Return to Transcripts main page

Fareed Zakaria GPS

Wagner Chief Cuts Deal, Insurrection Called Off; Amed Insurrection Threatens Putin's Grip On Power; French President Macron On Fighting Climate Change & Poverty; French President Macron On China & Taiwan; And On U.S.-China Relations; President Biden Welcomes Indian Prime Minster Modi To The White House. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired June 25, 2023 - 13:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: 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: We'll begin today's program with the stunning developments in Russia over the last few days. I'll be joined by top analysts who will help us understand what has happened so far, what might happen next, and what it all means for the war in Ukraine?

Also, French President Emmanuel Macron. I talked to him at a global summit he hosted in Paris this week about how the west can help end extreme poverty and curb climate change. And about the striking rise of China and the potential of a thaw in its relations with the U.S.


ZAKARIA: It's been an extraordinary 48 hours in Russia as the world watched what President Putin called an armed rebellion. The rebel leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was the Kremlin stopped Caterer before he threw kitchen apron. He now wears military fatigues as the head of the shadowy Wagner Group, which has provided mercenaries for conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, and most recently has been a key player in Russia's war against Ukraine.

According to statements from the Russian government, the criminal case against Prigozhin was dropped yesterday after he agreed to leave Russia and go to Belarus. For more, let me bring in CNN's Nic Robertson in London.

Nic, Lukashenko, the ruler of Belarus's role here is quite extraordinary. The very junior partner negotiating for Russia to save Putin from a possible assault on Moscow. What do you know about whether Prigozhin is -- has he actually gotten to Belarus?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: We don't know, and apparently the Belarusians don't know either. Lukashenko has a 20-year history of knowing Prigozhin, and it's part based on that knowledge of each other that he stepped in to help here. But I think the best analysis has to be that Lukashenko, who is, as you say, a weaker partner to Putin, Putin stepped in and helped him out in those elections in 2020, which were widely regarded as fraudulent, where there were big crowds on the streets to overthrow Lukashenko, he asked Putin for help. Putin stepped in.

Lukashenko in Belarus have become a base for Putin's war in Ukraine to the south. So he is very much the junior partner. He is unlikely to have gone out on a limb and helped Prigozhin here.

Equally, when you look at Prigozhin leaving Rostov-on-Don last night to the cheers of crowds and with all that heavy modern military equipment, getting to walk away with it, not just saving his own skin earlier in the day, the president has said what he was doing was treasonous.

Putin dislikes people who aren't loyal to him, and this was the ultimate tact of disloyalty. Yet Prigozhin seems to have had -- seems to have had leverage in this deal because he was able to walk away, save his life, ostensibly go to Belarus, and take much of his military hardware with him.

And I think it really doesn't pass the sniff test so far, inasmuch as we don't know the details and Prigozhin has utterly disappeared. What kind of deal is this? And has he got some of what he wanted out of it, which is replacing Russia's defense minister. Even that isn't clear at the moment.

ZAKARIA: Yeah, as you say, Nic, you kind of wonder about any promise that Putin makes to somebody who's betrayed him this dramatically. I would not be surprised if, in a few months, Prigozhin somehow disappears. What are you hearing about the mood in Moscow? What -- you know, I've gathered that the barricades have come down. They had been preparing for an attack and had put up all kinds of almost trenches around Moscow. Are you hearing anything out of Moscow these days?

ROBERTSON: There seems to be some crowd control on Red Square, although there are no crowds. But the control barriers are there. I mean, normally people can, you know, have free to roam across Red Square, and Sunday is actually quite a popular day. When I'm in Moscow quite often on a Sunday, if I have time, I'll take a walk across Red Square. It's empty today. There are barricades stopping people getting onto it.


That's -- it seems to be minor compared to the security measures that were being put in place around the capital. I think the sense is early yesterday there was a real concern about out what could happen in Moscow, in Rostov-on-Don, where Prigozhin was holed up. People were fleeing the city, queuing up at the airport to get -- to get out of the city.

The growing concerns grew through the day and then dissipated late in the day, yesterday. I think the mood at the moment is a sense of this is not all over, it's not all done. The immediate threat of a potential clash in Moscow is gone. But the sense of unease about what it means for the leadership and

Putin's power at the moment, I think that's going to endure.

ZAKARIA: Nic, thank you for your excellent reporting.

So how should we understand this Russian rebellion? What does it mean for Putin's hold on power? I want to bring in today's terrific panel. Anne Applebaum is a Pulitzer Prize Winning Historian and a Staff Writer for The Atlantic. And Masha Gessen is a Russian born Staff Writer for The New Yorker.

