Meeting

World Update: A Town Hall Meeting With CFR Fellows

Thursday, March 17, 2022
Speakers

Senior Fellow for Global Health, Council on Foreign Relations; @llborio (speaking in Washington)

Distinguished Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Cofounder, Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Program, Yale University; Former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russia, National Security Council (2004–2007) (speaking in New York)

Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow for Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations (speaking in Washington)

Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies, Council on Foreign Relations (speaking in Washington)

Presider

President, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, The World: A Brief Introduction@RichardHaass (speaking in New York)

CFR fellows discuss the world, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nuclear negotiations with Iran, recent coups in Africa, tensions with China, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The town hall meeting format gives members a unique opportunity to engage with CFR experts on a wide range of topics in a setting designed to promote candor.

Transcript:

HAASS: Well, good morning. Depending upon where you might be, good afternoon or good evening. I’m Richard Haass.

This is the Council on Foreign Relations. And this is what we call a Town Hall meeting. What makes it a town hall is all the speakers actually work here, and—they’re our fellows—and the principal—lots of people listening to this, many of whom are Council members. We do this several times a year, often around major issues or just when there’s a collection of issues. And today we have both. Obviously, we’ve now just finished three weeks. We’re three weeks into the war—what has become known, widely known, as Mr. Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine. We’ll talk a little bit about how it is going, but also we’re going to talk about some other things.

For good and obvious reasons, we are all not just focused but consumed by this. It is a major development by any and every measure, be it humanitarian, or geopolitical, or economic, or you name it. But it’s not as though there’s a pause button where other issues in other parts of the world are on pause. And while other parts of the world are watching this, there are dynamics there. And, as well, there are simply other things taking place. It’s not just history waits for no man; history waits for no development. And so other things are inexorably unfolding. So even if our own bandwidth is somewhat limited, it doesn’t mean important things aren’t still going on. So we’re going to touch on some of them.

And let me just say in advance, we’re not going to—we’re not going to do two things. We’re not going to devote the entire meeting to Ukraine and Russia. Not because it’s not deserving, but in the last three weeks we’ve devoted probably more than a dozen meetings to just that, and I would expect in the next three weeks we will devote more than a dozen meetings to just that. Plus, there’s an enormous volume of material available on cfr.org, the Council’s website, and on foreignaffairs.com, the magazine’s website. And we will continue to be a resource. That’s our mission and we will do it. We’ve also got educational resources on this. Just yesterday we released our newest case for model diplomacy for students at the high school/college level for how to think this through, think about the tradeoffs of this issue. So we will continue to make this a priority for the institution, but, again, I don’t want it to consume this entire meeting.

And specifically, three of the fellows who I’ve asked to participate here are largely focusing on other parts of the world or other issues. And I do that consciously. And again, because they’re objectively important. And again, things haven’t stopped elsewhere.

Here on my right is Tom Graham. Tom is a distinguished fellow here. He’s also the co-founder of the Russian program at Yale. He was the special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia on the National Security Council between 2004 and 2007. And more important, before that he spent several years working on the policy planning staff. And I was lucky enough to have Tom as a colleague then as well as now. But he really is one of the true Russian experts and specialists in the United States, or anywhere.

And then in our nation’s capital we have three of our fellows.

Luciana Borio, who’s a senior fellow for global health here at the Council on Foreign Relations. This week also marks the end of the second year of the era of COVID-19. And just this week, for example, we saw in the U.K. more than 100,000 new cases in a single day. So even though we’ve in some ways psychologically moved on from COVID, how would I put it, COVID hasn’t moved on from us. And so I wanted Lu to be here to talk about exactly where we are with that.

I’ve also got Ebenezer Obadare. Ebenezer’s one of the newest fellows here at the Council on Foreign Relations. He’s the Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow for Africa Studies. And we will talk both about how the crisis looks a little bit from Africa, but also homegrown developments in Africa.

And last, but not least, Ray Takeyh. Ray is the Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies. In case you all haven’t noticed—and, again, anyone could be forgiven for not noticing anything else—the Iran negotiations have been going on, or sometimes off, in recent days. Russia is an important participant in that. What happens in the Middle East is obviously significant. Indeed, the Middle East is the part of the world, when you think about it, that so dominated American foreign policy for the last three decades, since the Cold War came to an end. And again, our focus has, to use a phrase, pivoted not to Asia, but to Europe. But again, things have not stabilized in the Middle East.

So we’ve got a lot to cover. We’re going to talk for a bit, and then we are going to open it up to you, our members and to others, to ask the questions that the moderator will fail to ask, given the limits of the—of the moderator at this meeting. Now, even though I said we were not going to focus exclusively on the crisis, we’re going to begin there. So I’ll ask a few questions of it, first with Tom, then with our other three fellows. And then we will move on more broadly.

As I said, we’re three weeks into the war. I would simply say it has not gone the way Mr. Putin has expected. Indeed, it’s an interesting question, would he have launched if he had known it were to unfold the way it has? When all is said and done I expect there’ll be some interesting post-mortem, so to speak, done by the American intelligence community and others about how did we get it so wrong about the Russian military. It looks to be, to coin a phrase, a Potemkin army of sorts.

You’ve had an extraordinary response from—led by the United States and Europe in terms of providing military support for Ukraine. We’ve essentially decided on what I would call an indirect strategy—not putting boots on the ground or planes in the air but helping Ukraine with enormous amounts of military equipment and ammunition. Secondly, there’s an entire dimension of economic sanctions that have been introduced against Russia. Thirdly, NATO—the thirty countries of NATO have taken many steps to beef up their capacity, particularly amongst the countries closest to Ukraine and Russia.

Fourthly, steps have been taken to reduce energy dependence on Russia, both by the United States and others substituting, in part, for Russian energy exports, partially also to shut down the importation of certain energy imports. There’s been a diplomatic dimension in this, less in the Security Council where Russia has a veto than in the General Assembly, where Russia does not possess a veto. But a lot, needless to say, has gone on in these three weeks. Tom, I’m going to start with you.

Just yesterday, Mr. Putin delivered—I don’t know any other way to put it other than a rant—with truly violent language. And again, you listened to it in Russian, and I’d be curious to get your take about how different it was. But the English was—it was crude and violent in his characterization of things. One reads about hundreds of thousands of people leaving Russia, which already was suffering something of a demographic decline. And I expect those who are leaving are also part of the more educated elites. It’s almost become a cliché to say that Mr. Putin is destroying two countries, Ukraine and Russia. So say something about it. What is—what is he doing to Russia? And what is the reaction in Russia to all that is unfolding?

