War in Ukraine — and What It Means for the World Order | Ian Bremmer | TED

Bruno Giussani: It's difficult
to think clearly of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, because wars, while they unfold, they're kind of shrouded in a sort of fog. Information is abundant: the millions of refugees, the shocking suffering
and the destruction, the politics. But sense is lacking. And that's going to be the focus
of this Membership conversation as we enter the third week of the war. We won’t talk about the events of the day but try to project a longer arc,
a broader context. Our guest is geopolitical
analyst Ian Bremmer. He's the founder
and president of Eurasia Group, and we asked him to lay the scene by talking first
about the geopolitical shifts that have already been brought
by the war in Ukraine.

And after, we're going to have
a conversation, including questions from TED Members
who are participating in this call. Ian, welcome. Ian Bremmer: Thank you very much. I'll start by saying that in my lifetime, the most important geopolitical artifact
is the fall of the Berlin Wall. I mean, you see it if you go into the new
NATO headquarters in Brussels, just built a few years ago. And anyone that has a piece,
something they're very proud of, they know it affected their entire lives. I think that in 30 years' time, and I fear that in 30 years' time, if we look back, a second most important
geopolitical artifact will be a piece of the rubble
of the Maidan in Kyiv. I believe that the war
that we are seeing right now is no more and no less than the end of the peace dividend that we all thought we had when the wall came down in 1989.

The idea that the world could focus
more on globalization and goods and services
and people and ideas going faster and faster across borders, leading to unprecedented growth
in human development and a global middle class. I think that this is a tipping point. Won't end globalization, but it does end the peace dividend. It does mean that the Europeans overnight will and must prioritize
spending on defense policy, on national security,
coordination, on NATO. And the speech that was given
by Olaf Scholz, the new chancellor, two weeks ago, in my view, the most significant speech
given by a European leader in the post-Cold War environment, precisely because it's now
the post-post-Cold War environment, sending weapons to the Ukrainians, committing to over two percent
of GDP spend on defense, investing in a new fund
for defense infrastructure.

But also recognizing that the way that the Germans
and the Europeans as a whole looked at the world
and looked at themselves was, unfortunately for all of us, outdated. A few other points I'd like to raise,
just to kick off this conversation. One: One of the reasons
I'm pretty negative about this, and I'm not usually very negative,
I'm usually an existential optimist, I’m someone that’s just happy
there’s water in the glass. But when I look at this conflict,
I’m much more concerned. And that is because I do not
see a scenario, a plausible scenario,
in the foreseeable future where Putin emerges from this war in anything less than a radically
weakened position compared to where he was
before he announced the invasion.

And I believe that both in terms
of his domestic political orientation, how stable he is in his own country, also, of course,
Russia's economic position, and finally, Russia's position
in terms of global security and European security: ostensibly, the very reason that Putin
began the war to begin with. Second big point is that the decoupling
that we are seeing from Europe and the United States with Russia
is, in my view, permanent. And that would be true even if there were
a negotiated settlement and all the Russian troops
were to pull out of Ukraine and we had peace. I still think that a lot
of those companies would not come back with Putin in power. I'm convinced that the decisions
by the Europeans to ramp up their national security
capabilities will be permanent. Permanent deployments coming
in the Baltic states, for example, forward deployments in Poland
and Bulgaria and Romania. And also an unwind of Europe’s
massive energy dependence: coal, oil and most importantly, gas on Russia. That does not make Russia a global pariah because you can't be a global pariah if the soon-to-be most important
economy in the world, China, is actually your bestie
on the global stage, and that indeed continues to be true despite China's efforts
to portray themselves, towards Europe at least, as more neutral.

We are going to see the Russians
as a supplicant economically, in terms of energy flows, financially, in terms of transactions, and technologically,
perhaps most important, aligned with China. That has big geopolitical
implications long-term. Also, a lot of other developing
economies, like the Indians, like the Gulf states, like Brazil, are also not going to work
with Russia as a pariah. They'll continue to engage. Are there any silver linings? And I think there are a few. Of course, there is a much greater
renewed purpose and mission of NATO.

