Armenia & Azerbaijan at war as Russia watches; anti-mask protests in Europe

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

First of all, what is going on in the Caucuses?

Well, it's a war. You'd never know it from following American press, because of course, we're only talking about Trump and the elections. But Armenia and Azerbaijan are actively fighting each other. Over 100 are dead so far, including civilians. There is a lot of fog of war misinformation going on. Reuters piece that seems that there are some mercenaries, including Syrian mercenaries on the ground that were in Azerbaijan that were paid for by Turkey. The Armenians, as of today, are claiming that Turkish fighter jet downed an Armenian war plane. Ankara is saying, no, they didn't. The Iranians are being accused of transferring military equipment to Armenia. The Iranians are saying, no, they didn't.


Social media, of course, this war is playing out very aggressively in Turkish supported Azeri social media, in Armenian social media. So far, not a lot from the Russians themselves who are in a sticky position. They basically provide military equipment to both sides. They have a defense pact with Armenia, but since the Velvet Revolution in Armenia, where Armenia is fully democratic now, is much less corrupt and is more independent from Russia, and that is estranged a little bit. And the Russians, they want to have overwhelming influence in the entirety of the Caucuses and the North Caucuses. And that means they want to be able to pull the strings.

And a level of frozen instability between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not bad for Russia. So they don't necessarily want to come in immediately on Armenia's side, but they also don't want the Turks to be supporting Azerbaijan, take a bunch of territory. And suddenly Azerbaijan is inextricably in Turkey's pocket. So, interestingly, like Belarus right now, Russia definitely has preferences, but is on the sidelines and would rather not have to pay very much to get this resolved in a way that would be favorable for it. So that's the situation.

As European coronavirus cases rise, so do anti-mask protests. Is this the same story that played out in the US this summer?

Not exactly. In the United States, anti-mask wearing was promoted by President Trump and by many around him. You've seen Dr. Atlas, for example, who Trump likes on television, saying the jury is out on wearing masks. President Trump has organized a number of mask optional rallies where really there's a fair amount of peer pressure saying if you're patriotic, if you support Trump, you don't really wear a mask.

We've seen at the White House ceremonies as well, everybody gets tested, but the tests aren't necessarily as accurate as you'd like and a lot of people not wearing masks. So there's definitely been a sense that if you are on one side of the political debate in the United States, you can show your patriotism by not wearing a mask, which is really stupid and I wish they wouldn't do that. On the other hand, in Europe, it's mostly being driven by social media. Some of it is libertarian don't tread on me. Some of it is conspiratorial, the idea that masks can hurt you and people that's deep state forces are trying to convince you to take away all of your liberties, same kind of people that want to put chips in your brain and the rest.

And by the way, people do want to put chips in your brain. Look at Elon Musk, for example, he's got a chip in a pig brain, and he's gearing up to do one himself at some point soon. But that's very different from saying that you shouldn't be wearing a mask. In Europe, it's really not that political. The government figures, whether they're left-wing or right-wing, have pretty much all come out in favor of mask wearing. They haven't necessarily mandated it, though some countries have. But they certainly are leading much more with epidemiology and science.

So in that regard, these protests are less important. They're less impactful. And they're one of the reasons why Europe's deaths, even as their case count per capita is close to that of the United States, their death count compared to the US is considerably lower. And that's behavior and that's lack of politicization of behavior. It's the smarter thing to do. Moose agrees. If dogs could get coronavirus, he'd be wearing a mask. There's no question.

This week, the world surpassed one million reported coronavirus deaths. What's the real death count?

It is almost certainly higher. It is almost certainly higher because the Chinese have clearly obscured at the least tens of thousands of deaths in the early days of coronavirus. Perhaps more than that. The Iranians obscured lots of coronavirus deaths. The Russians classified a lot of deaths as just regular flu, as opposed to coronavirus. Suddenly, they had this incredible spike of people dying from regular flu, while very few died of coronavirus in the early days. So I think that the politics have largely been in favor of undercounting coronavirus deaths, not over counting them.

