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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Interview With The Chief Economics Commentator of "The Financial Times" Martin Wolf; Interview With London School Of Economics Professor Of International Relations Fawaz Gerges; U.S. Braces For Influx Of Migrants As Pandemic Policies End; Britain's Controversial Plan To Block Migrant Arrivals. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired May 14, 2023 - 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 live.
ZAKARIA: Today on the program, the mess at the Mexican border. It may get worse, much worse. This week, U.S. authorities lost the ability to swiftly expel migrants from land borders. Officials are expecting an onslaught. I will talk to former Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson about the problem and solutions.
Also, the clock is ticking. Treasury Secretary Yellen says America may go into default in just 18 days. There is little doubt such an event would badly hurt the U.S. economy and sully America's standing abroad. I'll get the view from London with Martin Wolf of the "Financial Times."
After 12 years of civil war and more than 300,000 civilians dead, Syria and its infamous leader Bashar al-Assad are back in the Arab League. What is going on? I will ask regional expert Fawad Gerges.
ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. The tragic mass shooting in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, took place as I was leaving the country to visit Britain. I might as well have taken one of Elon Musk's rockets and landed on a different planet.
The Texas massacre means that so far in 2023 more than 15,000 Americans have died from gun violence. In 2021, the last year for which we have complete data, there were 48,830 gun related deaths of which 20,958 were gun homicides.
In England and Wales, there were 31 gun homicides. 31. Even accounting for its larger population, calculating deaths per 100,000 people, the United States in 2019 had roughly 100 times as many gun homicides as the U.K. The comparison of suicides is equally depressing. In 2021, 26,328
Americans took their own lives using guns. About half of the people who killed themselves in America used guns to do it. In the U.K. in 2019, that number was 117. And of all suicides, death by firearm is one of the rarest methods.
With 4 percent of the world's population, the United States has about 44 percent of the world's gun suicides.
Great Britain is actually a useful point of comparison. In cultural terms, it is this country's closest relative, the mothership that created the colonies from which the United States of America sprang.
It has a strong tradition of individualism, likes and liberty, that pre-figure America's. Even one of the more violent strains of American culture, the Scotch Irish tradition in parts of the south, owe their origins to the British Isles.
And yet, with regard to contemporary gun violence, Britain looks like most other advanced industrial countries. America, meanwhile, might as well be on another planet.
Perhaps because it draws on the same history of liberties and rights as America, Britain was not always exempt from gun violence and mass shootings. In fact, British gun laws changed substantially after two mass shootings. In 1987, in Hungerford, and then in 1996 in Dunblane.
In the latter case, a man entered a primary school in Scotland at 9:30 a.m. armed with four handguns and 743 rounds of ammunition. He entered the gym full of children and opened fire. In just a few minutes, he caused the deaths of 17 people and then turned the gun on himself.
After those two massacres, it was conservative governments that passed gun control laws significantly restricting the use of firearms.
When Tony Blair swept into power in a landslide in 1997, his Labour government expanded on those laws and Great Britain today has almost total ban on handguns and automatic and semiautomatic weaponry.
Britons were given a few months to hand in their weapons in a government buyback program. These laws remain in place today and gun violence of all kinds has declined markedly over the last 25 years across the United Kingdom.
A similar gun ban and buyback took place in Australia after a gruesome massacre in 1996. That was also enacted by a conservative government, by the way. Since then, gun homicides and suicides have declined in that country as well. One study by the nonprofit Every Town for Gun Safety suggests that states that have strong gun control laws in America are much safer from gun violence.
For example, the gun death rate in New York state which has some of the strongest gun control is only a fraction of the national average. Overall, the states with the most permissive gun laws have almost triple the gun death rate of those with the most stringent.
According to the Nationhood Lab, living in the northeast means you have a much lower likelihood of gun related homicides or suicides than in the deep south. It's true that some states with strong gun laws like Illinois don't reap the full benefits of these laws because of neighboring states that are more lax.
