Uncertainties of COVID vaccine rollout timing; US-Russia under Biden

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

Number one, what will COVID vaccine distribution look like in the United States and elsewhere?

Very politicized, right? I mean, the fact is that there's an effort to have a distribution to medium and low-income countries. $38 billion requested, one fourth funded at this point. It is so obvious we desperately need it. The money is not yet there. It's clear that the emerging markets are going to take a lot longer and the poorest countries are going to take a lot longer to get vaccines. Now, at least that's less of a disaster in some countries with very, very young people because it's all asymptomatic spread, very few people are actually dying or getting sick from coronavirus if you're in, let's say, a Sub-Saharan African country where the average age is 17 or 18.


But still, your ability to get travel back up and going and get supply chains back up and going in many emerging markets around the world means you want those vaccines. And they don't have the ability to pay for the shutdowns that they do in other places. So, Mexico right now, I mean, their explosion of cases looks a lot like what's happening in the United States. They should be locking Mexico City down according to their equivalent of the CDC and their guidelines. But they don't have the money for it. And so, as a consequence, they're just betting everything on the vaccine. So, we hope that they get out real fast.

The vaccines themselves, of course, look fantastic. And it's great to see people getting that shot in the arm, quite literally shot in the arm, for them, for their families, for their economies starting off in the UK, the United States, and very quickly Europe and the rest. I think that we need to recognize the uncertainties around exact timing. We know this is going to bring us back to normal. We know it's for the wealthy countries, it will be this year. But there's a huge difference between April and fall, especially in terms of how many businesses go out of business. And so, I think, because we're talking about massive amounts of production that needs to go right with only a couple of companies that are involved in it for the contracts that need to be fulfilled, with distribution that happens across many states with different political capacity and orientation, different rule sets, I mean, I think that the initial rollout for the people that are most vulnerable will go well. And that is really important because they are the ones that are most likely to get really sick and die.

And so, by February, by March, mortality rates, even with limited distribution, are going to be a fraction of what they are right now. Probably about, I could see one 10th by the end of first quarter. But then going from there to do we all have vaccines and are we able to go back out and travel and socialize and get entertainment? I think there's a pretty big gap of three, nine months, depending on how effective the rollout is, the infrastructure is, as well as how many people believe that they should actually take the vaccine. The numbers have gone up recently, but mostly, actually, among Democrats. Republicans still very skeptical.

We need both parties to come together in terms of the vaccine and hopefully not have blamesmanship. The worse the rollout is, the more you're also going to see political fragmentation that makes it worse. There'll be less of that in Europe, in my view. But still there. Anti-vax sentiment in France is even higher than the United States. Russia is even higher than in both places. And by the way, given the nature of the Sputnik V vaccine, that's probably reasonable. But that's where we are. So, a lot to watch. Absolutely critical for 2021.

Vladimir Putin, speaking of Russia, Vladimir Putin finally congratulated Joe Biden. What will the United States-Russia relationship look like under a Biden presidency?

By the way, so did Mitch McConnell. I don't know if he congratulated him, but he did refer to Biden as the president-elect. So now that we've actually had the electoral college vote, and yes, it's the same 306 electoral votes as we knew sort of right after the election. It's been a month; it took a long time. The US Russia relationship looks more problematic under a Biden presidency, in part because of these major cyber attacks that we've just seen. Those cyber attacks against, first, we knew commerce and treasury, but now also defense and homeland security. This is a major, major effort by the Russian government and ordered by the Russian government that reflects massive espionage success in the United States and will undermine the ability of the United States to conduct its own intelligence capabilities inside Russia. How broad that goes, it will take us a long time to find out.

But certainly, it will lead to more sanctions from the United States against Russia. The mutual recrimination, the lack of trust, the willingness of the Russians to try to undermine US interests, legitimacy, domestic institutions, you name it, the transatlantic relationship, that's just going to persist under Putin, who has no real threats to his leadership in his country and who blames the United States for the decline that Russia is in. So, I do think it's going to get worse. And given the willingness of the Russians to engage in these kinds of attacks that are obviously represent a level of risk, it's pretty significant, it's pretty dangerous. Having said all of that, the US engages in cyber attacks against Russia too all the time. So, let's not pretend that this isn't tit for tat. The Americans don't accept that tit for tat because the Russians are so much less powerful, unequal. But we do need to put that in perspective in terms of what the Russians will do in response and how the Americans will respond.

I would also say that the fact that Biden will rejoin the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement, would want to rejoin Open Skies if we hadn't started scrapping the surveillance planes, all of that does help, at the margins, normalize the relationship a little bit, even as it continues to be very, very sticky in a bunch of key areas.

Okay, let's talk baseball. The Cleveland _____?

Well, I mean, not my favorite team. You guys know I'm from Boston, so I still am very much a Red Sox fan. But they are no longer named the Indians. And I was kind of wondering, when you get rid of the Washington Redskins, why the Cleveland Indians were still kind of a thing. It seems like everything is going to move in the direction of let's no longer have Native Americans that are stylized as sports icons with all these people doing Tomahawk chops and generally disliked by the few remaining Native Americans in the United States for understandable reasons.

What do we want to name Cleveland? First of all, I like the fact that in Washington, it's just like the Washington football team. For the time being, it's kind of amusing. They've basically punted it, which is what you should do if you're a football team. If you're a baseball team, though, you can't punt, right? You got to come up with something pretty immediately. I've seen on the Internets, as they say, a few suggestions. The Cleveland Spiders kind of the old school favorite because they had a national league team back at the late 19th century. That's cute. But spiders, do you really want ... Spiders doesn't really sound like a baseball team. I'm not sure I would go there.

Maybe the Cleveland Guardians for the guardians for traffic statues on both ends of this major downtown Cleveland bridge. How about the Cleveland LeBrons, right? I mean, they lost him, but this way they could have him back. And maybe he'd visit and show up occasionally. He's done more for the Cleveland economy than anything else out there. And plus, he was multi-sport, right? I mean, the guy can do anything. He's not quite Bo, but he's close. So that's where I'm going. I'm going with the Cleveland LeBrons. I think that's where it should be. And then who cares how long he stays on the west coast.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

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