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.

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Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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