Yalta 2023: Planning for Life After the Russian Invasion

In Brussels, Jens Stoltenberg’s answers about Ukrainian NATO ascension deeply frustrated the Ukrainians in attendance. Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
May 30, 2023

Last week, I attended two conferences. The first was the Brussels Forum, organized by the German Marshall Fund, on the future of Ukraine. The second, organized by the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, focused on what will happen to Russia. It was a week spent imagining a long-term forecast for both countries at a time when even the present is hard to fathom. 

The questions are myriad. How, for example, do you rebuild a country while it is being actively destroyed by a foreign army? How do you understand the future of a country that has kicked out all real journalists, making the present reality so hard to understand? How do you reimagine a country whose territorial integrity is very much up in the air, or one whose dictator seems more powerful at home than ever? 

These are questions I find exceedingly hard to grapple with. In the context of a panel discussion, they can devolve into the equivalent of arguing about the shape of a cloud. And they often did. At one point, a young Ukrainian activist from Odessa, understandably furious at the Russian people, asked me if I thought it was probable that Russia would ever be a democratic country. I told her I had absolutely no idea. Was it likely? No. Was it impossible? Also no. After all, who in 1942 would have thought that Germany would become a liberal multi-ethnic democracy, and a pillar of the democratic trans-Atlantic alliance that mostly held Europe and NATO together while Donald Trump was in power? In Vilnius, scholar Sergey Medvedev made an almost identical point: it was hard to imagine an Allied victory, in 1942, let alone the contours of the world that emerged from it.