Berkeley Talks transcript: Inna Sovsun on what’s next in Russia’s war on Ukraine

Listen to Berkeley Talks episode #156: Inna Sovsun on what’s next in Russia’s war on Ukraine

[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions]

Intro: This is Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. New episodes come out every other Friday. Also, we have another podcast, Berkeley Voices, that shares stories of people at UC Berkeley and the work that they do on and off campus.

[Music fades]

Igor Chirikov: All right. Welcome everyone. Thank you for attending today’s discussion, War in Ukraine, What’s next? This event is made possible by a number of co-sponsors at UC Berkeley, including the Goldman School of Public Policy, the Center for Studies in Higher Education, the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, the Institute of European Studies, and the Center for Security and Politics. I’m Igor Chirikov, senior researcher at the Center for Studies in Higher Education and I’m thrilled to introduce what is for sure to be engaging in impactful discussion.

A few housekeeping notes be before we get started, so the conversation will be an hour long and we’ll be collecting questions from the audience throughout this event. And so for those of you who are in person, and I’m happy to see many people here today, despite of the rain, you should have received a note card on your way to registration and so you can pass it down to the staff with a written question. And for anyone on our live stream, welcome, please submit your questions via the Google Form that was provided along with a live stream link. And while there will be no time unfortunately for public comments, we encourage you to just share your questions. I would like to ask those of you who are in the room to take a moment to make sure your phones are on silent.

And now with that housekeeping notes over, I would like to introduce our speakers today:

Inna Sovsun is a member of Parliament in Ukraine. As a member of Parliament, she serves on the Committee of Energy, Housing, and Communal Services and focuses on the issues such as educational reform, the promotion of green energy, gender equality, and LGBTQ+ rights. The former first Deputy Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, Sovsun is currently a lecturer at the Kyiv School of Economics and Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. I’m also proud to share that Inna is a former Fulbright Scholar at our center, at the Center for Studies in Higher Education and we are very happy to have her back on campus.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko is an economist at the Quantedge Presidential Professor of Economics here at UC Berkeley. Previously the Chairman of the International Academic Board of the Kyiv School of Economics. Gorodnichenko is also co-author of a recent report titled “A Blueprint for the Reconstruction of Ukraine.” This report outlines potential recovery program for Ukraine after the war.

And finally, we have the honorable Janet Napolitano. She’s a former president of the University of California, former secretary of homeland security, and former governor and attorney general of Arizona. Today we are thrilled to have her as a professor of public policy at the Goldman School and also a director of the new Center for Security and Politics. Please join me in welcoming our guests.

Janet Napolitano: All right. It’s good to see everybody. Inna, I think we’ll begin with you. You just arrived a few days ago from Kyiv. What’s it like? Give us a sense of what is going on, how are people getting along, what are you seeing, hearing, et cetera?

Inna Sovsun: Well, first of all, thanks for having me and I’ll try to explain what it’s like leaving under this conditions. Literally, 35 minutes ago my phone went blaring and that was the air raid alert that meant that there is a missile or a drone that was going in direction of Kyiv. And what does that mean? It can mean nothing. So because they’re just seeing the missile going in one direction, it can end up in any other city or it can end up in Kyiv and you can never be 100% sure about that. And those air raid alerts can happen every day. We have had days when we were having air raid alerts like five times a day, and that basically means you have to go into hiding. But the reality also is that life goes on, so you cannot really be hiding like half of your life in shelter, you cannot be doing that.

So typically people are just trying to follow what we all know now as a two walls room. So in case there is air raid alert, you just need to hide deep inside your house, like in your bathroom or wardrobe or anything, so that you’re at least not near the windows. That is the very basic rule. And the reality is that this is the rule that my 10 year old son Martin knows about, that is what he does and sometimes I have to wake up him in the middle of the night and say like, “Hey, you have to go. Please hide in the wardrobe.” Because things can happen. And sometimes it gets much more dangerous. Like on Oct. 10, that was the biggest attack in Kyiv. That is when we woke up and I was about to take him to school when I read on the news that there are explosions in Kyiv, at first I thought like, “OK, we can still hide in the bathroom.” Then actually I heard some explosions myself and I realized I should probably go to the bomb shelter which in our case is the closest metro station. And then I’ve seen my son, I was running around trying to gather stuff like something to sit on and some water and something to eat because you don’t know how long that will last.

I was running around and I’ve seen my son and he looks at me and he says, “Mom, am I going to die?” And this question because my son has spent the first half year of the war in the Western Ukraine. So he was not dealing with that too much, but he’s back to Kyiv now. He goes to school, he goes to bomb shelters every time there are air raid alerts. But this was the first time he actually heard the explosions themselves and he actually had to, “Mom, am I going to die?” And I had to calm him down while my heart was bumping all the time. And I said him, “Remember Mom and Dad told you we’ll keep you safe. We’re doing everything fine. We just go to the bomb shelter.” The scariest two minutes walk in my life from there when hearing explosions and everything to go into the bomb shelter.

And then on the way to the bomb shelter, he calmed down and then he said, “Mom, are those the regular bombs or the nuclear bombs?” And I got really scared because I thought that he’s panicking. And I said, “No sweetie, it’s OK. It’s regular bombs, don’t worry.” And he looks at me half disappointed that I don’t understand what is happening at that point. And he says, “Because if it’s nuclear bombs, I know what to do because we learned that at school.” And he was a 10-year-old who was proud to tell me that he learned something at school and he can share that.

