Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: “For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power.” You heard it. I heard it. We all heard it. It was not a part of the formal remarks. Biden's comments closing his trip to Europe while he was in Warsaw, Poland, not so far from the Ukrainian border, was immediately walked back by White House aides. "No, it doesn't mean that President Biden or the United States has a plan or is going to take Putin out. It's not regime change." Political opponents domestically jumped all over him saying, "He's going to start World War III." Emmanuel Macron, sensing a political opportunity, said it wasn't responsible, promoting himself as the guy that can do diplomacy.
It is not a call for regime change. The United States is not trying to actively remove Putin from office. There is no capacity to do so, a man who is an authoritarian leader with a large military capability and a whole bunch, thousands of nuclear warheads at his disposal. This is the same United States that refuses to do a no-fly zone or to send troops to defend Ukrainians getting massacred. Why? Because it doesn't want to risk direct military confrontation with Russia. There's no difference here with not having a policy of regime change. That's fairly obvious. But, and this is important, Biden does want Putin out.
He refers to him as a war criminal. The State Department, having gone through an assessment, agrees. That's a big deal. Negotiations certainly aren't happening anytime between Biden and Putin going forward, which by the way, is a big place where Macron certainly disagrees. The relationship between the United States and Russia is inexorably broken, and that will be the case irrespective of whether or not we are able to freeze the war presently going on and still going on as it enters what Russia calls the second phase, even though the first phase wasn't a war. It was a special military operation. No, no, no. What was Biden doing? Well, I mean, “For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power.” It was kind of like, “For God's sake, we can't keep pumping carbon into the atmosphere.” I could see him saying exactly both of those things with a level of frustration and emotion, and knowing full well that Putin is going to remain in power and that we're going to continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere.
Now I do recognize that the United States and NATO has a policy that the NATO allies all hope will move in the direction of destabilizing the Russian president, helping Ukraine to destroy Russian troops, helping to destroy the Russian economy. And let's be clear, the only reason why Russia's economy isn't decreasing by 30% of GDP as opposed to 15% is because the Europeans desperately still need Russian gas. If they didn't, they'd cut that off too. It's not because they're worried about, "Oh my God, what happens if the Russian economy is truly in free fall? What happens if we end the Russian economy and cause massive civilian concerns on the ground in Russia?" That is not the limitation here. It is how can you do as much damage as possible to Putin. So, that clearly is what's happening, and Biden would certainly support that leading to the destabilization of the Russian political system and that leading to much more direct opposition to Putin in the streets.
But to quote Vince Lombardi, "Hope is not a strategy." And Putin's ability to stay in power is very high. So I want to say I'm not all that worked up. Certainly not the way the headlines are displaying over the weekend and today over this statement. I do think the biggest problem is that it plays into Kremlin propaganda. And that's precisely because over for the last four weeks, the Kremlin has been focusing on Ukrainians being run by Nazis and focusing on de-Nazification and disarmament, and all of the genocide they say was being perpetrated by the Ukrainians against Russians in the occupied territories, all of which was completely fake news. But now they're pivoting away from that. Now the Russians are saying we're nearing the end, successful conclusion of the first phase of the military strategy. And that's because they've gotten rid of a lot of the Nazis that are in the Azov Battalion in Mariupol. So, they will have done a lot of the disarmament and de-Nazification.
So what are they focusing on now? Now they're focusing on the United States and NATO and saying that the West is trying to cancel Putin and saying that the West is trying to destroy Russia, destroy the Russian economy and destroy the Russian government. And of course, all of those statements, Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, saying it's total war. All of those statements, they're just going to play over and over and over again. Biden saying, "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power," and saying it is an explicit policy of regime change. You don't even need to fake the quote. You have it right there.
So in that regard, I think it was a mistake, but I do think that Biden made a more significant mistake this last week and it's not getting a lot of coverage, and I would much rather focus on that, which is that Biden personally is increasingly painting the conflict with Russia as a global war against democracy. He said it right before he got on a plane to leave for Europe. He says, "We need a new world order and the United States needs to lead it." He said in his speeches in Europe that this is about the world's democracies versus autocracies. He said that Russia needs to be kicked out of the G20. I think that's all dangerous, and it's dangerous for a number of reasons.
First of all, because the world's democracies aren't with the United States. It is true that a majority of the world's democracies voted to condemn the Russian invasion at the United Nations General Assembly, though I'd point out that a majority of the world's population did not. They either abstained or they opposed. And that of course includes countries like India and South Africa, which are absolutely democratic and absolutely not with the United States, and its idea that this is a conflict between democracies and authoritarian regimes, not at all. Furthermore, of the US, it is not in the US interest for this to be a fight against Russia and China. And China is absolutely and Xi Jinping is absolutely on Russia's side here, but you don't want it to go further in that direction. You don't want a cold war against Russia to become a cold war against Russia and China. The damage to everyone, to the global economy, to American interest directly would be far, far more severe.
And yet when you paint this as a new world order the Americans will lead, that's obviously a message that will be rejected strongly by the Chinese. When you say that Russia needs to be thrown out of the G20, and the Chinese strongly oppose because that's their best friend on the global stage. Well, what are the Chinese going to do? They're going to focus on the BRICs.They're going to focus on the developing world. They're going to focus on how the Americans are being excluding everyone and only the rich countries are with the Americans. And by the way, 141 countries voted in favor of condemning Russia. But in favor of sanctions? Only the rich countries around the world. It is a mistake for the Americans to believe that the world is on America's side, not least as which because the United States increasingly is not a great model to lead global democracy itself.
We saw this with the Democracy Summit that Biden hosted a few months ago. It feels like years ago, which was kind of problematic. The United States has a bunch of friends that are authoritarian regimes, and they obviously feel like they're thrown under the bus with this kind of rhetoric. And further, when we look ahead to our midterm elections, we look ahead at 2024, the likelihood that Trump becomes the Republican nominee and the likelihood that a majority of Americans continue to have big questions about the legitimacy of its own election process and whoever loses is almost certain to believe that the election was stolen. How do you get to say that this is about democracies versus authoritarian regimes when the United States thinks of itself increasingly as a very dysfunctional and non-represented democracy?
So for all of these reasons, I think this is a tack that Biden feels very strongly about personally, but should be suppressing, because it will not be effective for the United States globally, and it certainly will not reflect well on the state of American influence around the world, where you want it to be as multilateral as humanly possible.
Anyway, that's a few thoughts from me just to kick off the week. Hope everyone's doing well and I'll talk to you all real soon.For more of Ian Bremmer's weekly analyses, subscribe to his GZERO World newsletter at ianbremmer.bulletin.com
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