I mean, this is an organization
that just a couple of years ago, France President Emmanuel Macron
referred to as “brain-dead.” It was increasingly drifting
in terms of its importance. The Americans were focusing
much more on Asia, the pivot. Not today. Today, NATO is purposeful, it's aligned, it's consolidated. it's going to get more
resources, not less. That's also true of the European
Union as a whole, even when we talk about countries
like Hungary and Poland that have been much less aligned
in terms of rule of law, in terms of an independent judiciary, much more aligned in terms
of the importance of common values of Europe compared to that of what
we're seeing in Moscow. I mentioned the German security
and policy shift. The UK-EU relationship is much
smoother and more functional than at any point since Brexit
process actually started. And even the United States. I mean, if you watched
the State of the Union for a brief moment in time,
five or 10 minutes, when all of the Democrats and Republicans
were standing and applauding together, you could be forgiven for believing
that the United States had a functional representative democracy.

Now I'm not sure how long
this is going to last, but at least as of now, leaders of the Democratic
and Republican Party see Putin as much more
of a threat, an enemy, than they do their opponents
across the aisle in domestic politics. And two weeks ago, that was not true. That's significant. Final silver lining,
and I wish it was more of one, but the Chinese, as much as they are strategically
aligned with Russia and with the person of President Putin, they do not want a second Cold War. And they would rather
a negotiated settlement. They're not willing to push
very hard for it. But they certainly do not see
a radical decoupling of the Russian, and potentially the Chinese economy, from the rest of the world, from Europe, from the US, from the advanced
industrial democracies, as in any way in their interest.

And ultimately, that does create
at least some buffer, some guardrail on how much this is likely
to escalate as a conflict going forward. BG: I want to make a step back
and unpack some of that, maybe starting with a question
that relates to your last point and is probably on the mind of many. And it is: Is there still some real
space for negotiation? Is there still a potential relationship
between Russia and Ukraine? IB: The foreign ministers of Russia
and Ukraine just met recently in Turkey. It was as much of a non-event as the three preceding negotiations
of more junior representatives of their teams on the Belarus border. The one thing that has been
accomplished to a small degree has been humanitarian corridors, extending out of a number
of Ukrainian cities that are being pounded
by Russian military. That's because the Ukrainians are
interested in protecting their civilians, and the Russians are interested
in taking a lot of territory without necessarily having to kill
so many Ukrainians, that could cause problems
for them internationally as well as domestically inside Russia.

But that is nowhere close
to a negotiated settlement. Now, I mean, everyone I know that's involved
in the negotiations right now responds that the President Putin himself
is hell-bent on taking Kyiv and on removing Zelenskyy from power. Now I think, and by the way,
they're getting quite close to being able to accomplish that
militarily on the ground. I think within the next couple of weeks,
certainly, it looks very likely.

A couple of points here. One, there is no reason to put
any stock in anything that the Russians are saying publicly
in terms of their diplomacy. They lied to the face
of every world leader about the invasion that they said
they were not going to do into Ukraine. And then just today, Foreign Minister
Sergey Lavrov publicly said, well, the Russians didn't attack Ukraine. I mean, this is Orwellian stuff, right? So first of all, do not report
on Russian public statements as if they bear any semblance
to reality on the ground. Secondarily, this looks like a huge
loss for Putin right now. He understands it, and I think
he would have a hard time, even with his control of information,
spinning this to his public without removing Zelenskyy, without the “de-Nazification,”
as he calls it — which is an obscenity in an environment where the Ukrainian president
is actually Jewish — the disarmament of Ukraine, and of course, the ability of the Russians to change how they feel about Ukraine
as a threat to the Russian homeland.

BG: What level of support
can we give Ukraine militarily, intel, economic, before Putin considers
taking a strike on a NATO country? IB: Well, it’s interesting the way
you framed that, Bruno. Because I mean, I think that Putin is already considering
strikes on NATO countries. I mean, there were massive attacks, cyberattacks and disinformation attacks, by Russia against NATO countries
with reckless abandon over the course of the past years. And in fact, when President Biden
met with Putin in Geneva back in June, it seems like years
and years ago at this point, Biden set the agenda.

Ukraine was largely not discussed, but what was discussed was cyberattacks
on critical infrastructure. Because you may remember Bruno, that meeting came right after
the cyber attacks against the Colonial Pipeline. And the Russians after that
indeed pulled back on supporting those attacks
by their criminal cyber syndicates. I expect those attacks to restart
in very short order against NATO countries. I also believe that the fact that the West
is sending weapons to Ukraine and is providing real-time
intelligence reports on the disposition of Russian troops
on the ground in Ukraine to better allow the Ukrainians
to defend themselves and blow the Russians up, that is considered by the Russians
to be an act of war, and they will retaliate. And how they retaliate is the question. I don't think they're going to send
troops into Poland.

