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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Putin: Threat To Use Nuclear Weapons "Not A Bluff;" Interview with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired October 02, 2022 - 10:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It will likely again help determine which party controls Congress.

BASH: Thanks so much for spending your Sunday morning with us. Fareed Zakaria starts now with a brand new exclusive interview with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you from New York.


ZAKARIA: Today on the program, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin joins me exclusively. We'll talk about the war in Ukraine and how it is going. Putin's nuclear threats and the annexation of Ukraine's lands. And about fears over a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

Also, just what is Vladimir Putin thinking? I will talk to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man who knew the Russian president well before Putin jailed him.

Finally, the new term of the Supreme Court starts tomorrow. And I will give you a sneak peek of my newest documentary, "SUPREME POWER, INSIDE THE HIGHEST COURT IN THE LAND" airs tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.


ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. Italy and Sweden are about as different as two European countries can get. One is Catholic, Mediterranean, sunny and chaotic. The other protestant, northern, chilly, and ordered. Over the decades, they've had very different political trajectories. But now both are witnessing the striking rise of parties that have some connections to fascism.

In each country this rise has coincided with the collapse of support for the center left. And it all centers on an issue that the Biden administration would do well to take very seriously -- immigration.

Giorgia Meloni, the likely next prime minister of Italy, is a charismatic 45-year-old politician. Her campaign promised a familiar attack on the forces of globalization, and a comforting story that she would somehow bring back the good old days before George Soros ruined everything. In a video that went viral, she says he's proud of all the things that globalists want you to be ashamed of. Being Christian, a mother, Italian, et cetera.

A big part of her actual program is immigration. Nations only exist if there are borders and those are defended, she says. Promising a naval blockade if that is what it takes to stop the flow of illegal migrants from the Mediterranean.

The appeal of Sweden Democrats, the far-right party, also centers around immigration. The party talks a great deal about the rise of crime, gang violence and abuse of the country's generous welfare state.

But its main campaign proposal was a 30-point plan designed to turn Sweden, which is arguably one of the most generous immigration systems in Europe, into the most restrictive. It is time to put Sweden first, says Jimmie Akesson, the dynamic 43-year-old leader of Sweden Democrats.

There is lots of demagoguery in these two politicians and their parties. But there is also an important truth at the heart of their appeal. Immigration in many European countries is out of control. By out of control, I do not mean it is too high.

It's impossible to say what the right number is for any given country. I mean that migration is now largely taking place in a chaotic manner with massive surges and flows, rampant human smuggling and crime, and a total breakdown of the legal system by which countries evaluate and admit applicants.

Sweden now has about 20 percent of its population foreign born, which is much higher than the United States. Where that number is about 14 percent. America is different from Europe. American identity is political, while European countries' national identity at least historically has been based on ethnicity, religion and culture. Either way, there are limits to how many people a country can absorb.

About 5 percent of the U.S. population was foreign born in the 1970s. Since then that number has almost tripled. Even so people can be convinced that large numbers of outsiders can be assimilated and absorbed. What enrages them is the sense that people no longer become immigrants through a process, that the host country controls, but rather by crossing the border illegally, claiming asylum state status, gaining entry and then simply sticking around.


And that fear is justified. The American asylum system has broken down. It was designed after World War II in the wake of the holocaust to take in people who faced immediate and dire persecution. Today, many people seeking asylum face hardships but much like those that have traditionally led people to seek a better life here. Poverty, crime, disease, dislocation. They are deeply deserving of dignity and decent treatment. But anyone claiming asylum for only those reasons is abusing the

system in order to bypass the normal immigration process. And that process in America is now utterly dysfunctional. Already clogged and understaffed, Donald Trump deliberately jammed it up even more to the point that routine business visa applications from countries like India, can take months.

Students cannot enter the United States even after getting scholarships. And work visa applications now rest on the chance of applicants winning a lottery literally.

