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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Ukraine Turns Up The Heat On Russia; Iran Gripped By Anti- Government Protests; Rebuffing Biden, OPEC Plus Slashes Oil Production; Interview With The Head Of The Office Of The President Of Ukraine Andriy Yermak. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired October 09, 2022 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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: On today's program, is Ukraine winning the war? And how do we handle Putin's nuclear threats? I will ask that to the former NATO supreme commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark.
Also 43 years later, are we on the verge of another revolution in Iran? The images of mostly young people rising up against the regime have captivated all of us. I will talk to an Iranian writer who explains what the protesters want.
And at a time when economies are struggling around the globe and Russia is already getting a billion dollars every few days in oil and gas revenues, why in the world did OPEC just slash oil production?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything has a price. Energy security has a price.
ZAKARIA: We will explain.
ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. One of the few issues on which there is a consensus in Washington, D.C. is that American policy toward China was built on an intellectual error. Liberals and conservatives both believe that Beijing's embrace of free markets and its integration with the global market would fundamentally change China. But they didn't, and so the consensus goes, we should recognize that this was a naive belief in the power of markets and trade.
In fact, viewing China on the eve of the pivotal 20th Party Congress, I'm struck by how little that line of analysis captures what has actually happened in China over the last decades. China has gone through profound economic and social changes. Its per capita GDP has gone up almost 30 fold since the start of economic liberalization in 1978. Mass education and urbanization have changed the face of the country. Hundreds of millions of Chinese are now middle class, use the most
cutting edge tools of the information revolution, and have considerable freedom to own property, start businesses and change residences, all previously forbidden.
It is precisely in response to these massive changes that Xi Jinping has launched his program of repression and centralization. You see when Xi came to power he determined that economic liberalization was actually transforming China profoundly in a bad way.
He believed that the Communist Party was on the verge of becoming irrelevant in a society dominated by capitalism and consumerism. So he cracked down in every sphere imaginable, attacking the private sector, humiliating billionaires, reviving communist ideology, purging the party of corrupt officials and ramping up nationalism, mostly anti- Western, in both word and deed.
In this regard Xi follows a familiar pattern. In dictatorships where liberalization and growth have produced a middle class, the regime's first response is to maintain its hold on power. In the era when South Korea and Taiwan were still autocracies, economic liberalization there gradually led to a growing middle class and calls for greater political freedom, prompting the regimes to crack down, often violently. Yet repression did not work and eventually gave way to democracy.
The real question to ask then is why China's response to the changes unleashed by its market opening has been so successful? Why has Xi Jinping's campaign of repression worked where other East Asian ones did not? The answer lies in a brilliant 2021 essay by a Chinese scholar Minxin Pei. Pei points out that China is today almost unique in the world. Almost every country with a per capital income higher than China's is either a democracy of some sort or an oil and gas dictatorship.
You see petrol states enable a country to get rich without modernizing the economy or society since all they have to do is dig in the ground for natural wealth. Why is China the great exception? Pei revives an old distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.
In the former, government is repressive but not all encompassing. In the latter like China and the Soviet Union, the state dominates all spheres of life and does not allow an independent civil society to develop.
The Chinese Communist Party dominates everything in China. When a social movement rises outside of the party, like the Falun Gong, the party views it as a mortal threat and shuts it down.
At the heart of Xi Jinping's world view is his horror regarding the demise of Soviet communism. Xi has expressed the view that this happened because the communist party leaders there lost faith in their ideology and their movement. He sees Mikhail Gorbachev as a foolish reformer who opened up the political system only to see the whole country collapse. The lesson, double down on Leninist party control.
In the conditions of a totalitarian state, Pei points out, the changes produced by economic growth lead to the need for more and more repression, producing in China, and I would add Russia, a reversion to neo-Stalinism.
Putin and Xi are similar in recognizing that too much contact in commerce with the West can undermine their rule, inspiring them to search for ways to make their countries less dependent on the West and to consolidate their personalized rule.
The problem for Xi is that he's steering China on a very dangerous path. The state is now dominating the economy again and growth has slowed considerably. Enterprising Chinese businessmen are moving to Singapore and elsewhere. Areas of Chinese society that were once lively and innovative are closing down. Meanwhile, international hostility to Xi's expansionism is growing.
Pei points out that the neo-Stalinist model bottles up all the forces of change, leaving only one door open -- revolution. As Pei notes, by 2035, China will have about 300 million college graduates. Will they be content to live quietly under Xi's reign of repression?
