Let’s talk about Ukraine
Mar 1, 2022
Episode 610

Let’s talk about Ukraine

It's more than just the economy.

There’s only one story we wanted to do a deep dive into this week: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The conflict has escalated in recent days. It’s a humanitarian story, an economic story and a story of history.

Someone who is well familiar with that history is Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist at Stanford University. Fukuyama is known for his 1992 book, “The End of History,” in which he argued that the great ideological battles between East and West are effectively over.

On the show today, we check in with Fukuyama about that concept, given today’s context and the significance of a land war on the European continent.

“One of the reasons that people have paid special attention to Ukraine is that it sets an important precedent for what will happen in East Asia,” he said. “Ukraine may be kind of a dry run for how much resistance there’s going to be to what’s happening in that theater. The biggest challenge to current world order actually is not Russia, but it’s China, simply because Chinese power is much more multidimensional than Russian power.”

In the News Fix, we discuss Western media coverage of the conflict in Ukraine and how it compares to coverage of conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. Plus, the U.S. is the world’s top oil producer, so why does it still import oil from Russia? We’ll explain.

Later, we hear from a listener who paid a big price for a cheap app. And we get an answer to the Make Me Smart question that has us wondering about a linguistic phenomenon. (Hopefully you can help us.)

Here’s everything we talked about today:

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Make Me Smart March 1, 2022 transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Kai Ryssdal: Look at that I got the cue in today through the glass Jayk’s like, can I go now? Hey, everybody, I’m Kai Ryssdal. Welcome to Make Me Smart. None of us on this podcast are as smart as all of us. That’s what we like to say.

Kimberly Adams: And I’m Kimberly Adams, it’s Tuesday, which means it’s time to dive deep into a single topic or deeper, whatever. And today, we’re going to talk about one of the main stories we’ve been talking about, of course, Russia and the Ukraine invasion.

Kai Ryssdal: It has gotten worse, obviously, on the ground last couple of days, forces are moving, people are being killed. Refugees by the, I think the last number I saw was 600,000 are moving to the west. So this is obviously a horrible humanitarian story. It’s an economic story. It’s also a story of history, though. This is a land war on the European continent, which I never thought I would see in my lifetime. I don’t know maybe our guest has a different thought. But we’re gonna talk about that today and what it means in the context of where we have been.

Kimberly Adams: And that guest is Dr. Francis Fukuyama, a political economist and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford. Dr. Fukuyama welcome.

Francis Fukuyama: Thank you very much, Kimberly.

Kimberly Adams: So it’s been more than three decades since your book, “The End of History,” where you talked about this idea that the great ideological battles between East and West were effectively over. How are you thinking about that, given what’s happening today?

Francis Fukuyama: Well, I think we are obviously in a very different historical period, the number of democracies has been declining, really now, according to Freedom House for the last 16 years. And this aggression by Russia shows that geopolitics and the overt use of military force has not, unfortunately, disappeared from our world. So, you know, we’re in a crisis situation, we’re at a moment where things could actually go in either direction, I would say that the one hopeful sign right now, is this incredible heroic resistance being put up by Ukraine, where they are really facing down a gigantic Russian military machine. And also, I think, by the response of the rest of the democratic world in support of Ukraine, of this rallying around and offers to help. So, you know, we’ll have to see which fork of the road history takes at this moment.

Kai Ryssdal: We had, generally speaking on the European landmass, collective security and peace for 80ish years. Right. And certainly, we’ve seen the Western allies come together to a degree that I don’t think anybody would have bet on even, you know, 10 days ago, honestly, given how fast this thing is moved. I guess the question is, do you think the days of of stability and peace in Europe are done? Are we going to have now a period of upset and and conflict do you think?

Francis Fukuyama: Well, yeah, I think that really depends on the military outcome here, if Putin is able to capture Kyiv, or, you know, arrest or kill President Zelenskyy and install a puppet regime, and there’s not much that NATO can do about it, then yes, I think we are in for further aggression, because I don’t think he wants to stop at Ukraine, he really wants to undo the entire European – Europe-holding free order that was established after 1991. On the other hand, if Ukrainians resist him successfully, the world could actually go back to a fair amount of stability because the world’s biggest bully has been humiliated and weakened in in lots of ways. And there’s been a lot of solidarity among democracies. And so that’s why right now, it’s just really hard to predict, you can predict a very bad world and you can predict actually a pretty good world. And I think we’ll see within the next couple of weeks, which one of those is going to materialize.