Masha, let me first ask you, what's the kind of main conclusion you draw from the events of the last 48 hours?

MASHA GESSEN, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, this is the biggest crisis that the Putin presidency has ever faced. In 2000 and years in power he has not based this kind of challenge to his monopoly on political action and his monopoly on violence. So it can be underestimated. Granted, it is a coup that failed, and most coups fail. And another important thing is that Prigozhin never said that he was going up against the president. His march was to the president.

He very much sort of maintains this narrative that if the president is doing something that he doesn't support, that the people don't like, the people that he claims to represent, then it's because the president doesn't have the right information. The president himself is beyond this all.

ZAKARIA: And to me, the most significant thing Prigozhin said is something you allude to in your Atlantic piece, which is he directly and frontally criticized the entire rationale for the war on Ukraine -- for the war on Ukraine. That seems a major, I mean, this is the guy who's been -- who has been running the one part of the army that seemed to be winning the battles in Ukraine, and he's saying the war was started on bogus claims?

ANNE APPLEBAUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Yes, this, to me, was the most extraordinary thing that he said yesterday. He said there were two reasons for the war. One was that the Defense Minister, Shoigu, wanted to become a marshal. You know, he wanted to raise his rank.

And the other reason was that lots of Russian elites had made money from the occupation of eastern Ukraine from Donbas since 2014, and now they wanted to make more money. In other words, he was saying, this is purely self-interest, this is purely greed. There was no reason to fight this war. And he accompanied that by saying, you know, how badly Russian soldiers had been treated, how many had died unnecessarily. I mean, this was really undermining the entire narrative of the war and really the entire narrative of the invasion of Ukraine going back to 2014.

I think it put him in tune with the Russian army in a way that maybe the Russian military leadership is not. And, that, you know, he wasn't talking about imperialism or Peter the Great or some kind of idea about, you know, Russia's special role or Christianity. You know, he was talking about, you aren't giving us enough weapons,

you aren't letting us fight. And he, you know, he -- I think this was the reason why so many soldiers seemed at least initially, prepared to support him. I mean, to me, the extraordinary moment yesterday after that comment was when he was sitting in the courtyard in Rostov with the leaders of the Southern Military District kind of chatting away, and they seemed very happy that he was there and nobody was trying to arrest him or take him away.

So he had some kind of rapport, and he had some kind of -- you know, he had some kind of ability to impress the army. I mean, the question now is whether any of that will be retained.

ZAKARIA: And Anne, do you have a sense as to why it all collapsed so quickly? I mean, at some level, it was kind of weird. You know, he had at most 25,000 troops. Putin's personal presidential guard is by some counts 200,000. So it seemed like a kind of mad escapade. What's your sense of why it fizzled out?


APPLEBAUM: I mean, it seemed like a mad escapade from the moment it began, so much so that people I mean, literally, until he was in Rostov with his tanks, nobody really believed that he was going to do it. The only -- the only guess I can have is he was -- you know, this is a mercenary. He wanted his money, you know, his contract was over July the first, and they offered to pay him off. That's one possibility. The other possibility is that maybe he expected more inside support than he got.

Maybe he had some expectation of somebody being there in Moscow to welcome him. That didn't, you know, that didn't materialize. But I really don't think we're going to fully understand yesterday's events for some days or maybe even weeks.

ZAKARIA: Masha, do you have a sense about this whole issue of the people on the streets in Rostov, for example, seemed to be cheering him on? That seems kind of dangerous. What conclusion do you draw from that?

GESSEN: So, you know, his main audience is the military and people who are adjacent to the military. And that's exactly who was in Rostov. He was in the streets of Rostov.

I wouldn't put too much stock into his undermining. The rationale for the war narrative. There are many rationales for the war. Totalitarian propaganda actually works. By creating a cacophony. I don't think he's pierced the propaganda bubble, but what he has done is he's tapped into a deep well of resentment, especially within the military, which feels like it's been mistreated, misused, like bosses are corrupt, which is a fact.

And so -- you know, that deep Russian sense of we're being screwed over by our bosses and everybody is corrupt, that's what he's talking to. And that's, I think, why we saw him sort of chatting in a friendly manner with the Deputy Minister of Defense in that Rostov courtyard. And why also, he got not, you know, there weren't thousands in the streets in Rostov, but the people who came out came out to say thank you or to applaud Prigozhin's troops.