But you see also the equivalent phenomenon in reverse. States like New Hampshire with weak gun laws have low gun deaths helped by the fact that their neighboring states have all enacted tougher measures.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, true to form, pulled out an old cliche in response to the latest mass shooting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: People want a quick solution. The long- term solution here is to address the mental health issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Abbott has it almost exactly backwards. The quick nonsolution is always to talk about mental health. Does America have 100 times as many mental health problems as Britain? It has 18 times the rate of gun violence as the average rich country. Does that mean it has 18 times the rate of mental disorders?
Texas has almost tripled the rate of gun deaths as New York state. Yet Texas doesn't have three times as many mentally ill people as New York. All of these statistics can have the effect of deadening our sensibilities to what is going on in America.
But let me try one last set to try to jolt us all into awareness. Every day in America more than 200 people are wounded by guns. 120 are killed by them. Of those 120, 11 are children and teens.
The leading cause of mortality for children in America is now death by a gun. The same number of deaths, 120, will happen tomorrow, and the day after that, and then the day after that. Every day until we come to our senses and do something about it.
Go to CNN.com/Fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
I want to focus first on the U.S.-Mexico border where an already chaotic situation is at risk of being exacerbated.
On Thursday night at 11:59, U.S. officials lost the power to swiftly expel migrants from the border after it was granted in March of 2020. Authorities had used the power almost three million times to return migrants to their home countries or to Mexico.
So what happens now?
Joining me is former secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson.
Pleasure to have you on, sir.
JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Tell me, most people I don't think understand why we seem somewhat -- not powerless, but we have to do something within a certain framework, which is, these people are all coming here and claiming political asylum.
But it seems to me an asylum process that was meant for individuals who are facing persecution has broken down when you have three million, four million people coming in.
JOHNSON: Yes, that is true. Asylum, the ability to apply for asylum is fundamental to who we are as a nation. Under our law, asylum is intended to protect people who are part of a group that is being politically persecuted in their home country. That's an oversimplification. That's basically it.
Many of the migrants we see coming from Central and South America are essentially economic migrants, however. They are fleeing poverty, drought, violence, and don't fit squarely within our asylum laws.
The asylum laws and process now frankly do operate as a magnet for illegal immigration because of the backlog. It takes years to process an asylum claim. And it's essentially a two-step process. On the front end of that process the migrant has to establish a credible fear of returning to the home country. That bar is relatively low.
On the backend of the process the ultimate qualification for asylum the bar is much higher. But in between is a several year process. Many people who come here know that. And they are so desperate to leave their circumstances in Central America, Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, that they're willing to come here even if they only get to stay for a few years. So the process as it currently exist in its broken form does serve as a magnet.
ZAKARIA: And you said something to me off-camera which I just want to bring up, which is from an international law point of view it's worth pointing out, again, these people may be seeking asylum, but they do not have the right to choose the United States as their preferred destination. They just have to get to a safe country.
JOHNSON: Correct. Under general principles of international law and under bilateral agreements that nations can enter into, a migrant fleeing their circumstances should apply in the first safe country they reach. You can't come to the United States and say, no, I want to keep going and go to Canada because I'd rather be in Canada.
And we have encouraged the Mexicans to try to do this as well. But it does require that the safe country devote resources to establishing a system.
ZAKARIA: Is there a solution to this? I mean, you had to deal with this when you were Homeland secretary. But the numbers were much lower. But what is the solution when you have millions of people applying through this process?
JOHNSON: Fareed, I learned three years managing this problem that the underlying push factors always overwhelm whatever defense you can put on our southern border. Families are making the basic choice to flee a burning building, the most or one of the most violent regions on earth, the poverty, the violence, the corruption is immense.
And now, the problem is much bigger because there are a larger number of countries, a longer list of countries contributing to the problem. When I was there, it was Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador.
Add to the list, Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and some of these countries are countries with whom we have no diplomatic relations. So you can't repatriate people to a country with whom you have no relationship with.