The Biden administration is going into this midterm with a strong hand. It could be undone by this one issue. It's found an intelligent way to speed up the consideration of asylum requests that so feels woefully inadequate to the backlog at hand. There are more than 670,000 people living in America waiting for their asylum applications to be considered.

Biden needs to find a way to demonstrate that his administration is taking control of immigration in general and the border in particular. Then he can propose the obvious compromise that could appeal to most Americans.

A better, faster, more predictable legal immigration system but a tough one, more effective way to restrict illegal immigration. Or else, the populist right will use this issue to keep gaining ground in America just as it has in Italy and Sweden.

Go to for a link to the my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.

I want to start today's show with my exclusive interview with the secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin. Austin spent 41 years in the Army, finishing up as commander of CENTCOM. When we spoke on Friday, Secretary Austin was in Hawaii, where he held meetings with Indo- Pacific allies about security in that region. We'll get to all that in a moment particularly concerns about China's military moves, but first, Russia and Ukraine.


ZAKARIA: Secretary Austin, pleasure to have you on the program.

LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Thanks, Fareed. It's a real pleasure to be with you.

ZAKARIA: I was in Ukraine a couple of weeks and talked to a number of people there, including your counterpart. One of the things that they do say is that they would dearly wish for more American weaponry, but particularly longer range weapons. The Biden administration has been hesitant to do that because of the fear of these weapons essentially reaching into Russia, seeming to be an attack on Russia.

Now, my question to you is, Russia has just changed the game. They have annexed all this -- all the entire Donbas, all those four regions. So in effect, any missile that hits Russian positions in the Donbas is already an attack on Russia.

In this new circumstance, why not lean forward, give the Ukrainians the longer-range weaponry they're asking for? By Russian law, you're hitting Russia any way when these missiles are hitting the Donbas.

AUSTIN: Two things here, Fareed. As you heard us say, this referendum is a sham, it's fiction. And we will never respect their illegal annexation of Ukraine territory and nor will most of the international community. So that's one thing. The second thing is, you know, I talked to my counterpart, the minister of Defense there in Ukraine, Mr. Reznikov, routinely. As a matter of fact I just talked to him last night.

We talk about what's -- how the fight's going, what's needed, and what's upcoming. And we've been very effective in providing them those things that are very, very effective on a battlefield, and they have used them in the right way. So they have the capability with the HIMARS and the GMLRS which is around that the HIMARS employs, they can range targets in almost every piece of Ukraine territory.


ZAKARIA: Now part of the annexation, you know, Russia's annexation is the statement by President Putin that he has now made twice, that these territories are now Russian, and that he will defend these Russian territories with every means possible. And Russian media has repeatedly interpreted that to mean very specifically nuclear weapons, as has Dmitri Medvedev. So this seems to raise the stakes enormously.

What do you make of the fact that Vladimir Putin is essentially saying at this point that if he feels there is an attack from NATO, I suppose, on Russian territory, which now includes all of the Donbas, he reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response?

AUSTIN: Again, it's an illegal claim. It's an irresponsible statement. These are -- this nuclear saber rattling is not the kind of thing that we would expect to hear from leaders of large countries with capability. And so what we can expect to see, we can expect that the Ukrainians will continue to move forward and attempt to take back all of the territory within their -- within their sovereign borders here. And so I don't think that's going to stop, and we will continue to support them in their efforts.

ZAKARIA: Have you conveyed to the Russians privately just how dangerous these threats are, or what kind of retaliation they might expect from the West were there to be a use of tactical nuclear weapons?

AUSTIN: Well, you've heard people in our -- in our leadership, among our leadership that have said that we have communicated to them recently. Personally, I've not talked to Shoigu in recent days, but I have talked to him in the past and I have addressed this very issue and warned to not go down this path and conduct this type of irresponsible behavior. So yes, I have done that in the past personally, but I've not talked to him recently.

ZAKARIA: Did you get the sense he got it? He -- you know, you felt like he heard your message?