I also want to say that, you know, every coup is a game of chicken. And I think that he tried to march to Moscow. At a certain point, it was probably becoming clear to him that he wasn't going to get to Moscow alive. And that's when he turned around. I don't think there's a whole lot of sort of untangle there. That war of nerves failed.

ZAKARIA: Masha, Anne, stay with us. When we come back, we will talk about what all this means for the war in Ukraine. When we come back.



ZAKARIA: And we are back with Anne Applebaum of the Atlantic and Masha Gessen of the New Yorker.

Anne, I wanted to ask you what you think the lesson we should draw about Putin and how to negotiate with him, because it does seem like Putin called Prigozhin a traitor. He called this an armed rebellion. He called this an act of betrayal. He compared it to the Bolshevik Revolution. And then he negotiated with the guy. And gave in and gave him seemingly has given him asylum him in Belarus. So to me, it seemed to suggest that when faced with a real threat, you know, Putin climbed down that -- that one should, you know, one shouldn't worry too much about Putin being willing to climb down in Ukraine and find himself a face-saving excuse, because when confronted with force, he found a way to back down.

APPLEBAUM: Fareed, you're exactly right. There have been a number of moments in the last several years, and also even in the last year and a half, when faced with something stronger, Putin steps back. He retracts, and then he just changes the story and makes up a new one. You know, as you said in the morning, Prigozhin is a traitor. He's starting a civil war. In the afternoon, we forgive him, and he's moving to Minsk, maybe.

We've seen this in a number of other moments. I mean, there was an interesting moment in 2014 when the Russian Army tried to using kind of saboteurs and provocateurs, tried to take more cities in Ukraine. Wherever they were met with force, they stepped down and moved back. And so, you know, we may well have overrated his -- his toughness. We may have overrated, you know, his ability to push things through to the bitter end. I mean, this is somebody who will step back and who can clearly make up new stories if he needs to make them up.

ZAKARIA: Masha, when you look at the situation, it seems to me at the heart of it, is Putin's decision to use a whole bunch of militias in Ukraine for a variety of reasons. He's not wanted to use the regular army initially because he wanted to, you know, pretend that there wasn't an invasion in 2014? In this most recent invasion, it's because the army wasn't fighting hard enough. And so he gets the Chechens and then he gets the Wagner Group. Does this mean that that whole strategy is now going to be disbanded and it's just going to be the Russian regular army, which didn't seem to be fighting very well in Ukraine?

GESSEN: Well, I think there are two aspects to this. One is that he carved up the armed forces, as dictators often do, to make sure that he wasn't at risk of facing a military coup, right? So he always -- you've mentioned the presidential guard, which could have been marshalled against Prigozhin, if Prigozhin had continued his march on Moscow. This is exactly the kind of contingency he was preparing for by creating, in addition to the regular army, various other armed contingents. In addition to creating, as you mentioned, sort of plausible deniability in Africa, in Syria, and in Ukraine.


And now the bigger problem that he is facing too, the strategy of carving up the military has clearly proved dangerous in itself. But also, if Prigozhin's mercenaries are no longer in play in Ukraine, that significantly weakens Russia's military effort at the exact right moment for the Ukrainians while they're staging their counter offensive.

So, you know, I don't know. I can't predict what Putin's strategy on the battlefield is going to be. But I can say with a fair amount of confidence that this is good news for Ukraine.

ZAKARIA: Anne, we've got about 60 seconds, what are you hearing from Ukraine? You have very good context there. What -- what is the mood there? What is your sense of what's going on there?

APPLEBAUM: I mean, people were sanguine about this. They kept a lot of distance from the events yesterday. People didn't invest too much hope in it. I mean, they know that Prigozhin has also killed a lot of Ukrainians. But generally speaking, the appearance of weakness in Moscow is good for them. It creates doubts in the minds of Russian military commanders, Russian elites, and Russia's allies around the world. And that has to help Ukraine in the short or long term.

ZAKARIA: And do you think that there's something we should watch for in terms of the counter offensive now?

APPLEBAUM: I mean, I'm not sure the counter offensive is going to change, but we should -- we should watch for it and we should continue supporting it and make sure that they win. I mean it's -- the country they're fighting against is one that's decaying and falling apart and based on a series of lies and Ukrainian victory would improve that situation.

ZAKARIA: And in a way, Zelenskyy made exactly that kind of appeal in a series of tweets that he sent out saying, this shows you that they control nothing. You know, essentially, they're a paper tiger.

Thank you both. Really fascinating set of insights. Appreciate it greatly.