Add to that the smugglers, their bigger operations. So the push factors have to be addressed. We started to address that in the Biden years -- I'm sorry, in the Obama administration, the last year. Congress appropriated $750 million. The Biden administration wants to continue that. It's a good idea. I know President Biden believes in it because we used to have these conversations when he was vice president and I was secretary.
You have to address the underlying factors. There are aspects of our system that operate as a magnet but you have to address the underlying factors. Otherwise we're going to continue to bang our head against this wall to try to solve this problem.
ZAKARIA: And finally, I mean, the politics of it, you know, probably it was (INAUDIBLE), but it's worth pointing out, I'm haunted by a line I think of David Frum, the writer, who in 2015, looking at the politics of immigration, said liberals need to understand if they don't control the borders, the American people will elect fascists to do it.
JOHNSON: That is correct. This is an instance where two things can be true at once. Most Americans, I am convinced, want us to be fair, humane towards people who arrive in the country by whatever means, but Americans also want border security.
Put aside a lot of the racist rhetoric about the great replacement and so forth, Americans believe that the most powerful nation on earth should be able to control our perimeter and keep track of who is entering our country.
I think that is a legitimate, worthwhile government objective. And that's where most Americans are. If you go to a place like Laredo, Texas, which is 80 percent Democratic, they want to see our border under control. They want us to be fair, humane to kids who came here -- you know, people who came here as kids, give people an opportunity to be accountable on the books. But they want a secure border as well.
ZAKARIA: Always a pleasure to talk to you, sir. Thank you.
JOHNSON: Thanks, Fareed. [10:15:01]
ZAKARIA: Next, we will look at another country that is struggling to control migration, the United Kingdom. The island nation now wants to block all migrants trying to enter the country by boat. Will it work?
ZAKARIA: Britain is in the midst of intense debate over a bill that has come to be known as "Stop the Boats." It seeks to penalize unauthorized migrants for crossing the English Channel by boat.
The policy is a priority for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and last month he finally got the votes to move the bill through the House of Commons. But during debate in the House of Lords this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury called the piece of legislation morally unacceptable. The European Union and the U.N. have also been critics.
To help us understand what's happening, we're joined by Mian Ridge, Britain correspondent for "The Economist."
MIAN RIDGE, BRITAIN CORRESPONDENT, THE ECONOMIST: Thank you so much.
ZAKARIA: So paint a historical picture for us. Is this problem of, you know, the people coming on boats to Britain? Has it gotten much worse over the last 10 years? You know, what's the sort of historical trajectory here?
RIDGE: So in Europe, generally, since about 2015, there's been a huge surge of migrants into Europe. Many of them Syrians escaping the dreadful civil war there. In Britain, the problem has been in terms of the boat crossings, exacerbated by the fact that from about 2018 onwards Britain introduced very strict security controls at tunnel and ferry crossings, which meant that people started to cross the channel to get to Britain.
In fact one of the problems of Britain's system is there are very few safe routes into Britain. And so the number of people crossing this way has increased every year. Last year, it reached a huge record number of 46,000 people. And so that's -- Rishi Sunak last year promised to make, you know, stopping the boats one of his pledges for 2023 and that's what we see happening now.
ZAKARIA: And as you said, you know, this began roughly around 2015. Have been happening all over Europe. And every year where a European government are struggling with this. The Italians government has the same problem with boats. And everywhere the governments are trying to be tougher, more hardline on it.
What of Britain's earlier attempts? I remember this whole thing about Rwanda. Can you explain that? RIDGE: So the Rwanda solution was cooked up last year as a way to try
and deter people from crossing the channel. It's obviously very problematic on humanitarian grounds.
ZAKARIA: What is it? Explain it.
RIDGE: The Rwanda solution is basically packing people off to Rwanda to have their claims for asylum process there, and if they win asylum then they would be settled in the country. It's got two major problems. The first of it is being stalled in the courts. The second is that the government of Kagame has made it quite clear there is no solution anyway because they could only take a few hundred people.
