Anne Applebaum on Ukrainian resistance and Russian totalitarianism | Thinking in Dark Times # 6

January 23, 2023

Anne Applebaum is an American journalist and historian, Pulitzer Prize winner (2004), author of numerous books about Eastern Europe and global politics, and Washington Post columnist.

Volodymyr Yermolenko, chief editor of UkraineWorld, speaks to Anne Applebaum about the deep roots of the Ukrainian resistance, the history of Russian totalitarianism, KGB politics, and the cult of impunity.

Key points of Anne Applebaum:

  • The Russian Empire at the moment is not a positive, outward looking kind of joyful project. This isn't empire building for the sake of the spread of the glory of Russian civilization or Russian culture or Russian religion.
  • When you think about how past empires spread, or what imperial ideology looked like in other times, in other places, this [Russian approach] is an angry, genocidal, lashing out at neighbors, murderous. The Russians don't bring civilization. They bring death. They don't bring enlightenment. They bring the end of education. they don't bring anything positive. They just bring destruction.
  • So even the fact that the Russians themselves don't speak about bringing anything positive into the world, tells you almost everything. It's revenge [the war], a backlash. It's an attempt to avoid what looks like an inevitable decline.
  • There was never at the heart of the new Russia, as Putin conceived it from the end of 1990s onwards, an idea that they need to repudiate the Soviet Union or they need to apologize for the Soviet Union or they need to undo even just the damage that the Soviet Union did to Russia and to Russians. It was always about the regaining of what the Soviet Union had lost.
  • Part of what Putin is doing is showing "I don't care about your rules. I can commit genocide, I can commit murder, I can attack civilians and break all the laws of war. I don't care because I don't want these rules to exist and I don't want them to have any power".
  • What Ukraine has done is reminded everybody of what these values are worth. The value of sovereignty - the real term of sovereignty, namely self rule by a nation, the value of democracy. The value of freedom, the value of freedom of speech and assembly and all those other things that go with it and that there are some people willing to die for that.
  • And so I think the Ukrainians have kind of injected a note of energy into those who believe that democracy is worth fighting for.

The goal of the series Thinking in Dark Times is to make Ukraine and its current war a focal point of our common reflection about the world's present, past, and future. We try to see light through and despite the current darkness. is a website in English about Ukraine run by Ukrainians. It is brought to you by Internews Ukraine. Support us at

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