GRAHAM: Well, you know, Richard, you are right. It was something of a rant yesterday. But it’s not something that we haven’t heard from Mr. Putin before. And I think he was trying to do two things yesterday. One was to drive home to the Russian population that this crisis is about more than simply Ukraine. This is really an existential crisis that Russia faces in its relationship with the West, that the West for many, many decades has been trying to undermine Russia as a major power on the global stage, that it will stop at nothing in order to do that. And Putin underscored the point that, in his view, the sanctions were coming in any event. It had nothing to do with Ukraine. If it wasn’t Ukraine, the West would have found another reason to attack Russia.

So this really is an existential struggle, and we need to rally the Russian population to deal with that existential struggle the way they did, you know, seventy, eighty years ago when they faced the threat from Nazi Germany. He laid out his view that those who dissented here, in his words, scum and traitors. And the Russian people know how to deal with scum and traitors. I think an indication that the crackdown that has been quite severe over the past several months is only going to get worse in the next few days. And—

HAASS: Would you take thirty seconds to describe the crackdown? What has, up to now, the crackdown consisted of?

GRAHAM: Well, you know, we can start a couple of years ago with the poisoning of Navalny, the leading opposition figure in Russia. He survived. He went abroad for treatment. Came back, immediately arrested and put into the Siberian gulag for—probably for several years, much longer than the actual sentence he was delivered at that point. And then he dismantled his organization systematically over the past year. And what we’ve seen in the runup to the invasion of Ukraine is, again, a systematic effort to crackdown any independent voice inside—in Russia.

Closing down a very popular but liberal radio station broadcasting out of Moscow, the same with a TV station. And more recently, I think as most people know, passing legislation that criminalizes providing information about the conflict in Ukraine, people calling it a war and not a special military operation, or relying on information that isn’t officially distributed by the Kremlin. So that is where you’ve seen that crackdown. And that is going to get worse in the next—in coming weeks, in part because I think it’s going to extend beyond those in the media to anyone who suggests that for some reason this war is not in Russia’s national interest.

HAASS: And is what Mr. Putin’s doing—I’ve seen some polls which I think are fairly accurate, tell me if I’m wrong, that suggest that to some extent this is working in the sense—by two measures. One is that a majority of Russians are buying the false narrative almost as Russia as victim. This is something that was hatched against Russia. And as many people have come out in the streets, this doesn’t look like Tehran in 1978. We’re not seeing hundreds of thousands or millions in the streets, overwhelming the security forces. Tell me if I’m wrong, we’re not seeing defections by the security forces. So, so far at least, the crackdown by Putin’s measures seems to be, quote/unquote, “working.” Is that fair?

GRAHAM: Yeah, I think that’s a fair estimation. But remember, they have controlled the narrative. So the news that Russian people are receiving is radically different from what we’re seeing here in the West. In fact, it’s a mirror image of it—Neo-Nazis attacking innocent Russians, killing civilians, and so forth. And so it’s not unusual that the polls would suggest that two-thirds of the Russian population are supporting Putin at his point. The protests that come largely in the major cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. And they are by sort of the professional class, the middle class. These, in fact, are the people who have the most to lose and are losing the most.

HAASS: Factual question, sorry I don’t know. What is the professional class/middle class, how large is it? It’s a country of 140-odd million people. What are we talking about?

GRAHAM: Well, you know, the estimates have varied over time. But we’re talking about maybe 5 to 10 percent of the population. It’s not—

HAASS: That’s all?

GRAHAM: It’s not a big group. And it’s, you know, a group that’s going to put millions of people out in the street to overthrow the government. They are hurting because of the sanctions because, after all, who buys furniture from Ikea? Who eats at McDonald’s? Who buys—goes on European vacations? It is this middle professional class. But they also value their freedom, and they see that being crushed by Putin as part of this war effort. So, you know, the problem really from Russia is it is, in a sense, alienating and forcing abroad very classic needs in order to prosper in the future. This is something that Russia traditionally has done. We’ve seen generation after generation some of the best and the brightest leave the country because of the politics. And that will have consequences over the long term for Russia. And it only complicates any effort to build a competitive economy in the 21st century.

So, you know, Russia will be able to, I think, continue this very aggressive war against Ukraine for some time. The question I think we have to look for is whether we see dissent not so much in the older generation within Putin’s inner circle, but that a generation down—say, the colonels, the one-stars in the miliary and the special services, who have a fifteen- to twenty-year time horizon play it out and say: This isn’t working for us. This is isolating us. This is preventing us from developing the types of contacts we’re going to need to prosper over the long run. It is denying us the types of relationships we’re going to need in order to guarantee our own security in the future.

HAASS: So one last question at this point, then I want to go to your colleagues. (Coughs.) Excuse me. Let’s just play it out. So here we are after three weeks. Let’s say another week or two goes by, and we don’t see anything fundamentally different on the ground. We see large-scale Russian attacks against apartment buildings, civilian sites in the major cities of Ukraine, some advances, some setbacks militarily. High levels of casualty which we are seeing. The sanctions, if anything, stay the same or even ramp up a little bit.

Is this sustainable for Putin? I mean, was he yesterday a bit rattled? Is he worried that at some point this becomes unsustainable because either a second-echelon army officer—because the military’s bearing the brunt? I see he—you know, he’s already done some house arrests of some of the senior intel and military people. Three generals have died. Is there a scenario here where he is in any way vulnerable, and this pushes him in a direction he didn’t want to be pushed, which is to compromise before he has subjugated Ukraine?

GRAHAM: Well, look, first, he is worried. He talked about the economic consequences yesterday. He admitted the hardship. Said the government would try to do something about that. I think the key factor here really is the casualties. You know, they’ve done a good job of concealing that from the Russian public so far. The only official numbers that they’ve given were at the beginning of March. And they said 492 soldiers had died. We all know that that’s not true. You know, our own intelligence community’s estimating 7,000 or maybe—

HAASS: That’s twenty times that.

GRAHAM: Right, exactly. When those body bags come home, that is when not the middle class but this population—this broader population that’s supportive of Putin begins to ask questions as to why my sons are dying and for what reason. They were supposed to be greeted as liberators, and clearly that’s not the case. That creates, I think, a political problem for him. And at that point, either he is going to be in the position where he needs to compromise or I think some people around him will decide that we really need to compromise while we still a military that is capable of fighting, we still have some morale that we could use for purposes other than this operation in Ukraine.

HAASS: It’s so tempting to keep going, but I am going to do something rare which is not to give into temptation and focus on some other issues.