But you know, when the Americans under Reagan
were providing that kind of support to the mujahideen to help them defeat
the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Soviets saw that as an act of war, and they engaged in acts of terrorism
against the mujahideen in Pakistan. And I absolutely think
that that is on the table in terms of front line
NATO countries especially, like Poland, like the Baltic states,
like Bulgaria, Romania. Would that be considered
an Article V attack? Would that force NATO countries
to strike the Russians back? I'm not sure it would. Not directly, not militarily. So I mean, I do think that the fact
that the NATO countries see there is some sort of a big red line
between sending troops in, for example, and doing a no-fly zone
because that could cause World War III, but everything short of that
is just a proxy war.

The Russians don't see it that way. And that gives the Russians
some advantage tactically in terms of their willingness to escalate. BG: You're describing a spiral
of escalation here that will touch the globe
and not only Ukraine, not only the eastern flank of Europe, which means that not only this war
has ripple effects everywhere, but this is also starting
a sort of realignment of the global geopolitical
situation and context. To me, it has been very striking
how Europe and the US have kind of moved very fast
in a cohesive way. And it has chosen, after years
of prioritizing the economics in their international
and global dealings, it's chosen to put politics over markets. It has adopted sanctions
that will hurt Russia, but will also hurt Western businesses. It’s the discussion about decoupling
that you put forward before, an active kind of fencing out
of the Russian economy. Talk to us about how do you see
this decoupling playing out. IB: Yeah, I mean, I do think
that for the Europeans, this is a permanent move.

I mean, I've spoken to top leaders
in the German government who tell me that Nord Stream
was a strategic mistake, and they understand it. Who say that, you know, Scholz making this speech
from the Social Democratic Party on the center left is the equivalent of Nixon going to China. No one else could have made that move. But having made it, everyone is on board. The popularity in Germany, even given the massive
economic consequences, is extraordinary and is across the board. And what they need to do now is ensure that the diversification
of fossil fuels in the near term away from Russia, towards Qatar and Azerbaijan
and even, you know, sort of the United States for LNG, can be done as fast as humanly possible. And that further, even though
it’s going to cost a lot, some of it will be uneconomic, the move towards renewables
actually picks up and is faster. The Italians, Mario Draghi, I think his shift in strategic
orientation that they will do, this is his "whatever it takes" moment.

He had that in response
to the 2008 financial crisis as the head of the European Central Bank, and that made him “Super Mario.” This is making him Super Mario
as the Italian prime minister. This is the "whatever it takes"
moment for the Italians who never make public statements
that undermine their economic, their commercial interests
like this in such a strategic way. The French, of course,
have less to be concerned about in the sense that most of their energy
comes from nuclear power and is domestic. So they are not as affected directly
by a cut-off from Russia. And also because Macron fancies himself, especially as the leader
of the European Commission this year, the rotating leadership,
occupying the presidency, but also with his elections coming up, and just given his personal belief
that he can drive diplomacy, I believe that even after Kyiv falls and after Zelenskyy
is either killed or forced out that the Americans will not want
to engage in direct diplomacy, the Germans probably won't. The French will. And by the way, the Chinese will too. And I do believe
that there is a potential, and this is a danger
for the cohesiveness of the West, that the Chinese and Macron end up being
the post-Kyiv Normandy format of diplomacy.

That's something that the Americans
and the Germans right now are starting to worry about quite a bit. Now that's the European shift. And I think, as I said,
I think it's permanent. I believe the UK is in that camp as well. I'm not so sure the United States
is going to be as committed for as long a term. It doesn't affect the Americans
as much economically, it doesn't affect the Americans as much
in terms of a direct security issue. None of those refugees are coming
to the United States. But also American inequality, American political polarization
and dysfunction is so much greater than what you experience
on the continent in Europe. So the potential that in six months' time
or in two years' time, as we're thinking about the 2024 election, that the Americans have largely forgotten
about this Russia issue instead, are focusing once again
on domestic political opponents as principal adversaries, which deeply undermines NATO, much more than anything
that would come from the Europeans, I think that is a real
open question going forward that is perhaps as significant
as the question of where the Chinese go.

BG: Let me pick up on the point
you made about energy, because somehow Putin's calculus
can really change if Russian oil and gas
stops flowing to Europe, if it becomes part
of the sanctions, right? And this war indeed can kind of be read as a war about energy. Selling energy funds it for Russia, being dependent on Russian energy makes
the European response more constrained. Rising energy insecurity,
rising energy cost may or probably will destabilize
European politics and economy in the coming months. How would you look at this
from the perspective of energy, and is there any likelihood that Russian oil and gas
is going to stop flowing, either because Putin cuts it
or the Europeans sanction it? IB: Yeah, or because it's blown up
in some of the transit in Ukraine? I mean, keep in mind, so much of the gas transit
is going through large pipeline networks, which have some redundancy
across all of Ukraine. But there's a big war
that's going on right there, and lots of people that could have
incentive to create problems.

