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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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

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

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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