So, Lu, I’m going to turn to you. As I said at the beginning, we’re entering year three of COVID-19. And in fact, that’s 2019, that’s when COVID-19 was named, just to be clear. And now we’re in 2022. I see the official county is there’s six million people worldwide, but The Lancet ran an article about a week ago saying a closer count was three times that, upwards of eighteen million people, if you look at the so-called excess death statistic. So just to set the stage for people, my hunch is if everyone is at all like me, we haven’t been paying close attention to it. Just give us a—we used them in government a sitrep. Where are we right now?

BORIO: Well, it depends on where you are and it depends on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, in a way. And I’m an optimist.

HAASS: I’m a pessimist. (Laughter.) Speak to me, because I’m a world-class pessimist.

BORIO: (Laughs.) It’s great to be here, though. Look at this, we are here, like, at least partially in real life. And that’s tremendous progress. And we know it wouldn’t be possible without the great vaccines, diagnostic tests, therapeutics that we have and that we can use today. So, look, in the United States we have ample supply of highly, highly safe and effective vaccines. The vaccines remain extraordinarily protective, despite what you can hear in the news. Most people that have been vaccinated with at least two doses have substantial protection from severe disease and hospitalization. And that’s—and one can, you know, try to make the data look bad, and pretend that vaccines are not working as well as they should have but, you know, the fact is that they’re all. And they were never designed to protect against mild disease, even though it’s a talking point that was really easy and attractive to use early on.

So for a person who—for the vast majority of people who were vaccinated and have vaccines, this is not any more a crisis like the way it was in the first few months. And for individuals that are more vulnerable, older, they, you know, have access to additional doses and they also have access to therapeutics—every effective therapeutics.

HAASS: Can I just interrupt a second, Lu? Just a factual question which I don’t know the answer, so this is not a leading question. Out of the eight billion or so people in the world, can you just give us a statistic? Roughly how many have been vaxxed and boosted? Like, where do we stand in terms of getting these technologies into the arms of people?

BORIO: So, yeah. And I think it’s highly variable, and I’ll tell you why. So let me just—I’ll wrap up what you were asking, like, where we have access to therapeutics. And I think the important point is that we can’t expect vaccines to do it all, OK? So vaccines will not get us out of this situation by themselves. We have to avail ourselves of the whole toolbox.

Globally, it’s a real mess. Substantial portions of the world do not have access to any vaccines. They don’t have the means to distribute them. They don’t have a desire to distribute them, because it detracts from other very critical public health programs. Ukraine is another story in and of itself right now, because it’s not only, you know, we have this huge displacement of people, but because of largely due to Russian disinformation for all vaccines, they had a very prevalence of vaccinated people to begin with. Only about 35 percent of the Ukrainian population was vaccinated with two doses of COVID vaccines. We have the issues in Hong Kong, where less than 30 percent of the elderly over eighty have received at least a dose of vaccine, and the vaccines they have access to is not the most protective vaccines. They were made in China.

And so that’s where we are in the world, is, like, it really depends on where we are. And the numbers do not really paint the story, Richard, because not only are they highly variable, it really depends on what vaccines they had, what access to vaccines. But what I can say is that the vaccines that exist today are very, very effective. And we should continue to maintain our confidence in them. There are many ways that we can make these vaccines look bad and worse than they are. And that’s just not correct.

HAASS: Let me ask two questions on some things you said, and then one other issue. You talked about Ukraine. Do we know anything about the Russian troops in Ukraine, about any problems they’re experiencing? I have not read it anywhere, but what they might be experiencing with COVID?

BORIO: Well, there’s a joke going on in the community that the best case that Sputnik vaccine works is the fact that they were able to deploy their soldiers—(laughs)—after being only vaccinated with the Russian vaccines. You know, that vaccine clearly is not the most protective vaccine. And we don’t know what’s happening to those troops, but I suspect that there is a pretty significant outbreak going on in the country and the troops.

HAASS: The other country—you alluded to Hong Kong. Let’s talk about China for a minute. President Biden will be speaking to his Chinese counterpart tomorrow, which I think has the potential to be a truly important conversation, both in what it signals about China as well as in the substance of what China is prepared to do or not prepared to do to assist Mr. Putin. But one of the factors that weighs upon President Xi, I would think, is that China’s lockdown strategy doesn’t seem to be working. That their—why don’t you talk about it a little bit, about where China is, where their vaccine is, dealing with Omicron. But China strategy may have worked initially, but the sense I get as a layman is that they’re up against it now.

BORIO: That’s right. So, you know, part of the way this is going to play out in the future is that the more population immunity exists based on prior exposure and also vaccination the better off a country will be. Even with the new variants that will emerge, now they will not be able to completely overcome the cellular immunity that is developed through natural infection and through vaccines, which actually kind of, you know, dampened the impact of the virus. And in China, we have a very substantial number of the population that is completely susceptible to the virus.

So they are, of course, vulnerable to very significant spikes. And they are seeing right now it’s just not feasible to contain a virus like this through social restrictions alone, as they have tried. And we’re going to see, you know, not only a lot of needless deaths, but supply chain disruptions, economic disruptions. You may have seen in the news that they have now accepted to use Pfizer’s antiviral drug Paxlovid, in the country in an attempt to mitigate the deaths from the virus.

HAASS: I have no evidence for saying this, but my hunch is that this reality that Lu just mentioned might persuade the Chinese to exercise more caution in assisting Mr. Putin. Of course, their cushion right now, economically and socially, is not what they would want it to be. And the fear of secondary sanctions and real disruption in their society I think might be a restraining factor. I don’t know, but it’s in the intersection of geopolitics and infectious disease. And it’ll be an interesting thing to watch how it plays out.

Let me turn to Ebenezer for a second. Tell us about the African—to the extent one can generalize about fifty-plus countries; it’s always hard—but political reaction, the geopolitical reaction, to what is going on. Borders, sovereignty are so important, obviously. Here we have this massive violation. But how much are African countries, to what extent have they been, are they constrained in terms of not wanting to take sides here? What is their—to what extent is the foreign policy almost a ducking as opposed to choosing? What’s really happening?

OBADARE: Yeah, thank you, Richard. I think what is going on is—so, many of us have speculated that majority of African countries are going to line up automatically behind Ukraine because, you know, the moral line seems to be very clear. One country has invaded the territory of another country. So what do you do? You know, you sort of line up behind the victim. That clearly is not what is going on in Africa. You know, when the U.N. called for that motion, at least twenty-four African countries, you know, abstained. Many African countries, you know, decided that, you know, they weren’t going to, you know, toe the Western line. The only country whose election did not come as a surprise was Eritrea. Eritrea was the only African country that voted for Mr. Putin.

