None of today's leaders knows what his historical reputation will be in 20, 50 or a hundred years. No one knows how the Russian-Ukrainian war and other current conflicts, which determine the future face of Europe and the world, will end. But knowledge of the past allows, at least in part, to make the path to the future less like a walk in complete darkness.

About how events in Russia, Ukraine and Europe may develop in the near future, as judged by the history of Vladimir Putin and Alexei Navalny, which promises the development of events on the front in Ukraine not only for Ukraine itself, but also for other countries in the region, in an exclusive interview with the Georgian editorial office Radio Svaboda discusses the American historian, professor of Yale University, specialist in the countries of Eastern Europe Timothy Snyder.

Timati Snyder

(b. 1969) is the author of a number of books and dozens of articles about the history and modernity of Eastern European countries. Among the most famous are "Reconstruction of Nations. Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus 1569–1999", "Bloody lands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin", "Black land. Holocaust as history and warning", "The Red Prince. Secret lives of the Archduke of Habsburg", "Road to slavery: Russia, Europe, America", "On tyranny: 20 lessons of the 20th century". Snyder sharply condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, his essay in the New York Times "We must say this: Russia is a fascist country" became the subject of lively discussions.

- Let's start with the death of Alexei Navalny. Will he go down in history and how?

- I think this is a question for Russia, since Russians keep the memory of people who died in camps and prisons in a very specific way. Navalny will go down in history as a man who died for his country, unlike Putin, who, trying to remain in historical memory as a great leader, kills people. As a historian, I believe that the uniqueness of Navalny is that he tried to show that it is possible to live in a different way, although we will not know what kind of leader of his country he could become. His idea that one should be brave did not resonate with everyone, but one cannot move from one's place without showing at least a little courage. And this is a very important signal for the future of Russia, because people will have to show some courage.

- You mentioned the place that Putin would like to occupy in history. But how do you think people will really remember him? Will victory or defeat in the war in Ukraine somehow affect its historical image?

- He wants history to speak majestically about Russian rulers. But history is not only leaders, but also other aspects, such as human experience. She tells, in particular, about wealth and about who has it. And I think that historians of the 21st century will write a lot about inequality of income and wealth. And in this story, Putin is one of the main villains. He is one of the most important oligarchs in the world, he is allowed to embody his strangest fantasies in life, and no one will do anything about it. And then these fantasies begin to influence the world.

One of his strange fantasies is that Ukraine does not exist. And this is a fantasy that causes enormous harm to the world. Putin will be remembered as an oligarch whose strange fantasies harmed the world. The story is also about ecology, nature and climate. And Putin's power is based on hydrocarbons, natural gas and oil. And here Putin will also be remembered as one of the main (although there are others) villains in history, who tries to keep the world dependent on these resources, while it is long past time to give them up.

In terms of Russian history, I think he will be remembered as someone who made the Russian state much weaker because, in my opinion, over 10 years ago, Putin made a significant strategic mistake by choosing the West as an enemy. It was his choice, but the West as an enemy now means China as a patron for Russia. I think that being under the patronage of China is a much more vulnerable position for Russia than trying to be between China and the West. Therefore, I believe that he will be remembered as a man who made a great strategic mistake.

- Even if he tries to win in Ukraine on his own terms?

— Russia, which would emerge victorious from the war in Ukraine, would still be a country working for China. Even the Russia that invades other countries is still basically doing the work of China. Therefore, I think that, regardless of how the situation in Ukraine will develop, Putin's mistake lies deeper. It is not only that Russia never had to go to war with Ukraine. Initially, Russia did not need to make an enemy of the West. This is a fundamental mistake.

- Speculations about Russia's strategic defeat, which was talked about so much last year at the Munich Security Conference, have somewhat quieted down recently. Do you still think that Russia suffered a strategic defeat?

- We can lose everything. Everyone thinks that either Russia or the West will lose. But both sides can lose. Russia may lose to China, and the West may weaken as a result of Russia's shocking victory. As a result, we will get a world where everyone will be worse off - this is also possible. So, I think that Putin himself inflicted a strategic defeat on Russia. The question is whether other countries - Eastern European, Western European and North American - will share this strategic defeat. He made a big mistake for Russia. And the question is whether the costs of this mistake will spread around the world.

- So who wins in this grand strategy game? Putin may have lost. But who else loses?

- Excellent question. There can only be a very few winners in all of this. They can be people who profit from the dictatorship: maybe a few people in Tehran, a few people in Beijing, a few people in Moscow, and the losers can be almost everyone. So, even if Putin is able to win his war in Ukraine, the winner will not be the Russian people, but only Putin himself and a few people from his entourage. In my view, this stems from a larger problem that goes beyond geopolitics, namely the kind of systems of government we have. In some regimes only a few people have weight, in others many people are free and have a chance to be heard. And this is a fundamental difference. But, as we know from history, society can go through both options: to be free, and then to cease to be. This is the oldest story we know. In ancient Greece, more than once democracy, which was born, was replaced by tyranny in a generation. And people adapted to it and considered it the norm.

