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Book Talk. War and Punishment: Putin, Zelensky, and the Path to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
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Please join the Harriman Institute for a book talk by Mikhail Zygar on his work War and Punishment: Putin, Zelensky, and the Path to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, with comments by Joel Simon. Moderated by Elise Giuliano.

As soon as the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, prominent independent Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar circulated a Facebook petition signed first by hundreds of his cultural and journalistic contacts and then by thousands of others. That act led to a new law in Russia criminalizing criticism of the war, and Zygar fled Russia. In his time as a journalist, Zygar has interviewed President Zelensky and had access to many of the major players—from politicians to oligarchs. As an expert on Putin’s moods and behavior, he has spent years studying the Kremlin’s plan regarding Ukraine, and here, in clear, chronological order he explains how we got here.

In 1996 to 2004, Ukraine became an independent post-Soviet country where everyone was connected to the former empire at all levels, financially, culturally, psychologically. However, the elite anticipated that the empire would be back and punish them. From 2004 to 2018, there were many states inside one state, each with its own rulers/oligarchs and its own interests—some of them directly connected with Russia. In 2018, a new generation of Ukrainians arrive, and having grown in an independent country, they do not consider themselves to be part of Russia—and that was the moment when the war began, as Putin could not tolerate losing Ukraine forever.

Mikhail Zygar worked for Newsweek Russia and the business daily Kommersant, covering the conflicts in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Serbia, and Kosovo before becoming founding editor in chief of Russia’s only independent news TV channel, Dozhd, which provided an alternative to Kremlin-controlled federal TV channels and gave a platform to opposition voices. He won the International Press Freedom Award in 2014. He is the author of All the Kremlin’s Men, a #1 bestseller in Russia that has been translated into over twenty languages and was called one of “nine books that can help you understand Russia right now” by Time magazine, and The Empire Must Die, a Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year.



Joel Simon is the founding director of the Journalism Protection Initiative at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, part of the City University of New York. He is the author of four books, including most recently The Infodemic: How Censorship and Lies Made the World Sicker and Less Free, co-authored with Robert Mahoney. He writes regularly on press freedom issues for The New Yorker, and produces a column for Columbia Journalism Review. From 2006 until 2021, Joel served as executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. During 2022, he was Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University and a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Knight First Amendment Institute, also at Columbia.


This event is supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.


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