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Fareed Zakaria GPS

U.S. and U.K. Strike Iran-Backed Houthis in Yemen; Taiwan Elects New President, Raising Tensions with China; Kim Jong Un and the Threat from North Korea; Interview with Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired January 14, 2024 - 10:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: 2021 and he hated what he saw and he hated the role he felt he had played in it. And he feared that what might come next would be worse.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: I remember what Benjamin Franklin said when he was walking down the street in Philadelphia after the constitutional convention and a woman approached him on the street and said, Mr. Franklin, what kind of government did you give us? And he said to the woman, a republic, if you can keep it.


TAPPER: Can we?

Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with us. "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts now.

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 Zakari coming to you live from New York.


ZAKARIA: On today's program, the U.S. and Britain strike the Houthis in Yemen. And the strife between Hezbollah and Israel heats up. Is this turning into a war between Iran and its proxies on the one hand and the West? We'll tell you all you need to know.

Then, China's eagle eyes were watching across the strait as Taiwan voted yesterday. What did they see? Will the results bring us closer to conflict or further away? I'll ask an expert.

Also, escaping from North Korea. It's an incredibly dangerous prospect. Would-be defectors are likely to be tortured or killed if caught. We will bring you an extraordinary inside look at the journey out of the hermit kingdom with the people behind the new film, "Beyond Utopia."


ZAKARIA: But first, here's "My Take."

It's now almost three months since Benjamin Netanyahu's government's ground invasion of Gaza began. And it is time to ask some hard questions. Has it been proportional to the damage that Hamas inflicted on Israel? Has the Israeli government been careful to avoid civilian casualties? Was there another path?

I asked these as a supporter of Israel, a country that I believe has been a remarkable success in an environment that was for decades deeply hostile to it, and with some countries like Iran remained opposed to its very existence. I'm also dismayed and appalled by the rise of antisemitism across the world which is a powerful reminder as to why Israel was founded in the first place.

This week hearings in the International Court of Justice began to determine if Israel's government is committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza. I think the charge is invalid. There is no systemic effort to exterminate Gaza's population. If there were, given the vast disparity in power, Israel would surely have killed many more than 23,000 people, though of course that number is still staggeringly high.

The death toll I should note comes from the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza. Genocide is an incendiary accusation that should not be used loosely. Nevertheless, some deeply troubling facts may emerge about Israel's bombing campaign.

Israel suffered a brutal terror attack on October 7th and had the right to respond forcefully, but consider what it has done in a small territory housing 2.2 million people, half of whom are children, and of which of Israel's own estimate before the war only 30,000 are Hamas fighters. A "Wall Street Journal" analysis of Israel's bombing campaign notes that by mid-December, nearly 70 percent of Gaza's 439,000 homes and about half of all its buildings have been damaged or destroyed.

Much of the water, electrical, communications and healthcare infrastructure that made Gaza function is beyond repair. Of Gaza's 36 hospitals, only eight can still accept patients. U.N. monitors report that more than two-thirds of all schools as have several churches and over 100 mosques.

The "Associated Press" reports that according to experts, in roughly two months, Israel caused more destruction in Gaza than the battle of Aleppo and Syria or the raising of Mariupol in Ukraine, and killed more civilians than the U.S. and its allies did in a three-year campaign against ISIS.

Israel's campaign has exceeded proportionally the destruction of the allied bombings of Germany in World War II, and as the University of Chicago's Robert Tate notes, is one of the most intense civilian punishment campaigns in history. CNN reported in mid-December that U.S. intelligence estimated that 40 percent to 45 percent of the 29,000 bombs Israel had dropped were unguided, prone to cause greater collateral damage.


Indeed, a top Israeli admiral acknowledged before the ground invasion began that while the IDF was balancing accuracy, right now we are focused on what causes maximum damage. Prime Minister Netanyahu has evoked the biblical story of Amalek in which God tells the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child, destroy all property, even kill every animal in retaliation for a surprise attack.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that more journalists have been killed in the first 10 weeks of the Israel-Gaza war than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year. The United Nations reports that more U.N. aid workers have been killed in Gaza than in my other conflict over the 78 years of the organization.