But the general reticence of African countries to back Ukraine, you know, has come as a surprise, you know, for many people. So part of what I think is going on is we are seeing the ghosts of, you know, the Cold War, you know, resurrecting here. Many—you know, many people are, you know, suddenly remembering that there was a time that, you know, there was the East, there was the West, you know, the Soviet Union on the one hand, you know, the West on the other. And many people have, you know, sort of said that this is the time to rob the West and those elites, you know, if you know what—if you know what I’m saying. So that’s going on, on the one hand.

But I think the larger issue, you know, that I think come forward here is the way in which I think many people have misread, you know, Russia’s influence in Africa. So for the most part, if you think about foreign interests in Africa you think about China. And for every twenty articles you read about China, you see maybe a solo reference to Russia. And I think one thing that has emerged over the last, you know, three or four weeks is that people have been reminded that Russia has gained a hold, you know, in Africa, you know, spread money around. And it’s not, you know, making the kind of human rights and social justice demands that the West would typically, you know, make. So that’s where the picture, you know, in Africa has been made. And that’s why it’s surprising—you know, it’s come as a surprise to many people.

HAASS: I have two other questions. One, and the fact that you’re sitting next to Lu is perfect. When COVID was, you know, the subject of a lot of our attention, one of the real issues was Africa. And it seems to me that, you know, there was a shortage of vaccines, but also the impact of the disease on Africa was not as great—I could be way wrong here—as the relative shortage of vaccines would have led one to anticipate. Is that fair? I mean, where is African right now on COVID? Coming out of—is it coming out of it? Has it learned to live with it? Where is Africa?

OBADARE: It’s a good question. So where you start is this: When COVID broke, everybody expected that, you know, there will be, you know, a critical number of deaths in Africa, you know, because of existing issues with, you know, our medical infrastructure, you know, physical infrastructure, and the fact that the health systems of many African countries, you know, are not up to snuff. But the—(laughs)—it’s been almost a miracle that, you know, in Africa, the number of deaths, you know, has been significantly lower than, you know, many—than the forecast, you know, from medical experts. Why that is the case, what has happened, and why many in African countries seem, you know, to have been able to avoid the worst, I think the jury’s still out on that.

Part of the problem I see is that we don’t really have concrete data—how many people died, you know, how many people were severely affected. You know, it’s been very difficult, you know, to source the data for that. And part of the problem is that, you know, it is not, you know, dissimilar from what we saw in the United States. There was profound skepticism, you know, about the virus. You know, many political leaders of members of the religious elite who are extremely influential, you know, actually believed that, you know, there was no such thing as COVID.

So there wasn’t a lot of investment in actually getting concrete data that, you know, policymakers and government officials could work with. So right now the picture is mixed. For many people, COVID is effectively over. But what it means is that we really have—we don’t have a very good idea of numbers in terms of how many people were affected and how many people actually succumbed to the virus.

HAASS: Lu, before I ask Ebenezer another question, anything you want to add on that?

BORIO: I think it’s, you know, a big relief that they don’t seem to have been impacted as much. But we also have to take in—it shows just the importance of also population age, and they have a younger population relative to the West. And that may also have contributed significantly to the lessened impacts.

HAASS: Interesting. Let me ask one last question. You know, here we are. Domestically here one of the biggest issues is inflation. And what we’re seeing is two things. Even though the price of energy’s come down a little bit over the last week, few days, it’s still extraordinarily high. And obviously now you’ve also got other signs of higher prices, particularly in the areas of foodstuffs, grains. Russia and Ukraine are important exporters of grain. What impact is this having throughout Africa? Has this now become almost—Africa may have—it survived COVID, but is this now the biggest new problem facing the continent?

OBADARE: Yeah. If you’re a student of the African economy you worry more about the problems that anticipate, you know, the Ukraine—the Russian invasion. Inflation is not a new—(laughs)—is not a new to many African economies. It’s the long-term, you know, economic problems that these countries have that, you know, I think are keeping people up at night. And economic problems that also have political ramifications. You know, there are long-term problems with, you know, the Islamist insurgency, you know, in many African countries. You know, there is—there is the problem of, you know, physical infrastructure that is not up to snuff. So there is, you know, all the—there is a problem, of course, you know, with inflation and all of that. But that’s not what’s keeping most people up at night. People think about other long-term problems that they’ve had, you know, before inflation, you know, joined. Those are their problems.

HAASS: OK. I’m going to turn to Ray Takeyh now. Ray, thank you for your patience and for doing this. So for those who have not been focusing their attention on Iran as well as the nuclear negotiations, can you just, for a minute, bring people up to speed?

TAKEYH: Sure. These negotiations have been going on, in some ways, for about ten, eleven months. At various points they have made various progress. I would say that recently there was an issue, namely, that the Russians raised, regarding exceptions from sanctions, regarding their trade with Iran. And at least in the Western commentary, that was viewed as the last snag before an agreement could be concluded. If you’re kind of looking at it from the Iranian press commentary and so forth, that’s not what they were saying. What they were saying is there are a number of unresolved issues with the United States. Four in specific. And they’re the ones that have been unresolved.

Russia is critical to the JCPOA process, but it’s only indispensable if the Iranians insist on its indispensability. And they weren’t going to do that. Their foreign minister was in Moscow. And it’s always been part of the Iranian commentary for the last ten years that Russians have done nothing for them during these negotiations and sanctions. They supported all the U.N. resolutions. They’ve supported all the sanctions. And so they were going to do to Mr. Putin what he had been doing to them.

There is an aspect of this that requires Russia’s participation and therefore sanctions exemption, namely that the Russians are the ones that get the enriched uranium from Iran and reprocess it. That process is actually paid for by the United States. So if that process is going to go through, there has to be some sanctions relief for the Russians. There are alternative places where that activity could take place. France, but Iranians reject that. United States, Iranians reject that. Kazakhstan, you know, most of their nuclear installations, Tom would know, are co-joined with the Russians. So I don’t know how that works. You could keep the enriched uranium in Iran and dilute it, but that doesn’t relieve your timeline.

So there is going to be sanctions exemption in this process for Russia. And I think that has already been settled. So there are two remaining issues, whatever they are, the terrorist designations of the Iranians Revolutionary Guards, and so forth. Those issues I suspect will be resolved in some time.

HAASS: So let’s just then circle back to the agreement itself. The agreement now, just summarize what it is and how, as best as an outsider you can tell, it differs from the original 2015 JCPOA. What was the agreement or is the agreement that is close to being signed?