I think this is the main question. In this sense, humanity can lose, because the possibility of having a democratic system of government, where there is rule of law, where your children have at least some chance for a more interesting life, all this can disappear.

— About a year ago, Der Spiegel magazine published your interview in which you said the following: "We must do everything possible so that Ukraine gets a decisive victory on the battlefield this year. We must supply them with as many weapons as we can to save lives on both sides and force Moscow to retreat quickly. The only way to protect lives is to end this war, and the only way to end it is to help Ukraine win." I think you'll agree that it didn't happen, to say the least. So what can we do to help Ukraine?

- We are in the same situation. Of course, this did not happen. But it was still the only way to end the war. And it's also the only way to win the war. Wars are unpredictable and tend to last a long time. And it is very important to manage your emotions and not to think that if we lost the battle, we lost the whole war. My analysis is basically the same. Just now, since we delayed the transfer of what they needed to the Ukrainians, the war will go on longer. But the general logic remains the same. That is, I think that in 2024 it is about the Europeans helping the Ukrainians to hold the defensive line, and then in 2025 something like victory will be possible.

- Europeans? Without the US?

- I hope that the Americans will be able to help. But the Europeans should also think about what to do if the USA cannot help, and what is the minimum amount of help to provide, so that the Ukrainians do not suffer a defeat.

- Don't you sometimes get the impression that the West does not want to win?

- Yes, I have a feeling that we have problems with victory. I think this is a very difficult question. It seems to me that there is one line of thinking, rather the German one, which says: we should not win because Russia will be upset. And I think that's a mistake. The Germans are right that it is necessary to deal with Russia as a whole, but it will be easier to deal with a defeated Russia. And there is also an American, not even a line of thinking, but a kind of paradigm that says: we don't want to win, we want to be on the right side. But in war it is not enough to be on the right side. This may be enough at school or at some debate, but we need to win. And I think that we will not be able to win if we do not talk about victory, and the lack of a prospect of victory, in my opinion, makes planning much more difficult. This leads to different kinds of taking the desired for real, to the illusion that everything will somehow fall apart by itself.

- That's what I wanted to ask you about. Given the way things are going on the front, what would a Ukrainian victory look like — complete or partial?

— Ukraine's victory is the same as Russia's defeat, right? The war is lost when the opposing side is no longer able to wage it. This fundamental definition of victory is to render the enemy incapable of continuing the war for any reason. Thus, the United States could not at one time continue the war in Vietnam, and the Soviet Union - in Afghanistan.

- But Putin, it seems, does not plan to lose...

- Yes, exactly, and in this sense he is right. But this does not mean that he must win. It simply means that he understands: the internal situation in Russia plays into his hands. But Russia has already mobilized. Germany, which at one time was fully mobilized, lost the Second World War. And full mobilization is the last thing you can do before losing. And Russia mobilized almost all its resources. The West is not. This means that Russia is doing what it should do from Putin's point of view. But it also means that Russia is vulnerable.

- Does this mean that Russia has reached its peak?

— I think that it has reached its peak in terms of mobilizing people and some resources. There is a big question as to how Russia manages to have so many Western technologies. The West should be much more careful here, as Moscow still produces weapons using Western microchips. So Russia's combat capability can either improve or deteriorate - it all depends on us.

- And finally, I would like to ask you about Georgia and Moldova - two countries that, unlike, say, the Baltic countries that are part of NATO, do not have the luxury of a "security umbrella". They do not have even a minimum of guarantees. What does the war promise these two countries?

— Georgia and Moldova belong to a special category: they are countries where Russian military experiments have already been conducted. And if, God forbid, Ukraine loses, the strategic position of Moldova will, of course, be catastrophic. And Georgia worries someone much less than Moldova and the rest of Eastern Europe.

- Maybe for an unfair, but understandable reason?

- I'm glad that you said it, and not me. There are two lines of analysis here. The first: if Ukraine loses, which neighboring countries will be the easiest targets for Putin? Moldova and possibly Georgia. The second: if Ukraine loses, the West will be so demoralized that Russia may try to "intrude" into NATO by attacking the Baltic states.

- Does this mean that Putin will not look for easy prey?

- This can happen, say, in five years. Yes, if the West is demoralized, Putin can turn to different strategies. One of them could be that he decides to restore order in the Caucasus or go and humiliate NATO, which I think would be a mistake on his part. Several behavioral strategies on his part are possible if Ukraine loses. And this, of course, is only one of a hundred reasons why Ukraine should win.

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