But that is the very sad reality of the everyday life in Ukraine. And now when there is air raid alert, I got a picture of my son hiding in the bathroom from his father because that is what he needs to do. But that is me in Kyiv and Kyiv is relatively safe apart from those attacks on energy infrastructure which we’ll probably talk about that a bit later. But the situation is so much worse for people living under occupation or those close to them to the front line because particularly people are under occupation, I think we have all seen that the images and the data and all this information I’m sitting in the special commission created by the parliament on investigation of sexual crimes happened during the military conflict.

My experience has nothing to do with the experience of those women and children who suffered sexual violence by Russian soldiers or even those who didn’t. I read a story on Instagram of one young woman, she’s 20 or 21. She was a student in Kharkiv, my native city, and she thought that being at Kharkiv was not safe. So she decided to move to her parents’ place in Izyum, which you might have read about in the news because it fell under Russian occupation. So she was there for five months under occupation, they don’t have any internet service so they don’t know what is happening outside of the town. And her parents were hiding her in the sofa, inside the sofa, under the cushions every time the Russian soldiers were passing by just to save her from rape. And that is the reality that we are living in.

So it’s very scary. I’m trying to joke about this sometimes because that is the survival mechanism. But I guess one last thing I will say is that it’s extremely scary and it’s everyday life for all of us and every day I have to worry if I will be alive by the end of the day. But the most difficult part of course is every single morning I wake up and I text to my partner who’s in the army and I ask him if he’s alive. And that is the scariest part of all of this. And I don’t know when my life will get back to normal, when we would be able to be back together, when my son would not be able to afraid of the bombs and all of that. So that is not very inspiring, but realistic situation in Ukraine.

Janet Napolitano: That’s what we wanted to hear about. Yuriy, listening to that and given your work, what is your assessment of the war on Ukrainian society and its economy and so forth?

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: Economy is so often portrayed as coldblooded and just caring about numbers and so I’ll start with some numbers, but it is really as scary and painful as said. Around this, sometime in the summer when you take a snapshot of how much Ukraine was occupied, you look at roughly 20% of the country, this is roughly 40% of Italy, more than a third of Germany. You think about this as an economic shock, not just human humanitarian shock, but an economic shock. And so right there you have a huge economic loss. So GDP is going to contract by 30 to 50%. The unemployment rate is more than 35%. Inflation is projected to reach 30% by the end of the year. It’s a huge shock. Millions of people fled the country, left their homes. And so it’s very hard to run economy in these conditions. When you think about COVID and all the challenges we had at the time, this is nothing relative to what Ukraine has to deal with now.

You think about the Great depression and how bad the life was when GDP contracted by 20%. It was a very terrible time in the U.S. many years ago, but think about this as times two and much more concentrated in time. And then you look at all sorts of other challenges that people have. They destroyed energy infrastructure when it’s really hard to run a business. Many of us here in California had an experience of leaving in a blackout for a few days. It was kind of go to stone age very quickly. You kind of try to survive on your [inaudible] something basic. But now think about this in a different way. It’s not just three days in the summer, it’s much darker, much colder, it’s much less predictable. So it’s much more difficult to run a business with these conditions. And obviously the economy is under enormous pressure. But having said this, I think it’s amazing that Ukraine is still [inaudible] there as an economy. The government is functioning and taxes are collected, people have jobs, people have some social safety net. So the infrastructure, economic infrastructure is still there and economy is gradually recovering and it’s adapting to this new reality. But we should all appreciate that the size of the shock is just astronomical.

Janet Napolitano: You mentioned, Yuriy, a minute ago, the effect on the power infrastructure. Inna, maybe you could help us understand and what the impact has been. And then how are your Ukrainians preparing for the winter?

Inna Sovsun: Yeah, that has been really tough because those attacks on energy infrastructure, which started on October 10th, that was Monday and then basically every Monday up until yesterday, yesterday everybody were waiting for yet another set of attacks. They didn’t happen for some reason, I don’t know. But basically every Monday after that there have been bombing energy infrastructure. So at first they were bombing electricity and heating stations then they last week they were bombing them their hydro electrical power stations which led actually to big power shortages, particularly around Kyiv. I didn’t have electricity for 12 hours at my home which means I didn’t have electricity, that also meant I didn’t have any water because the pump which is electrical, couldn’t function. I live on the 14th floor. So going up and down…

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: No elevator.

Inna Sovsun: Yeah, yeah, no elevator which is the sliders was the challenge. The biggest challenge was of course that when there is no electricity apparently, which we were not aware that month ago, there is also no internet. So I mean, of course there is no internet because well, wifi is not connected, but there is no internet on your phone either. So you basically imagine me working from… I typically work from my home because we are not advised to stay in the parliament for obvious reasons. And my team also works from home. So we coordinate online and then suddenly I don’t have electricity, they don’t have electricity or they do, but I wouldn’t have a way to know that because we cannot connect to each other. And the situation is very dire. The Russians have damaged, not destroyed, but damaged. That’s important differentiation. Damaged about 40% of energy infrastructure in Ukraine. Some of it can be restored relatively quickly. And actually people working in energy sector are doing miracles seriously. In some cases they would restore stations in a matter of days, but then of course the new attacks come so you just have to keep on doing that all the time.

And we are very quickly running out of equipment to change the one that has been damaged or destroyed. So that is one of the big things that we are addressing the global community now is help us get those transformers, transformators?

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: Transformers.