TAKEYH: I’m not sure about the details of it. I don’t believe—the original JCPOA was one of the more controversial arms control agreements that had come down the pike. There were a lot of oppositions to it for a variety of reasons. It had sunset clauses that expired too soon, it granted Iran enrichment capability, and it accepted that enrichment capability will be universalized. It didn’t include missile activity, so on and so forth. What has been ironic is the architects of the agreement, the American architects of the agreement have denounced it. They’re saying they need an agreement that’s longer and stronger.

Longer and stronger is no longer part of the equation. If you notice, nobody really talks about it anymore. So there’s a return to whatever’s left of the JCPOA. I don’t believe that the current Iranian regime can completely return to the original JCPOA because they have done so much to denounce it. (Laughs.) So there has to be some exemptions. So whatever the timelines or provisions of the new agreement coming down the pike are, they’re likely to be more lax than the previous one, and therefore more controversial in terms of their receptions here and elsewhere.

I would say there are domestic critics of the JCPOA in Iran itself, and the reasons why the current Iranian government has engaged in those negotiations is not entirely because of the sanctions relief aspect of it, although that’s important. Iran’s economy is supposed to grow 2.2 percent. I don’t know if you believe those figures. But also, they believe they can get a permissive agreement form the current Iranian—current American government. So that’s where it stands.

HAASS: So you mentioned, among other things, the previous agreement, and presumably whatever might be negotiated, now doesn’t include among other things missiles. Just the other day there were reports of Iran shooting at or attacking I think it was an American base in Iraq. What is the sense of the totality of Iranian behavior right now? Is there an attempt, if you will, to fence in the nuclear area, and in the meantime Iran is going full bore on everything else? What else is happening? And one last one, and how is that changed or not by the major increases in the price of energy?

TAKEYH: Well, the missile attack that took place in Erbil, the Iranians said they attacked—what’s the correct phrasing—the Zionist center for conspiracy and aggression. Now, that could be a large number of organizations according to the Iranian lexicon. (Laughter.) You know, it could be American, French, Israelis. But it seems to be more specifically Israelis, because Israelis have been crossing the border and attacking an Iranian drone production facility. But they certainly, given the accuracy of their missiles, they have no objections to shooting it in front of the American consular services and so on.

This is also a message that I think was sent, not just to the Israelis, that they’re going to be more aggressive. The way this missile attack was conducted was interesting because they didn’t use Shia cutouts or Shia proxies. They accepted responsibility for it. They issued a press release and a video about how they attacked it. So in essence, what they’re saying, whatever nuclear agreement comes down the pike their regional activities are not going to be adjusted by it. Internally, of course, repression happens all the time in Iran. That has been more acute. But the regional activities have not been subsided, as far as I can tell.

HAASS: OK. We could go on, but I’d rather save our responses to your questions. Again, we’ve got four large areas of expertise here. Rumor has it there are other subjects out there. We haven’t talked about climate. We haven’t talked about North Korea. Only incidentally have we talked about China. We haven’t talked about Latin America. I get it. So if you have questions about those things, we will do our best to answer them as best we can. But again, you’ve got areas of expertise with Russia, Ukraine, with global health, with Africa, with Iran and the Middle East. So if possible, I’d urge you to keep your questions largely on those areas.

I also wanted to pick up on one thing Lu Borio said that, you know, this is a hybrid meeting. We’ve got people here on the floor in New York as well as in Washington. This coming week we have what we call return to office here at the Council on Foreign Relations, after two years of largely being remote or virtual—not remote, virtual. It’s a much nicer word. And so we’re excited about being back. And I think for the future, this will be—this will be the new normal. We will try to blend some combination of the in-person and the virtual, because we’ve learned some things over the last two years. And there’s certain aspects of the virtual we want to keep, but I got to tell you there’s certain aspects of the in-person we can’t wait to go back to.

So with that, let’s get some questions from our members. I think we’re going to alternate between New York and Washington. I think, Ray, you’re going to field the questions in Washington. This meeting, by the way, is on the record. We’re going to take our first question from New York. Just identify yourself. Let me us know who you are. Yes, sir. And wait for a microphone.

Q: Good morning. John Austin. To Mr. Graham.

Something that you haven’t covered is why now? Why did Russia attack now, as opposed to two years ago, in the future? It wasn’t as if Ukraine was on the precipice of making a decision to go with NATO. I don’t get it. Maybe you could explain it to us?

GRAHAM: (Laughs.) It’s a very good question. How much time do I have, Richard? (Laughter.)

HAASS: Two minutes.

GRAHAM: Two minutes. Let me do it very quickly.

I think there are two important developments, one in Ukraine and one in the United States and NATO, that were factors. And then there is the overall assessment of the state of the Western world that’s very important here. Briefly on the Ukrainian side, President Zelensky had stepped up his pressure on pro-Russian forces inside Ukraine over the past year. He had made a much more energetic plea for membership in NATO. And he began to rally the international community to raise the question of Crimea in the context of the Ukrainian-Russian standoff. On the NATO-Ukrainian side, in 2020 Ukraine received the status Enhanced Opportunities Partner. That meant there’s a step-up in U.S. security, military cooperation with Ukraine, also from other NATO members, and led the Russians to believe that it wasn’t only Ukraine joining NATO that was a challenge to them, it was NATO entering Ukraine that was a current challenge to them. So those, I think, factored in Putin’s minds.

But probably the most important factor was his understanding of the—of the Western world. A new president in the United States was talking about a pragmatic—being pragmatic. He wanted a predictable and stable relationship with Russia. Didn’t appear to want to take Russia on in a big way at this point. There was also the chaotic exit from Afghanistan that factored in Putin’s thinking. Merkel was leaving the German stage. We’re going to have a new government, untested. And a government that wanted to focus on domestic politics more so than foreign policy. We had an election coming up in France in April of this year that clearly was going to take the lion’s share of the attention of French President Emmanuel Macron. You add into that the energy crisis. Europe did not keep enough in its storage facilities over the summer. As the heating season approached, gas prices began to rise. And of course, Europe depends on Russia for 40 percent of its imported gas.

So Putin didn’t think that the West was capable of mounting a serious opposition to whatever he wanted to do in Ukraine. I think he miscalculated that. He miscalculated the resistance of the Ukrainians. He thought he had an opportunity. This was supposed to be over in three or four days. We’re into the fourth week, and he’s got a long slog ahead of him.

HAASS: Just two follow-ups on that. Your description of his calculation, the sense of some time pressure but more the sense of opportunity, that sounds to me quite rational as a calculation. I mean, you know, Putin’s been portrayed as a different guy on—whatever, you know, no longer recognizable. It’s possible to be wrong and fully rational. And that’s what your description of him, that he simply misread the scene—and, quite honestly, a lot of us would have misread it too—the idea that Germany would have doubled its defense spending or cancelled the pipeline and the rest was not necessarily the kind of thing all of us were predicting. So is that a fair thing to say, that it’s—that all these people who were concluding that Putin’s lost it, not necessarily?

