War in Europe: Russia invades Ukraine
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, back in the office in New York. A Quick Take for you on where we are in this war against Ukraine.
Massive military intervention. We've all seen almost 200,000 Russian troops that had been arrayed all along Ukraine's borders, direct land, air, and cyber. This is bombs that are falling across all of Ukraine, including even the far west. Hard to imagine this war will last long, at least the early stages. The Ukrainian government will surely fall, likely flee, and end up in exile someplace outside of Ukraine's borders. President Putin has said that this will not be an occupation. Of course, President Putin has also said over the past weeks that there was no intention to invade. He lied then; he's lying now. There is no purpose of diplomacy, at least at this point between the United States, the Europeans, and Russia. Meanwhile, it's all about what can be done to help the Ukrainians defend themselves as best they can. And this is clearly going to be at best at the margins, because the Russians have overwhelming military capabilities.
And it's also what can be done to ensure that NATO allies feel like they will be strongly defended if there ever are going to be further attacks that reach them. And that's required. It's one of the reasons why the United States and Europe are going to be applying significant, maximum sanctions that can be applied, will be applied against the Russians today. In my view, that means technological sanctions, excluding their capabilities of working with Western tech companies, getting imports, export controls, there will be financial transactions sanctions that will mean that all of the major Russian banks are going to be hit, no longer be able to engage in financial transactions with the West. There will be major energy disruptions as well. Nord Stream 2 already killed well beyond that, and the Russians themselves would likely suspend some export to Europe as a consequence of all of this.
That does not include SWIFT in my view. In part, because it's not seen as useful. This is something that's been discussed internally at long, long measure by the Americans, by the Europeans. It would force the Russians and the Chinese to, in short order, develop their own competitive financial transaction system. It will include direct personal sanctions against a swath of major oligarchs and Putin's family. Of course, this is in some ways seen as helpful to Putin because he's bringing back all of that oligarch money from outside of Russia to Russia, even though the oligarchs themselves won't be happy. That's significant. These are the most important sanctions that have been ever placed on a major power since the Soviet Union has collapsed, but it's also very clear that the Russian government has priced all of that in. They have significant reserves that they have built up. They are running a surplus presently, energy prices are high, the Chinese are willing to buy a lot from them.
Putin certainly feels like he's capable of withstanding that. The sanctions we're talking about all in are roughly commensurate, a little bit less severe than those that the United States and the West have imposed on Iran. So absolutely meaningful, will push Russia into a major recession. I've seen Gazprom shares off 50% already. This does matter, but it's a level of economic hardship that clearly the Russians are willing to take. There's another point though, and that is that this unprovoked war, which Russian disinformation is doing its damnedest to convince the Russian people that it's all about Ukraine and the Ukrainians are Nazis and the West is provoking it, the reality is this is unilateral aggression that are crimes against humanity by Putin directly and his government. But I have seen a spate of Russian celebrities, footballers, ballet dancers, opera singers, rock stars that have come out in these initial hours and said that they oppose the war.
They don't oppose Putin, but they oppose the war. That is the kind of thing that historically in Russia would throw away your career. And I do wonder how much of that there is on the ground in Russia today. This is not like China, where the Chinese government has massive surveillance capabilities, they have a social credit system they're rolling out, and they also have provided so well for the economic needs of the Chinese people that a willingness to be loyal to China politically is not considered to be such a hardship. Russia is a country that has a much, much stronger degree of fundamental skepticism, even opposition, not just to Russian power, to all power, to all governments. And that does indeed create some risk to Putin, not tomorrow, but as he changes the global order, as he subverts Europeans security capabilities, he also creates risk for himself on the ground.
The Ukrainians are not suddenly going to like Putin after he's killed thousands, tens of thousands of them with this brutal war after he forces the government into exile or worse if he captures them. And the Russian people aren't going to be happy when they see some of their own citizens in serving in the Russian army, the Russian Air Force coming back in caskets, and that will happen. And that will not just be something we see for the next few days, but something we'll see with partisan fighting going on for a very long time.
So, this genie is not going back into the bottle and we are seeing the beginnings of a second Cold War. I'll talk a lot more about that going forward. Those are my views for right now. Talk to you soon.
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