It's possible that some of these numbers are misleading. But are all of them coming from various sources wrong? This military campaign is being perpetrated by a deeply unpopular government in Jerusalem that is trying to salvage its reputation. Polls since the start of this conflict have shown that most of the Israeli public has lost faith in Prime Minister Netanyahu. A poll that came out last week found that only 15 percent of those surveyed wanted Bibi Netanyahu to keep his job after the war. 69 percent wanted elections as soon as the war ends.

It is awkward to note this, but Prime Minister Netanyahu has every incentive to keep the military campaign going in the hope that his day of reckoning can be postponed if not put off indefinitely. Having bungled the strategy toward Hamas before the war, he is trying to use maximum force now as political compensation.

Israel is a democracy and an open society, and precisely because of that, it will one day have to ask itself whether it acted appropriately in the heat of its anger and sorrow after October 7th. Friends of Israel should help it ask those questions now so that it does not look back on this episode with shame and regret.

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

Sunday marks 100 days since Hamas' terrible attacks of October 7th and today the wider war in the Middle East that many feared may be upon us. On Thursday, the United States and the United Kingdom conducted strikes against the Houthis. The Iran-backed Yemeni rebel group that has repeatedly attacked commercial vessels in the Red Sea in recent weeks, disrupting commerce.

And it's not just the Houthis. Conflict between Israel and another Iran-backed group Hezbollah is heating up in Lebanon.

Joining me now is Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics.

Fawaz, welcome. It's so good to have you here as a deep scholar of this area. Let me start with the most urgent issue, which is these American and British attacks on the Houthis. It feels like the United States is getting drawn into a conflict that is going to be very difficult to declare victory over.

The Houthis have withstood 10 years of Saudi air strikes, bombardment, war, and what they're doing is launching, you know, cheap drones that are causing all this damage. Is there a possibility that these American and British strikes will work?

FAWAZ GERGES, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Probably 10 percent out of 100. I think the big question, Fareed, is that the Biden administration is getting sucked into the shifting sands of the Middle East with really eyes wide open. And we have been there before.

But let's unpack Biden's position for a minute. From day one after Hamas' bloody attacks on Israel on the 7th of October, the key objective of the Biden administration has been to prevent the escalation, the spread of the conflict from Gaza. What does it mean? It means giving Israel time and space to accomplish its mission while preventing and deterring any group or nation from really lending help to the Palestinians.

This strategy has failed. The war in Gaza has spread near and wide. It's escalating. And it's escalating that my fear is that the longer the war goes on in Gaza, the greater risk of a region wide conflict.


And the Biden administration is partly responsible for this because it has really the key to resolve this particular crisis by agreeing to a humanitarian ceasefire, which most of the world had been calling for in the past three months or so.

ZAKARIA: So let me ask you about the other piece of it that you mentioned, which is Hezbollah. What is likely to happen? When the conflict started, the head of Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, made a kind of remarkable statement where he seemed to say I wish you well to Hamas. We did not know about this in advance. But we're not joining in. So there was a caution, there was a pragmatism. Do you think Hezbollah could get more drawn in? Because it does seem like things are changing.

GERGES: You know, Fareed, you're talking about the leader of Hezbollah. Hassan Nasrallah. He has made very clear in multiple speeches that he does not really want all-out war with Israel. He has made it very clear that there is no really, I mean, centralized command for the various resistance groups in the region. Maybe he said very clearly, look, we support each other. We coordinate with each other, but there's really no central command and control.

Each one of us, he says, quote-unquote, "basically acts according to their own national interest." And in fact, the United States itself has made it very clear that Hezbollah has been acting with restraint. Hezbollah has not targeted Islamabad's population centers but if you look at what's happening in the past few weeks, it's really Israel that has been pushing Hezbollah to the limits. It's provoking Hezbollah. It has been killing its, I mean, top commanders in the field.

It's had attacks Hezbollah in the very heart of its social base in Beirut and the south. It has killed scores of Hezbollah members in Syria. More in the past three months, 19 Hezbollah fighters, than in the past year. And the United States is terrified, is terrified and is really trying to basically pressure Israel not to provoke Hezbollah.