GRAHAM: I think he’s quite rational within his own framework. The problem is that he believes his own propaganda about Ukraine. You know, he did believe that there was a Neo-Nazi element in the Ukrainian government that was oppressing Russian speakers and ethnic Russians in Ukraine. And that the Ukrainians basically didn’t support this government, so they were going to greet the Russians with open arms as liberators. I think he got fed a lot of that by his intelligence community. Confirmation bias, we might say. He saw what he wanted. And that has been the big surprise.

HAASS: Just one last question before we go to the next question. What about the Russian military? Clearly, he assumed that it would be more than enough to take care of Ukraine. He clearly underestimated Ukraine. Again, he was just totally—and he’s not a military man. Was he totally in the dark about the lack of readiness of his own forces?

GRAHAM: I think absolutely. Look, they had a modernization campaign for ten years. They thought, and Putin thought, that they’d built a much more effective military. And there were cases when the military performed quite well, from his standpoint. Crimea in 2014, Syria in 2015. But that was a very small segment of the military. We’re talking about thirty (thousand), forty (thousand), fifty thousand troops, special operations, people who really were highly professional and knew what they were doing. Now we’re dealing with 150(,000)-200,000. They’re conscripts. Half of them are conscripts. They serve for one year. They don’t know what they’re doing. And they simply don’t have the capacity at the smaller part. So I think he overestimated how capability is military was, and is quite surprised by the way they have performed over the last several weeks.

HAASS: I think adjective before “surprised” is “unhappily.” (Laughter.)

Ray, why don’t we get a question from our nation’s capital?

TAKEYH: Ah, yes, ma’am.

Q: So my question is for you. And it’s how the kind of message—you know, obviously Ukraine used to have a nuclear weapon, they no longer do, so therefore they lost that nuclear deterrence. They were, you know, given some security guarantees that are not 100 percent being realized in the present moment. So my question for you is how this current dynamic impacts Iranian incentives when it comes to the Iran deal and then just kind of broader writ large global nonproliferation efforts.

TAKEYH: Right. It hasn’t been publicly discussed in these particular terms, but I think it would be hard to miss that a Russia that possesses nuclear weapons has been given certain territorial immunities in this crisis. And what you have in Russia today is an ideologically revisionist state bent on expanding its interests abroad. And nuclear weapons have helped at least immunize this territory from direct attack. Now, if you take Russia and put Iran in there, that’s exactly the same situation, except they don’t have nuclear weapons at this particular point.

In the past, there have been—the discussion that is taking place on the Ukraine issue, particularly on the conservative sector, is that—in terms of Ukraine—is this is what happens when you trust the Americans. This is what happened to Afghans when they trusted the Americans. This is what happened to Libyans when they trusted the Americans. So essentially some measure of independent, indigenous deterrent force. But in terms of actually saying that now we have to get nuclear weapons because of this? No. But it has reinforced the idea that one should not depend on outsiders. And also the message, obviously, is clear that if you have nuclear weapons, nuclear deterrence still works.

HAASS: Morgan, let’s get a question from our national members.

OPERATOR: We will take a virtual question from Antoine van Agtmael.

Q: Good morning.

I was curious how you assess China in Ukraine. Earlier there was this very strong communique. Now they seem to be kind of drawing back from that communique in this article that Hu Wei, for example, wrote. And it seems that makes them, in their current objective of being an intermediary, kind of a less-trusted party on both the Russian side and the American side. So I wonder how you view the China role going forward.

HAASS: Good question. Tom, why don’t you start? And I may kick in something.

GRAHAM: You’ll probably have a different view. I would explain it this way: You know, I think for many people in the Chinese leadership Xi went a little too far in his communique with Putin at the beginning of February, talking about a friendship that knew no limits, attacking NATO expansion for the first time publicly, and perhaps believing that if Putin did move militarily against Ukraine that this would be a matter of three or four days and wouldn’t create all that many problems for the Chinese. You know, right after that meeting the Standing Committee basically isolated itself for seven days and said maybe we need to rethink this a little bit.

HAASS: It wasn’t COVID related that—

GRAHAM: It wasn’t COVID-related, is my understanding, and backed away somewhat from the strong endorsement of the Russian position. You saw the foreign minister at the Munich security council make the point about territorial integrity. These standard principles that are important to Chinese foreign policy, indicating that that was—applied to Ukraine as well. You saw the way the Chinese acted at the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly, abstaining on the resolutions. You know, at the same time, still trying to be supportive of Russia, trying to find this balancing act.

But you know, at the end of the day, I mean, the Chinese have to be concerned, in part because their future depends much more on their interaction with the West, particularly with the United States, economically, strategically, than it does on Russia. And so how are they going to deal with the sanctions? Are they really going to break them and bring down upon them the counterreaction of the United States at a time when they’re experiencing economic problems of their own?

And then a final point I would make here is that there’s an inherent contradiction between what China and what Russia want to do in Europe. China is interested in building commercial and technological relations with Europe. That requires stability. Capital, as we know, is a coward. The Russians, for their own purposes, need instability in Europe, and how they’re going to reconcile this over the long term I think is an open question, but I, quite frankly, would bet with the Chinese and move toward stability. So I think as this conflict continues, you’re going to see more tension in the Sino-Russian relationship.

HAASS: I don’t disagree with that. I think we’ve seen in the last forty-eight hours China beginning to almost slightly rebalance their straddle in the—slightly more distant from Russia. Like Putin, I think they’re surprised at how things have played out. They’re worried about—siding with Putin has hurt their image, the economic blowback they could get. I don’t think they figured out how to transition a little bit without making it look as though their leader made a mistake. That’s an awkward thing, shall we say, in contemporary China, so how to walk it back without exposing Xi Jinping is an interesting question. I think they’re probably somewhat pleased that the United States may have to worry more about European security than was the case beforehand; the so-called pivot to Asia may be somewhat complicated.

On the other hand, I would think China is sobered by the sanctions. If you’re thinking of moving against Taiwan, two things: one is the degree of international support for sanctions is quite extraordinary here and China, as you say, is much more of an investing, trading country than is Russia. And secondly, look how effective Ukraine’s defense has been, and the United States and NATO have not gotten directly involved. It’s an indirect offense. Well, with Taiwan, China cannot assume there would not be direct offense of Taiwan. So I actually think Chinese ambitions for Taiwan have to be recalibrated in light of all that’s happened over the last three weeks. And I think this—against the backdrop of what Lu was talking about with COVID, against some of their economic challenges, this is suddenly—2022 has turned out to be a very different year for Xi Jinping. When he thought of the Olympics leading to a coronation in the fall, I don’t think he anticipated all this in between, so this has become a very, again, unwelcomed year, I would think, from Mr. Xi’s point of view.