The Americans, of course, the Canadians, have said that they're cutting off
oil import from Russia, but those are nominal numbers, so they don't matter very
much to the markets. The Europeans, as I said, want to decouple themselves
as quickly as possible, but they believe that doing that this year
would be economic suicide. So there isn't, despite everything
we see from Russia, they're using thermobaric weapons now
against the Ukrainian people, the Americans are warning that they could use chemical,
biological weapons against Ukraine. I mean, you know,
you even have some people saying, what if they use
a tactical nuclear weapon? I mean … God willing, none of these
things come to pass. But it is very hard to see
a military scenario in Ukraine that leads the Europeans to completely cut off their inbound gas
from Russia this year.

It's very hard to see. And also, I would say, it's very hard
to see any level of economic sanction that would change the mind of the Russians in terms of their military decision making on the ground in Ukraine. Now, I think there are a lot of things
that the West is doing in terms of providing weapons
for the Ukrainians that are having an impact on the ground. A lot more Russians are getting killed. It won’t prevent them
from taking to Kyiv, again in my mind I feel quite confident about that. But it's quite possible,
perhaps even likely, that the west of Ukraine
will remain in Ukrainian hands, which means that, you know,
after this fighting is "over," that a rump Ukrainian state in exile
exists in the West, run by Zelenskyy or someone that's aligned with him, and that they continue to get
enormous economic and military support from all of the NATO countries.

So even though I don't think that the energy situation
will become so parlous that it would affect
Putin's decision making, I do think that the West's response
does matter on the ground. BG: The war is kind of having radiating
economic shock waves around the world now, ripple effects on food markets,
for example and food security. We talk a lot about energy security, what about food security? IB: Well, you have the largest
grain producer in the world invading the fifth largest
grain producer in the world on the back of a two-year pandemic
that's still ongoing. We don't talk about it much anymore,
but it's still there. And of course, this hit the poorest
countries in the world the hardest. The level of indebtedness and the unsustainability
of paying that debt off was already becoming a massive problem for so many of the developing
countries in the world. And the IMF provided a lot of relief
in special drawing rights and direct aid over the course of the past 12 months, but that money is now running to an end.

And what happens
when commodity prices spike up and we have severe supply chain challenges
with energy and food, and those things
are obviously very related. What happens is that a lot of people die. What happens is we see
a lot more starvation. The World Food Organization says about 10
million people a year die of starvation. That number in the next 12 months
is going to be a lot higher than it otherwise would have been. The number of people
who are food stressed in the world is going to go way up
in sub-Saharan Africa, in Yemen, in Afghanistan, in Bangladesh. It's going to go way up. And you know,
it's horrible to think about, but the massive impact
of this Russia crisis is going to be much more
global inequality. And this is, of course, a direct consequence of the end
of the peace dividend more structurally.

That over the last 30 years
of globalization, what did you have? A lot of people were left behind, but the biggest thing you had was the explosion of a single
global middle class. On the back of the pandemic and now this Russia-Ukraine war and the decoupling of the Russian
economy from the West, which doesn't matter so much in terms
of the size of the Russian economy, but it matters immensely in terms
of commodities globally and supply chain, those two things are going
to seriously unwind the growth of this global middle class, and they're going to stress developing
countries to a much greater degree.

They will lead to financial crises
in countries like Turkey, for example, that will no longer be able
to service their debt. You'll see more Lebanons out there. You'll see some in Latin America,
you'll see some in sub-Saharan Africa. Those are the knock-on effects and so, so many people that have been saying
over the last few weeks, "Why are we paying so much
attention to Ukraine? It's because they're white people,
because they're European. We wouldn't pay that much attention
if they were Afghans or if they were, you know, Afghanis
or if they were Yemenis. We wouldn't." I mean, first of all, you've got millions
and millions of Ukrainian refugees, and we're not paying
as much attention to them as we did to the Syrian refugees
precisely because of race, precisely because the Europeans
are more willing to integrate millions and millions
of "fellow Europeans" into Europe.