Kimberly Adams: How much does it matter that this is a land war in Europe in the modern context, and what I mean by that is, you know, last century, you have these big land wars in Europe and they take the whole world gets involved. Are we still in a place where a land war in Europe brings in the entire rest of the globe in the way that it did in the last century or for previous centuries?

Francis Fukuyama: Well, I do think that it’s very impressive the way public opinion around the world and in the democratic world has shifted. One of the outcomes of the end of the Second World War was this idea that you simply do not cross international borders with big armies in order to grab territory. And that’s a norm that’s been respected by most countries in that period. And that’s why I think Putin’s action has come as such a terrible shock. But I do think that that norm is being reinforced by the reaction of NATO countries in the democratic world, the broader world, more generally, I mean, even countries like China and Turkey, are looking very shaky on their support for anything that Putin has done, because they do believe in, you know, the integrity and sovereignty of the right to exist of, you know, the world’s existing countries. So it is just possible that that norm will actually end up in, you know, intact and even strengthened to some extent, because people can see what the alternative is.

Kai Ryssdal: Do you really think – let me back ya up for a minute – do you really think that if he’s successful in Ukraine, if he captures Kyiv and can somehow control what is a fairly large landmass? Do you really think he doesn’t want to stop there?

Francis Fukuyama: Well, you know, this is one of those places where you don’t actually have to read the tea leaves. Putin has been very articulate about what his goals are. You know, he said a few years ago that the greatest tragedy of the 20th century was the collapse of the former Soviet Union. He said in a, in a long article last summer, and then again, in the speech just on the eve of the war, that the entire entry of countries in Eastern Europe into NATO was a big disaster that Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union really are part of Russia. And so I don’t think that he wants to stop at Ukraine, he really does want to undo that entire order that emerged with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism. And really, the only thing that’s holding him back is the, you know, what he calls the correlation of forces. And that’s to say, the correlation really, of military forces.

Kimberly Adams: I’m gonna take another stab at the question. I asked you a second ago, cuz I had to think about how to articulate it right. But I guess I’m trying to figure out if we’re still in this place, where Europe is really the center of the universe when it comes to, you know, global conflicts, because there have been plenty of wars in the Middle East and in Africa, and there are a lot of other big players on the national stage. And is, is the significance of a land war in Europe as significant as it may have been in the past.

Francis Fukuyama: Oh, well, in that sense. Sure. I think that Europe is not the center of the world. And there’s many other things going on. I think one of the reasons that people have paid special attention to Ukraine is that it sets an important precedent for what will happen in East Asia, because China is another big authoritarian power that has explicitly said that, you know, Taiwan is part of China that it intends to reincorporate Taiwan. And I think that Ukraine may be kind of a dry run for how much resistance there’s going to be to, you know, action happening in that theater, I believe, right from the beginning, that the biggest challenge to current world order actually is not Russia. But is China, simply because Chinese power is much more multidimensional than Russian power. It’s a bigger country and influential in many other respects. Bbut that’s not to say that, you know, what goes on in subsaharan Africa is unimportant. You know, they estimate that 5 million people died in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the last couple of decades, and nobody paid attention. And I think that’s actually kind of scandalous, because African lives are not worth less than European lives or Asian lives or anyone’s else’s.

Kai Ryssdal: Let me, let me draw on your on your expertise in political economy and more importantly, the the economics of the politics of this moment, obviously, in the most proximate places, which is to say Europe, this is going to be economically problematical. It will have effects on global supply chains and energy and shipping and we’re seeing you know, cargo companies stopping some of their services. Do you expect – look, war is terrible In any cases, how bad do you think this gets for the global economy in the short to medium term?

Francis Fukuyama: Well, I think it could be quite severe, because essentially, the Europe and America are treating Russia like North Korea, really cutting off economic ties, you know, credit cards and payments and the ability of Russian banks to actually do business. And I think it’s going to force Russia into the arms of China, they may try to go to cryptocurrencies, in order to settle transactions, I mean, a lot of shifts are going to happen. And when a big transition like this occurs, it’s very, very disruptive, obviously, energy is the central theater, I think the immediate effects have been bolstered because the Biden administration has been pushing LNG supplies to Europe, to make sure that if the Russians, you know, restrict the flow of natural gas this winter, Europe will be buffered. But that’s going to mean also then a redirection of the entire global gas market. So that people, you know, I think, from now on are going to be much less dependent on supply from Russia. And you know, all these transitions are costly and disruptive. And, you know, people are going to notice.

