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.

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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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.

Ian Bremmer explains how a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, in the summer of 1969, set the conservation movement ablaze in the United States. A TIME Magazine article about the fire led to the Clean Water Act, creation of the EPA, and the first Earth Day—April 22, 1970. Over 50 years later, citizens of the world agree that climate change is a global emergency. But how can nations come together to find solutions that are truly attainable?

Watch the GZERO World episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

US President Joe Biden's highly anticipated two-day climate summit opens on Thursday, when dozens of world leaders and bigshot CEOs will gather (virtually) to try to save the planet. Above all, the US is looking to showcase the idea that "America is back" on climate change. But will other countries buy it?

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55: EU governments on Wednesday reached a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The commitment is in line with the bloc's broader goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050.

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