Israel also, Fareed, and the Defense Department, the U.S. Defense Department, has been furious. It targeted the Lebanese army 34 times in the past three months. And if you ask me what's happening here and I probably -- I might come across as too cynical, but I think Netanyahu's political future depends on the continuation of the war in Gaza and probably its expansion. Because when the guns fall silent in Gaza, he knows that there will be reckoning, public reckoning. Public reckoning for his strategic failure on the 7th of October and for his failure to deliver on his promises. I mean, let's take stock of the last 100 days.

ZAKARIA: Let me just ask you, Fawaz, before we go, though. I want to ask you about this one other piece of news which is the Saudis reaffirmed that they wanted to normalize relations with Israel. That strikes me as unusual given everything that's going on.

What do you think, what do you read into that? Do they really don't care about the Palestinian issue? How would you read it?

GERGES: Well, the other part which you did not mention is that they will normalize only when Israel accepts to basically allow the Palestinians self-determination and a state of their own. But look, at the end of the day, top-down normalization was autocrats will not give Israel security. The only security that Israel can have is genuine reconciliation with the Palestinians.

Fareed, genuine reconciliation with the Palestinians means ending Israel's military occupation. It means allowing Palestinian self- determination. It means being a good citizen its neighborhood and being at peace with itself. This is the only way that Israel can really live in peace in the region. Not with this fake normalization with autocrats that will really never deliver a genuine, real security for Israel.

ZAKARIA: Fawaz Gerges, always a pleasure to have you on. Thank you, sir.

Next on GPS, from the conflict in the Middle East to concerns about a future conflict in Asia. Did yesterday's election in Taiwan put the self-governing island on a path toward ever greater problems with mainland China? When we come back.



ZAKARIA: Yesterday's election in Taiwan might push the self-governing island closer to conflict with China. At least that is the fear. Taiwanese voters chose Lai Ching-te as their new president. Lai is the current vice president and a member of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party which wants closer ties with Washington and other democracies. He won against two rivals who both in various ways favored a warmer relationship with Beijing.

In response to the election, a Chinese government spokesman said the basic fact that Taiwan is a part of China will not change.

Joining me now is Bonny Lynn, the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Bonny, welcome. Give us a sense of Lai Ching-te. Who is this guy who's just become president?

BONNY LIN, DIRECTOR OF CHINA POWER PROJECTS, CSIS: Thank you, Fareed. It's great to join you. So Lai has been in Taiwan politics for quite some time. He has currently served as the vice president of Taiwan, but he's also held other national positions including a premier of Taiwan.


He's also had positions at the local level. So in many ways, he is very much a seasoned politician as well as a supporter of Taiwan for some time. One thing we do know is that part of what you alluded to is that prior to the recent years, he has taken positions that China used as very much pro-independence. And from the Chinese perspective, they view Lai as a diehard pro-independence worker. And that does raise some of the potential for tensions if China were to operate on this very ill-conceived notion of Lai.

ZAKARIA: So what I'm struck by is help us understand the politics of Taiwan. I think there's a general impression that everybody in Taiwan wants independence but when you look at the polling, that's not the case. Most people in Taiwan just want the status quo. They're not independent, but they are basically in de facto independent. And if you look at this poll, he wins 40 percent of the vote and the other two candidates together take 60 percent.

Does that tell you that there's sort of a majority of Taiwan is uncomfortable with this more assertive, anti-Beijing, pro-Washington position?

LIN: I think you raised a really good point. So if we look at polling, we actually don't see most in Taiwan advocating for independence. Most want to maintain the status quo exactly like you mentioned. And if you look at the polling results, as you mentioned, Lai did not receive more than 50 percent of the votes at the presidential election which is different from Tsai, where both in the 2016 and 2020 election, she received more than 50 percent of the votes.

And it's also important to note that not only did Lai not receive 50 percent of the votes for the presidential election, when you look at Taiwan's legislative U.N. elections, their equivalent of Congress, the DPP did not hold on to their majority. So one way to look at this is, and this is how China looks at it, is that Lai does not have the popular vote in Taiwan and nor does his party have control of Congress.