ZAKARIA: Rishi Sunak says he wants to rethink the whole idea of asylum because he is arguing -- and I think, you know, the U.S. case is also similar that the numbers of people coming, it's not really asylum in the traditional sense of the word. They're individual who feared persecution. It's just large numbers of people fleeing the Syrian civil war or political instability in North Africa. What is his solution?
RIDGE: So his solution, he has introduced a law called the Illegal Migration Bill. And it would basically -- it sounds very draconian because it is. It would prevent anyone who entered Britain via boats, crossing the channel, from claiming asylum in Britain. Instead, the idea is they would be detained and deported.
But this is intended as a measure that would deter other people from crossing the channel. And that's not in itself a bad idea. But it seems very unlikely to work. It's not clear that it would act as a deterrent. And even if it did, it's not clear how long it would take for that deterrent to kick in. So what you will have is Britain detaining large numbers of migrants, possibly large numbers of migrants, and where would it house them?
You know, hotels? Up and down the length of Britain are full of asylum seekers at the moment because there's such a big backlog. The Home Office takes such a long time to process their claims. So -- and it's costing the taxpayers something like $7 million a day.
ZAKARIA: So politically, I am assuming what Rishi Sunak is doing is reasonably popular at least looking at around the world, you know, when you're facing this kind of what seems like a flood of migrants, or you know, asylum seekers and regular migrants all sort of mixed in, a politician will say, I'm just going to stop it. I'm going to, you know, repel. It tends to be popular.
RIDGE: I think it would be an exaggeration to say it's popular. I think it's probably popular in some parts of the British electorate. And the problem with immigration policy is that politicians are always thinking about headlines which are very crude, grab attention but don't sort of convey any of the complex nuance of these situations. So that's one problem.
The polling on these sorts of things is very difficult because of course most Brits are going to say they don't want people to cross the channel, some of them drowning. It's terrible for Britain's image for the government to so clearly be unable to control its borders. But this is not the right solution. I think one of the problems is that the Home Office has shown by its actions that large numbers of people crossing the channel do -- you know, are legitimately in search of sanctuary.
And we know that because Afghans and Syrians have asylum grant rates of 98 percent. So they are legitimately seeking and gaining asylum.
To send those people away or to lock them up seems to be a very problematic approach to the problem.
ZAKARIA: Mian Ridge, a pleasure. It was a fascinating little primer on what's going on here. Thank you.
RIDGE: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, time is running out for the United States to raise the debt ceiling. Just a few weeks. What does the world make of this spectacle? I'll ask the "FT's" Martin Wolf when we get back.
ZAKARIA: President Biden hosted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the White House this week. But the two sides remain at an impasse over raising the debt ceiling. Without a deal, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned the U.S. could default as soon as June 1st.
How does the spectacle appear to the rest of the world? And what would be the economic impact of a default?
[10:30:00] I'm joined by Martin Wolf, the chief economics commentator for "The Financial Times." He has a new book out called "The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism."
Welcome, Martin. So first, what does this look like outside of America? What does it look like to you?
MARTIN WOLF, CHIEF ECONOMICS COMMENTATOR, FINANCIAL TIMES: Well, it looks like a lunatic asylum to be blunt. But we have been here before so it is sort of familiar.
The debt ceiling controversy has arisen many times. I have written about it quite a few times. And our view generally is it is a very weird theater. And it does look crazy. But the Americans will sort it out. And therefore, it is not worth worrying about.
Now, we always wonder whether this is the time when they won't sort it out. And I'm beginning to wonder whether it is.
ZAKARIA: So, just for a moment so people understand, the reason you think it's insane is basically no other country in the world has this two-step process where you first do this, you authorize the suspending, and then you have to raise the debt limit.
WOLF: Yes. I mean, the standard rule issue a government has a budget which is passed by its parliament or congress. And once that is done, it borrows enough to meet the commitments that have been legislated. That is the standard process.