Kai Ryssdal: Sorry, one quick thing about about this whole chain of events. Are you surprised and look granted, people have been working in the background on this for months knowing given U.S. intelligence, and how accurate it is proved to be, knowing that this was going to happen, are you surprised that the way the global response came together so quickly? I mean, honestly, it happened in like 72 hours, you know?

Francis Fukuyama: Well, yes. Especially the German response, because Germany had been, in a way, Russia’s leading friend in Europe, and they had a big economic stake in the Nord Stream Two pipeline. And I was frankly, quite surprised that even before the big invasion, Germany announced that it would be putting Nord Stream Two on hold. And then there’s a further surprise when Chancellor Shultz announced that they’re going to double the defense budget, and, you know, really take seriously the fact that the world can be threatened, you know, with military invasion. So yes, I think that was quite quite stunning. I do think that it was prepared by quite a lot of diplomacy behind the scenes that wasn’t quite so visible to everybody where, you know, Washington was trying to assure the Europeans that they would have their backs and and that they had the freedom then to do the right thing.

Kimberly Adams: How do you see this ending?

Francis Fukuyama: Well, yeah, so the worst case scenario, as I mentioned, is really Putin managing to destroy the regime in Kyiv. And actually, I don’t, I find it harder and harder to see a good outcome for him. Because even if he does that, and does install the puppet regime, it’s pretty obvious right now that the Ukrainians are going to resist that, you know, tooth and nail, and even a military defeat of their army isn’t going to stop an insurgency, you know, guerrilla attacks, assassinations, and that sort of thing. And so I do think that this is going to end up as quite a quagmire for Russia. You know, in a sense, the best outcome would be regime change in Russia itself. I think that there’s a lot of evidence that most ordinary Russians, really were surprised by this war, they don’t like it. There have been demonstrations in multiple Russian cities, even a lot of military people have been showing a lot of unease that this shiny new military that that Putin built is being used in the first instance against a fellow Slavic peoples. And so, you know, there could be important changes brought on by this war in Russia itself. And quite frankly, I think so much of this is about Putin himself. And, you know, getting him out of the leadership of that country, is really what’s going to change its course in the future.

Kai Ryssdal: Let’s say, though, that he stays in power and the situation in Ukraine goes back to you know, status quo ante right? They get Donetsk and Luhansk. And they pull their forces back. I’m not saying this is gonna happen, but let’s just spitball it. Right? And, and somehow, Putin says, “You know what, I don’t need a quagmire, “and he pulls back. Joe Biden and Olaf Schultz, the Chancellor of Germany and Boris Johnson, get you on the phone and they say, “Dr. Fukuyama, what should our strategy be now, for Russia?” What do you tell ’em.

Francis Fukuyama: Well, I am presuming that if we got to that point that there would still be a lot of Ukrainians that want to resist whatever regime is put in place, you know, to rule over them. And there will be a lot of opportunities to support a Ukrainian resistance. And I don’t think that we’re going to stop doing that. I don’t think that Germany and the United States having gotten to this point will let Putin walk away with, you know, this kind of an apparent victory. And so you could have a little bit of the situation that happened, you know, to both Russia or to the Soviet Union and America in Afghanistan, where it looked like they were in control of the country. But in fact, there was a lot of support for, you know, pretty vigorous insurgency coming from the outside. And I think that would be, at this point, more likely than everybody in the West throwing up their hands and saying, “Well, Putin won, so you know, let’s just move on to the next issue.”

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah. Dr. Francis Fukuyama is a political economist, also a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford. He’s an author and a thinker on on all of these things that we’ve been talking about. Dr. Fukuyama, thanks for your time. I really appreciate it.

Francis Fukuyama: Thank you very much.

Kai Ryssdal:  Interesting to have a conversation about this. That’s not like what happened on the ground today, right to have one of those, let’s think big thoughts about this, because that’s what he does. That was – I dug that.

Kimberly Adams: Yeah. And then I’m still trying to parse is this, you know, because you, you mentioned this phrase, like the land war near how big a deal was a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been like stuck in my head. And I’m really still trying to parse if that matters in the same way that it used to, and who it matters to.