Go to CNN.com/fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
Yesterday morning, a Kerch Strait Bridge suffered great damage after a massive explosion. That span the longest in Europe connects Russia to Crimea which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Ukrainians express great excitement about the disaster. The Ukrainian government's own Twitter account summed up the sentiment in two words, "Sick burn." The explosion was undoubtedly a setback for Russia, part of a month-long string of them.
Retired General Wes Clark joins us now to help us understand what's going on. He is a former Supreme Allied commander of NATO, who is now a CNN military analyst.
Wes, the Crimean bridge, I've heard people say things like this is -- you know, a body blow because the Russians will not be able to resupply. But I've also heard people say well, they'll be able to repair this easily. How significant is this bridge explosion?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think it's very significant psychologically and politically. I think in terms of the military impact of it, it's too early to know. It's at least a marginal impact, but certainly not a significant blow to what Russia is doing in Ukraine. Not yet. It will be the subject, no doubt, of continuing efforts by the Ukrainians.
ZAKARIA: So if you look at the northeast, you know, the Russian position seems to have collapsed. The Ukrainians are just moving forward slowly but steadily. The real fight is in and around Kherson. What is the Ukrainian objective there, and why is it so important?
CLARK: Well, Kherson, if you can take it, it eliminates the Russian bridge head on the west bank or the right bank of the Dnipro River there. And that stops the threat or at least reduces the threat to Odessa. It gives more access to the Black Sea to the Ukrainians and it opens the way to regaining Crimea.
So it's very important. They're trying to isolate the right bank from the left bank, cut off the logistics, go after the command and control, leave those Russian soldiers, some 25,000 there, isolated, under attack and let their demoralization and fear factor work and really tick off the commanders, the control, and work their way through in that. It's a tough fight. But they've got the momentum.
ZAKARIA: And you've often said, and when you say this, you remind me of Omar Bradley's great line, amateurs talk strategy, experts talk logistics. You've often said -- your advice to the Ukrainians is do not outrun your lines. What does that mean?
CLARK: Well, that's exactly right. When you're on the offensive like this, you've got to pace it. You've got to not outrun your lines of communication. Troops have to be rested, ammunition has to be resupplied, weapons have to be cleaned, equipment has to be repaired, you have to rotate.
You don't want to sort of push ahead, run into an ambush, lose your force. So we would call that a culminating point. And so what we want the Ukrainians to do, what we hope they're doing is measuring their attack, working smoothly, make it so it lasts in the northeast and against Kherson. Step by step, use reconnaissance intelligence, pick the targets, use precision fire, protect your force as you advance.
ZAKARIA: What are you struck by when you watch the Russian forces and how they fight and how they behave? You've spent a lot of time looking at this kind of thing.
CLARK: Yes, I went to Russia several times. I was NATO commander. I actually looked at Russian forces, talked to the generals, looked at their training methods. They haven't really advanced since World War I. The idea of fighting the Russian forces, they've got high technology, they educate the generals, give the peasants a rifle and tell them to attack and you need a really mean general who will take harsh discipline against them if they don't perform.
But it's mostly about artillery, it's about the weight of fire and the individual soldier, well, he's just out there. And this is the exact opposite, Fareed, at the way we believe wars are won. We say it's the individual soldier, his character, his commitment, his training, his weapon, his ability to be protected to deliver precision fire.
Generals, commanders, they can lose the battle, they can set the conditions for success, but they can't win it. It's won at the soldier level. Ukrainians get this. The Russians clearly don't.
ZAKARIA: Do you think as a consequence, will the 300,000 mobilization work? These are completely untrained, I assume, Russians. CLARK: I think some of them may have had some initial training. And it
doesn't take long to teach a man to fire an AK-47 or AK-74 or an RPG. But the thing about it is that it's about team work, it's about trust, it's about building cohesive units. And none of that is going to happen with these Russian new recruits. They're going to be thrown into the line as fillers for units that have been decimated and have already lost confidence in their commanders.
So, yes, if they're attacked, they'll probably shoot back initially to defend themselves. But a cohesive force, not going to happen in the near term.
ZAKARIA: And Wes, what should we make of Putin's nuclear threats? They do seem to be having some effect. For example, I mean, this one person, Donald Trump is now saying if we don't have a negotiated peace between Ukraine and Russia, we're going to have World War III. So that's the specter that Putin is raising, right, by talking about nuclear weapons.
