The War in Ukraine Could Change Everything | Yuval Noah Harari | TED

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 sandwiches and brought this huge tray
full of sandwiches to the demonstrators. And this, yes, this is the kind of spirit that 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 right within 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 war with 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 mistake abandoning 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.

pexels photo 4348404

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 Francisco and 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 Empire and 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 unique compared 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 places that 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 airplanes and 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 hatred for 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 hatred between 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. YNH: Thank you
and I hope for peace quickly. BG: We all do. Thank you. [Get access to thought-provoking events
you won't want to miss.] [Become a TED Member

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