Hopefully, and China has that perspective, it will put some moderation in terms of how China views Lai as well as Lai's ability to influence Taiwan's cross-Strait policies.

ZAKARIA: Now for the Chinese, as important as what Taiwan does is what Washington does. And I'm wondering if you step back from all of this, where do you think U.S.-China relations are? Because that's in a way going to determine whether this particular hotspot explodes. It started off badly with the Anchorage summit in such seems to have gotten better since the last Biden-Xi summit. Is that -- has there been genuine progress on building a kind of working relationship or was that just show and no substance?

LIN: So if you look at U.S.-China relations, exactly like you mentioned, Fareed, it's probably a more important factor for how China thinks about Taiwan than just what's happening domestically within Taiwan. In the last couple of months, particularly since the Biden-Xi meeting outside of San Francisco, we've seen U.S.-China relations stabilize to some extent.

I would still say competition still defines U.S.-China relations but it is interesting to watch what has happened in the last week in U.S.- China relations. Almost every single day of the past week leading up to Taiwan elections, we've seen some form of critical U.S.-China engagement. Monday and Tuesday, we saw military to military talks between U.S. and Chinese militaries.

On Wednesday and Friday, we saw Minister Liu Jianchao from China's International Liaison Department of the Chinese Communist Party, engages with principal deputy National Security adviser partner as well as meet with Secretary Blinken. We saw on Thursday, a call between Secretary Mondo and her Chinese counterparts. So we have a good up tempo of critical engagements between U.S. and China leading up to the elections. And I think that provides some counter way to however China may perceive the election results.

ZAKARIA: OK, we've got only about 30 or 40 seconds left so I ask you to make this short. Jim Steinberg and Steve Hadley, two very senior, very seasoned officials, are going to Taipei to meet the new president. What do you think the message that Joe Biden is sending through these people is going to be?

LIN: I think one critical message is that the United States supports the democratically-elected president of Taiwan and we hope to maintain U.S. policy towards Taiwan. It will be consistent regardless of who is the president and I believe both of those former leaders will be meeting not only with Lai and the DPP, but also those of other parties including the KMT as well as TPP within Taiwan.

ZAKARIA: And those are the two other parties that filled their presidential candidates.


Bonny Lin, that's wonderful primer for us on that election. Thank you. LIN: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, we have something really special. An eye-opening new documentary. It's a real-life thriller about people trying to escape from what I call the worst country in the world, North Korea. You don't want to miss this.


ZAKARIA: Academy Award nominations will be released later this month and on the short list for best documentary is a film called "Beyond Utopia." It tells a powerful story about people trying to defect from North Korea. With danger lurking around every corner. But also a sprawling network of people risking their own lives to help. The filmmakers got extraordinary up close footage of one family's harrowing journey.


To talk about that story and what it tells us about North Korea I spoke to the film's director, Madeleine Gavin, and one of the film's producers, former CIA analyst, Sue Mi Terry.


ZAKARIA: Welcome both of you. Sue Mi Terry, let me start with you. You know, when I was at Newsweek, we once did a kind of, the worst countries in the world list. And we would talk to experts and correspondents and we decided North Korea ranked number one. I think the Taliban -- Afghanistan ranked number two because they were evil, but they were not that competent. North Korea has this combination of pure evil with extraordinary brutal competence.

So, given that backdrop, which I'm guessing you agree with, explain what the stakes are for somebody who is trying to escape from North Korea. What happens? You know, how difficult is it?

SUE MI TERRY, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Well, it's a life and death situation. As you said, North Korea is a failed state. But they are very competent about the security apparatus, their fear tactics, their ability to control the population. So, it's literally you're risking your life to flee North Korea.

ZAKARIA: And, of course, you can't -- the easiest thing to do geographically would be to go to South Korea but that is a heavily armed, mined border. What's the path out? You know, it's pretty complicated.