CLARK: Yes, I think that's right. And, you know, the Russians have spent 60 years trying to instill a fear of nuclear power and nuclear weapons in the West. And they've done this as recently as in August. When Putin said no one could win a nuclear war, OK, then why is he threatening a nuclear war?
Because this is basically a psychological effort against the United States, and men like Donald Trump are picking it up and they want to undercut the will and resolve of the West to assist the Ukrainians in this fight.
Now if the weapons were used, they can be used against fixed targets. You can target Kharkiv and do horrible damage to Kharkiv. But when you're trying to hit moving forces with artillery delivered, nuclear weapons, we tried that for years in U.S. military exercises in Germany, in the United States, everywhere, and we never got very good results with it because there's too many moving parts. It's too difficult.
So you end up with some weapons fired and in this scenario, lots of tree blow down, holes in the ground, and maybe troops get sick three months later from radiation poisoning. But in every case it was a disappointment tactically.
It did not yield strong, immediate tactical results. But if he uses them, there will be strong psychological impact. So we have to be very careful on the one hand saying that, OK, this would be a really bad step if they use it.
But on the other hand, we don't want to get ourselves so scared of this that we don't support the Ukrainians because the way out of this is to give Ukraine the military assistance it needs as rapidly as possible, and push Putin out, leave him no choice, make it so that the use of nuclear weapons won't make a difference tactically. He then has to find his own strategy.
ZAKARIA: Wes Clark, brilliant analysis. Really thank you. We will be back on Iran.
ZAKARIA: On Thursday, Secretary of State Blinken announced sanctions against Iran's ministers of the interior and communications and five other officials of the Islamic Republic. All for their roles in the crackdown against protesters. The unrest was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa had been arrested by the morality police, accused of violating Iran's dress code. And at the forefront of the protests against her killing are women and young people.
I want to bring in Roya Hakakian to help us understand the movement, its meaning and its power. She is an Iranian-American writer.
Roya, welcome. I wanted to ask you first, what was your -- what are your impressions just watching these protests? What is it that you are noticing?
ROYA HAKAKIAN, IRANIAN-AMERICAN WRITER: I'm noticing something I haven't seen since 1979. Some of the images that are coming out of Iran are very much reminiscent of the country that I remember, the turmoil that I remember from 1978 and 1979. Kids were grouping up. The images of the Shah out of their textbooks.
They were tearing down, you know, the images of the Supreme Leader this time around from their classrooms. There is a unified movement throughout the country that is focused on a singular slogan we have never heard, which is women like freedom and I think it signals toward a major, major shift from all the past demonstrations that we have seen before.
ZAKARIA: What I noticed, Roya, was that they were tearing pictures not just of Ayatollah Khamenei, the current supreme leader, but of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founding supreme leader of Iran, which strikes me as almost getting to the core of the regime's legitimacy.
HAKAKIAN: Precisely. You're exactly right. No demonstration in the past, no protest, no group that had come out to object to the regime had ever gone this far. And this moment, where they are saying not only the president, not only the current supreme leader, but the very founder of this regime is the very person that we no longer want to identify with, I think is the signal that we have reached a point of no return. That the nation has crossed a boundary that it had never crossed before.
ZAKARIA: Why do you think Mahsa Amini, her case, why did it trigger this?
HAKAKIAN: Because she's every woman. Because, first of all, she was a Kurdish woman. She was in Tehran with her brother for a visit. She was not an activist. She was not in any shape or form political. The fact that she was every woman, the fact that she was ordinary, is the reason why everybody is, I think, so up in arms because she could be me, she could be anybody's sister, she could be anybody's mother. And if that happened to her, then no woman in Iran could possibly be safe.
ZAKARIA: I think I read somewhere that you wrote that Iranians have tried protesting and asking for reform in so many ways. You know, there was the Green Movement that elected a reformist president in fact twice, Khatami and Rouhani, and nothing seems to work. Is this -- do you think it's fair to say this is now for at least these Iranians are calling not for reform but revolution?
HAKAKIAN: This is way past reform. People gave reform a lot of time to work and it didn't. So they have turned to revolution, and that's precisely what's happening in Iran at the moment.
ZAKARIA: In the past, these protests have not led to anything. Can they succeed this time?