Next on GPS, I was in Paris at the end of the week for an interview with French President Emmanuel Macron. He has an important and really important insights into the fight against climate change. And we also talked about the future of U.S.-China relations. All that after the break.



ZAKARIA: I was in Paris this week for an interview with French President Emmanuel Macron. On Thursday and Friday, he hosted a summit. Bringing together dozens of world leaders and hundreds of other stakeholders to seek new ways of funding the fight against climate change and extreme poverty. We met on Friday morning on the sidelines of the summit. Before the events of the Russian rebellion were known.


ZAKARIA: Mr. President, pleasure to have you again.

EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: Thank you for being here in Paris.

ZAKARIA: Let's talk about this conference, 55 heads of government, heads of state here, trying to get some kind of agreement about what to do about climate change, about debt relief, poverty reduction. Isn't the fundamental problem you face that in the wealthy countries of the world, the domestic politics right now does not allow for a massive expansion of aid, and you need a lot of money to solve the kind of problems you're talking about?

MACRON: Look, I think this summit is a very important moment for at least two reasons, if I may say. The first one, geopolitics. There is a big risk of a global divide because of the war in Ukraine and the whole dynamic. And this divide is a waste against the rest. And this narrative is pushed by some big countries, I would say, for several reasons.

But listening to a lot of leaders during the past year, I was very upset by this narrative of double standard. And a lot of leaders in this world said to us, you have a lot of billions for Ukraine. But when the question is to fix poverty, climate change, climate vulnerability in our country, it takes years or decades to find a few millions.

This is quite true. I think we are right to do what we are doing for Ukraine because we are fighting for international law, for our liberty and our principles, and for a country being aggressed. But let's be clear we were not sufficiently efficient vis-a-vis the south and a lot of country facing poverty and climate change at the same time.

So we have to address this narrative of double standard. Otherwise it will be used by some of those to create an alternative multilateral order, new financial institutions, new global order and to say World Bank, IMF, even United Nations are no more efficient to fix our big issues. Let's create something else. This is the number one reason of -- for me. This forum gathering from the U.S. to China to South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the Europeans and so on. A lot of countries very poor to very rich to build together a new consensus.

The second objective of this summit is precisely to fix a new consensus. Because we created our financial institutions in a world where more than half of this country didn't exist. They are not fairly represented. And at that time the challenge was not at the magnitude they are facing.


Poverty and inequality increased during the past few years and COVID crisis plus food crisis now had a huge impact on poverty in a lot of this country. And climate change and biodiversity crisis have huge impacts in these countries and impact for all of us, because we will never fix this issue if we don't address the issue vis-a-vis emerging, developing in poor countries. And this new consensus is precisely to fix with them. This question, this nexus, poverty, biodiversity climate, and to find new instruments and new mobilization.

And we are designing this new consensus for people and planet around four principles to be clear. Number one, nobody should be put in a situation to choose between poverty and biodiversity and climate. This is an acceptable morally, but this is bad for these countries and for us, because a lot of these countries are absolute treasure for us in terms of biodiversity and absolutely key for our fight against CO2 emission.

If they start deforesting or keep on deforesting, the impact for the whole planet is huge. So, principle number one, they have to fight together against poverty, climate change, consequence and for biodiversity.

Second, we have to respect each country on its own path in order to fix this challenge. This is why this is much more a contract by a country to be negotiated, that a sort of role model to be implemented for everybody.

Third, we need much more public money, much more investment from rich countries. Much better utilization by IMF and World Bank. And I think here we signed a new roadmap for IMF on World Bank, better coordination, better leverage, more exposure, which is absolutely key. And this is a transformational moment. Better coordination with public development banks. And yesterday we set up the first political summit finance in common with all public development banks and multilateral institution s from China to the U.S., the Europeans, the emerging, the Saudis and so on.

So more public funding. And fourth, we do need more private money to fix these issues in a lot of this country. And World Bank committed to have a leverage of at least one for $1 of public money we have at least $1 of private money being invested. This is key. And this is why we are channeling all these liquidities on sovereign funds, asset managers, private equities part of this world to be channeled to these countries and this project.

What do they need? They need first loss mechanism, new guarantees, new innovative financing in order to take the risk in these different countries. This is what we are fixing in this summit.

(END VIDEO TAPE) ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, Emmanuel Macron said the quiet part out loud in April when he said Europe needs strategic autonomy not to be tied to China or America. I ask him about that when we come back.