AUSTIN: I do. I think he heard my message. But, you know, to be clear, the guy who makes that decision -- I mean, it's one man. There are no checks on Mr. Putin. Just as he made the irresponsible decision to invade Ukraine, you know, he could make another decision. But I don't see anything right now that would lead me to believe that he has made such a decision.

ZAKARIA: Mr. Secretary, what is your analysis of how well Ukraine has done? We've all seen and been stunned by this recapture of territory, the Russians fleeing. But what I want to ask you is a question that everyone has is, you know, they've been able to do a lot. They'll probably be able to push forward some more.

But is it likely that in the next few months the Ukrainians will be able to really rout the Russian position in the Donbas, or are we likely to get to some kind of stalemate where Ukraine takes back some territory, but Russia defends a lot of it and they're kind of stuck in a stalemate?

AUSTIN: It's hard to predict what exactly is going to happen. I think the Ukrainians have amazed the world in terms of their ability to fight back, their ability to exercise initiative, their commitment to the defense of their democracy, and that willingness to fight has rallied the international community in an effort to help provide them the security assistance so that they can continue to fight.

They did a magnificent job early on. They won the battle of Kyiv. We saw a bit of a slowdown, a stalemate as the battle transitioned to the Donbas, and it was defined by long-range fires. But then, you know, as the Ukrainians began to receive the technology HIMARS and employed that technology the right way and began to conduct attacks on things like logistical stores and command and control, that's taking away -- taken away significant capability from the Russians. That's also changed the dynamics and it's created an opportunity for the Ukrainians to maneuver.


So what we're seeing now is kind of a change in the battlefield dynamics. They've done very, very well in the Kharkiv area, and moved to take advantage of opportunities. The fight in the Kherson region is going a bit slower, but they're making progress. So they're getting the right things and they're employing the right way.

So it's not just about the equipment that you have, Fareed, it's about how you employ that equipment, how you synchronize things together to create battle field effects that then can create opportunities. And they've done very, very well.

In terms of what will happen going forward, hard to predict. But I would say that whatever direction that this goes in, we will continue to provide security assistance to the Ukrainians for as long as it takes.

We're all very hopeful that they will continue to make progress at the rate that they have. But, again, I fought in enough wars and battles to know that no one can really predict a particular outcome of any battle.

You just have to focus on doing the right things at the right time. And so we will continue to support the Ukrainians as you have heard our president say for as long as it takes.


ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, from Ukraine to Taiwan. Does the American secretary of Defense think that China will attack the self-governing island? And how will the United States respond if it does? Back in a moment.



ZAKARIA: Two weeks ago, President Biden pledged on "60 Minutes" to defend Taiwan if the island were to be attacked. The man who would actually have to oversee, manage, and execute that defense is my guest today, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. I wanted to get his take on the matter.


ZAKARIA: Joe Biden said that if China were to invade Taiwan, the United States would come to its defense, and he was very categorical, American men and women would fight to deter that, to defend against that attack. That has struck many people as a line further than presidents have committed to in the past.

Are you preparing the American military for a full-out defense of Taiwan using all America's means if there were to be an invasion?

AUSTIN: The president has been consistent in his approach to this in what he said. He's also said on a number of occasions, Fareed, that our China policy, one-China policy hasn't changed. In addition to that, he said that, you know, it's -- we don't want to see a unilateral change to the status quo.

And so, again, we'll continue to do what we have been doing in working with our allies and partners, to make sure that we can maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

In accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, you know, we're committed to helping Taiwan develop the capability to defend itself. And that work has gone on over time. It will continue into the future.

ZAKARIA: But as you said, Mr. Secretary, in a very diplomatic answer, the Taiwan Relations Act commits the United States to help Taiwan defend itself. President Biden said the United States will defend Taiwan. These are two different things with enormous implications. And I'm asking you, the president has pretty clearly said he wants the second. Is the American military prepared to do that? AUSTIN: The American military is always prepared to protect our

interests, and live up to our commitments. Now, certainly the president -- I think the president was clear in providing his answers as he responded to a hypothetical question. But, again, we continue to work to make sure that we have the right capabilities in the right places to ensure that we help our allies maintain a free throw and open Indo-Pacific.