HAKAKIAN: The demonstrators are saying that they don't intend to go home and they don't intend to stop. The regime, the system, has entirely lost its legitimacy. Now whether the demonstrators succeed or not will in part depend on the support that the international community and the United States will provide them. And they should have every incentive, especially America, to do just that.
For 40 plus years, the United States has been waiting for Iranians to stop burning American flags, burning the U.S. effigies of Uncle Sam and not considering the United States, not calling the United States the great Satan. Well, these demonstrators are out on the streets chanting and what they're saying, the slogans that they're chanting is our enemy is right here, they lie when they say it's the United States.
We have reached the point that we have always wanted to reach us Americans. Iranians have foregone of the hostility that they have had with us. Now will we hear the voice of the people as Americans? Will we side with the people and do the right thing this time to correct all of our past mistakes as Americans in Iran and other places in the Middle East where we identify ourselves, we side with the tyrants, and do we hear the plight of the people?
That will depend on us and if we do that, if we right the things that we have done wrong, historically, then the demonstrators will certainly have a shot at accomplishing what they have come out on the streets to accomplish.
ZAKARIA: Roya, thank you so much. That was very, very insightful.
HAKAKIAN: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, a coalition of major oil producing nations announced a major cut in production this week. That is good news for Putin and bad news for Biden. We will help you make sense of it all in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ZAKARIA: On Wednesday, OPEC and other major oil producing nations, including Russia, announced that they would cut oil production by two million barrels a day or about 2 percent of global demand. The grouping known as OPEC Plus is working to reverse a steady slide in oil prices since June. This decision is a win for Vladimir Putin, who wants to prop up oil prices to keep funding the war in Ukraine. It's a defeat for the White House, which aggressively lobbied its Middle East allies against this move. Biden wants to keep gas prices down ahead of the
Joining me now to explain it all is Amrita Sen, director and founder of research at Energy Aspects. Amrita, welcome.
AMRITA SEN, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, ENERGY ASPECTS: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
ZAKARIA: So you are well known to have very well placed Saudi sources. So let me first ask you, why do you think the Saudis did what they did?
SEN: Lots of reasons, right? First and foremost, which is something they have been talking about, they are worried about a global recession, so they don't want to be in a situation let's say in two or three months' time when stocks have built up a lot in oil, prices have collapsed, to whatever the number is, is it $40.00, $50.00. And then that's when they step in, cut production to balance the market. So they are being preemptive.
But there is one other aspect which I would argue that's probably not been as publicized but has definitely played a role in this decision is all this talk of a price cap. The U.S. and Europe, but particularly the U.S., I would say, is really focusing and it's trying to rally not just Europe but also India, China, other countries, other buying countries, to put a price on Russian oil. Because ultimately, the White House wants to limit the amount of oil revenues Russia is getting for funding its war.
The problem is that if you are to cap the price of oil, whatever that price is for Russia, OPEC plus feel, and Saudi Arabia included, that then suddenly they would have to sell their oil at that price. So let's say Russia agrees, which they haven't, and Putin in particular has openly come out and said, by the way, if you do the price cap, I will just stop supplying you with oil.
But let's just go with the assumption that Russia agrees to a price cap of $70.00. Then suddenly Saudi Arabia will have to sell its oil at $70.00, as will U.S. producers. And it just sets a really dangerous precedent, and the fact that consumers get to dictate the price at which producers are going to sell is just not something OPEC plus are even going to entertain.
ZAKARIA: So, Amrita, what you are describing are pretty hard-nosed economic reasons why the Saudis sort of following their economic interests are doing this. Do you not buy the argument that there was an element of this was a kind of snub of Biden and a, you know, payback for two years of having boycotted MBS? Do you think any of that played a role?
SEN: I don't think so. The reason I say this is because there have been instances in the past as well when this has come up. And I think, you know, if Saudi Arabia or anybody else wanted to, you know, go ahead and hurt -- quote -- unquote -- "hurt the U.S." they could have done it in the past, as well.
I do think, however, this does confirm some of the geopolitical alliances that have been forming already in the past couple of months or years even I would argue. And I do look back at Wednesday's meeting as a watershed moment for oil market. You know, whenever OPEC plus meet there's always questions about, is there going to be U.S. pressure on OPEC to do something, right? This time I think OPEC plus has shown that they are acting in their own interest, and nobody else's.
ZAKARIA: So what can Biden do? He's been releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. He could do more but the reserve is getting emptied. What are his options, if his goal is to increase supply and reduce prices?
