Foreign Affairs | Ukraine Holds the Future: The War Between Democracy and Nihilism

By: Timothy Synder | September/October 2022

Featured image: Ben Jones


Russia, an aging tyranny, seeks to destroy Ukraine, a defiant democracy. A Ukrainian victory would confirm the principle of self-rule, allow the integration of Europe to proceed, and empower people of goodwill to return reinvigorated to other global challenges. A Russian victory, by contrast, would extend genocidal policies in Ukraine, subordinate Europeans, and render any vision of a geopolitical European Union obsolete. Should Russia continue its illegal blockade of the Black Sea, it could starve Africans and Asians, who depend on Ukrainian grain, precipitating a durable international crisis that will make it all but impossible to deal with common threats such as climate change. A Russian victory would strengthen fascists and other tyrants, as well as nihilists who see politics as nothing more than a spectacle designed by oligarchs to distract ordinary citizens from the destruction of the world. This war, in other words, is about establishing principles for the twenty-first century. It is about policies of mass death and about the meaning of life in politics. It is about the possibility of a democratic future.


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TIMOTHY SNYDER is Richard C. Levin Professor of History and Global Affairs at Yale University and the author of Bloodlands and On Tyranny.

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