Don't bet on Russia backing down

Don't Bet on Russia Backing Down | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody, Ian Bremmer here. And a happy Monday, such as it is to all of you around the world. It is, of course, day 12 of the Russian invasion in Ukraine. The third round of negotiations between the Russians and the Ukrainians on the Belarus border. All sorts of international efforts and intermediation. We've seen it from the Israelis, from the French, from, I mean, you name it. The Turks, they're talking to the Russians and the Ukrainians to hope to see if there's any possibility of a climb-down. So far, I absolutely don't see it. Feels to me that President Putin is hellbent on removing Zelensky from power and capturing Kyiv.

And it is important to recognize that the Ukrainian government has won the information war. And that means that the information that is getting out about the war is overwhelmingly being portrayed and pushed out by Ukrainian sources. That makes the Ukrainians look brave and courageous, and also makes the Ukrainian fighters look like they're pushing back the Russians to a greater degree. And frankly, that's a useful thing given the alternative, but it's also important to understand that on the ground, the Russians are indeed getting closer to encircling and taking Kyiv. They are taking a lot more territory in the south, and along the coast towards Odessa, the largest port city of Ukraine.


And while it is true that some Russian fighters have laid down their arms, those numbers do not look large. And certainly the Russians are also moving towards more destructive, and also less accurate weapons, which means more danger to the Ukrainian citizens. I think if you're making a bet here, it is not a Russian climb-down. I don't see anything in the recent statements from the Kremlin that say that if the Ukrainian government gets rid of Crimea, recognizes its Russian, as well as the expanded territories that the Russians have declared as independent in the Donbas, other than there would be a cease fire. I don't buy it. And even if it was a cease fire, I think it would be temporary until the Russians had more troops on the ground, and then they'd continue. But it seems very clear from everything the Russians are actually doing that the intention is not to look for an escape route. It's not to look for a negotiated settlement. It's rather to remove Zelensky, and it's to overthrow the government and to take Kyiv.

It is certainly true that this conflict is getting massively more attention than what we've seen in Yemen, or Afghanistan, or Libya, or Palestine. And I've seen in the media, a lot of people saying, "Why is that? It's because we only care about white Europeans. We don't care about what's happening in the developing world. We don't care what's happening with the poorest countries in the world." I am sympathetic to that view, but I think it's overly simplistic. In fact, I think that the view holds most effectively in the opposite way, in the sense that there are already a million and a half refugees from Ukraine streaming into Europe. And that's, frankly, not as much of a story as what's happening on the ground in Ukraine and the implications for NATO, for the global economy, and even for direct confrontation between the US and Russia. If those 1.5 million people were coming into Europe from Africa, or from Central Asia, or from the Middle East, it would be a much bigger story.

Why is that? Well, because first of all, very few men, mostly women and children, and perceived as Europeans, rightly or wrongly. The fact that these are overwhelmingly white, and Christian, and culturally seen as similar, makes more Europeans more willing to welcome them and integrate them. It doesn't say great things about humanity, but I do understand that reality, and I think we should point it out. And so even when we talk about five or 10 million Ukrainians leaving Ukraine in the coming weeks, and those are the numbers we're thinking about at the high level, you're talking about a crisis that would lead one of four Ukrainians to flee their homes, their land. And what kind of disaster would have to befall your country for you to even consider that? It's almost unimaginable. And yet that's not the biggest part of this crisis, because 500 million Europeans will find a way to take care of and integrate those Ukrainians.

No, the reason that this is getting so much attention is because of the impact it's going to have on the global economy, and at some level, because of the impact it's going to have on the future of the global order. When you have the largest grain producer in the world attacking the fifth largest grain producer in the world, when you have a country that has some of the biggest oil and gas reserves that is now being cut off from the advanced industrial economies, the impact on everyone in the planet is so much greater than if you have poverty, and death, and deprivation for a whole bunch of kids and women in Yemen, or in Afghanistan. Doesn't take away from their suffering, but it makes it completely understandable why everyone in the world would say, "Oh my God, grain prices are doubling. Global starvation is going to go way up."

I mean, the impact on poor people around the world from this crisis is going to be a hell of a lot greater than any of the other individual crises we've seen in those countries. And I think we have to recognize that. We have to understand. So yes, we should be paying more attention to Ukraine. Not only because it's 44 million Ukrainians who are being unjustly invaded and having their civilians unjustly targeted by the Russian military, but also because the impact of this for people around the world. And not for rich people who will be just fine, but for poor people who won't, and poor nations who won't. That is the reason we should be paying so much more attention to Ukraine.

And then of course, finally, the fact that this is a nuclear power. Russia, 5,000 nuclear warheads. The potential for regime change, even if low, and the incredible amount of uncertainty as to the disposition of those nuclear forces, if that were suddenly to happen, if Putin were to be removed, immense existential question mark for all of us living in the world. Or the impact of what happens if we have direct fighting between Russia and NATO. Right now, we have a proxy war. We have indirect fighting. We have the Russians fighting in Ukraine, and then we have all the NATO countries sending advanced weapon systems. I mean the best sniper rifles they have, the best air defense they have, jet fighters, increasingly being sent over to Ukraine to fight and kill the invading Russians.

It's perfectly legitimate for NATO countries to do that. I'm not suggesting it's a bad idea. I'm simply suggesting it's a dangerous reality because increasingly you have NATO fighting against Russia. And the idea that, well, as long as it's not NATO troops directly in battle that somehow it's okay. Well, I mean, maybe you can justify it to yourself that way, but the Russians won't see it that way. Putin won't see it that way. And the potential that we have, significant escalation, cyberattacks, economic warfare, asymmetric, disinformation attacks, even terrorism against NATO countries from Russia, seeing that as perfectly fine in an environment where acts of war are being committed against them. It is an incredibly dangerous environment. And one that implies a reprise of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. One where you have major nuclear powers in a showdown against each other.

I'm not in any way predicting World War III. I don't think it's imminent. I don't even think it's all that close, but I recognize it's possible. And so, again, it would be inconceivable for me not to spend most of our time focusing on this crisis as a consequence of that, given the implication.

So anyway, a few of my thoughts this week as we get kicked off and what's clearly going to be a brutal, and depressing, and challenging week for us all, but all the more reason to do our best, and try to make a difference. Hope everyone's well, and I'll talk to you soon.

For more of Ian Bremmer's weekly analyses, subscribe to his GZERO World newsletter at ianbremmer.bulletin.com
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