Belarus massive protests & Trump's USPS plan

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

First of all, Belarus, who knew we'd be talking about Belarus? Actually, if you were paying attention a couple of weeks ago, it was pretty clear that the opposition was very popular, the president, Lukashenko who is a dictator, they call him the last dictator of Europe, he's been in place for over two decades now, a disastrous leader of that country, and mishandled coronavirus, called it basically a conspiracy, feeding from paranoia from the West, told his people that if they would drink more vodka, that would poison the virus. Kind of like Bolsonaro in Brazil, he got it and then didn't have serious symptoms. And so that proved that it wasn't actually a really big deal. And no lockdowns. Meanwhile, that and a horrible economy has meant that the people are indeed enormously angry.

So now, for eight days running, you have massive demonstrations across, in Minsk, as well as across the entire country, biggest of the country's history. Belarus keep in mind, when the Soviet Union collapsed back in '91, Belarus was the country that kind of didn't really want independence. They were happy to be in some kind of union with the Russians. And, you know, everyone there, basically Russian speaking. And, you know, it was very different from the Coloured Revolutions that you saw in places like Ukraine, and Georgia, and the Kyrgyz Republic. This is not an anti-Russian demonstration. This is an anti-Lukashenko demonstration. And it's pretty clear. You've got a number of members of the police and military that have put down their uniforms and joined with the protesters, put down their arms. You've seen a Belarus state media refuse to actually provide censored coverage and say, "if they're not allowed to cover the demonstrations then they won't actually broadcast." So, it's looking pretty bad.

Lukashenko has now called Putin a couple of times. And they have said publicly that there are NATO movements on the Lithuanian border with Belarus. Lithuania also is where the former opposition candidate against Lukashenko, is is hanging out with her family, with her kids, because of concerns to her own safety. And so, saying that the West is actually trying to somehow force out Lukashenko where in reality there is no real external pressure, it's really domestically on the ground. Putin has said he would send military support, as I think a bluster, to just basically tell NATO and tell the West, "don't intervene, this is ours." But in reality, I really don't think Putin is all that interested in propping Lukashenko up. I think that it is more likely that we're going to see the Russians stay on the sidelines, like they did in Armenia.

You had a kleptocratic regime forced out, a new prime minister who is quite popular and clean on the ground, but the orientation of the Armenian government is still very much towards Russia. In part because of a war they're fighting with Azerbaijan and the Russians provide the military support, a lot of economic trade, and the rest. Belarus gets a lot of cheap energy from the Russians, there's a lot of military coordination with the Russians. I think as long as the new government is likely to continue to be oriented towards Moscow, Russia doesn't really want to be propping up an incredibly unpopular regime.

So, at this point, if you made me bet, on balance, I think Lukashenko is going to be forced out. And I think the Kremlin will be fine with the next Belarussian government. And in this 2020 year, where so many things have gone wrong for so many people, it would really be nice to see the Belarussian people actually get a government that cares about the people of the country. So, let's root for them and really hope that we don't see violence on the ground there. An incredibly courageous group trying to get rid of their dictator.

So beyond that, the post office, everyone talking about the post office. You wouldn't think you'd be talking a lot about the post office right now. It's the one week where coronavirus, I mean, with the exception of George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter, this feels like the one time since coronavirus and the pandemic really started in the US, that it's not dominating all the headlines. And it's because we're getting close to the election, and the US Postal Service is the place where you see the most contentious fighting over whether or not the election is going to be rigged.

Look, it's very clear to me that if Trump is capable of rigging the election in his favor, he will do so. The question is whether or not he can be stopped? And is the postal service part of that effort? I think it's very clear that it is. To be clear, the postal service doesn't make money. It loses money. It is a service. It is not meant to be profitable, right? We have known that the postal service also is massively over served in terms of the delivery capabilities it has compared to the number of packages that are actually being delivered. And that's not new under Trump. That was true under Obama. They've cut back on numbers of boxes and mail sorters, in part because people are sending things through email. They're sending virtually. There's not as many letters that are going through the mail as used to. And also, for people that want to have things overnight that is important, there are more expensive private sector ways of getting that done, with FedEx, and UPS, and DHL, and you name it.

But the idea that you're going to reform the post office as a priority three months before a presidential election, Trump has had four years to do this, never really shown up, now, suddenly it does. And very clearly, because he doesn't want to see lots of balloting by mail, he claims that's because it is fraudulent. There's virtually no evidence of that. And when I say, "virtually no," I mean, truly, virtually no evidence of that. But Trump understands that with a much more enthusiastic base, if people don't show up in the polling places, he's more likely to win.

Republicans also less concerned of voting in person than Democrats are, they want to vote by mail. So, it's very clear from a partisan perspective, the Republicans want less voting by mail, the Democrats want more. By the way, that would be true under any administration. The question is what they're prepared to do about it? And in the case of Trump, with a postmaster general that is not supposed to be politicized, a board that is made up of both sides, the Democrats and the Republicans, bipartisan, the fact that President Trump has put his finger on the scale and now you have all of these advisers to Trump saying, "yes, it's a horrible organization and it's, you know, not making any money and we need to reform it," it's not the issue. The issue is, can we do something else that will allow us to say, after the elections are over, that these elections have indeed been rigged?

And if Trump thinks he's going to lose and again, it doesn't mean he's going to lose, I mean, if you look at the polls right now, you'd probably say, "if there were no intervention, 70-30 Biden wins. 30% Trump wins, that's significant, right? I mean, by no means is he out of being able to win a legitimate election. It's just that his willingness to ensure that he ups that number by taking steps that are not legal, but that no one will prevent him from doing because the Senate is controlled by his party, and they will be loyal just as they were in the impeachment proceedings, it gets us closer and closer every day to an election whose outcome is likely to be contested.

And that's, I think, why this is a dominant issue right now. And I fully expect that unless it's a blowout in November, this is a contested election. It's going to be incredibly politically fraught and ugly. So, that's my view. And I hope everything is going well for everyone. Please be safe. Avoid people. More coronavirus, I'm sure, next time I talk to you.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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