How to win the war and live further: Advice from the world’s leading intellectuals

war in Ukraine

This article is by Tymofii Brik, Assistant professor at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE).

During public lectures at Kyiv School of Economics, my colleagues Tymofiy Mylovanov and Ivan Gomza and I spoke with Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Paul Krugman, Daniel Kahneman and other world’s leading intellectuals about Ukraine and the war.

Why did we decide to arrange public lectures, even though we were in the midst of war?

Unfortunately, even today, when Russian bombs fall on Ukrainian libraries and campuses, the Western world does not look at this war through the eyes of Ukrainians. Ukraine’s perception still depends on what was written by Russian historians, culturologists, and philosophers decades ago. The perception of sanctions and Russians depends on what modern Russian economists and political scientists say. Moreover, hundreds of intellectuals who influence governments and public opinion still depend on Russian narratives. Therefore, there is a salient necessity to create new platforms that would not be affected by this bias.

That is why Ukrainian organisations must become platforms where world intellectuals offer their vision of war and reconstruction of Ukraine. Therefore, together with our partners, we have created a new project Ukrainian Global University (UGU), which aims to help Ukrainian students and struggle for Ukrainian intellectual sovereignty. As part of this struggle, KSE and UGU launched a marathon of lectures with world intellectuals – #GlobalMinds4Ukraine.

We invited the world’s leaders – author of the theory of “fragility”, writer Nasim Nicholas Taleb, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, former US ambassadors to Russia Michael McFaul and Thomas Pickering, the father of “behavioural economics” Daniel Kahneman, a historian of the Cold War period Mary Elise Sarotte and other “weightlifters” in their areas – to talk about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

We have listened to more than 15 hours of their lectures and analysed their theses together with our students and volunteers. What have we learned? Here are our key findings.

If you want to win the war, you need:

  • To have a plan. It is impossible to improvise as fast as Ukraine was acting. The world underestimated our country and the plan it had. The day before the invasion, important bridges and railway connections to the enemy were destroyed in Ukraine. This is extremely important as Russia’s military structure is based on the assumption that it will have access to the railway network. Resistance was expertly directed at the occupiers’ fuel trucks.
  • A powerful army. We should take into account the endurance of the Ukrainian military and the determination of Ukrainian leaders because the international partners did not begin to support Ukraine with armaments immediately.

‘I recognised the limitations in terms of equipment and weapon systems, aircraft, and the rest of that. And the truth is: that can be provided. You can’t provide heart, you can’t provide will, determination, and fortitude. I realised if they [Ukrainian military] can get additional Javelins, Stingers, this is going to be a very formidable military’, said retired US Army General David Petraeus.

  • Your people must have a strong will. This is the key element in which Ukraine is much stronger than Russia.

‘A war remains what it has always been, which is a test of will. It’s not only about the will of armies but also about the will of people. Regarding that key element, Ukraine is a lot stronger than Russia, said Eliot A. Cohen, an international strategist and head of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

  • Your country must have a strong democracy. Ukraine’s real threat to Russia is Ukrainian democracy. Putin has been trying to undermine Ukrainian democracy since 2004, but he has failed.
  • You must fight for universal democratic values, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and political openness. Then your people will be one, and the civilized world will be a partner in solidarity with you.
  • You need to have a strong leader at the head of the state. Volodymyr Zelensky turned out to be a “surprise” for the whole world, and even within his own country, he was underestimated. Nonetheless, now he has the authority and support of the people in those countries that provide the greatest military and humanitarian support to Ukraine.
  • You have to be a stronger tech player than your enemy. Russia tried to hack Ukraine’s communications system, but Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation turned to Elon Musk on Twitter for help. As a result, Ukraine gained Starlink stations and satellite Internet access, which not only connects the Ukrainian military but also restores mobile communications on temporarily occupied and liberated territories.
  • You need to be antifragile. ‘You have to love volatility and, to some extent, shocks. If you are antifragile, then in the past, you have already prepared for a shock. This is why we should play sports. Our muscles don’t just grow from food, they grow from stress. To a certain extent, you strain your muscles and become stronger’, said Nassim Nicholas Taleb, an American-Lebanese economist, philosopher, and writer.

If you want to revive the economy, you need:

  • Rethink the coal economy, which will not depend on a large oil and gas producing country.
  • Create “smart data supply chains” that use special technologies to optimise the supply process to and from the country.
  • Decentralise finances as a form of empowerment for many small and medium-sized enterprises in Ukraine that will need to rebuild the country. Rebuilding the country is now empowering millions of Ukrainians, no matter where they plan to set up new businesses. The country will work due to wide access to technology. Thus, decentralised registers of structures will determine the way forward. This means that we will transcend the physical boundaries of what a country can be.
  • Use every opportunity to establish diplomatic relations to get the support from partners that will be needed in the postwar period. You have to look in that direction, build connections, build civil society, and look for investments to help the country recover. You need to build a free, fair, functioning society and economy. This should be a top priority.

If you want to live a happy future, you need to:

  • To strive for strong alliances. Ukraine is now on the path to EU membership. The country has shown that it is more European than some other European countries. This could create an opportunity for new chains in production and logistics, in addition to the fact that Ukraine was a significant trading partner even before.
  • Hold on to the values ​​of the civilised world.

‘Despite the disappointments, Ukrainians must hold on to the values ​​that we all agree are essential for the civilised world. When a leader makes the rules alone and throws his enemies into jail, that is the path to a totalitarian state, in Russia. Ukrainians don’t want to live like that, said Andrew McCabe, former FBI Deputy Director (2016-2018).

  • In addition to faith in the state leader, your society must keep in focus the importance of creating institutions that will have the strength and independence to protect the values ​​that the society wants to see from its government, such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, the rule of law and a fair criminal trial.

How to prevent war?

  • You need to make conclusions from the bitter lessons of history to make the statement “never again” truthful. After the 2008 NATO summit, which discussed Ukraine’s and Georgia’s membership, Putin began looking for reasons for military action in those countries. In 2008, Russia began hostilities in Georgia, in 2014 – in the Crimea, and now we have a full-scale invasion. In retrospect, Russia’s war against Ukraine seems inevitable.

‘I don’t join the optimists among those who characterise the pre-invasion situation as malleable. The decision to invade Ukraine was made a long time ago’, said Thomas Pickering, US Ambassador to Russia.

Putin expected that the 2014 invasion would be devastating enough to sow instability and doubt among your people and leadership about Ukraine’s future. He achieved certain goals, but the Revolution of Dignity was ultimately successful for Ukraine. It contributed to the consolidation of democracy in the European country Ukraine. And that is exactly what Putin is trying to destroy now.

We can add that achieving all these goals (making conclusions from history, building a smart economy, forming strong institutions and strong leaders) is impossible without a base – powerful and independent universities. Education, research, and innovation are the foundation for a strong and responsible society.


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