Inna Sovsun: Transformers, right, right. And all of that in order to fix our energy infrastructure. Because right now life in Kyiv is very complicated because of those power shortages. I mean, we still get electricity but it can get switched off for four hours. So you wake up and you don’t have electricity. Theoretically, there is a schedule, so you can look at online.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: Yeah, I can go online.

Inna Sovsun: Yeah. So you have to get online in order to do that, but you can look it online and theoretically, you can adjust. But then when some new attack happens, they say, “The schedule doesn’t work anymore. We’ll be switching off houses and businesses at any time possible.” Because just we have to keep the energy running to avoid the full blackout which would be the terrible situation. And because of that, and just as Yuriy said, it means that businesses cannot function because very simple fact, I go to a hairdresser and she says, “Well, you are lucky because we have light now we have electricity and all. But yesterday I had four clients who came and I couldn’t work with them and they had to leave.” And you never know when it will happen. And that is this unpredictability is the most difficult part to deal with. So this energy shortages particularly internet and the unpredictability factor as the most complicated one.

I mean, people can adjust even without electricity for four hours as long as which four hours that will be right. But if you don’t, then you cannot adjust to that. And how people have been preparing, well of course that really depends on your living situation. Because I live in a residential building, there is not really much I can do for my individual flat. So I just bought some which I’m actually bringing from the states, some power banks for my phone and my computer and then some minor hidden devices that I can adjust for my home. But it’s not really a lot you can do if you’re living in a residential building, you rely on central heating. But the Mayor of Kyiv has suggested that in case we don’t have any electricity for a couple of days, people will have to evacuate and that’s three million people living in the city right now.

Janet Napolitano: Are there evacuation plans to cover them, Inna?

Inna Sovsun: The reality is that there is very little the government can do and I think everybody’s realistic about that. So what the Mayor suggested is that just people have to think now of a plan B. Like my plan B is my parents live near Kyiv like 50 kilo kilometers. How much is that? Like 40 miles.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: Yeah.

Inna Sovsun: Away from Kyiv and they have a private house and I bought generator for them in June because they didn’t have electricity in June because they were really close to the occupied territories and their house has been damaged by the Russian shelling and they didn’t have electricity for a couple of weeks actually. So I bought the generator for them in June. So I was well prepared. But people trying to buy those for individual houses right now a lot. And that is again one of the things that we are asking the world to help with because people can move in with their friends and everything. And I think that is what people are thinking about now in terms of preparation for the winter.

Janet Napolitano: Yuriy, when a country has experienced this kind of damage, it’s almost a war of attrition in a way. What will it take ultimately to be able to recover?

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: That’s a great question. Initially, Putin had this plan that it’s going to be like a blitzkrieg when in three days you’re going to capture Kyiv instill the new government. It has been more than eight months. This war goes on and on and on, we’re in a war attrition. But in the war attrition, it’s not only the bravery of troops that matters, it’s also who has a stronger economy who can produce more tanks, more planes, more rifles, more guns, who can muster more resources. And if you [inaudible] alone in this war, it would be very difficult. It would be very difficult. But Ukraine is not climbing this mountain alone. We have a lot of support from the international community and this is really the lifeline for the economy and for the war effort.

People say Ukraine can’t win this war, but you have to put this in the right perspective. On the one hand, you have Russia, which is a much bigger country than Ukraine, but in a big scheme of sense it’s only 2% of global GDP. Now when you look at the size of the US economy or European Union, it’s 10 times bigger each. So U.S. economy is 10 times bigger than the Russian economy. The European Union is 10 times bigger in terms of the economy. And then on the top of this you also have Japan and other ally democracies. So when you look at the totality of economic firepower we have in Russia and Ukraine and its allies. There is no question in my mind that there is no doubt that the Russia economy cannot win this war of attrition, cannot win this war of attrition. So as long as Ukraine is going to receive economic and military aid, we can definitely outlast Russia. But I’m really hoping that the western democracies are going to double down on economic and military support. So it’s not a very long war of attrition. Ideally, you want to finish this war as soon as possible. It’s in everybody’s interest.

Janet Napolitano: And you’re in government, how are you keeping up the people’s morale? In the face of all of this damage and the unpredictability and all the rest, how do you keep the people energized?

Inna Sovsun: Well that’s a good question because there are entities that we all feel depressed sometimes in this situation. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do it anymore. And then I think I cannot give up. Well, for many reason because my loved one is at war and I have to do everything possible. If not for the whole country, but at least to do everything possible to save the person that I love and that gives me strengths. And I think that works for everybody. It’s just right now Ukrainian Army is people actively serving in the battle zone is about 700,000 people. So you can imagine basically everybody in the country has…

Janet Napolitano: Knows somebody.

Inna Sovsun: Knows somebody who is serving actively in the military. And then of course there are unfortunately many families who lost their loved ones. And I think this connection to the army is very helpful and I think people are feeling very much to what extent they depend on the army, but also to what extent the army depends on them. And I think this is what we came to realize, to what extent the country cannot exist without a strong army. And that is something that we try to help with. And Ukrainians are doing wonders in that sense because again, a probably less known story of this Ukraine’s resistance is to what extent this has been a decentralized effort. Because particularly the first month of war, government is always a bit slower to respond, particularly in when you need to act really fast. And I’m not saying the government was working badly, but there are some things that non-governmental organization, civil society can do better.