ZAKARIA: You are in the Asia Pacific, you're dealing with some of the issues that the countries there are asking you about. And when I've talked to leaders there regarding the kind of central issue of Taiwan, what I hear is they are all concerned about China's increasing bellicosity, but they do think the immediate crisis has passed, the period after Nancy Pelosi's visit, and they don't seem to fear an imminent invasion by China. Would you agree with that?

AUSTIN: I would, Fareed. I don't see an imminent invasion either. What we do see is China moving to establish what we would call a new normal, increased activity. We saw a number of center line crossings of the Taiwan Strait by their aircraft. And that number has increased over time. We've seen more activity with their surface vessels in the waters in and around Taiwan. So I think that China used that opportunity of a congressional delegation's visit to begin to try to create a new normal.


And again, this is something that bears watching. We're going to continue to work with our allies and partners in the region to make sure that we're doing what is necessary to ensure that we maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific. We want to be able to sail the seas and fly the skies in international airways, and so we're going to continue to say focused on that.

ZAKARIA: As China develops its military capacity, and as it moves more aggressively forward in places like the Taiwan Straits, the South China Sea, it seems the risk of some kind of miscalculation could grow. And I'm wondering, are you comfortable with the level of dialogue you have with your counterpart in China? And do you wish you could have better working relationships with the Chinese military, if nothing else, to avoid some kind of miscalculation?

AUSTIN: I think those open channels are critical to both of us. I think that we should do everything that we can to ensure that we have the ability to engage our counterparts routinely. And I've spoken with Minister Wei both on the phone and in person, and emphasized how important this is.

And so we'll do everything we can to continue to signal that we want does channels open, and I would hope that China would begin to lean forward a bit more and work with us.

ZAKARIA: But they're not open right now. What does he say to you when you tell him that?

AUSTIN: Well, of course, he agreed that it is important, and you're right, they're not open. And we'll keep working to ensure that we can open them.

ZAKARIA: Mr. Secretary, pleasure and honor to have you on the program, sir.

AUSTIN: Always a pleasure, Fareed.


ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, understanding Putin. I talk to former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky for his insight on what Putin may be thinking with his explosive rhetoric and erratic moves.



ZAKARIA: It's the big question in global affairs today. What in the world is Vladimir Putin thinking? It may not be answerable by anybody except the Russian president himself. But I find it helpful to talk to people who know Putin, who have worked with him. And my next guest fits that bill.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was a Russian oligarch, owner of a Russian oil and gas company, and at one time, the richest man in Russia. But then he got on Putin's bad side while promoting reforms in Russia and spent a decade in prison for fraud and tax evasion. Charges he says were politically motivated.

He is now one of Putin's biggest critics and lives in excite in the U.K. His new book is "The Russian Conundrum: How the West Fell for Putin's Power Gambit and How to Fix It." Mikhail, welcome.

So let me ask you first the question I think that is the most urgent and important which is Putin's threat to use nuclear weapons. He said, "This is not a bluff." What do you think, is Putin bluffing?

MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY, AUTHOR, "THE RUSSIA CONUNDRUM" (through translator): Putin is in a difficult situation now. If he loses in Ukraine, he is going to lose power and also possibly his life. And in this context, his readiness to use any method at his disposal is not a bluff.

But at the same time, the mere fact that he has declared mobilization this means that in the nearest future he is not planning to use nuclear weapons. And it is unlikely that this is going to be posted on the agenda in a proper way before the beginning of next year.

