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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.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.

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