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Putin may never congratulate Biden; humanitarian disaster in Ethiopia

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Why hasn't Putin congratulated Biden yet?

There's no really good reason at this point. Pretty much every leader around the world has given the nod. As you know, Trump has not in any way conceded at this point. He may never. I suppose, at some point Putin may decide that he doesn't need to formally congratulate Biden. I mean, it's not like we're friends, right? The United States and Russia has a directly confrontational relationship, unlike the US and China, where there is a lot of interdependence, particularly economically between the two countries. That's not true with the US and Russia. You have virtually no trust and very little engagement. I will say that the Biden administration will be interested in re-entering the Open Skies agreement that we just left with the Russians, even though we're now decommissioning the spy plane, so it may be hard for the Americans and selling them for scrap, so it may be difficult to get back in and the intermediate nuclear forces agreement and new start.


There are things that Biden and Putin will need to work on and if Putin doesn't at any point officially say, good job, it makes it harder to start off on a decent footing, but I don't think, these are all adults. I don't think it ultimately matters that much. I'm not losing sleep over it. I doubt that Biden is losing sleep over. Probably Blinken, Avril Haines, some of the incoming folks are starting to lose some sleep over it and reaching out already to Russian diplomats saying, what gives people, but ultimately this is Putin's call. Even though he hasn't gotten much at all from the Trump administration, Trump himself as an individual has generally been well disposed to Putin. Has never criticized the leader directly and at the end of the day, Putin personally calls the shots in Russia, as opposed to the government as a whole and so this is Putin's decision. There you have it.

How is the world responding to reports of a massacre in Ethiopia's Tigray region?

Very concerned. This is a big humanitarian disaster. It's the worst you've had in decades in Ethiopia. We've got about 5,000 refugees per day streaming out of the Tigray region. The Ethiopian government giving 72 hour notice to residents to get out or all hell breaks loose. They said they're going to start shelling these folks. That would be a war crime. You're talking about a civilian population, though the initial military strikes kicking this all off did come from the Tigray region itself. It's not about economics, it's about power. It's 5% of the Ethiopian population that used to functionally run the government, call the shots, had the Petros networks, doesn't anymore and they're not happy about it.

Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy is trying to make the country more democratic and not run by a single ethnic group. The group that has the most to lose perhaps unexpectedly, is really upset about that. I'll tell you, when I was in Ethiopia right before the pandemic started, it was still this year, there were so many well thought of western oriented people around the prime minister who really had second thoughts about holding a democratic election, simply because they feared that moving the country away from ethno-federalism and run by a small minority, it was potentially very dangerous indeed, anyway that's where you are. They held off on holding the election because of the pandemic. The Tigray region held it themselves illegally and declared that they were going to take over, basically have self rule and unless you're prepared to let them split off and again, in many of these cases, that is a very challenging thing to do peacefully, then there needs to be a resolution and that resolution right now is a military one and potentially one that's going to kill an awful lot of civilians.

The United Nations has responded with grave concern, getting humanitarian aid in there through the UNHCR. The United States has made a statement. Europeans have made statements, but no one's doing anything about it and nor would you expect it so. Really the question is someone going to blink and then could you avoid this level of a violent conflict? We'll see where that goes.

Bibi and MBS: did they or didn't they meet?

Well, the Saudis say they didn't meet, but it's pretty clear that if Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, is going on a private plane to Neom where MBS also was and where Secretary of State Pompeo also was, that they met. The Saudis do not always tell the truth about a diplomatic related stuff, as we know historically and it's hard for them unless ready to actually normalize relations. On this issue a much more conservative Saudi population and the King who is still compos mentis and is not as willing to engage directly with the Israelis until there is movement on a peace plan between Israel and Palestine and there is not. The Palestinians are now engaging again, diplomatically with Israel now that Biden is coming in, but there is no movement on a peace plan.

You remember John Kerry, that was his big deal, was trying to make that happen. Now, of course, he's a global envoy for climate, which frankly is not as heavy a lift as getting the Israelis and Palestinians to agree on land. Talk about that. It's clear they met and it's clear it's a big deal and we are moving towards normalization. We've already seen that with the Emirates, with Sudan and with Bahrain and Bahrain is... Functionally, they don't have their own foreign policy. They take their messages from the Saudis. They were the ones that hosted that initial economic peace plan that was pushed by the Trump White House. That was in Bahrain. Again, Saudi Arabia facilitated that. It was very much a one-sided deal. The Palestinians weren't really a part of it.

Obviously Mohammed bin Salman has been interested in this normalization process for some time. If the King weren't around, if he were dead, and MBS became the King, I suspect we'd already have an announcement. It does feel like we're moving closer. It really does and it wouldn't shock me if this becomes a final win for the Trump administration before Biden's inauguration. The fact is that the Middle East is in a very different position now than it was before. I tell you, if I were advising Biden on this, I wouldn't be unhappy about it, especially because if you're Biden, you're trying to get the Iranians back into the nuclear deal. It's easier to do when the Saudis, the Emirates, the Israelis are all engaged, normalizing relations and squeezing, pressuring Iran on a common front. It's a lighter lift for the Americans and Iran is an antagonist of the US and America's allies in the region and it's very hard to come up with a deal with.

That's where we're going. That's where we are. Lots to talk about and so nice to be talking about international affairs again instead of all elections, all the time. I'll be with you all again, real soon. Have a great turkey day. Do your best, be safe, avoid people.

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