And the idea that you would then separately need an authorization to raise your borrowing limit which is the same thing as the debt limit in order to fund what has already been agreed is just quite extraordinary. It has -- because it is asking for a crisis. And that's not what governments and parliaments normally want.
ZAKARIA: And the reason you say you are now more worried, I'm guessing, is for the same reason I am which is that I've noticed that Donald Trump has now essentially come out very strongly and said, the Republican Party should hold firm. It should not give in. It should not make a deal.
Of course, when he was in power he raised the debt limit twice. That makes it very hard for congressional Republicans to compromise.
WOLF: There are two elements in my thinking. The first one was that over time, we have seen the Republican Party from our point of view. I think most people's point of view, go in directions that -- in all sorts of ways which we never imagined. So -- and the element with extreme views has become stronger.
So for that reason we would be more worried. And so it might be really difficult for Kevin McCarthy to compromise because his people will throw him out. That sort of concern.
But then along comes Donald Trump who is very happy to see the debt ceiling raised when he basically did a massive structural underlying loosening of the fiscal position by cutting taxes. Now saying, well, actually, we shouldn't raise the limit.
I presume his idea here is that that will cause a crisis. It will be on Biden's watch. People don't really understand who is responsible. They will blame it on Biden. And so, it will help him get reelected. And that begins to be really worrying because he has such influence with the Republican Party's base and his interest in the crisis is so obvious that maybe it's actually going to happen.
ZAKARIA: Janet Yellen says if the U.S. were to default, it would be a catastrophe and it will cause a global economic slowdown. Are the stakes that high?
WOLF: Well, I think they are. The ramifications are difficult to know.
Now, obviously, there are two elements in this. The first is, would it actually be a default on debt? The administration has other ways of handling it. It could, as I understand it, for example, decide not to pay the people who work for it, not to pay public employees. It could, I presume, stop paying for things that are legislated like social security or health care or defense. They could do that rather than default. I don't know which they will choose. But I'm assuming from this question that they might actually choose not to service the debt. As soon as that happens U.S. treasuries will have to be downgraded. For the first time the U.S. will have voluntarily failed to meet its obligations when it raised this money in the market.
It will have to be downgraded. And it will have to be downgraded, I think, globally. It's the one asset people hold including foreign currency reserves of countries, banks all over the world, sovereign wealth funds. And they will say it is no longer safe and they would want to get rid of it. And therefore, its price will fall which automatically means interest rates will rise, the monetary tightening as well --
ZAKARIA: It will cost the U.S. more to borrow money in the future.
WOLF: In the future, yes, it will surely affect the future cost. But I think the biggest issue is -- the concern is the blow to confidence. There are very few things that people who invest hold money around the world sort of hold trusting as a bedrock of the financial system. And U.S. treasuries are far and away the most important.
So, if they happen to doubt that, the likelihood is they are going to become more risk-averse generally, and that will mean less risk-taking and a weaker world economy and certainly a weaker American economy.
ZAKARIA: Martin Wolf, always a pleasure.
WOLF: Pleasure to be with you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, it was a good week for Bashar al-Assad. Syria was readmitted to the Arab League after more than a decade of being frozen out. Why now?
ZAKARIA: The spark that ignited Syria's civil war was unrest in the southern city of Daraa in March of 2011. Just eight months later, the Arab League kicked Syria out of its organization. All told, the 12 plus years of war have been devastating for the people of Syria. More than half the population has been forced to flee their homes.
In the first 10 years of the war, an estimated 12,000 children were wounded or killed. Just about one every eight hours more than 300,000 civilians have been killed in total. So, it was shocking to many to see that the Arab League decided this week to reinstate Syria's membership.
What is behind this change of heart? What will it mean for Syria and the Middle East? Joining me now is the great Middle East expert Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics. Fawaz, welcome. So, explain the Syrian thing. What is the -- what is the fundamental force behind what is happening here?