Kai Ryssdal: Here’s why I think it matters. I think it matters because a land war in Europe implies the Americans – and I’m going to say this intentionally –  land war in Europe implies the Americans and the Soviets in tank battles on the European landmass. Right. That’s what it kind of implies. I said Soviets on purpose, because that’s the historical reference that frankly, Dr. Fukuyama and the two of us were talking about. And, and so that’s so that’s why I say that. But you know, you could say the same thing about a land war in Asia, right? I mean, a land war in Asia is a very bad thing, whether it’s the Indians and the Chinese and what side or the Americans and what side are the Russians on, you know, land wars, anywhere on a large scale between superpowers, nuclear armed superpowers, of which all four of those countries are right, us, the Indians, the Chinese and the Russians. I mean, it’s really bad. And you throw the Pakistanis in there and forget about it. So that’s why the phrase land war in Europe got to me. And and, you know, the question you asked and his response about there’s plenty other terrible things going on. And Europe is not the center of the universe is is absolutely well taken. Absolutely. Anyway. Anyway, alright. So what do you think about all of that about land wars in Europe, land wars anywhere? Whether that’s what Dr. Fukuyama said, Kimberly’s questions or mine. Are number is 508-827-6278. 508-UB-SMART. There’s a voice memo if you like makemesmart@marketplace.org. We are coming right back.

Kimberly Adams: And we are back. And it’s time for the news fix. Let, I’ll go first, because mine is very much related to the question that I asked, which is this Washington Post story about some of the media coverage of the invasion, and how some of it has just been like racist and offensive in the comparisons that people are making, because they’re trying to talk about how bad it is. And for some reason, feel the need to say how much more surprising it is to be happening in Europe compared to say, other countries, there was even a reporter who has since apologized, but said, you know, they’re not used to seeing this in air quotes, civilized places, and seeing – and I was really struck by, you know, I still follow a lot of people on Twitter from my time working in the Middle East, and they’re all very bemused by this. The coverage and how people are like, “Oh my gosh, how could this happen? This is so unprecedented.” And they’re all saying, “Hi, it’s been happening to us. You’re caring now.” And then you have to interrogate why. Why do you care? Is it because geopolitically it really does matter for all the reasons that you laid out? Or does it matter because the people in power or the people consuming media or the people in media, look at Ukrainians and see people who look like them?

Kai Ryssdal: Here’s, here’s another one. Here’s another one. The refugees and the people actually doing the dying and fighting. They’re all white folk. They’re all white folk. Right?

Kimberly Adams: Well, they’re not though.

Kai Ryssdal: I mean, yes, totally true there. There are some really good stories, some gripping stories about Nigerians and Africans there to study I mean, there was a story this weekend about this woman who was like three months shy of a five year medical degree. And now she’s being thrown out. Yes, totally granted, but the overwhelming majority, and the people who are are the face of these stories, the people you see lined up at the train stations in Kyiv to get out of there. Most of them are white. And I think that’s why it resonates. No?

Kimberly Adams: I – probably, but I’m gonna also link to in the show notes. There was a really interesting Twitter thread from a CNN reporter whose sister was trapped in Ukraine and his sister is Black, and just the various levels of racism that she encountered, trying to get out of the country to the point where she got to a checkpoint to leave the country. And according to his report, they made two separate lines, one for white people and one for Black people and the white people were able to go through. And this has been another conversation that I’ve seen happening is, you know, European countries have been saying, for years, as this flood of refugees comes out of Africa and the Middle East, we don’t have any more room for refugees, our system is overburdened and overwhelmed. But within the space of a couple of days, all of a sudden, there’s a lot of room in a lot of European countries for refugees. And you have to inquire as to what’s the difference? And you know, it’s it’s a, you know, obviously a terrible thing that’s happening, but there’s these secondary, ugly things as well.

Kai Ryssdal: Totally agree. Totally agree. So minor quickies actually, because because that was super substantive and real. Number one, there’s a great article in the Wall Street Journal about why the United States is still buying Russian oil should read that has to do with the Jones Act, you should look up that one too. Super interesting. Also, I just don’t want anybody to miss that back here. The midterms have started. Today’s primary day in Texas, we’re off and running and it’s going to go downhill from here.

Kimberly Adams: Did you see the Texas rejected like 30% of the absentee ballots that came in? That’s wild. But just a quick follow up on the energy piece. I don’t know if you saw because it came out like a little bit before we started recording that, uh, the US and its allies have agreed to release like 60 million barrels from the petroleum reserves. That’s a big deal. Also trying to, you know, be less dependent on Russia. Okay, so that’s it for the news fix. Let’s do the mailbag.