I want to make sure—I want to take advantage of Lu and Ebenezer before I turn to the next question.

Lu, it’s now ’22. How ready are we for COVID ’22 or ’23 or ’24? To what extent has the world learned lessons and applied those lessons? I know it’s hard to generalize, but are we in materially better shape for dealing with the next outbreak of infectious disease than we were for COVID-19?

BORIO: Wow. Well, so I think we’re better off with COVID-19 and I think we’re beginning to see that, even with a resurgence of cases in Europe. You know, I think it can be readily explained by loosening restrictions and the fact that we still have susceptibles. But it has to do with human behavior. I don’t think it has to do with, you know, that the variant is more contagious and that there is waning immunity. I think it’s all driven by how people are behaving, and in that way I think it’s—I’m very optimistic because people can—you know, they will adjust based on the perceived risk. People are going to continue to swing until they get this right and that’s the story for COVID. But clearly we haven’t learned our lessons and we have not done nearly enough—we’re not even talking about what happens to the next outbreak. And, you know, Richard, I think that this issue with Ukraine recently also brought to light again the real serious problem that has been neglected now for years about deliberate threats, you know, the false flag operation. We have not paid attention to that arm of biodefense in a long time and it’s—you know, we have to do that too. So there’s a lot of work ahead. I’m not optimistic at the moment, given the impasse we have even in Congress with the accounting for COVID spending and, you know, whether there will be more monies for COVID, but we remain extraordinarily vulnerable as a country to biothreats.

HAASS: On that happy note, Ebenezer, let me ask you one question—

OBADARE: (Laughs.)

HAASS: —which is, so much at times of Africa seems to be a function of what happens with Nigeria and South Africa as the two anchor countries, in some ways, of south of the Sahara. Has anything big happened with either—those of us who are not experts should be paying attention to? Have we missed anything of real significance in terms of developments with implications?

OBADARE: Yeah. I think we have, and that was one of the points I was trying to make earlier that we almost exclusively focus our attention on China, and Russia just literally flew under the radar. Everybody thought, you know, if you are thinking about, you know, foreign interests in Africa, you are thinking China. Not a lot of people were paying attention to Russia and I think one of the things that we’ve discovered over the last four weeks is that Russian influence not only runs deep, it also runs wide, and that’s why the reticence of many African countries and—to support, you know, the Western—to support the Ukrainian people against Russia has come as a surprise to many people. So I think that’s one thing that, you know, many people—that’s why, you know, it’s come as a surprise to many people that, you know, the African response has evolved the way it has.

HAASS: Let’s get a question here from—Dee, you had a question, your hand up. Let’s wait for a microphone and we’ll do our best to answer it or avoid it.

Q: Dee Smith, Strategic Insight Group and Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies, Benson Library, University of Texas.

So my question is kind of a big pan-out question, which is, do you think—and this is a question for everyone and anyone on the panel. Do you think that what has happened with the war in Ukraine and the pandemic and these other elements that are occurring is leading the world towards a more fractured, splintered, possibly autarchic reality, or is it, conversely, going to reinvigorate some kind of a neoliberal internationalism that takes us to a new version of the twentieth century?

HAASS: It’s a good question. I’ll take a quick crack at it and anyone else chime in or contradict what I say. I actually think it probably reinforces non-global responses. I think we’ve already seen it in certain realms like trade. Hard to see how that changes. I don’t see a revival in the WTO anytime soon. You know, in terms of monetary things—alternatives to a dollar-centric world; this weaponization of the dollar I think accelerates the moves to others, particularly countries like China, Russia, thinking about the latest deal with the Saudis. How do you, in some ways, reduce your vulnerability to what the United States might do in terms of applying political considerations to the role of the dollar? I think also it’s forced a lot of internal focus—I mean, people can talk about COP26 and COP27; in the meantime, look what’s happening in the energy—energy security, and I think we’re going to have a very big conversation about how to balance energy security with climate, responsible climate, but in the short run, look at, like, what China’s doing. It ain’t good for global concerns.

So yeah, I think—you know, there’s always a tension between the global challenges and the local responses. On the other hand, there have been some—the challenges aren’t any less global in terms of things like climate, but all—I mean, if you were ever hoping—getting to something Tom said—for a global response on cyber, which I wasn’t particularly hoping for, but I think the chances of that are even more remote than before in terms of both the offensive and defensive responses to it. So no, I don’t think it’s been a good three weeks for global governance, if that’s what you’re getting at.

Anybody else want to add to that or contradict me? Yes, no?

OBADARE: Sure. From an African standpoint, I wouldn’t say we are, you know, back to the Cold War template, but, you know, given some of the sympathies and the way in which, you know, the lines have been drawn over the last three or four weeks, there seems to be a little bit of that in the air, you know, the way in which some African countries are positioning themselves. But I think overall, what we see is that, you know, there seems to be this ascendant tri-polarity, you know, where, you know, now you have the West, you know, given a run for its money with Russia and China at the same time, there seems to be this new struggle, you know, for influence, you know, from those three poles. So we have this interesting situation where—you know, if you are looking for—if you’re looking to, you know, get an African country, you know, behind you, you know, you’re looking at China, on the one hand, you’re looking at Russia, on the one hand, and the West is also there, and that seems to be a very interesting, you know, configuration.

HAASS: Hey, Ray, let me just ask you a question, which is, we focused on the nuclear with Iran, but what about Iran’s bid to create influence and reshape the Middle East from Yemen through Syria through Lebanon? How’s that going? I mean, when Iran looks at strategic trends in the region, do they feel that the arc of history is bending in their direction?

TAKEYH: Well, Syria is more problematic because you have so many different actors in Syria—the Russians, the Turks, the Israelis—and the Iranians increasingly are at odds with President Assad themselves. As Syria moves from civil war to consolidation of government by President Assad, there are some tensions there. One of the tensions is who gets the reconstruction contracts? The Turks are getting more than the Iranians. Second is, what happens to the militias that Iranians like to have, as opposed to being incorporated in the Assad army as the Russians and the Syrians would like? So Syria’s becoming a little more problematic as the Iranians try to navigate that. Iraq may become more problematic but they’re so embedded in that that they seem to have good shape. Yemen was always about putting pressure on the Saudis and there are—there has always been negotiations going on between Iran and Saudi Arabia, actually hosted by Iraq; they’ve been suspended recently but that’s likely to get started again. And, you know, otherwise Afghanistan could become a problem as you begin to see the rise of the Taliban government and its inability to control the region, and also—control the Afghan territory—and also, the Iranians actually—they keep having problems with COVID because they’re not managing it correctly. The ministry of health in Iran has actually tried to do the responsible thing—social distancing and so on—except nobody listens to the ministry of health. (Laughter.) The ministry of health in all these Middle Eastern countries—

HAASS: Iran and America might be more alike than we realize.