ZAKARIA: Paris and Washington have a special relationship. After all, France was the first military ally of the yet to be formed United States during the Revolutionary War. But will that relationship hold? Or will France and its neighbors find another path? After a three-day visit to China in April, President Macron told reporters that Europe needed what he called strategic autonomy.

He didn't want the continent to be a vassal or follower of either China or America. Here's more of my interview with the French President.


ZAKARIA: Let's talk about China. You had a very important trip to China, and after you came back, you said some things that provoked a certain amount of opposition in Europe and particularly the United States, most specifically, your comment on Taiwan. So I want to ask you, you said that, you know, Europe needs strategic autonomy. It should not be a vassal of either China or the U.S. And on Taiwan, we should be careful not to accelerate a crisis that is not ours.

Mike Gallagher, the head of the China Committee in the House of Representatives, said these comments are disgraceful. Is there anything you want to clarify or change about what you said?

MACRON: Look, I was very clear and I want to be clear. First, on Taiwan, we are in favor of the status quo which means we are dead against any aggression and we do respect the existing model and this is what I reiterated with President Xi Jinping and understand, this is exactly the position of President Biden.

Second, I never put France in a sort of equal distance visit with China and the U.S. We are ally in NATO but through our history with the U.S. We do share the same values. We are economic competitors, but we are closely linked by history, by the alliance and the human relations and friendship.

We want to have the best possible relation with China. We have to work with China to fix climate change, biodiversity crisis and a lot of conflict in this world. It's clear that we don't share all the same -- all the same values, and we have very strict differences on human rights and so on. But we want to find the right way to respect each other. And we are competitor and our willingness is to encore China in the global order.


This is exactly what we are doing here in this conference. So this is just to clarify this sort of perception that China and U.S. could be put at the same level vis-a-vis, which is not the case, but I want to insist on the point.

For me, it's very important to have a much more autonomous Europe and European Union. Why? Because it's useful for the global order. I think it's useful even for the U.S. It's useful to have a more powerful Europe being in capacity to fix conflicts at its border.

I think we are very lucky to have a U.S. administration ready to engage in Ukraine today. Would it be the case in a few years or in a few decades? I'm not sure. The Europeans have to build themselves their capacity to preserve peace on their territory and in their neighborhood.

Second, I want us, for our citizen to be in a situation, to be independent in terms of technology, defense, energy, I would say the key structures of normal life. Why? Because nobody knows what could happen in the rest of the world.

And if you are dependent on one country, you can be put in a very tricky situation the day you have a leadership in this country which decide to completely flip flop. And it did happen, guess what? And I experienced that. So I don't want to be put in such a situation again. So I think it's fair as a European to be very pushy for more autonomy. It's useful for the U.S. from a defense point of view, because this is burden sharing and it's useful for the global order because it's having for the U.S. and an ally, being in a situation to discuss with some other people and big powers in which -- with which it's more difficult for the U.S.

So I think it's not a lack of respect or disgraceful (inaudible) the United States what they said. And by the way, I discussed with President Biden before and after my trip, and we were very clear, and I can say that you have a president who is extremely clear regarding China and very sensible regarding this big interest and is not pushing for an increasing of the conflictuality.

And this is my last point on China and your question. My main objective was to say through different initiatives and non-coordinated initiatives. We should not push -- push the Chinese to overreact on the short run.

ZAKARIA: After you made those remarks about Taiwan, almost, it seemed by coincidence, a poll came out in which they asked Europeans whether they would be willing to fight in Taiwan -- over Taiwan. And the overwhelmingly people in Europe said, no. Do you think that vindicates the point you were making about Taiwan?

MACRON: No. I mean, I'm always very cautious with polls because sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad. And I think you have to design your strategy referring to them as well as the long-term interest for everybody.

I think we have to be very strict on our values and perspective and global order. But I think this world needs less conflictuality because the top priority of our agenda is to fix global problems. I think for me, the top priority of the global agenda is trying to fix the existing crisis, fighting against inequalities. And fixing climate change and biodiversity. Here are the key challenges of the decades to come, but especially this decade. I would add to this one, find -- I mean, building a good framework and common regulation on artificial intelligence.

Here are the key elements of a global agenda. To deliver on this agenda, we need cooperation, and especially we need cooperation between China and the U.S. We did sign the Paris Agreement because President Xi and President Obama found an agreement a few months before.

If there is no agreement between China and the U.S. on all these topics, it's impossible to build a global agenda and to fix these issues. Here are my top priorities. This is why I think for the critical elements where you will increase divisions and conflictuality and tensions between the U.S. and China, we should try to moderate them, to find a way to -- I mean, discuss quietly and build the relevant fora to decrease tension, because our priority should be to fix these ones.