TERRY: It's complicated. You do have to cross the river and go to the China-North Korea border and cross the river or go through the mountain and all of that to flee North Korea. As you said, you can go across the DMZ. And there are instances in the past, you might remember a few years ago, a North Korean soldier dramatically tried to escape, got shot in the back. But as you mentioned, it's heavily fortified, soldiers, land mines. So, that's really very risky. So, the real way to escape is really just the border. You know, go through the border.

ZAKARIA: But when you get to north into China, you're not free as I discovered in the movie because if the Chinese get you, they'll just send you back to North Korea.

TERRY: I think that's one of the most important things about this film. You realize -- you think that most people might think, OK, fleeing North Korea is the hardest part. No, that's just the first step and the real danger begins when you're in China and that's because China's policy is to not recognize them as refugees. They call them economic migrants and they have this long-standing policy of repatriating them forcefully -- repatriating them back to North Korea knowing exactly what fate awaits them.

ZAKARIA: But it's not even just China. So, then you get past China. You've got to go into Laos.

TERRY: Laos, Vietnam.

ZAKARIA: They all have the same policy.

TERRY: Their policy is also to send the North Koreans back. So, it's very treacherous journey until they make it to Thailand and --


ZAKARIA: So, you've got to cross through three countries usually before you get to freedom.

TERRY: It's a long trek.

ZAKARIA: So, Madeleine, to me, the most extraordinary thing is you are watching this family escape from North Korea in the most dangerous circumstances and we're seeing it all. You couldn't have had camera men. It feels like it's all being shot on iPhones. How did you -- how did you manage that?

MADELEINE GAVIN, DIRECTOR AND EDITOR, "BEYOND UTOPIA": Yes. I mean, I have to give so much credit to Pastor Kim, a South Korean pastor who we -- we, you know, follow in the film. He is the reason we were able to shoot in places where nobody goes, nobody wants to go.

You know, the border of North Korea and China, it's more than an 800- mile river border and the underground railroad and Pastor Kim's network keeps flip phones and cameras hidden along that border and that is how we were able to do this.

ZAKARIA: How many people helped this one family get out?

GAVIN: So, in this one escape that we followed, there were more than 50 people from the underground railroad involved in that escape.

ZAKARIA: Describe the journey because we see some of it and it feels like they're going through forests. They're going through jungles. And they just have the keep moving. The little kid gets hurt. The mother just says, you've got to keep moving. GAVIN: Yes. Yes. So, the journey begins in China, which is a huge country. In this particular case, they went through China into Vietnam and then into Laos, and then over the Mekong River into Thailand. And, yes, we had different -- every single thing, you know, had to be vetted in such a delicate fashion.

There were -- in China -- none of us were in China, obviously. That was only the underground railroad shooting and one family member of the Roh family who we followed. We were able to be in Southeast Asia, but there were areas where someone could be but not someone else.


This camera could be used, not that camera. It was --

ZAKARIA: How did they trust you as an American? The grandma says, I was suspicious of these Americans. But how -- did you work on it?

GAVIN: You know, for grandma, you could feel the sort of dialectic inside her. You know, on the one hand, every time she looked at me, she would kind of tear up. And there was this kind of -- you know, she was grappling with what she has known to be true her whole life in North Korea, which is that we are her enemy, and what she was experiencing in the moment, in the present. And it was this unfolding that was extraordinary.


ZAKARIA: When we come back, we'll find out what happened to the Roh family. Did they make it to freedom? Stay with us.



ZAKARIA: More now with Madeleine Gavin and Sue Mi Terry discussing their film "Beyond Utopia" about North Korean defectors.


ZAKARIA: So, Madeleine, we're going to, unfortunately, do a bit of a spoiler alert, but the Roh family does make it. There's this extraordinary moment, the last stage of it is crossing over to Thailand, crossing the Mekong River, and that is also very fraught.

And the pastor says something which I thought was so good. He said, until now, you have been running away from the police. Now, I want you to run to the police. I want the Thai police to arrest you because they will send you to South Korea, not North Korea. That must have been, I mean, just an amazing moment to capture on camera.