Certainly, it is true that there are a lot of people that are classified as coronavirus deaths that have plenty of other pre-existing conditions. That's not an over-count. If you're morbidly obese and you get coronavirus and you die, you have died of coronavirus. If you hadn't caught coronavirus, you would still be unhealthy. You would still be morbidly obese, but you would be alive. Right? And so those are properly classified as coronavirus deaths. And for all of the wackos that are saying that only 6% of the CDC 200 plus thousand deaths are really deaths from coronavirus, stop. You're hurting people. You're getting more people sick and dying, and that's a bad thing to do.

It is absolutely true that there is a real trade- off between fighting coronavirus through lockdown and quarantine and having the ability to get the economy run. And more people will die if you lock down the economy. More people will die of depression. More people will die of starvation. It's a problem. Also, fewer people will die because there won't be as many traffic incidents if nobody is on the road. No one seems to talk about that one. But it is not about whether or not this 205,000 from the CDC is right. Those numbers in the US are pretty accurate and we should be treating them as such. Numbers from countries that historically get the numbers wrong all the time, those are bad numbers. We should treat those as such too. Have an asterisk. That's the way to do it.

While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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Delhi-based reporter Barkha Dutt's decades of journalism couldn't prepare her for the horrific experience of covering the death of one specific COVID-19 victim: her own father. In a conversation with Ian Bremmer, Dutt recounts her desperate struggle to find an ambulance to take her father through Delhi traffic to reach the hospital, only for him to die in the ICU. Their in-depth discussion looks at India's struggle with the world's worst COVID crisis in the upcoming episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television Friday, May 7. Check local listings.

A Green Party-led government for the world's fourth largest economy? That's no longer far-fetched. As Signal's Gabrielle Debinski wrote last month, most current polls now show Germany's Greens in first place in federal elections set for September 26. And for the first time, the Greens have a candidate for chancellor. Annalena Baerbock is vying to replace Angela Merkel, who has led Germany for the past 16 years.

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India and Brazil are currently the world's top two COVID hotspots. But while India's crisis is — at least according to official statistics — a relatively recent one, Brazil's COVID disaster has been an ongoing train wreck. Where India seemed to have kept the pandemic under control until some bad missteps about two months ago, COVID has been wreaking havoc in Brazil almost constantly for over a year now. And President Jair Bolsonaro's macho-posturing and COVID denialism has clearly not helped. We take a look at average daily new cases and deaths in both countries since the pandemic began.

US reverses course on vaccine patents: In a surprise move, the Biden administration will now support waiving international property rights for COVID vaccines at the World Trade Organization. Until now the US had firmly opposed waiving those patents, despite demands from developing countries led by India and South Africa to do so. Biden's about face comes just a week after he moved to free up 60 million of American-bought AstraZeneca jabs — still not approved by US regulators — for nations in need. It's not clear how fast an IP waiver would really help other countries, as the major impediments to ramping up vaccine manufacturing have more to do with logistics and supply chains than with patent protections alone. But if patent waivers do accelerate production over time, then that could accelerate a global return to normal — potentially winning the US a ton of goodwill.

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28: Yair Lapid, leader of Israel's opposition Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, has 28 days to form a new government. President Reuven Rivlin tapped Lapid after incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to cobble together a governing coalition by Tuesday's midnight deadline, further prolonging Israel's political stalemate.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

How big of a blow is Apple's new privacy feature to companies like Facebook, who depend on tracking users?

The long-awaited update, including enhanced privacy features, actually empowers those users to decide not to be tracked. So that's great news for people who are sick of how the data trail they leave behind on the web is used. But it has to be said, that simple feature settings changed by Apple cannot solve the problem of misuse of data and microtargeting alone. Still, Apple's move was met with predictable outrage and anti-trust accusations from ad giant Facebook. I would anticipate more standard setting by companies in the absence of a federal data protection law in the United States. That's just to mention one vacuum that big tech thrives on.

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India’s COVID crisis hits home

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