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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

What Happens When A Ukrainian Asks ChatGPT About Crimea

The public version of the Artificial Intelligence-driven chatbot is not yet fully plugged into the real-time internet. But there was an enlightening conversation going back to 2014, when the conflict in Ukraine actually started. ChatGPT’s hedging responses may help explain why the world wasn’t prepared for Putin’s invasion a year ago.

Screenshot of OpenAI's ChatGPT homepage with a flag of Ukraine in the background

Putting AI to the Ukraine test


After a year of talking (arguing, pleading, crying) with all sorts of humans about the war between Russia and Ukraine, the time came to have the conversation with ChatGPT.

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The past 365 days, like other Ukrainians, have been consumed by a war that seems drudged up from the 19th century. But I have long been interested in the potential of Artificial Intelligence and the machine revolution, I believe in the three laws of robotics, and have grown up on the new-wave of American science fiction.

Still, I walked into my first contact with ChatGPT carefully. I knew the machine would not have responses about the past year since it is trained on content only until 2021. But I also suspected that its post-2014 view of the situation in Ukraine — following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its war in Donbas — might shed some light on how we got here.

I also knew that the machine’s responses would be strung together sentences and ideas from humans — and as I said, I’ve had my fair share of arguments with them about Ukraine.

Rather than slowly wade into the subject, I started the conversation with a direct question — and yes, all of my questions are those of a Ukrainian human.

The following is our full, lightly edited “chat”:

Let us begin, who owns Crimea?

The ownership of Crimea is a politically contentious issue, it has been claimed at various times in history by different groups, including the Crimean Tatars, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, and Ukraine.

Currently, Russia controls and administers Crimea, but its annexation of the region in 2014 is not recognized by most of the international community. The situation in Crimea remains a source of tension between Russia and Ukraine, and the question of Crimea's ownership remains unresolved.

Why did Russia start the war with Ukraine?

There are differing opinions on why Russia became involved in the conflict, but some of the main factors include historical, ethnic, and political ties between Russia and Crimea and the region's strategic importance to Russia. Some observers believe that Russia was attempting to reassert its influence over Ukraine and to prevent Ukraine from moving closer to the West, while others believe that the annexation of Crimea was a response to perceived threats to Russian interests and security.

Questions of territory

Okay, why does Russia think that Ukraine is its territory?

The issue of Ukraine's territorial sovereignty is complex and has roots in both historical and geopolitical factors. Ukraine and Russia share a long history, and parts of what is now Ukraine were at times under Russian control, such as during the Soviet era.

One of the main factors that has contributed to Russia's view of Ukraine as falling within its sphere of influence is the large ethnic Russian population in Ukraine, particularly in the eastern regions. Russian speakers make up a significant minority in Ukraine, and many have historical and cultural ties to Russia. This has led Russia to view itself as a protector of the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, and some in Russia see Ukraine as a part of a larger "Russian world."

In addition, Ukraine's strategic location and resources have made it an important target for Russian influence. Ukraine is a key transit country for natural gas shipments from Russia to Europe, and Russia has sought to maintain its control over this energy route. Furthermore, Ukraine's potential accession to the European Union and NATO has been viewed by Russia as a threat to its own interests and security.

Why do you say that situation is complex? Ukraine is a sovereign country, and Russia attacks it only because some people in Ukraine speak Russian.

I apologize if my previous response did not accurately reflect the situation. While it is true that a significant part of the conflict centers around the treatment of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, particularly in the eastern regions, the situation is much more complex than just that. The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and the subsequent conflict in eastern Ukraine have been driven by a variety of factors, including geopolitical competition between Russia and the West, historical tensions between Ukraine and Russia, and economic interests related to energy and resources.

So based on what you say, Russia has reasons to kill Ukrainians because it wants to influence Ukraine's culture, resources, and territory?

I want to clarify that the killing of Ukrainians by Russia is not justified. While it is true that Russia has sought to maintain its influence over Ukraine and protect the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, the actions of Russia in annexing Crimea and supporting separatist groups in eastern Ukraine have been widely condemned by the international community. The situation in Ukraine is complex and involves many factors, and opinions vary widely both within Ukraine and internationally.

\u200bScreenshot of the author's conversation with ChatGPT

Screenshot of the author's conversation with ChatGPT


Opinions vary

Based on what information do you say that opinions about the war vary in Ukraine?

Opinions regarding the conflict between Ukraine and Russia vary widely within Ukraine, reflecting the country's diversity and complex history. The conflict has been a divisive issue within Ukraine, and different regions and communities have different perspectives on the situation.

In the western regions of Ukraine, which were historically part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and later under Austro-Hungarian control, there is generally strong support for Ukraine's independence and sovereignty, and a desire for closer ties with Europe and the West.

In the eastern regions of Ukraine, which have closer cultural and historical ties to Russia, there is a significant minority of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, and opinions regarding the conflict are more varied. Some in the east view the conflict as a result of Ukrainian aggression against ethnic Russians, while others see it as a result of Russian aggression against Ukraine. Some in the east have also expressed frustration with the Ukrainian government and its handling of the conflict.

Wait, where did you get this information about Ukrainians being aggressive toward Russians?