But we are paying much more attention
to the Ukraine crisis and we should, because the impact on the poorest
people around the world is vastly greater from this conflict
than anything that we've seen in any of those smaller economies
with less impact, despite all of the human depredation
that’s happened over the past 30 years. BG: Ian, I want to talk
for a second about climate because another crisis that has, kind of,
disappeared from the headlines is the climate crisis, right? Ten days ago, the IPCC released a report that the secretary general
of the UN described as an "atlas of human suffering," if I remember correctly. And it has been basically ignored. Over the last several years, much of the world had started to embark,
with more or less enthusiasm, on a process of transitioning
away from oil and gas and into kind of a clean energy future.

And now the war comes in and we look at what you just described,
the unraveling of global supply chains, the dependency on energy and so on. And there are kind of two
schools of thought here. One says this war is going to accelerate
the adoption of clean energy because we need to diminish dependence
from Russia and these fossil fuels. And the other says,
the other school of thought says it's going to derail
the transition to clean energy because suddenly the priority
is no longer decarbonization, suddenly the priority
is energy security, energy supply. IB: The Europeans
are largely in the first camp, and they will move towards faster
decoupling and investment accordingly. The Americans are largely
in the second camp, and they will move towards "Let's focus more on fossil fuels
and partisan divide on this issue," accordingly.

pexels photo 9786304

The Chinese, who are the largest carbon emitter
in the world by a long margin, though not per capita
and not historically, but still in terms of every year totals, they will continue on the same
path they've been on, which is a net-zero target but without yet a very strong plan
on how to get there and not feeling a lot of pressure
to provide that plan, because they think the Americans
are completely incoherent and incapable of effectuating
a strategic long-term plan on climate themselves. So I mean, what we have is a lot
of progress on climate and, of course, technology around renewable energies
and around electric batteries and supply chain continue to get cheaper and cheaper as more money is being invested in it.

And that does make me long-term
more optimistic that by 2045, a majority of the world's energy
will probably be coming from renewables. And five years ago,
I wouldn't have said that. But still, I mean, when the news today is that the Americans are sending
a high-level delegation to Caracas to figure out if we can reopen
relations with Venezuela to get them to produce more oil again. With the Iranians, let's do any deal possible to get back
into the JCPOA, the nuclear deal, so that we can get that oil on the market. Calling the Saudis, calling the Emiratis, and they’re not willing to take
Biden’s phone call on this issue while they're talking to Putin.

Those are warning signals
that in the near term, we've got some big challenges and a lot of those challenges are going
to be filled with fossil fuels and fossil fuel development. And so I do think that the fact that both of the answers to your question
are true in different places on net-net is more negative
for how quickly we can transition. BG: Let's talk a bit about China. Brigid, I think,
who’s listening in asks, "What do you believe
Xi Jinping is learning from the world's response
to the crisis, to the Ukrainian war?" IB: Well, certainly learning that this
was a red line for the West.

And I think that this
would have surprised, it obviously surprised Putin, I think it would have surprised
Xi Jinping as well. Xi Jinping saw Afghanistan. He saw that Merkel was out. He saw that Macron is focused
on strategic autonomy. He sees Biden as much more focused
on China and Asia. I think that this
is a surprise to Xi Jinping. But Xi Jinping also sees that a lot of the world
is not with NATO on this issue. 141 countries, if I remember correctly, voted to censor the Russians
for their invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations General Assembly. But very large numbers of that 141 are not on board with all
of these sanctions against Russia. They're happy with the diplomatic censure, but they need to continue
to work with the Russians.

The Chinese see that too. The Chinese see just how much more
fragmented the global order is. I thought the most significant thing
that we've seen from the Chinese so far two issues. The first is, of course,
when Putin went to Beijing and Xi Jinping made
the public announcement that “this is our best friend
on the global stage, and we will work much more strategically
with them economically, diplomatically and militarily
going forward." And Xi Jinping knew very well
where Ukraine was heading at that point and also knew that the likelihood
of an invasion was coming.

Didn't stop him from making
that announcement in the slightest. And then after the invasion,
and it's going badly, I mean, if you watch Chinese social media, the fact is that the censorship
is all about Ukraine. I mean, the Chinese media space is pursuing a relentlessly
pro-Putin policy. They have media embedded
with Russian troops on the ground in Ukraine. Now, publicly, the Chinese
government wants to be seen as: “We’re neutral, we like the Russians, we like the Ukrainians, we still want to work with everybody." But the fact is that China
feels no problem being publicly completely
aligned with Putin, despite the fact that they are invading
a democratic government with 44 million people
in the middle of Europe. That's a pretty astonishing
statement from the Chinese. And there's no question
that they have learned that they're in a vastly better
economic position than they used to be, and that gives them influence.