GAVIN: Yes. Yes, I mean -- and for the Roh family, who -- you know, because growing up in North Korea you learn essentially nothing about the outside world. So, you know, like you said, they were running from the police, hiding from the police in China, in Vietnam, in Laos. And then even to be told that is such a -- you know, even to grapple with that and run toward the police as you say, yes, it was -- it was an extraordinary moment, and then, you know, to see them when they get to Thailand and they actually are safe.

ZAKARIA: You know, to me, the -- watching the grandma kind of get unbrainwashed is fascinating, right? Because she begins -- when they talked to her and she starts saying, you know, I don't understand why Kim Jong Un doesn't do a better job. He's badly advised.

And then his daughter says -- the daughter says to her mother, you don't have to lie anymore. But she's not lying. She's slowly getting unbrainwashed. And then she says to you, what I don't understand is I was always told Americans are monsters but you are so nice. That must have felt good.

GAVIN: It was amazing. But she also -- then she goes on to say, but sometimes I think, well, maybe they're pretending to be nice and they're actually going to kill us because we're North Korean. So, it was this real back and forth, you know, in her own mind and that was so fascinating to watch.

TERRY: Well, I talk a lot about ideological indoctrination that goes on in North Korea, but that scene when the grandmother just says -- she's in Vietnam and she sees how -- she sees how prosperous it is and she said, but this cannot be our dear leader's fault. This must be our fault.

So, that kind of -- that just says volumes. That speaks volumes about the ideological indoctrination that she went through her whole life.


TERRY: That was a very revealing moment.

ZAKARIA: How do you -- how did they maintain in North Korea that level of indoctrination, that level of repression? It does feel unreal.

TERRY: Well, it is the most closed off society in the world. I think they have perfected totalitarian control more than any state in the world. This is how the region survives. More than 75 years now this is how it survives through monopoly on information, by isolating its population from the rest of the world, ideological indoctrination, the security services, the fear tactics.

You know, in south of the border, there is South Korea, right? That's the 10th largest economy in the world with all the increasing self- power. How does the North Korean regime survive? They have to have this unparalleled control of its population.

ZAKARIA: Give us an update. Since we have you, you were the lead CIA analyst on North Korea. What's going on? Is there anything new that -- you know, we're worried about Gaza and Iran and Russia. We forget this nuclear armed, rogue, failed state.

TERRY: Yes, I think there's a continuing danger because geopolitical environment is actually favorable for North Korea. The whole world is distracted. Meanwhile, they are diversifying, expanding, modernizing, perfecting their arsenal. They just had a successful satellite launch after two failed attempts. Only two months after Kim meeting with Putin, there is a new burgeoning relationship, closeness between Russia and North Korea. North Korea just sent artilleries and rockets that Russia use in Ukraine cities.

So, there's a lot going on. And, of course, the humanitarian situation is not getting any better. Kim Jong Un regime is cracking down on its public, the population, because he's very worry about information coming into North Korea. So, situation is worsening, but the world is, you know -- because there's so much going on. And UNSC, United Nations Security Council, completely paralyzed China, Russia, working with North Korea.


ZAKARIA: There is a lot of heartbreak in this movie. There's another family. And one of the characters in the movie says -- in the film says, we were just born in the wrong country. That seemed to me the most heartbreaking moment.

GAVIN: Yes. That was so important to me to put in the film. And also, something that Hyeonseo Lee, another person in the film says which is -- you know, she said, people always say, you know, why don't the North Korea people revolt? Why don't they just stand up to their leader?

And she says, you know, I believe that everyone else would be exactly like us if they were brought where we were brought up because we didn't know what existed outside. We lived in a virtual prison.

And so, it's like those two things. I mean, born in the wrong country. It's the luck of the draw that we were not born there. And that's why I wanted to make this film because, you know, 26 million people who we have not really acknowledged in our media for more than 70 years, they were born in the wrong country and that line was so important to me. It's heartbreaking.

ZAKARIA: Well. You made an extraordinary movie, both of you. You should be very proud. Thank you. Thank you for sharing it with us.

GAVIN: Thank you, Fareed.


ZAKARIA: The film is "Beyond Utopia." It's available to watch on PBS and other streaming services.

