Putin backs Lukashenko; Taliban peace talks; UNGA75 goes virtual
Number one, your questions. Can Putin rescue Belarus' President from his own people?
Well, not really. In the sense that Belarus has shown that their special services and their military are still very much loyal to Lukashenko. And while there have been significant and very courageous demonstrations of the Belarusian people across the country, and particularly in Minsk, among all of the major enterprises, state industry, the demonstrations happened briefly and then they stopped, because people didn't want to lose their jobs and their livelihood. And the fact that this is now gone on for well over a month. I mean, President Putin has basically said that he was going to act as the backstop for Lukashenko. He'd provide military support if needed. He's now provided some additional cash, a loan of over a billion dollars, they're saying, and it was a deeply embarrassing trip by the Belarusian President to Sochi, to bend on knee, and prostrate himself in front of his boss and ruler, the Russian President.
But it seems pretty clear that Russia is willing to take steps to ensure that Lukashenko stays in power. Unless he really oversteps by trying to clear out with a lot of violence, his own people. If he's willing to be patient, I suspect, and you don't have a unified opposition, the Belarusian people are nowhere near as organized as the Ukrainians were, and they don't have the international support that the Ukrainians did. I suspect that this looks more like Venezuela, where a lot of people are hoping, myself included, that Lukashenko is forced out, but he isn't forced out. In that regard, Lukashenko has very much been bolstered and supported by the Russian President, and probably doesn't have to pick up his dacha on the Russian coast of the Black Sea.
What do you make of the Taliban peace talks in Doha?
Well, it's good that peace talks are going on. The United States very clearly wants to get out of Afghanistan, the longest standing military conflict in American history. We're well into two decades at this point. It's a lot of people dead. A lot of American soldier's dead and injured. Trillions of dollars spent and vastly more Afghan civilians, as well as military killed. The fact that the Americans are sitting down with the Taliban directly as part of these talks in Doha, in Qatar, show that the world has changed. That the Americans are prepared to say, "If you could sit down with Kim Jong-un, you can certainly sit down with the Taliban." I'm even a little surprised that the US hasn't tried harder to sit down with the Iranian leadership, just because Trump generally thinks that you get anyone in the room and there's a shot, so why not? Harder for Iran, because the country itself is more divided. Interestingly, the Taliban, this is not just with the Afghan government. It's also with the opposition, because they say they don't recognize the government.
My concern here is that the Taliban right now are playing nice. They are willing to support a more consistent cease fire. They're willing to say the right things in terms of shared governance and Islamic state. But that's because there are still US troops in Afghanistan, and they are drawing down. My view is that the Taliban understands that time is on their side, and once the Americans leave, and the interest of the Americans at that point in continuing to pay huge amounts of money into the Afghan coffers, and that is most of the Afghan state budget is American aid at this point, goes down. Then the Taliban are in a vastly better position to refuse continued talks, step up military attacks and the Afghan government collapses. I'm not in any way clear that this is a positive for Afghanistan, because I'm just not convinced the Americans have a lot of staying power, once the troops are out. I'm completely sympathetic to pulling the troops out. I wish that the Americans were more willing, absent US troops to be heavily involved in continued humanitarian aid, and diplomacy in a multilateral format. This administration certainly is not. I'm not sure a Biden Administration would do a lot more on that front either.
Why is Mexico's President raffling off his own plane?
Well, he's really anti-corruption. This is a guy who's still at almost 60% approval ratings, despite having mishandled coronavirus pretty badly, and the economy in free fall. Largely that's because he is not only seen as being anti-corrupt, but he's truly anti-corrupt. In Brazil, Bolsonaro was really seen as being anti-corrupt, but a lot of the recent cases against members of his family are putting a question to that. Where Lopez Obrador truly, is not on the take. I think that makes him very widely supported. He's opened the Presidential Palace on days for the people to be able to come in and see it. That was a big populous move. Also offering to raffle off his presidential plane. He doesn't need a presidential plane. He can fly commercial he says. That also was such a move. Unfortunately, it's been a bit of a dog's breakfast in terms of the way it's come about. They've not been able to sell it. The raffle prizes will actually be cash, as opposed to the plane itself. The whole thing has been handled bureaucratically in a lousy way, and an economically inefficient way. That describes a lot of his administration so far, even if the intentions are pretty good. One thing I will say is when I talked to a lot of people on the other side, a lot of Mexican conservatives, especially former conservatives in government that know Lopez Obrador personally. They like him. They like him as a person. They say he's a good man. He's a decent man, but my God, they think he's horrible in government. I think that divide is getting bigger over time.
Finally, what can we expect from the 75th UN General Assembly?
Well, it's virtual, so you're going to have a lot of speeches, but the speeches will not be delivered in person. Of course, politics is very much a contact sport. You're not going to have all of these bilaterals on the sidelines, which is where the biggest news usually gets made. But, a big speech at the UN from the Chinese President in this environment, given what's happening for example, in Hong Kong and with the United States, and Australia, and Canada, pretty interesting. From the Indian Prime Minister, what he has to say about China, pretty interesting. From Mohammad Bin Salman, what he's going to say about the opening of relations with Israel, and about Iran. There are more pieces at play geopolitically in the 75th UN General Assembly, than at any time in my lifetime. Even though it's going to be virtual, the nature of the speeches themselves are probably going to be more content heavy, and more interesting for those of us observing on the sidelines, than you would otherwise normally expect.
We're doing an enormous amount of programming, GZERO, Eurasia Group, and Microsoft together to bring the virtual UN General Assembly to all of you. You can check it out through the social feeds here, as well as on gzeromedia.com. We're kicking it off with an hour interview between myself and my good friend, Antonio Guterres, Secretary General. It is convivial and pretty open. I think you'll get a kick out of that, and you'll be lots of surprises over the course of the week.