ZAKARIA: Mr. President, always a pleasure to have you on.

MACRON: This is mine. Thank you, my friend. Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Thank you, sir.


ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, while I was in Paris, I recorded my take, which is on relations between the U.S. and another key nation, India. When we come back.


ZAKARIA: Here's my take, as the Biden administration welcomes India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington lavishly, some experts are warning that the U.S. shouldn't succumb to irrational exuberance about the two countries relations.


The Journalist, Barkha Dutt writes that India will never be America's ally. No matter how warm Washington's embrace. India is intensely focused on its own national interests and will pursue them narrowly. The off sided example is India's refusal to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The skeptics are right to note that India has long resisted the poll to become a full-fledged ally of the United States, a version of Britain in Asia, and it will continue to do so. Like any country, it does have its own interests to worry about. But India is changing. In the past, the country has placed little emphasis on foreign policy, devoting its energies instead to managing the vast complexities of its own society, which is characterized by thousands of castes and communities, dozens of major languages and huge regional diversity.

Now, the rise of China has finally gotten its attention. The 2020 clash in the Himalayas, when Chinese and Indian soldiers fought bitterly over a still disputed border area, was a wakeup call for India's strategic elite. And to some extent, the entire country. Public sentiment shifted sharply, and today a large number of Indians regard China with hostility. For its part, Beijing has done little to try to solve the problem. It actually reinforced its military infrastructure along the border, which would allow it to surge troops whenever it seized the need.

Since the clash, India has constrained or outright banned many Chinese companies and technologies from operating in its market, including Huawei and TikTok. The threat from China will motivate India to strengthen its ties with America for decades to come.

Yet as India emerges as a great power, it will have to adopt a more expansive vision of its interests around the world. It will need to define its attitude toward the international system itself and how its own ideas and ideals should affect its stance.

In the process, it might well decide that it values a rules based international system and see that, as the world's largest democracy, it gains enormous soft power by adopting a foreign policy that is influenced by its democratic ideals, even if it won't be feasible in every case to apply them. Such selectivity is, after all, true of most democratic countries, including the United States.

There is a separate critique of the overtures toward Modi that deal with his government's policies toward minorities, the press, the judiciary and other independent agencies of the democratic system. Many of these critiques are accurate. Modi has presided over a decay of democracy in India. All the three major international think tanks that measure the quality of democratic governance have downgraded India in recent years.

Sweden's V-Dem Institute judges that India no longer ranks as a democracy at all, describing it instead as an electoral autocracy. But how Washington should handle democratic decay in a country like India is a complicated problem.

The truth is that Modi is extremely popular in India, and what's more, his Hindu nationalism is also popular. Like Erdogan in Turkey, Netanyahu in Israel and Orban in Hungary, Modi has tapped into an illiberal vein in the country that scorns minorities, checks and balances, and liberal constitutionalism.

In all these places, the nationalist populist leader sets himself and his many, many followers against the old secular, cosmopolitan elite that has ruled the country for many decades. And, truth be told, there is often much frustration with that elite, with an establishment that seemed disconnected from the heartland of the nation, from ordinary people and their ideas and emotions.

I sometimes wonder whether all these countries are revealing that the values of an open society, pluralism, tolerance, secularism were an import from the era of the West's dominance in the world, and that the erosion with these ideas is gradually revealing a more authentic, less tolerant nationalism.

The former U.S. Ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, said that India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, told him once, I am the last Englishman to rule India. The country Nehru and his fellow post-independence leaders created was built on values that its founders drew from their deep association with Britain and the west.

There, India was a secular, pluralistic, democratic and socialist state. All of those ideals have been fading in India in recent years.


In any event, lecturing Modi on human rights is not the best way for the Biden administration to deal with him. That would backfire not only with him, but also with most Indians who would resent western bullying.

Far better to ally with India's society itself, expanding ties with its businesses, press, NGOs, cultural groups and others. India is one of the most pro American countries in the world, something that is palpable when you're there. Companies, students, scholars, activists, all want closer ties with America. This people-to-people alliance will inevitably strengthen the government-to-government relations between the two countries.

But more important, I believe that an India that is more deeply connected to America will be a country that will naturally seek to perfect its democracy at home, and that will also give it moral authority in a fracturing world that could use more of it.

Go to for a link to my Washington Post column this week. Thank you for joining us, and see you next week.