FAWAZ GERGES, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: I mean, I think the Saudi foreign minister really summarized the puzzle. He said, for many years, we tried to get rid of Assad and we failed. What is the alternative?
The alternative now, the Arab League States are trying to reengage Assad, to see whether Assad will be willing to deal with the catastrophic humanitarian crisis. For your viewers, 6 millions Syrian refugees in Turkey, in Lebanon, in Jordan and elsewhere. You have 6 million displaced people in Syria. Between 80 and 90 percent of the Syrian people, 26 million people, live below the poverty line.
Syria has now become now a key exporter of drug trafficking to neighboring countries, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, to the United Arab Emirates. You have tens of thousands of foreign fighters all over Syria. Turkey is in Syria. Russia is in Syria. Iran in Syria. The United States in Syria.
ZAKARIA: You quoted the Saudi foreign minister. And I think that is significant because what seems to be going on to me is a new Saudi foreign policy. They are approaching Syria differently. They are trying to have a rapprochement with Iran. They are not doing the kind of thing that they were doing when they were trying to overthrow the government of Qatar, they were trying to overthrow the government of Lebanon. What is going on with Saudi Arabia?
GERGES: I mean, I think you are absolutely correct. I mean, there is a shift in Saudi Arabia foreign policy in the past two years. I mean, I think now the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran is very significant. And it was basically brokered by China.
So what you have now is that the Saudi's are trying to really exit Yemen. Yemen has been really very costly for Saudi Arabia both financially and reputation. They tried and truly lived in cold peace with Iran. Why? Because they have come to realize they cannot really rely on the United States. That they believe that the United States is retrenching -- has been retrenching from the region.
And also, they are terrified of what comes next in the next five or 10 or 20 years. They believe that the international system has shifted and then the future -- China is the future. So, we are really seeing a much more complex, much more dynamic -- what the Saudi's call in Arabic tanwie (ph), diversify their foreign policy and economic policy and regional policies as well.
ZAKARIA: So, this really is a kind of post-American Middle East.
GERGES: Well, I think if you ask me, I would say it's really it's -- leaders in the region. They look at the world and say China is the future. It's the Chinese sanctuary. The next 10, 20, 30 years, it will be China is to have just to give you an example, Fareed, for your viewers.
China is the biggest trade partner of Saudi Arabia. China will be the greatest trade partners of almost every single Middle Eastern state in the next 10 or 20 years. So, if you follow the trail of money, the Saudi's are really not irrational. They are very rational.
The big trend -- is not just about Saudi Arabia. Key regional powers, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, they are really now showing more independence. They are reclaiming agency. They are trying to take action into their own hands. Everyone is normalizing relations, everyone. Turkey with Saudi Arabia, Turkey with Iran, the United Arab with Iran and Syria. And --
ZAKARIA: And with Israeli?
ZAKARIA: In the middle of this, we still have an Iran that faces very crippling economic sanctions because the U.S. by pulling out of the Iran deal imposed those secondary sanctions. What is happening? Is Iran on the brink? I mean, how do you see what it is doing?
GERGES: You know, Fareed, Iran is facing one of the most severe economic crises in the past 40 years, literally, not to mention the social tension, the social protest inside of Iran.
So, in a way, the Iranian economy is on the verge of collapse in terms of inflation, the collapsed currency, what have you. And again, you cannot understand the normalization between Saudi Arabia and Iran without understanding the economic situation. China is the biggest economic trade partner of Iran as well.
ZAKARIA: But In the midst of this, you still have one regional actor, Israel, whose Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu sat on my program just a few weeks ago, he will not allow Iran to move forward on its nuclear program. Is there a danger here that Israel take some kind of action against Iran? How would the Arabs view that today?
GERGES: I was hoping you would ask me a different angle, that really, Israel is swimming against the tide. Everyone is normalizing relations, everyone, while Israel is using brute force to suppress the Palestinians. And the United States knows this. And the United States -- the Biden administration is unwilling to do anything about it.