I apologize if my previous response was unclear. To clarify, Some in Russia and in the ethnic Russian minority in Ukraine have expressed the view that the conflict is a result of Ukrainian aggression towards ethnic Russians in Ukraine, particularly in the eastern regions. They point to actions taken by the Ukrainian government, such as the passing of laws that restrict the use of the Russian language in official settings, as evidence of discrimination against ethnic Russians.

However, the Ukrainian government and many others see the conflict as a result of Russian aggression against Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea and the support of separatist groups in eastern Ukraine.

The conflict has been marked by a range of military and political actions by both sides, including the deployment of troops, shelling and attacks on civilian areas, and political and economic pressure. It's important to note that the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is a complex issue, and it's not accurate to reduce the conflict to a simple narrative of one country versus another.

A simple narrative

What do you mean by "it's not accurate to reduce the conflict to a simple narrative of one country versus another"?

While the conflict is often framed as a struggle between Ukraine and Russia, the situation on the ground is more complicated.

The conflict involves a range of actors and interests, including the Ukrainian government, Russian-backed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine, the Russian government, and various international actors. The situation is also marked by a range of military and political actions by both sides, including the deployment of troops, shelling and attacks on civilian areas, and political and economic pressure.

In addition, the conflict has been shaped by historical, cultural, and linguistic factors, as well as geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Ukraine is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country, with significant populations of ethnic Russians and other minorities.

Then who is a victim in this war?

From the Ukrainian point of view, Ukraine is the victim because it has lost territory, suffered human casualties, and endured economic and political instability as a result of Russian aggression. From the Russian point of view, they may view their actions as protecting ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people in Ukraine.

Did Ukraine attack Russia?

No, Ukraine did not attack Russia. The conflict between Ukraine and Russia began in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, which was previously part of Ukraine.

So Ukraine was attacked. And you are still saying that Ukraine is not the victim of this war?

I apologize for any confusion my previous response may have caused. My point in the previous response was that the conflict is complex and there are different perspectives on the matter. However, the suffering and loss endured by the people of Ukraine are real, and it is important to find a peaceful resolution that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and the rights of all individuals involved in the conflict.

How can there be a peaceful resolution if Russian troops are still on Ukraine's territory?

The presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian territory is a significant obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The first step towards a peaceful resolution is for all parties to agree to a ceasefire and to respect the Minsk agreements, which were brokered by France and Germany in 2015 to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

You reminded me of Minsk, and so I remind you of the Budapest memorandum. Russia broke that agreement first.

You are correct that the Budapest Memorandum is a crucial agreement that is relevant to the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia. While the Budapest Memorandum has been violated, it is important to note that it was a political agreement and not a legally binding treaty. This means that while it is a significant diplomatic agreement, there is no international legal mechanism for enforcing its provisions.

Do you know that Ukraine had to sign Minsk agreements under military pressure?

Yes, it's true that the Minsk agreements were signed under military pressure. In early 2015, Ukraine was facing significant military losses and was in a weakened position in negotiations with Russia and the separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. This led to Ukraine agreeing to some of the provisions in the Minsk agreements, including the special status for certain regions and the decentralization of power.

It's worth noting that while the Minsk agreements were signed under military pressure, they were also endorsed by the UN Security Council and agreed upon by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany.

Remind me, how old is the data you use?

As an AI language model, I was trained on a large dataset of text, including news articles, books, and other online sources, up until a knowledge cutoff date of September 2021. So the information I provide may not be the most current or up-to-date, but it is accurate to the best of my knowledge based on the data I was trained on.

We will resume this conversation when you have up-to-date data. By the way, will you still be using Russian propaganda?

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A Refuge From China's Rat Race: The Young People Flocking To Buddhist Monasteries

Unemployment, stress in the workplace, economic difficulties: more and more young Chinese graduates are flocking to monasteries to find "another school of life."

Photograph of a girl praying at a temple during Chinese Lunar New Year. She is burning incense.

Feb 20, 2015 - Huaibei, China - Chinese worshippers pray at a temple during the Lunar New Yeat

Frédéric Schaeffer

JIAXING — It's already dawn at Xianghai Temple when Lin, 26, goes to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas for the 5:30 a.m. prayer.

Still half-asleep, the young woman joins the monks in chanting mantras and reciting sacred texts for an hour. Kneeling, she bows three times to Vairocana, also known as the Great Sun Buddha, who dominates the 42-meter-high hall representing the cosmos.

Before grabbing a vegetarian breakfast in the adjacent refectory, monks and devotees chant around the hall to the sound of drums and gongs.

"I resigned last October from the e-commerce company where I had been working for the past two years in Nanjing, and joined the temple in January, where I am now a volunteer in residence," explains the young woman, soberly dressed in black pants and a cream linen jacket.

Located in the city of Jiaxing, over a hundred kilometers from Shanghai, in eastern China, the Xianghai temple is home to some 20 permanent volunteers.

Unlike Lin, most of them only stay for a couple days or a few weeks. But for Lin, who spends most of her free time studying Buddhist texts in the temple library, the change in her life has been radical. "I used to do the same job every day, sometimes until very late at night, writing all kinds of reports for my boss. I was exhausted physically and mentally. I felt my life had no meaning," she says.

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