And in our case, we do have several big non-governmental organizations that have been fundraising for the army and they’ve been doing miracles and they did it very, very fast. And what Ukraine also are doing is when we were sitting in the bomb shelter on October 10th during attacks and people were asking, people from abroad were asking, “What did you do there? What do you think?” And so on, I was like, “Yeah, I was donating to the non-governmental organizations that are helping to the army.” And I think this became a national idea that we have to stay together to help the army and this is how we survive. And I think that we just have to keep on explaining that to people and the people understand it, again. Because people are doing it themselves. It’s not someone is forcing them to do it. One of the biggest organizations has collected about $4 billion in first four months of the war.

And by end of May, half of the drones that Ukrainian army had were actually bought by civil society organizations. I think it’s a bit different now because the government is buying more and getting more from our partners and so on and so forth. But when there was a need to react very quickly, that is where civil society steps in and that is how we actually survive by many people doing small things. And that is what we try to keep on repeating to ourselves. Every person matters, every small contribution matters. No matter what you do, you are a barista, you’re selling coffee while you are working in economy, you are paying taxes and then taxes go to the army. That is what we are trying to do. But in terms of my work as a member of parliament specifically, because people keep on asking me, “Do you have sessions? And why?” We do, and of course we do pass some legislation, but I think particularly the first couple of month of war, it was not that important what sort of legislation we were passing. It was the fact that we were there, we were gathering in the parliament building, we didn’t leave the country, we stayed in. That was actually crucially important.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: You were showing your presence.

Inna Sovsun: Yeah, yeah. We were showing our presence and we were showing that we are there with the people and we are doing it in different manner. And I think different members of parliament found different ways of how to represent the people. I concentrated a lot on this international worker, another member of parliament who’s my best friend in the parliament, Roman Kostenko. He’s used to serving the military before he got back to the military. He’s serving in the south right now. So he hardly [inaudible] in the parliament itself, but he’s doing a great job himself. There are many in peace who are working in providing humanitarian aid and relief, coordinate and those efforts and so on and so forth. Even without being government members, cabinet members in your case. But even despite the fact that I’m formerly in opposition, which doesn’t really matter that much in Ukraine right now, I think people have found differently…

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: You were in opposition to Russia?

Inna Sovsun: To Russia, yeah, yeah. That’s the only thing that matters. When everybody is doing a little bit that at the end makes a huge difference.

Janet Napolitano: Yuriy, can you help us understand perhaps or perhaps some differences between the Ukrainian army and the Russian army in terms of who’s serving, how they’re serving, how they’re led, how they’re equipped and so forth.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: Yeah, I must say that I’m not a military expert, so probably my answer is going to be [inaudible]. But I would say there is a giant difference between the Ukrainian army and the Russian army. The Ukrainian army is really motivated. People volunteer to come to the army and defend the country. What we see is happening in Russia when you try to mobilize people, people instead of going to fight, they flee in the country. So the level of morale is very, very, very different. That’s number one. Number two, there is a silver lining in this war in the sense that Ukraine is not formally a member of NATO, but the fact though it is now a member of NATO. Lots and lots of weapons are donated to Ukraine for this. And so this really helps the army to be technologically a step or maybe multiple steps ahead of the Russian army. And we don’t have quantities, we don’t have as many guns as the Russians do. We don’t have as many tanks as Russians do, but the quality of military equipment is technologically so much more advanced that we can compensate for the shortages with better quality.

Inna Sovsun: Can I add to that. Of course Ukraine is much smaller than Russia, right. But again, Ukraine and Army right now is pretty big, 700,000 people is a lot. And of course a lot of those people are people who either never served in the army or just did their obligatory training which was probably not that specialized and they didn’t make them into professional military. But the truth is that indeed, lots of people volunteered. Actually, the single time I cried during the first 24 hours when this all started was when I saw the pictures on the internet of huge queues, like hundreds of people queuing to recruit to the army. And it’s still there, there are still people who are knocking on the doors, “I want to get mobilized, I want to go to the war.” [Inaudible] here like, “You just have to wait because we are now in the quantity that we need in terms of people.” So this morale is a huge factor that is very much true.

And also of course Ukraine and Army has undergone quite lots of changes and reforms since 2014. And I’ll refer back to the example of my boyfriend. He’s actually a doctor, he’s a surgeon, a thoracic surgeon. But he did went to serve in the army in 2014, 2015. And that is when they started to do lots of changes in terms of how medical services are being provided on the battlefront. And they changed it quite a lot according to the native standards. They have introduced the better medical help and that is something that he has been involved in very actively. So now when he looks at how medical help is being provided inside Russian army, he’s laughing about this because they’re providing medical help like they did in the seventies and literally the medical kit that they have is from the seventies.

Well, what our army has is very up to date and modern stuff that they got from the government or actually from the volunteers who are buying it to them. And the truth is of course it’s still not perfect. I mean, we need more tanks, we need more everything. But India, as Yuriy pointed out, and this is important thing, is we will never be a big army than Russia, but we can win by being a smart and more innovative army. And that is why what we need is more smart, innovative technological equipment. Because if we are just given the old Soviet equipment which was particularly at the beginning a huge trend like, “We’ll just give you the old Soviet tanks.” That’s what my partner said, he said like, “Yeah, then we’ll going to be a small Soviet army fighting against the big Soviet army.” We shall never win like this. We shall only win if we shall be a small but well equipped modern army. And that is what we’re trying to help build.

Janet Napolitano: What do you need most from the United States?

Inna Sovsun: Well, I wouldn’t surprise anyone here if I say that we are very nervously watching the elections today.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: So are we.