ZAKARIA: But let me just be clear, you're saying that he's now going to try, as it were, to use mobilization, and to use these new 300,000 Russian forces to attack the Ukrainians. But you do believe that if that doesn't work, and if he is cornered, he could, in fact, use nuclear weapons?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I think that if mobilization does not yield the desired victory, the question of using tactical nuclear weapons is going to be on the agenda. ZAKARIA: And when you think about this question, how are you thinking about what Putin's mindset is right now? You said he's worried about losing, because if he loses in Ukraine, he would -- he would lose in Russia, and he might even lose his life. Explain to me how that would work.

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): When he declared mobilization, he made a very dangerous step. He has handed weapons into the arms of ordinary people, common people. Who are these ordinary people? When they arrive on the battlefield and find out what's happening there, they can easily turn their arms against the Kremlin itself.


And this has already happened in Russian history before, a hundred years ago it happened.

ZAKARIA: The last time you talked to him, you said he told you, you know, it's all right for you to keep doing what you're doing but make sure your company does not in any way fund the political opposition. And you responded and said, well, the company won't, but I'm not going to promise that any individual will not.

What I'm wondering is tell us what his -- what was he like at that time? Was he -- was he threatening? Was he -- was it like a mafia boss? Give us a sense of how Putin wields power.

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): In the Kremlin during our conversation, it became clear that he had decided to rule the country as one would rule a gang but at that time he wasn't a bloody dictator. This happened in front of our eyes. In front of our eyes, step by step, from somebody who violated a sovereignty of a neighboring country in 2014, when he annexed Crimea. From that person, through the person who decided to attack a neighboring country, this evolution has happened from an autocrat through a -- via a dictator into a bloody murderer, a bloody assassin.

ZAKARIA: Do you think people like President Macron and Chancellor Scholz should be talking to Vladimir Putin at all?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I think that dialogue is necessary with anyone even if it's a gangster who has taken hostages. Nevertheless, we have to realize that for any gangster a dialogue with this gangster in a situation when the bandit or the gangster feels that he has the upper hand is demonstrating your weakness. And if you demonstrate your weakness over and over again trying to negotiate something with this gangster, this provokes this gangster to further attack, to further steps. Because they think that they're strong when they are, in fact, weak. And I think this is the problem of some western leaders who are trying to negotiate with Putin and don't take it into account.

ZAKARIA: Stay with us. We will be back with more of my interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky. I will ask him whether it is possible to imagine a Russia after Putin.



ZAKARIA: And we are back with the man who was once Russia's most successful businessman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky now living in exile in London.

You say in your book that as long as Putin and his regime is ruling Russia, Russia should be treated like North Korea. But the question I have is, like North Korea in a way, many people have been waiting to see fissures or cracks in the ruling elite in Russia or some sense that Putin is under pressure. And so far, it's been difficult to find. Do you think there are cracks in Putin's structure of power?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): These cracks undoubtedly have appeared after the mobilization was declared. And these cracks are in fact are between those people who think that there should be no doubt about the war. And those people who understand that what is happening now is kicking them out. Not just from a civilized community of people, politicians, but from life itself. Expelling them, not just them, but their families, as well. And this split, these cracks have already appeared.

ZAKARIA: So one way, of course, to deal with this issue is more assistance to Ukraine, help Ukraine do better and better on the battlefront. Is there -- are there other things that western countries could do to help put the pressure on Vladimir Putin?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I think that at the moment, the most effective lever of pressure on Putin is victory on the battlefield. If the supplies of modern weapons allowed Ukraine to quickly move to the internationally recognized borders, this would remove the risks.

But when we're talking about longer term, here the West has a serious lever of pressure of influence. These are sanctions. And I think that sanctions linked to curbing prices on energy are quite odd.

The decision that has been offered now on having a cap on Russian energy is something that doesn't work in the market economy. If our objective is to reduce the income that Russia is getting from selling energy, from supplying energy, one could introduce tariffs for Russian energy supplies that would actually remove the premium that Russia is getting today, because the European market for Russian energy supplies is a premium market.