They are a government
who projects its power primarily through economic
and technological means, as opposed to Russia that projects it
primarily through military means. And the Chinese believe that there is a level of decoupling
that is already going on as the Americans focus
on more industrial policy, as they focus on America first
for American workers. A US foreign policy for the American
middle class, as Biden put it, is one that really pushes a lot of capital
to leave a country like China, which had served
as the factory for the world, but at the expense of a lot of labor coming out of advanced
industrial economies. And now, yes, there are
definitely some dangers that come from the Chinese being perceived
as too close to Russia, and they won't want that, and they'll want to make sure
that they're engaging diplomatically with the Europeans
to try to minimize that damage. But I thought it was very interesting, and I'm not sure this is public yet, that the Chinese ambassador to Russia
recently, in the last few days, organized a meeting of a lot
of the top investors Chinese investors in Russia, saying, "This is a unique opportunity,
the West is leaving, we should be going in and doing more.

Because they're going to be completely
reliant on us going forward." That is not a message
that the Chinese ambassador delivers unless he is told
directly to from Beijing. BG: Ian, I'm going to jump
from topic to topic because there are several
questions in the chat. Nancy is asking about whether Putin
can be removed from power. There's been a lot of discussion lately
about regime change in Russia, either endogenous, like a palace coup, or provoked by sanctions
and other policies. And so she asks, "How likely is that Putin will face
a challenge from inside Russia, whether a popular uprising,
a coup or other?" IB: It's very, very unlikely
until it happens. (Chuckles) I mean, in the sense
that there is absolutely no purpose in trying to say, oh, I mean, you know, there are rumors that Defense Minister
Shoigu is unhappy and, you know, he might be making a move. And I’ve seen these
from relatively credible analysts, I'm like, no, no,
if there are such rumors, then we know it's not happening because that's the end
of Shoigu and his family.

But it's very clear that there is more
pressure on Putin now than at any point
since he's been president. Domestic pressure on Putin. About 10,000 Russians
have been arrested so far, detained, most of them have been released, for nonviolent anti-war protests. The Russians have shut down
all the Western media. They've shut down all the Russian
opposition and independent media. So Putin has control of the space, though if you look at Russian
conversations on Telegram, you'll still see a bunch of people
that are seriously, seriously anti-war. But, you know, once the economy
starts truly imploding and you can't find goods on shelves
in Russia in major cities, and this is coming, you know, very soon,
this is a matter of days, in many of these cities, those demonstrations
will likely become greater, some of them can become violent. You know, that'll increase the pressure. Then you have the issue of how
the Russians are fighting on the ground.

I mean, what happens
if you get a lot of desertions? We haven't seen that so far. What happens if you get
orders to bomb Kyiv and a whole bunch of Russian
fighter pilots, bomber pilots, decide not to and they defect
to Poland, to Germany. That would have a big impact on morale. That has not happened so far. I mean, do be aware of the fact that the Ukrainians are winning
the war on information, and that means that the information
that you are getting in the West about the war is much more pro-Ukrainian — morale, enthusiasm, how well the military is doing — than what's actually
happening on the ground. And also be aware of the fact that the Russians completely control
the war on information inside Russia.

BG: Exactly. IB: They're not getting a balanced view. They're getting a completely
pro-Putin view. And most of them actually believe it in the same way that most people
that voted for Trump in the US believe that the election was stolen
and Trump is still president. I mean, it's much worse
in Russia in that regard than it is in the United States, and I think that that's
underappreciated in the West.

So even though I think there's pressure, I really don't think
that it's super likely that Putin is out anytime imminently. BG: Ed is asking whether you see
any off-ramp for Putin. IB: I think that the most likely off-ramp
for Putin is after Kyiv is taken and Zelenskyy is removed
one way or the other, at that point, the possibility of the Russians
accepting a frozen conflict or a cease fire that could lead
to ongoing negotiations is a lot higher because Putin can sell that as a win
back home much more easily.

But also because further
Russian attacks at that point serve much less purpose for the Russians, are much harder to bring about, and potentially have much more
negative consequences. So for me, that would be
the near-term potential break where we could at least freeze issues
largely where they are. Now whether that could then eventually
lead to a climbdown or not, I mean, the Russians have been very happy
with frozen conflicts on their borders for years and years and years. I'm thinking about Nagorno-Karabakh
between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which basically stayed in place
until the Azeris, over the course of a decade
got enough military capacity that they could forcibly change
the situation on the ground. Which, by the way, the Ukrainians might
also be eventually thinking about because the West will be supplying them
with advanced weapons all the way through.