Inna Sovsun: Yeah. I can imagine [inaudible] saying that here in Berkeley. And of course we are worried because if there is a change in the Congress and different people take power, we don’t know what the Republican’s position will be in terms of providing weapons. There are different signals which we have to wait and see what will happen. What I’m most concerned of is, even best case scenario, if Republicans still say we want to be providing weapons to Ukraine, but there will be more scrutiny. More scrutiny in our case means more delays and more delays in our case means lives lost. We did have days when we were losing a hundred people a day, a hundred people. A hundred people a day were killed.

So we hope that help will be provided and the issues that we need more in terms of weapons. Now, something I know much more about than I used to, but the air defense system that is crucial for civilian population but also for the military of course. The multiple launcher, MLS, multiple launch…

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: Rocket system.

Inna Sovsun: … rocket system, right, and tanks. And tanks is something that became a very strange discussion. We are still not getting modern combat tanks. We have got the Soviet style tanks from Poland, Slovakia, and everybody else, but nobody’s willing to give us tanks. Well, you have provided us with HIMARS, which can shoot pretty far, like tanks are not shooting that far. I don’t understand this whole blockade about tanks. So maybe you can, I don’t know, reach out to your representatives as they say here in the States and ask them about that because we really need tanks as a way to protect our personnel. That’s as simple as that. People inside Soviet tanks are not protected in case it gets hit. People inside tanks that you have or Germans have for that matter are much better protected. So that is what we need.

Janet Napolitano: Tanks.

Inna Sovsun: Tanks, yeah.

Janet Napolitano: When the invasion started in February, the west imposed a number of economic sanctions on Russia. How effective have those sanctions been and can they be made even more effective? Maybe Yuriy, you can take that.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: Right. So I think we should start with doing background induction. Is anybody going to attack Russia militarily? The answer is no. Does the change have to come from this…

Janet Napolitano: Let’s say in NATO country?

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: Hopefully they will not do that. But at this stage nobody has any plans to invade Russia. If there is a change, it has to come from inside. To make a change, something in the sort of masses or elites or whoever has to change. It has to be an economic levers. Economic sanctions is one of these levers. People say, “It’s not working, it’s not doing this, it’s not doing that.” You look at the facts and it’s clear that sanctions are hurting the Russian economy. People say the Russian economy is going to have a recession roughly at 5% contraction. It seems like not a big number, but you should be thinking about counterfactuals, where the Russian economy should have been given this high oil prices and where it is now. And then the size of the contraction is going to be more like minus 15%, so it’s very significant.

You can also see that the more targeted sanctions are, the more effective they are. For example, how many cars are produced in Russia today? It’s only 10% of what they used to produce before the war. OK, is this effective? Yes, it is effective. You look at the experts of energy. This is where we have problems because countries like India and China continue to buy Russian oil. This creates a loophole that is very hard to close. Now some people will say, “Well, this is why this will never work because you always have this leakages.” But I would say to them that there is no limit to perfection. You can always find ways to make sure that Russia is isolated economically. It cannot import technology, it cannot export energy. For example, many people don’t know, but a lot of Russian oil is transported by western oil tankers. Why they’re doing this, why it’s not closed yet for some mysterious reasons, the Russian diamonds are still going to Belgium. Why is that? I don’t understand that.

You can look at all sorts of pockets out there. You can still eat those pain points that you can keep pushing. And so the logic is again, if you have a rational player, you understand that down the road you’re going to have an economic problem and eventually it’s going to be a very bad situation for you. You should do backward induction. They should say, “OK, I’m going to stop now.” But this is not happening in Russia. They don’t still realize how bad it’s going to be.

And I guess one benchmark you can keep in mind when you think about these issues, think about the collapse of the Soviet Union. It invaded the Afghanistan in 1978. The U.S. government imposed lots and lots of sanctions. The Soviet Union could not import technology, they could only export a tiny bit of energy. Then ’86 energy prices collapse the Soviet Union loses a lot of revenue, OK, ’86. In ’81, we don’t have the Soviet Union. And the Soviet Union was a much more closed economy. It didn’t trade as much as Russia is doing today. So this kind of time clock is going to run a lot faster for the Russian economy. They’re eating their reserves now. So when we talk about the war of attrition, it’s not just about helping Ukraine, it’s also about making sure that Russia is going to run out of their resources as quickly as possible. So sanctions are working, we just need to ramp it up. If they don’t understand it, do it again.

Janet Napolitano: Go ahead.

Inna Sovsun: A very small comment about sanctions, not against Russia actually, but against Iran. Because you were asking about those attacks on energy infrastructure and majority of those attacks are done by the Iranian drones. And there was a recent investigation by Ukrainian investigative journalists who got hold of that drone, Iranian drone, which Iran has sent over to Russia. And the sad fact is the majority of the components of the drone were produced by the United States companies that Iran got a hold of. And I think that is something that needs to be addressed very specifically because those small drones are doing huge damage to the Ukrainian society, economics, and so much military. But in terms of manage infrastructure. [inaudible]. Yeah.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: Very quickly we’ll talk a lot about sanctions in terms of oil, energy and so on. But think about It sanctions. We have a recent paper with a group of economists, some of whom are in this room, that you think about the Russian economy, it’s running on American and European software. The clouds here in the US, Microsoft Word, maybe it’s not an amazing office package, but it’s still powering the Russian economy. Think about cell phones, you have Android software system. I’m not an expert there, but presumably you can disable lots and lots of functionality for this system. So it can really slow down the Russian economy very, very quickly, if you want to.