Of course, this would not impact short term. But in the medium term, it would have a really serious blow to the finance that Putin has at his disposal.

ZAKARIA: When I look at Russia and Putin, what strikes me is how personalized the power structure is. You know, when you think about the rules of succession, for example, you know, we know what happens in a monarchy. When the king dies, the crown prince becomes the king. If in a politburo in China, for example, if the leader dies the politburo gets together and elects a new leader.

What happen if Putin dies? It feels to me like nobody knows. Russia is run not by a set of institutions but just by this one man.

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): Over the past 20 years of his rule, Putin has formed a totally criminal government. It is a regime he's holding under his control, because he is pitching people against each other in his entourage. This already happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin. And after Stalin's death, his closest circle fell into conflicts which lasted for two years. And then they crowned Khrushchev.

So if nothing is being done, a similar scenario would emerge after the death of Vladimir Putin. Anyone who is going to aspire to become the next Putin would either have to face -- or put his faith in the power structures including the security -- various security services or guarantee their entourage a better relationship with the West.

And this is very important, because Russian society is tired of a strong hand. And I think it is quite likely the second type of leader is going to be integrated demand. If they work together, the Russian opposition, the regions, and the West, there is a great chance that we will get a normal, acceptable, peacefully minded country with quite a sufficient Democratic political leadership at least at the federal level.

ZAKARIA: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, pleasure to have you on.

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): Thank you. Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, I will give you a sneak preview of my latest documentary on the huge controversies roiling the Supreme Court of the United States. I get into the leaks, the overturning of precedent, the politics, the personalities, the history. That preview in just a moment.



ZAKARIA: The Supreme Court's last term shattered precedents, especially with the landmark decision Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned federal protection of the right to an abortion. Tomorrow, it will begin a new term. On the docket are cases that could determine the status of protections under the Voting Rights Act and the Clean Water Act, and the future of affirmative action. These decisions will be made by a Supreme Court that has become more nakedly partisan.

How did we get here? That is the subject of my latest special airing tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, "SUPREME POWER, INSIDE THE HIGHEST COURT IN THE LAND." And perhaps the most illuminating place to start is how the Supreme Court reached the decision this summer to overturn Roe v. Wade.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZAKARIA (voice-over): May 2nd of this year, an idyllic spring morning, no hint of what is to come that night. The nine justices of the Supreme Court attend a memorial service for one of their own, the late John Paul Stevens. The end of the court's term is just weeks away.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A whole host of consequential decisions to come.

ZAKARIA: A bitterly divided country awaits a momentous decision.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is this the end of Roe v. Wade?

ZAKARIA: At the service, the judges look collegial. They call themselves, a happy family. Beneath the surface, there is much more to this story.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They've not only aren't getting along with each other, they don't like each other.

ZAKARIA: It is a court at war with itself. And in the center stands Chief Justice John Roberts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John Roberts is someone who is used to winning.

ZAKARIA: He's very much a judicial conservative.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not a fan of Roe versus Wade.

ZAKARIA: But the chief is said to be keenly aware that abolishing Roe could tear America apart --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He cared more about preserving the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

ZAKARIA: -- which meant saving Roe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wasn't going to let go.

ZAKARIA: Months earlier oral arguments in the case of Dobbs versus Jackson Women's Health Center.


At issue, a Mississippi law that would limit but not eliminate the right to an abortion. But five justices want to abolish it all together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The conservatives to his right wanted to go all out against Roe v. Wade.

JUSTICE SAMUEL A. ALITO JR., U.S. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: The fetus has an interest in having a life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought it was stunning.

ZAKARIA: To save Roe, Roberts must change one vote -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was really one desperate hope. It all came down to Kavanaugh.

ZAKARIA: -- Justice Brett Kavanaugh.


ZAKARIA: There's lots more. Watch my special "SUPREME POWER, INSIDE THE HIGHEST COURT IN THE LAND" tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN. And thank you for being part of my program this week. I'll see you tonight and then right back again here next week.