The Center for Governance and Markets hosted Tymofiy Mylovanov, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Pittsburgh and the President of Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), last Wednesday for a discussion about his first-hand experiences of the war in Ukraine and prospects for peace. Mylovanov, who is also a CGM affiliate, spoke about recent developments in the conflict and the humanitarian response to the war.
Mylovanov gave context to Russia’s recent setbacks in the war and advances made by Ukrainian forces into formerly Russian-held territory in eastern Ukraine. The timing of the offensive was intentional on the part of the Ukrainian government, Mylovanov said, and designed to capture media coverage. This is because in a democratic government, it is essential that the public be aware and supportive of actions made by policymakers. According to Mylovanov, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy understood the importance of showing the world that Ukrainian forces have the ability to “embarrass the Russian military.”
The discussion also covered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to these events, particularly his allusions to the potential use of nuclear weapons. Mylovanov said that while authoritarian regimes like Putin’s, free of concerns related to elections or public perception, have an easier time than democracies in designing and executing long-term strategies, they also struggle to acknowledge and recover from mistakes.
From his perspective, even the mention of nuclear weapons is a Cold War strategy out of place in 21st-century policymaking, even in the context of war. He pointed out that whenever the Russian military suffers losses, Putin raises the specter of nuclear weapons to project a powerful image of Russian forces in international media and distract from military failures. However, if Putin does use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Mylovanov said, “it will be the end of Russia.”
An expert in game theory, Mylovanov explained the different motivations and goals of key actors in the ongoing conflict.
“Those who are strongly committed win, usually. That’s what we know from game theory,” he said. “We know two things: those who are more patient win, and those who are truly committed [win]. So in that sense you can say that Putin is more patient than the U.S., but Ukrainians are more committed to survival than Russians.”
War crimes and human rights violations against Ukrainian civilians were also discussed. Mylovanov emphasized that events in Ukraine are the result of a decision-making system employing thousands of people; not only Putin is engaged in what he referred to as a “production of death” comparable to Nazi Germany during the second World War. He said that the ongoing conflict represents a failure to learn from history
“It’s not specific to geography or culture. It’s a human disease,” Mylovanov said. “I thought we learned from the previous century to build things in such a way to break the political-security framework so these things don’t repeat themselves. But apparently we did not…I don’t think it’s [up to] Ukraine or the U.S. to stop it. It’s not about stopping Putin or stopping Russians. It takes the entire humanity to stop this disease somehow. And we really have to rethink in this century: What is wrong with humans that we are destroying ourselves?”