Janet Napolitano: And these are some questions from the audience, and this is a question that does involve energy. What implications does Ukraine’s energy insecurity have on future renewable energy use and grid decentralization?

Inna Sovsun: That’s a great question because I think that one of the great hopes of this huge terrible energy crisis, or crisis, if that’s even the right word, is this, that actually more and more people understand to what extent decentralized grid would be better, right? Because the biggest problem right now is about 50% of Ukraine electricity is nuclear power and that provides the base loader which has been stable working properly and apart from the fact that they captured the biggest nuclear power plant. But they’re not targeting nuclear power plants themselves, but they’re targeting the, I’m not sure about the English word, the transmission stations located near the nuclear power plant. So when that one is down, the nuclear power plant can still produce electricity, but it has no way to transit.

So in that sense people are starting questioning, we are relying on this one big nuclear power plant. Is that smart if it is so vulnerable to a single attack, not the plant itself, but basically the plant. So people are thinking more and more about actually over the summer there was an increase in people who have individual houses who were installing solar panels because they were thinking, “OK, just in case I’m going to do this.” I also work quite a lot within renewables association in Ukraine. They’re seeing great prospects in Ukraine in terms of renewables because of that, because people are understanding that renewables are apart from being good for the environment and all of that, not a very big part of the Ukraine’s thinking right now, but it’s about energy security because renewable energy is produced locally and people are getting more and more used to the idea that this is the path forward.

And I do think that it will be, I’ve seen lots of interest on the business side, even now they’re saying, “Yeah, probably not today, but if things come down we are planning to invest because that is where the future lies.” And Ukraine is a huge territory and particularly on the south, we can do lots of solar energy. We actually switch in some cities from gas to biomass for heating. Again, because it’s locally produced. And I mean we still produce gas as well, but it’s better to use local resources. So it’s actually given me hope that this can be an opening to transit for greener energy.

Janet Napolitano: Maybe something positive that comes out of this situation. This is an interesting question, what percent of the Ukrainian population do you think supports the continuation of the war?

Inna Sovsun: The way it’s formulated is a bit difficult to answer because of course I want the war to stop today. I don’t want the war to continue, trust me that’s not a pleasant situation to be in. The question is on what conditions. And right now if you ask people as would you agree for the war to stop in case we have to give up part of our territory, over 90% of people would say no. And it can sound like you want to match. Well, A, no, it’s just the right thing to want, it’s our territory. Which state would you give up in case you… OK, don’t stop coming up with the funny ideas.

But the thing is right, A, it’s our territory. B, and that is the biggest argument is people who are under occupied territories are living in terrible conditions. They’ve been thrown into jails, they’re being tortured, raped. We cannot just agree for that to continue happening just because we want to have electricity all day. I mean, I want to have electricity all day, but also if it comes at a cost of someone being thrown into jail without an [inaudible] trial, then it’s not the price that I’m willing to accept. And issue number three, and people keep on asking me that, “Well, what about Crimea?” You see, the thing is that Crimea has been annexed almost nine years, eight and a half years ago, 2014.

Janet Napolitano: Ten years ago, yeah.

Inna Sovsun: And since then Crimea has been used as a basic military base by Russia. They have militarized Crimea so much and basically they have captured the south of Ukraine because they were holding Crimea since 2014. So even if we skip all the international law arguments and all of that is just not smart to allow them to stay in Crimea because that way we will all be in danger of yet another invasion. So that is one of the things that we have to remember. Even if we skip the nice argument, it just come from the realistic perspective, we need it back because we don’t want to be invaded again from Crimea.

Janet Napolitano: We’re getting questions also from the live stream and these two are somewhat related. Do you think a third party could help negotiate peace? And if so, what might that third party be? And then what happens to Russia after the war?

Inna Sovsun: Can I take the first one and you take the second? So if you ask [inaudible], he will say that he can negotiate his way out of this. He’s been trying to act as a third-party site who is kind of neutral and trying to make peace. But the reality is this, whoever comes up with the idea, “I can negotiate peace,” show me a single person in the world who can say, “We will make a deal and I, the third party, will make sure that Putin follows up on what we agreed upon.” A single person in the world who will say that, “I will make sure Putin does what he promised to do.” Even in Russia for that matter. I don’t think there is a single person who can guarantee that Putin will do whatever we will agree upon on doing, right. And because of that, I don’t see a way by negotiating because nobody can make sure that whatever we agree upon would actually be followed up and fulfilled by Putin.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: I want to second Inna said. Think about this invasion, it violated the treaty of friendship between Russia and Ukraine. It violated the Budapest Memorandum, it violated the Helsinki Final Act. It violated the UN charter and many, many other agreements. What makes you think that now he will respect whatever deal he’s going to make? I don’t think there is any chance this is going to be enforced by anybody and will be treated as a serious negotiation by the Russians. About the future of Russia, I think we should…

Janet Napolitano: Well, does that mean between the two of you? Are you saying that so long as Putin is the head of Russia, there is no possibility for a negotiated peace?

