs deeper in Russian society, Andriy argued that it’s incorrect to think this is Putin’s war, in fact, there is considerable support for the war within Russia – many have eagerly joined to fight. He believes this is because Russian civil society is extremely weak. In Belarus, where civil society is stronger, we have seen far more resistance.
Can Ukraine live with Russia?
Lesya agreed with Andriy that this war isn’t simply Putin’s war – the entire political establishment in Russia is responsible. Russian policy states that Ukraine does not have the right to exist. She added, this is the truth the world must face. She said the world needs to let go of romanticised illusions of Russia – Russian narratives are about empire, colonialism, and oppression. Before any co-existence with Russia, the war must be stopped.