Kai Ryssdal: Last Tuesday, we did credit scoring the problems with that whole system. Had a super interesting conversation, we asked you to share your credit horror stories. And you did here you go.

Bob: Hi, my name is Bob from Baltimore. A couple of years ago, I decided to buy an app on my phone. It was a $2 app. I accidentally purchased it on Pay Pal credit and found out that I had missed two payments on this $2 app. The cost of the app now was $6 with fees  which I immediately paid my credit score which has been around 847 or almost perfect  dropped 76 points because of that $2 purchase.

Kai Ryssdal: It’s a racket. It is a racket.

Kimberly Adams: And you know, shameless plug here, we’re still collecting those stories, because we’re we’re working on some stuff for Marketplace Tech about that. So we’d love to hear more. More stories, but yeah, that that sucks. I’m sorry, Bob. That’s annoying. Okay, a few weeks back, we had an answer to the make me smart question about the National Weather Service Weather Spotters. Well, Andrew in Houston wrote in and says, “I work for a public utilities company. And we track rainfall levels since it impacts our operations. We get a call from our weather service hub every day asking what our rainfall levels are and thanks to your caller now I know why.”

Kai Ryssdal: I just I had no idea. I just thought the Weather Service and NOAH, I thought they just knew cuz they’ve got all this technology and weather and radar and blah, blah, blah. And now it’s people on the phone. I kind of love that.

Kimberly Adams: Well, did you see the tweet that I posted in our slack from – so the National Weather Service in Tallahassee had put out a tweet last week that said it’s only going to launch weather balloons once a day until further notice starting today because of helium shortages. And so I guess they’re going to need even more information from you know regular people and utilities companies I guess. Because of the helium shortage, supply chain everywhere!

Kai Ryssdal: Everywhere. There you go, this one’s you too.

Kimberly Adams: We’ve been asking you to send us your answers to the make me smart question. And you have been so thank you very much for that. That question is “What is something you thought you knew, but later found out you were wrong about.” Please keep sending those to us, as a voice memo to our email at makemesmart@marketplace.org. Or you can leave us a message at 508-827-6278, also known as 508-UB-SMART. Here’s today’s answer.

Carol: This is Carol from Amherst, New Hampshire, the largest historical district in New England. And I’m calling with my answer to the Make Me Smart question, which is something I just learned recently, from listening to Make Me Smart. I heard the term on tenterhooks in an episode, I always thought it was on tender hooks with a D. And I never understood the phrase, but I looked it up and apparently attend her is something used to stretch fabric. And the hooks are what hold the fabric in place. I still don’t think I understand the phrase, but at least now I’ll be saying it right. Have a great day.

Kai Ryssdal: Gotta love that.

Kimberly Adams: That sounds like something you said.

Kai Ryssdal: Maybe. There’s actually a word for that linguistic phenomenon and I don’t know what it is when you like make one of those sort of you hear it but it’s different kind of mistakes. I don’t know what it is somebody out there definitely does write to us and tell us 508-UB-SMART.

Kimberly Adams: Yeah, make us smart about it.

Kai Ryssdal: But in the meanwhile we’re done. We’re done. We’re leaving. We’re back tomorrow for What Do You Want to Know Wednesday? A whole lot of you, quite reasonably so, had questions about Ukraine. We’re going to focus on that. You do have time to still get us more questions because more questions are better because you know, it just spreads the knowledge. Voice memos, emails, take your pick 508-UB-SMART or makemesmart@marketplaceorg

Kimberly Adams: Make Me Smart is directed and produced by Marissa Cabrera. Our team also includes producer Marque Green, Ellen Rolfes writes our newsletter and our intern is Tiffany Bui.

Kai Ryssdal: Jayk Cherry’s across the soundproof glass from me in the studio down here. Brian Allison’s gonna mix it down later, Ben Tolliday and Daniel Ramirez composed our theme music the senior producer is Bridget Bodnar. Donna Tam is the director of On Demand and Marketplaces’s Vice President and General Manager is Neal Scarbrough.

Kimberly Adams: You know, on that tenterhooks thing, I think I also thought it had a D. But now that I see that it’s a T, it’s also like tent, which you know, stretches out fabric too.

Kai Ryssdal: Makes sense. Although the very image of tender hooks kind of does something too. I don’t even know what it is. I’m just saying.

Kimberly Adams: It kind of seems like a torture device.

Kai Ryssdal: There’s the title of the episode right there.

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