I'm thinking South Ossetia in Georgia. I'm also, of course, thinking
about the two pieces of Ukraine they took back in 2014. So be aware of the fact that a negotiation
that creates a cease fire does not mean you're anywhere
close to a resolution or an end of the fighting
that we're seeing. BG: Someone else in the chat,
who didn't sign by his or her name, is asking about the nuclear fear
that hangs over the conflict. How should we think of that? IB: Yeah, we don't like it
when Putin uses the N-word, and there's no question, I mean, he and his direct reports
have rattled nuclear sabers on at least five times
that I've seen in the past few weeks. I think that … In 1962, I wasn't alive,
we had the Cuban Missile Crisis. There was a real possibility
of nuclear confrontation between the world's two superpowers. At least for the last 30 years,
there’s been no chance of that. Functionally, no chance of that. I think we're now back in a world where a Cuban Missile Crisis
is again a reality.

Now, that doesn't mean that I think
nuclear war is likely or imminent. I don't. And in fact, there is active deconfliction
going on even today: the Americans and Russians
with a new hotline, the secretary general of the UN, with the Russian defense minister engaging in deconfliction
measures with UN offices being invited to Moscow. So as bad as it is right now, people that have been
doing this for a long time are trying to avoid nuclear war. But that's the point. Is we're now in a situation where the conflict
that we're going to experience needs to be actively managed because of the danger
of nuclear confrontation.

So it now becomes a risk on the horizon
that we must be continually aware of, even if only at a low level, as we take and consider further actions, as we consider diplomacy, as we consider escalation. It is now on the table in a way
that frankly is so debilitating. I mean, as human beings all on this call, one of the most painful
things to think about is the fact that we still have
these 5,000 nuclear warheads in Russia and 5,000 the United States
that are still pointed at each other, and they still have the potential
to destroy the planet. And we haven't had any real
lessons that we've been able to learn institutionally from 1962. BG: 5,000 being a generic figure,
not the exact figure, but we are kind of
in that order of magnitude. Then of course, there is the question
of civilian nuclear, so the two power plants,
nuclear power plants, that have been seized by the Russians.

One has been slightly damaged by a bomb, the other has been turned off. But those are also potentially gigantic
nuclear problems just waiting to happen. IB: Chemical weapons, biological weapons. I mean, look, we have had two million
refugees from Ukraine in two weeks. As this continues, you're looking
at five to 10 million refugees. I mean, it is hard — Just take a step for a moment
just as a human being. Imagine what it would take for a quarter
of your country's population to say: “I am not living here anymore.

I am leaving everything
because of the condition of the country, because of this unjust war that has been imposed upon you
by your neighbor." That's what we're looking at. And again, it's important
for us to, you know, not lose the humanity of this crisis and the extraordinary hardship that is being visited
upon 44 million Ukrainians that have done nothing wrong,
they have committed no sin other than their desire to have
an independent country. BG: One other country that has not yet taken
a very clear position is India. IB: Well, they're a member of the Quad, and their relationship with China
is pretty bad, and that’s mutual. But in terms of Russia, there's been a longstanding relationship, trade relationship, defense relationship between India and Russia that the Russians
are not going to jettison, and they see no reason to jettison it.

And as long as you've got a whole bunch
of other countries out there that are substantial,
that are willing to say, we're going to keep playing ball
with the Russians then the Indians will too. And that's why you've got the abstention
in the United Nations vote. And that's why you've had
very careful comments as opposed to overt
and strong condemnation coming from the Indian leadership. BG: Phil in the chat is asking, "Will this cause a fragmentation
of the financial system with kind of a Western system
and an Eastern system?” So two different SWIFT-like systems,
two different credit card systems, crypto, what's the role
of crypto in all this? IB: I hope not. I mean, I will tell you
that before the invasion started, if you talk to most Western CEOs, and I'm talking across
the entire sweep of sectors, so it's finance and it's manufacturing
and its services and it's tech, most of them would have told you
that they did not in any way plan on reducing their footprint in China, and a lot of them said that China was their most important
growth market in the world.