But my take on Israel and Iran, Israel will never take a major military action against Iran without the consent or a yellow line from the United States. This is historically true. Iran is not Iraq.
So, my take on it, at the end of the day, when we talk about Israel and Iran we have to talk about the United States, Israel and Iran. And it seems to me that the Biden administration policy towards Iran is really detached as opposed to military confrontation.
ZAKARIA: Always fascinating to talk to you, Fawaz. We will be back. Thank you.
ZAKARIA: As Russia celebrates its victory over Nazi Germany, President Vladimir Putin is facing pressure at home over his war in Ukraine. That surprising story, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: And now, for the last look. Russia's Victory Day celebration this week marking the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II may not have seen restrained with columns of troops standing to attention marching under the tricolor, but it was a muted display. The Kremlin decided to forgo the traditional flyover of warplanes. The parade featured only one tank. More than 20 cities canceled their ceremonies. And a national march honoring veterans was scrapped.
Officials cited security concerns as the reason for the pared back events. But President Vladimir Putin might also have been unwilling to ostentatiously celebrate a 78-year-old victory when current news from the Ukrainian front is bleak. Best estimates say that as many as 200,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded. Many troops on the front line lack proper supplies, and a Ukrainian counteroffensive looms.
Still, in his speech, Putin appeared unbowed by these pressures. Casting himself as the defender of a country beset by the censure of western globalist elites. He may want to start worrying about his own elites. From the outside, it's easy to see Putin as an all-powerful strongman who rules Russia by decree and has manipulated and mobilized his people behind him.
But in a fascinating interview with Isaac Chotiner of "The New Yorker," Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, describes a more vulnerable Putin. And that is in part because Russian elites have began to grow disillusioned with his leadership and fear the outcome of what they increasingly see as an unwinnable war.
Stanovaya's Putin is a leader caught between two sets of elites. On the one hand there is the progressive elite made up of technocrats, regional governors and senior officials who view Putin as too extreme and worry about the effect of western economic sanctions.
On the other hand, there are what she calls the patriots who see Putin as too soft. These voices are diffused and plentiful, and they include men such as Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the mercenary Wagner group, as well as the heads of the security services and members of Putin's own party.
These two groups aligned in their belief that Putin is mishandling the war effort. A terrifying reality that seems to emerge from this picture is that Putin, a man who started Europe's biggest land war since World War II, a man whose policies are nothing short of extreme in the eyes of the world is far less radical than the warmongering elite in his own country.
Stanovaya paints a worrying portrait of governance far from the sure- footed centralized vicious regime many in the West have come to nurture in their imaginations. She tells the "New Yorker" that arrests are carried out by multiple agencies, sometimes without Putin's knowledge. Putin's own decisions appeared confused based on which competing faction influences him at the moment.
And Putin's view can be at odds with his own agencies. For example, Putin sees Prigozhin as a hero even as the federal security services and technocrats view him as a threat.
Putin also faces more severe economic pressures than is widely believed. "The Wall Street Journal" reported this week that pollution data belies the Kremlin's claim that its industrial production is recovering. Pollution in industrial regions has dropped 6.2 percent over the past year, more than during the peak of the pandemic. Russian official statistics claim that annual industrial production actually rose by 1.2 percent in March.
And Jeff Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management, has pointed out that Russia's energy revenue is down as a result of the G7 price cap on Russian oil. Meanwhile, its budget deficit has soared.
There is one silver lining for Putin. Whatever Russian elites may think of him, he is still overwhelmingly popular with the public.
He has an enviable 83 percent approval rating according to the independent Levada Center. Moreover, the public does support his ill considered war. But according to Stanovaya, that support just gives cover to increasing repression. It also keeps elites who may privately oppose the war from speaking out.
The danger is not that the Putin regime may collapse from within, she says, but that even under him it could transform into something monstrous, ruthless, inhumane, a reign of fear. As bad as the Putin regime looks now in Russia, it could actually get worse.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. And I will see you next week.
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