SEN: They can absolutely release more oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but this is a time when energy security needs to be the priority. We have drawn down over 200 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which only had about, you know, 600 plus million barrels of oil. It's taken the U.S. well over three -- four decades to fill that oil. So that is a dangerous move to run it down before you actually might need it. But yes, that is an option.
What could work is actually limiting diesel and gasoline exports. That's something that has been talked about by the Department of Energy and by the White House. So, I think, that could definitely be on the cards.
ZAKARIA: What about increasing supply? You know, a lot of the conservative critics of Biden, "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page goes on about how, you know, they could -- you could still increase U.S. domestic supply. When I've talked to oil company executives they say, we're pumping everything we can.
SEN: I'm glad you asked that question because last week I have been in the Midwest with mostly oil producers, CEOs of, you know, large and medium size oil companies and independents. The most worrying thing I found out was that the best quality of areas where U.S. production was taking place, the producers have pretty much depleted that outside of the Permian basin, which is in Texas and around that region. Outside of that, we have pretty much maxed out.
ZAKARIA: And finally, Iran and Venezuela. Let's leave the politics of whether you could -- you know, want the price you have to pay to make a rapprochement or to get back into the deal. But from a market point of view, if those two countries start producing and exporting, would that be a big difference?
SEN: Those two are really the only hope, I would say, for the oil market. The only two countries that due to sanctions are not in the market are Venezuela and Iran. Venezuela, the problem is its years of dilapidation. The infrastructure has been ruined. So even if you were to lift sanctions tomorrow it is going to take years to bring production back. Iran much more quickly can come back to the market, also because Iran is holding about 60 to 70 million of oil on ships.
ZAKARIA: A lot of hard choices for the Biden administration. Thank you.
SEN: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, how to make sure your nation doesn't fall apart when it's been invaded. Lessons from Andriy Yermak who's often called the second most powerful man in Ukraine. That interview after the break.
ZAKARIA: This week, President Biden pledged $625 million in additional security support to Ukraine, part of a new package that included HIMARS, armored vehicles and ammunition. Days earlier, the U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan pledged America's steadfast support for Ukraine when he traveled to Istanbul to meet with the head of Ukraine's presidential office Andriy Yermak.
When I was in Kyiv, I sat down with Andriy Yermak, President Zelenskyy's top aide, often called the second most powerful man in Ukraine. I asked him what it is like to govern a country at war.
ZAKARIA: Andriy Yermak, pleasure to have you on the program.
ANDRIY YERMAK, HEAD, OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: Yes, for me as well. It's a big pleasure and a big honor to meet with you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about what it's like to run a presidential administration in circumstances like these. So when the war began, you get to the president's office, he tells -- you know, he tells you about the invasion, and you stay there and you're working there for how long, for how many days?
YERMAK: No, we're still there.
ZAKARIA: You're still there?
YERMAK: Yes, we're still -- we're living there.
ZAKARIA: You're living in there?
YERMAK: Yes. ZAKARIA: In those bunkers?
YERMAK: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Yes, we were --
ZAKARIA: For six months you've been there?
YERMAK: For six months we were, yes.
ZAKARIA: And what was your first job? What was the first thing you had to do?
YERMAK: First of all, when I was came, it was necessary very quickly to keep all governments, all security, military people. And during the, I think, a couple of hours, everybody was meeting in the cabinet of the president. But that time, we are looking for our country for -- that we need to do our best, that our country keep and be able to fighting.
And you can see more than six months, we have, yes, we saw terrible war but our economy worked. Our people receive salary. Our people receive their pension. It will be impossible if we will be first not to be prepared.
ZAKARIA: So you're in the presidential office. You're living there. When do you then see your wife and children? A few days later?
YERMAK: We have our -- we see our families the first I think it's in two months.
ZAKARIA: So for two months you were just working. And your family and children, did they leave Kyiv for safety?
YERMAK: All my family was here in Kyiv.
ZAKARIA: The whole time?
ZAKARIA: And the president's family?
YERMAK: And the president's. We done and continue doing what we need to do because we are in this position. The people elected presidents, and presidents are put into tasks. We are team of the president and we need to do our best to win this war, to survive for our people.
ZAKARIA: What was the lesson you took?
YERMAK: From whom?
ZAKARIA: From the first few days. Like when you look back, do you think -- did you get it right? Did you get it wrong? What did --
YERMAK: You know, I'm a realist and I understand that it's impossible to change these first days. But I'm looking to the results. We already deoccupied a big part of our territory. We are not lose our economy. We are not lose the manager -- management of the country. And I'm so proud that I'm Ukrainian, because I know that it's a very beautiful country.