Inna Sovsun: Most likely. I mean, and then I’m saying it very openly, until Putin is alive, we are always in danger. I mean, the process can slow down, we can go into slower phase of war or anything, but he has no way of stopping. If he stops now that undermines his power inside Russia. And if he doesn’t stop, that also undermines his power. So he’s in a deadlock situation, but he will keep on doing that because he just cannot stop, right. There is no reason for him to stop. So as long as he is alive, even if there is some quiet periods on the battle front, we will always living under danger of waking up in four in the morning for missiles attacks. So unfortunately, yes, we have to wait for a change regime in Russia. We don’t know how that will take place and who will come instead of him. But for real, I don’t think anybody can trust what our Putin will promise to do at this point.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: The future of Russia, I’m not a historian, but they can just make a few casual observations to put this in the right perspective. I think World War I ended with a few empires being disintegrated. World War II, again, a few empires disintegrated. The British Empire, the French Empire. The end of the Cold War, another empire disintegrated every time you have a big loss. It may be the roots of Japanese war with maybe some other war, the Crimean war many, many years ago in the 19th century, Paris disintegrate. I don’t like [inaudible] but he said that Russia is the prison of peoples and just another empire. And I think there is a good chance that Russia is not going to survive the war as one state. It will be a collection of different states. But there is a lot of uncertainty about how Russia is going to look after this.

Janet Napolitano: How can the average person help Ukraine? Is there a way to contribute to the Ukrainian army?

Inna Sovsun: Oh yes, Google.

Janet Napolitano: We know it.

Inna Sovsun: Google, you go online and Google “Come Back Alive.” That is the biggest volunteer foundation in Ukraine that is helping the army. They’re great. They’re, like, super great. You can follow them a Twitter and they’re the one who actually provided drones to the army and so on and so forth. Of course they’re not buying tanks because for a single reason nobody’s selling them to them. They’re willing to. But they’re great for real. I know some members of the team, I know the leadership, they’re super great. They’re the biggest foundation. All Ukrainians trust them. Or there are several others that you can find as well that you can donate. Or if you want to help, civilians will still donate to Come Back Alive because donating to the army is the best way to protect civilians, that is the fact. But you can also go and find some humanitarian organizations that are doing humanitarian aid and relief.

And the biggest aid and relief in that sense that I would advertise is helping establish bomb shelters at schools. I mean that doesn’t sound like something you would think of automatically, but the reality is this, if parents cannot send their kids to school because there is no bomb shelter. They cannot work. Their kids are losing in terms of quality of education. And it all starts just this vicious circle. So this minor issue of just find a local community and say like, “Hey, we have $5,000, help us refurbish and do some minor impairments in the bomb shelter so that kids would be safe to go there.” That’s going to be a huge deal for people. I know myself, my son goes to school which has a good bomb shelter, but I feel for parents whose schools have terrible bomb shelters or don’t have bomb shelters at all. That’s something that you can help with.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: Obviously, we want to think about this as the nations because Ukraine is in a very difficult situation. But I want to give you a slightly different perspective. Think about this as investment and investment in global security. Ukraine wants $40 billion from its allies to keep the economy running at 2023. It is a lot of money, $40 billion, it’s a lot of money. But think about this in a different way, how much this money is a fraction of GDP of the US, EU, and other countries, it’s a tiny fraction of GDP 0.01% or maybe less than that. How much is that as a fraction of the NATO budget? It’s probably like 4%, maybe 3%. It’s a tiny fraction. Think about this as how much all this European and governments in the US as well spent on supporting households to deal with high energy prices. Again, it’s a small fraction, maybe 5%, 9%.

So instead of treating the symptoms like, “Oh, energy prices are high because of Russia.” Think about this as a way to have a solution to this that is going to be less and it’s not going to be just giving out money to people to deal with their energy bills. So we have to be thinking about more strategically. Also think about this as how much it will cost if Ukraine loses and we have a serious arms raise between Russia and the U.S. or U.S. and China. At the height of the Cold War, U.S. was spending more than 10% of GDP on military stuff. In current money, it’s more than $2 trillion. You think about this $2 trillion versus 40 billion and Ukraine is giving an astronomical return on this investment. So we’re taking care of Russian tanks, all this aggression, all this authoritarian regimes. It’s a huge investment. So it’s not just a donation, think about this as an investment.

Janet Napolitano: This is a somewhat related question, but apart from economic sanctions, what are your expectations from other countries to support Ukraine?

Inna Sovsun: Well, did I mention tanks? Because that would be great. Yeah. Yeah, support in terms of weapons is crucially important. That is what is indeed making a difference for all of us.

Janet Napolitano: And the speed with which…

Inna Sovsun: And the speed, yeah. Yeah. And then of course training of our military personnel is also very important and that is taking place, right? I’m not complaining about that, but it just reiterated to what extent, that is very much important. Maybe from a different perspective and go back to the sanctions issue because of course as Yuriy has been talking a lot about economic sanction and how they affect and Russian economy, but then there are also personal sanctions, sanctions against individuals. And I know some of them have been introduced, but that has taken quite some time. Son of Medvedev who is the former president, kind of president of Russia who’s been crazy. Probably you don’t read him too much, but probably most of you don’t read Russian, but really, the guy has gotten completely nuts. He’s speaking about getting rid of Satan in Ukraine and fighting gay parades in Nazis. He’s completely nuts. And his son was living in, was it?

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: New York.

Inna Sovsun: In New York, in the U.S., and he had a visa, like why? I mean one may say that human rights argument that the children are not responsible for the sins of their parents, only my son has to go to the bomb shelter almost every day and skip math or whatever else in his school. My son is bearing this load. So the kids of the Russian elites should not get visas to the United States. And if they do, those should be canceled and they should go back to Mother Russia and really have a serious talk to their parents. Why the hell? And the reality is that they are still studying in the American universities. I mean probably not here at UC Berkeley and all of that, but just go through the list. This is unacceptable. And this is something that you can still do. And this will have actually a huge effect because the Russian relates are so wealthy probably will not make a huge difference for them if they lose even half of their wealth in terms of their daily life. But if their kids cannot travel to Italy for shopping or to go study in American universities, that will actually make a difference for their individual lives. So not many people are paying attention to that, but that will actually make a difference in terms of putting pressure on the Russian elites.