TAKEYH: —ministry of health in all these countries tends to be one of the weaker of the agencies and therefore some of the COVID measures are not being implemented. They still have a large number of fatalities. They finally are trying to get access to Western vaccine because for a long time they thought—they insisted that Western vaccines are a form of conspiracy in themselves. So it’s a mixed picture, but, you know, they’re going to get more oil company and that always helps.

HAASS: Ray, why don’t we get another question from Washington?

TAKEYH: Do you have your question, ma’am?

Q: Thank you.

You touched already on Syria. It is the eleven-year anniversary of the uprising against the Assad regime. And my question was actually for both you and Tom, how you see Russia’s invasion of Ukraine impacting what Russia may do in Syria. I could see it going both ways right now, and if Russia’s potentially weakened, would that give Iran more maneuver—room to maneuver in the regime-controlled territories?

And I’m the Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship currently, Amy Austin Holmes. Thanks.

TAKEYH: I already said what the Iranian problems are going to have in Syria but Tom can pick up what the Russians will do.

GRAHAM: Well, you know, it’s a complicated situation for the Russians because of the problems they run into in Ukraine. They’re actually using Syrian fighters now to back up some of the Russian forces in Ukraine. So I imagine you’re going to see a less-active role by Russia in the Middle East over the next several months while they’re dealing with the crisis in Ukraine. You know, some of this will depend on how the Middle Eastern countries themselves react. I mean, obviously the Saudis, the UAE still are interested in maintaining some sort of relationship with Russia for their own purposes, but my guess is that you’re going to find that Russia is going to become increasingly focused on how it’s going to manage this conflict in Ukraine, how some of these other areas are going to be secondary and tertiary concerns for the next several months.

HAASS: Let’s get another from our national members.

OPERATOR: We will take the next question from William Perlstein.

Q: Good morning.

Can we address the question of India? FT reports this morning that they are at least discussing working with Russia to avoid the sanctions, to continue trade. We’ve devoted enormous efforts to try to work with India. Have we been surprised by the way that Modi has been approaching this?

I see you smiling, Richard.

HAASS: Well, I tweeted about it and I then was the recipient of about 1.3 billion criticisms. (Laughter.) I pointed out that India’s response was disappointing.

But Tom, why don’t you talk about the intimacy of the Indian-Russian relationship and to what extent that is a determining or dispositive factor on Indian behavior here?

GRAHAM: Well, look, I mean, the relationship goes back decades into the Cold War, and Russia—the Soviet Union and India developed a very close partnership throughout the Cold War. You know, and that has been maintained through the post-Cold War period. The Indians still rely for about 60 percent of their military on Russia. They need the spare parts, for example. They’ve worked very closely on the development of nuclear energy. But, you know, I think it’s important to remember here that, you know, in India’s strategic calculus, the primary threat is China and what they have tried to do in the relationship with Russia is keep Russia from enhancing China’s capabilities against India. So they find themselves in a very difficult situation. Clearly, they want a closer relationship with the United States because that helps them deal with China. They had been much more active in the Quad over the past several months. On the other hand, they don’t want to act in a way that would encourage the Russians not to supply them with the types of material they need to deal with the China threat, and also not to push, in their mind, Russia closer to China and therefore double the threat that they face from China. So they find themselves in a difficult position but they are now, I think, at a point we have to choose and I think Washington is going to drive that point home in the next several weeks.

TAKEYH: Can I just make a brief point about this? And I’ll be brief. I realize—Russia’s future is Iran’s past. I’ve seen this movie before. When international firms and international banks leave they don’t come back. When you’re off the SWIFT, that necessarily means—that’s $650 billion. That’s called reparations for Ukraine. However this crisis ends and it’s going to end ambiguously, however it ends, the notion of relying on China—the Iranians have this—there’s a special bank in China that has one customer; it’s called Iran. And you know what? You get oil—you sell them oil at discount and you get merchandise, toothpaste, whatever you want. Once you become so excised from the global financial institutions, the idea of cutouts in India and China are not going to be a substitute for that. Now, the Iranians’ point of view is we’re going to live with some measure of poverty. So the Russians better understand that the ramifications of this particular crisis moving forward is not to rekindle their international financial relationships as they existed before. This is a very important point. This is among the miscalculations that the Russians make. Now, I realize Russia is a more important country with ten million barrels of oil and so on, but those cutouts—that’s not the pathway to economic growth, and they better understand that. (Laughter.)

GRAHAM: Putin doesn’t, unfortunately. (Laughs.)

TAKEYH: Then he’ll be the second customer in that bank of China: Iran and Russia. (Laughter.) And the Chinese will demand discounts. And that calendar they give you, it costs a billion dollars. (Laughter.)

HAASS: Well, we are at the witching hour and so we’ll not—well, we won’t find out if Mr. Putin understands that quite as yet.

So I want to give thanks and lots of directions to our four fellows, Tom Graham here in New York, and to Lu Borio, Ebenezer Obadare, and Ray Takeyh in Washington. I want to give thanks to you, our members, and any others who are with us today. This entire program will be posted on the website, cfr.org.

In Washington and New York—for those of you on Zoom, I’m sorry, you have to get your own lunch, but for those in Washington and New York, we can actually provide some sandwiches, which, by the way, are not leftovers from two years ago—(laughter)—but are fresh, I am told, as a welcome-back reward. And again, we will be having meetings frequently in coming days, weeks, and however long focusing on all aspects, locally and globally and in between, of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. But as you’ve heard here today, we’ll also do our best not to lose sight of any number of other regional issues and functional issues that continue to drive and shape international relations and present choices for American foreign policy.

So with that, I want to thank everybody, and it’s great to see you. (Applause.)

(END)

This is an uncorrected transcript.

 

Top Stories on CFR

Afghanistan

A year after the U.S. withdrawal, half of Afghanistan’s population faces a food emergency, and the Taliban regime acts with cruelty and indifference.

China

China’s response to Speaker Pelosi’s Taiwan visit was an overreaction of choice

Energy and Environment

The United States is the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas. Its decision to either continue at this pace or curb production to achieve its climate goals will have global consequences.