Next on GPS, as everyone is worried about Ukraine's prospects, we bring you an inspiring story about Ukraine's attempt to turn its democracy digital and strengthen its liberal democratic credentials. That story when we come back.


[10:50:45] ZAKARIA: When I was in Ukraine, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mykhailo Fedorov, the deputy prime minister for Innovation, Education, Science and Technology. Fedorov is the man behind Ukraine's drone fleet and we aired an interview about that. But Fedorov also serves as minister for Digital Transformation and what a transformation it is.

In this war-ravaged country, the citizens can now pay taxes, receive benefits, get a driver's license and more all via an app. As it fights for its own survival, Ukraine is showing the world how to make government tech savvy and nimble. I talked to Fedorov about these efforts and I wanted to bring you that conversation now.


ZAKARIA: I'm amazed when I have been dealing with Ukrainians and talking to them. Everybody has these digital apps. They have their passport on there. They have their driving license on there. They have a national id. They have the equivalent of our Social Security card on there. But many, many more apps like -- is this now -- is it a kind of digital first strategy where the primary documentation is now all digital?

MYKHAILO FEDOROV, UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Yes. We have special laws. We have become the first country in the world to adopt laws making electronic passports comparable to physical passports. We even have an option to get electronic driver's licenses without getting plastic licenses.

This is our country's strategy and we are implementing it actively. And today, our core app Diia is used by more than 70 percent of all Ukrainians. It is very popular. And all the services are launched first online and then offline. So, this is our strategy, launching digital first.

ZAKARIA: And with this app, Diia, what can -- what can an average Ukrainian do on that app that -- you know, that we would not think you can do digitally?

FEDOROV (through translator): Your electronic passport is there. You can get any kind of services using this passport.

You can pay taxes. You can receive fines for parking illegally or traffic violations. You can donate to the armed forces. You can get any certificate you may need to submit to government agencies.

And during the full-scale war, you can also get Social Security payments and benefits if you live, for example, in the area of hostilities. The government understands that and makes targeted payments.

And if you are in the occupied territory, you can even use Diia to provide information about the movement of enemy equipment and inform the armed forces about the enemy's location. And more than 500,000 Ukrainians have provided information about the enemy in the temporary occupied territories. ZAKARIA: And you can file for damage payments, right? If your building is bombed by the Russian, you can just go on your app and say, you know, my building is bombed, I'm putting in a claim for, you know, kind of a reimbursement.

FEDOROV (through translator): Right. Right. Today, this is the most relevant service for people whose real estate has been damaged or destroyed. They can use Diia to file such a claim and then the claim gets to a special register. Everything is checked automatically. A very few bureaucrats participate in it.

Everything is transparent. Everything is documented. Every action is logged electronically. And therefore, the service is rather transparent.

And the World Bank sees that. They see how all of it is built. And donors are helping us to rebuild the country because the process is quite convenient on the one hand and very transparent on the other.

ZAKARIA: So, when the war began, you tweeted out saying, hey, if people want to contribute, donate to Ukraine, here's how you can do it. And I think you opened a kind of crypto wallet like thing and you created a portal called 24. How many people have -- how much money have you raised this way?


FEDOROV (through translator): Right. We have supported foundations engaged in raising money and then, per Zelenskyy's instruction, we launched the United 24 platform. And then through the platform, we've raised about $500 million from all over the world. People would donate for drones, for boats.

Here, for example, there is a boat for which people also donated money from all over the world. We were able to do it thanks to the United 24 platform. In fact, we took our digital expertise and made it convenient in order to get donations with weekly reports, with involvement of stars from all over the world who use the platform. So, this project became a large scale one.

ZAKARIA: What's the future? What's your -- what are the next steps you dream about for the digital transformation of Ukraine?

FEDOROV (through translator): We want the GDP to grow in Ukraine. We want to have our own Google, Apple, and other big tech companies. To do that, we need to transform our educational system. We want to build the most convenient, comfortable country in the world in terms of government services.


ZAKARIA: Thanks to Minister Fedorov and thanks to all of you for being a part of my program this week. I will see you next week.