It's the best country in the world. But once again, we understood that how brave, how heroic our people. I think these feelings of proud of the ordinary people, because this war will be win by Ukrainian nation.
ZAKARIA: So what did your wife tell you about, you know, not being able to see her for months? Was she totally supportive? Was she scared?
YERMAK: Of course, we are worried about them and they worry about us but I think it's more. At the same time, I never forget that some of our people never can see their relatives, their family, their children, and this is the tragedy which we'll never forget. We'll never forget.
And it's -- it's why I think that -- and this is a big privilege that, during this war, the ordinary people around the world, I'm very happy that the love of Americans, maybe some of them just listen about our country but they so deeply feel this tragedy. They so deeply feel these connections and so support and so help. Then I see so many Ukrainian flags in American buildings.
And I think that our victory will be -- definitely a victory together with our partners, together with the American people. And it's necessary that it happens as soon as possible.
ZAKARIA: Andriy Yermak, pleasure to have you on. Thank you.
YERMAK: Thank you, Fareed. Thank you very much.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, between the war in Ukraine and challenges to democracy here in America, the news can feel dark. I will bring you a piece of positive news you will not want to miss, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. Psychologists tell us that human beings are hardwired with a negativity bias, meaning that we're overly sensitive to bad news. And there's lots of it out there these days. The war in Ukraine, challenges for democracy in the United States, natural disasters. But we often miss the good news, especially if it doesn't come in the form of a single event.
One of the most striking positive trends in the world these days can be found in the democratic strength, character, and leadership of Germany, something I recently wrote about in "The Washington Post."
In August, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave a speech in Prague in which he promised that his country would support Ukraine reliably and for as long as it takes. He explained that Germany had undergone a fundamental change on providing military aid to Ukraine.
There's some validity to the criticism that Germany hasn't given enough, but it really has given a remarkable amount of aid for a country that was so persistently pacifist after World War II. Scholz also affirmed Germany's support for a stronger and more integrated Europe, one that would welcome new members that aspire to Europe's democratic values and ideals. This is all part of what he calls a zeitenwende in German foreign policy, a turning of the times.
On one level, it is indeed a dramatic shift. Yet it is also the continuation of a remarkably consistent German attitude toward Europe and the world since 1945. Think about how different the world would look if we did not have at the center of Europe, its most powerful nation, the country that is the largest net contributor to the European Union, totally committed to democratic values and willing to make sacrifices for them.
Germany today is the rock on which a new Europe is being built. And the sacrifices are real and deep. Natural gas prices in Europe have gone way up over the last year. Electricity prices have skyrocketed, as well.
Vladimir Putin has ramped up the pressure by cutting gas exports to Germany, a country he thinks he knows very well because of his years serving there in the KGB. But Germany has not given in. Confronted with these massive challenges, it has patiently sought to diversify away from dependence on Russia, investing in green technology, buying liquefied natural gas, reopening coal fired plants and even keeping two of its last three nuclear power plants running longer than planned.
The European Union has suggested a 15 percent reduction in the consumption of natural gas this winter. Germany is trying to achieve a 20 percent cut just to be safe. Initially, Scholz was regarded as a lightweight, unable to match the gravitas and leadership skills of his predecessor Angela Merkel. But Merkel herself was seen in similar ways when she came to power.
Over time, she developed the skills and stature to gain respect from all quarter. She might have erred in trying to develop to conciliatory relationship with Moscow. But when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, she was at the forefront in condemning it and persuading Europe to impose an ambitious program of sanctions.
She also led the world in responding to the Syrian refugee crisis, reassuring her country by declaring, "We can do this." I remember the reaction to another chancellor, Helmut Kohl, who was called a "colorless man from the sticks" because he did not come from the country's elite class. Yet he proved to be the man who succeeded in reunifying Germany while keeping it firmly anchored in the west.
In 1945, no one would have predicted that Germany would develop as it has. It came out of the war utterly destroyed. Its cities flattened. Its population starving. Post war Germany was scarred by the gruesome legacy of Adolf Hitler and the holocaust. But the country found a way to overcome its past, to become in Henry Kissinger's words, "A normal country with an abnormal memory." And that much larger zeitenwende, turning of the times, is one of the great good news stories of our times.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.