Not a surprise. China is going to be the largest
economy in the world in 2030. So, you know, a world
that you're decoupling is not a good world when China is going to be
number one economically. I mean, that obviously
is going to hurt the West in a big way. So there are strong
incentives against that, and there remain very strong
and powerful entrenched interests in the United States and Europe
that will resist direct decoupling. Despite the fact that there are
these more incremental moves towards friendsourcing and insourcing because, you know,
Chinese labor is more expensive, you don’t need as much labor
to get capital moving, given robotics and big data, deep learning
all of those things. But I do think that the Russia conflict risks a level of second-order decoupling. Because if the Russians end up
financially integrated with China in their own, not-as-effective SWIFT system, and all of their energy
ends up going to China and the Chinese build that infrastructure
and they get a discount on it, and Russia's technology and their military
industrial complex gets serviced by Chinese semiconductors
and Chinese componentry, well, I do think that there will be
knock-on decoupling that will be longer term
and more strategic from the United States, from the Europeans and even from Japan and South Korea.

So that is a worry, and I think the Chinese
are highly aware of that. And over the coming months,
they will do everything they can, both with the Europeans in particular, but also, I expect at least
with some of the Asian economies, to try to limit the impact of that. Now, keep in mind, we haven't talked at all
about Asia yet outside of China. The new Japanese Prime Minister Kishida
is at least as hawkish in his orientation towards
China and Russia as Abe was. He is providing support
for the Ukrainians, including some military capacity — unheard of for the Japanese.

He's allowing Ukrainian refugees — unheard of for the Japanese. And yesterday, the South Koreans
had a very, very tight election, and Yoon is now in charge. He is on the right, and he is the guy
that is strongly anti-China, was talking about South Korea
having nuclear capabilities, wants a new THAAD missile
defense system for the South Koreans and wants to rebuild
the relationship with Tokyo. That matters. And that's a big strategic change
in the geopolitical map that will look more problematic
on the decoupling front from Beijing's perspective. BG: Three final quick questions
that all come from the chat, Ian. One is, because you mentioned
the rest of Asia outside of China, "What about the rest of the world? What about Africa and Latin America? How do they factor into this
conversation or don't they?" IB: They factor in.

I mean, those that have
significant commodities do well because the prices
are going to be so high. Those that don't are going to be
under massive pressure for reasons we already talked about, but they are not going to be forced
to pick a side on this one. I just don't see it. In the same way that if you were Colombia
in the last couple of years, you know, you found, even though you're working very closely
with an American ally, you're still dealing with Huawei and 5G. This is knock-on effects of all of this.

These are countries
that are not going to take on significant economic burden, given how much they're suffering
right now geopolitically. BG: Another one is about sanctions. How do we even know when and how, at what point we start
rolling back sanctions? IB: I think that as long
as Ukraine is occupied by the Russian government for the foreseeable future
and Putin is there, I can't see these sanctions
getting unwound. Now, if a rump Ukrainian government
that is democratically elected were prepared to sue for peace
and retakes most of Ukraine, but they give away Crimea
and they give away the Donbass, could you see in that environment
some of these sanctions unwound? Sure.

But I mean, I am suggesting that I think that many of these sanctions
are functionally permanent. They reflect a new way of doing business. And when people ask me
what’s going to happen when this is over, my response is, what do you mean over? What's over is the peace dividend. We are now in a new environment. BG: And one of the figures
of this new environment and I want to close with that,
is President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, who was not taken very seriously
when he was elected, he has come out as a significant
figure in this war. What do you make of President Zelenskyy? How do you read this character? IB: He's very courageous. I'm obviously inspired by his ability
to communicate and rally his people and take personal risk in Kyiv
while this invasion is going on. But I'm very conflicted because I think many of the steps
that Zelenskyy took in the run-up to this conflict actually made the likelihood
of conflict worse.

He was unwilling to take the advice
of the Americans and Europeans seriously in the months leading up to the conflict. He was unwilling to mobilize his people to ready them for
the potential of conflict. He was certainly unwilling to give an inch in terms of Ukraine's desire
to be a member of NATO, even though he knew completely that no one in NATO was prepared
to offer a membership action plan, let alone actually
bring them in as members. And part of that is a lack of experience and lack of any business
being in that position in the run-up to this crisis. So I’m very deeply conflicted
in my personal views on Zelenskyy, given the way he behaved
before the invasion, compared to the extraordinary leadership
that he has displayed to all of us over the last two weeks.

BG: Ian, thank you for taking the time, for sharing your knowledge,
and your analysis with us. We deeply appreciate it.
Thank you very much. IB: Good to see all of you. [Get access to thought-provoking events
you won't want to miss.] [Become a TED Member
at ted.com/membership].

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