Janet Napolitano: What about the likelihood of war crime prosecutions? How do you look at that?

Inna Sovsun: A lot has been done on that. And actually the commission on sexual crimes that I’m deputy head of is also part of this effort. So what we are doing is, not so much we, as members of parliament, but we are helping also in that sense. But the prosecutor’s office, police is doing a lot to document the crimes. We are getting actually policemen from other EU states who come to help document all the crimes and we trying to collect all the evidence possible. It’s a huge number. You must have seen most recently Izyum which was a month ago, 400 graves, some of them children, some of them tortured, and all of that. Not a single country would be able to document this amount of crimes themselves. So that is something that we are doing with hope to have a big international tribunal, which I’m sure will take place at some point. And it’s our responsibility and this is what we need to do for the victims. We have to do it, even if it’s going to take 10 years.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: It’s a long time.

Inna Sovsun: Yeah, we have to do it. Yeah.

Janet Napolitano: We have another question from the audience. How would you evaluate Zelensky’s performance? And is he the ideal president for Ukraine.

Inna Sovsun: Do you want to take it?

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: All right, because I’m not a member of the parliament. I will say something. I think he was a surprise to many of us because when he was elected president, many people were wondering if he is qualified to do this job. But in some ways a key function he has now is really to inspire people, communicate with them, send messages. And in this respect, he was kind of practicing all his life. He’s a professional actor. I remember many years ago somebody was asking Ronald Reagan, “How can an actor become president?” And he said, “How can president not be an actor?” And so we certainly have this moment where talking to the people, making sure that messages are getting across, talking to the international community is probably the highest value added for him. He also realized that he cannot run the country just by himself, he has to delegate. So before the war he was really plugged into many, many decisions. Now he is more delegating and surprisingly people know how to do their jobs. And so in some ways it’s really helping everybody to have a division of labor. And so here’s doing communication and other people are doing other decisions.

Inna Sovsun: I would actually agree with everything that Yuriy said. And yeah, because I’m representing the opposition political party, as I mentioned. A, that doesn’t matter anymore because as Janet said, we all in opposition to Russian aggression and that is the only thing that matters. And indeed, we are all speaking in one voice, and that is not because of some censorship or because I’m being forced to say things, but because the situation is pretty black and white. When I go abroad and I do communicate with the government, I ask for what is the list of equipment we need for energy or what is the type of tanks that we need or anything. But the general messages are so obvious for all of us that we all speak in one voice.

Some people were asking me like, “You are saying the same things, are you being forced to?” Its like, “Yeah, you don’t know me if you think that anybody can force me to say something that I don’t believe in.” But the reality is that yeah, I do think that the president has done a pretty good job. Probably the smartest administrative decision he has taken is appointing the top military guy, General Zhirnov who’s done miracle. I think that that was the smartest decision. But apart from the communication part, but in terms of running the country, that was the smartest thing he did. He appointed a very strong general to run the army. I don’t think we would have survived without this general. So yeah, despite maybe in an opposition, he’s doing well right now.

Janet Napolitano: We have time for one last comment from each of you, and let me just ask each of you, if you have one central point about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and where things stand and what you see the future as that you’d like this audience to take from today’s panel, what would it be? Yuriy, we’ll start with you.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko: So a very difficult question in one sentence. I would say this, many people think of a war in a distant country about people who will know very little about in the words of Chamberlain, when he basically gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler. You should not think that. That war is a lot closer to all of us than many of us think. This is not just about Ukraine. This war can touch us here in California, it can touch us in Europe, anywhere. So we have to be thinking of this as not a Ukrainian problem, it’s really a global problem.

Inna Sovsun: You have stolen what I was about to say. But indeed I do think that… It took me two days to travel here, California is very far away from Ukraine. So the question is why should we care? And I think that there are two reasons why people should care. First, because this war violates the very basic principles of human existence. Nobody should be afraid of getting raped by a soldier who just invaded your country. That is just goes against any basic principles of human lives. That is just wrong on many levels. And what we are fighting for is the [inaudible], just like Americans in your war against the Brits. And you very much relied also on support of France at that time, right. And I think that that is important to remember that also United States has been in a period of its history, relying on support from abroad. I’m not saying you have to pay back, I’m just saying that there are situations of when the very basic principles of life are at stake and then everybody should get involved.

And the second argument is this, this war is not just violating the very basic principles of human life and then coexistence. It also violates the very principles of international order. If we allow Russia to do what it is doing to Ukraine right now, what is there to stop Russia from saying like, “Hey, what was our deal with Alaska? We don’t like it anymore. We probably should get it back. We can also invade whatever else country.” Or any other country can say the same if we don’t respect the sanctity of Ukraine’s borders, what is there to respect the sanctity of any borders at that matter, right? So I think that this is also important. We also fighting for preservation of the world order, the very basic principles of the world or at least. And that is why, yeah, we very much hope that the world will continue supporting us because we are fighting for the whole globe now, not just for ourselves.

Janet Napolitano: Well, I think you have the support of all of us here. Thank you so much for your comments and [inaudible]. (Applause)

[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions]

Outro: You’ve been listening to Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. You can find all of our podcast episodes with transcripts and photos on Berkeley News at