Likhotal on Putin

Many of us want to hear Mikhail Gorbachev’s views about the war in Ukraine, but he has not commented publicly, so far as we know. He is now 91 years old, living in a Moscow hospital where he is receiving medical care.
But his two closest aides, ALEXANDER LIKHOTAL and PAVEL PALAZHCHENKO, are still working on international issues, and both speak freely. In February our editor, Metta Spencer, interviewed each of them at length for Project Save the World’s regular talk show, as the whole world worried about the prospect of an attack from Putin’s Russia. Here are slightly edited versions of both conversations.
The recordings are accessible on our website,

By Metta Spencer and Alexander Likhotal | 2022-04-01 05:00:00

Alexander Likhotal has been one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s closest advisers and now is a professor in a Geneva school of diplomacy. In this February conversation he discusses Vladimir Putin’s possible motivations, none of which were very praiseworthy. He expresses hope that the Russian threats of war against Ukraine are not really about Ukraine but are motivated by Putin’s concern about his country’s status in the world, especially vis a vis the West. Likhotal also considers Belarus more important to Russia than is Ukraine. Maintaining significant military bases in Belarus would be strategically important in any attempt to separate the Baltic states from the rest of NATO.

METTA SPENCER: Let’s go to Geneva and talk to somebody very special: Alexander Likhotal, whom I claim as a good friend because I’ve known him since I think about—was it 1986, Alexander?


SPENCER: It was in Austria on a bus ride. They were showing us the Burgenland countryside, and we had an amazing conversation. At that time, people were in the streets of Western Europe shouting Gorby! Gorby! They loved Gorbachev. There was talk of abolishing the Warsaw Treaty Organization and you were happy enough about that. I was saying: let’s get rid of NATO too.

But you were more comfortable with NATO than I was. So, I remember joking that we should trade countries.

The meeting was in castle on a mountain. We were there to write the charter and the first curriculum of a new peace university. Somebody proposed that we offer courses on Marxism. You politely declined and said you’d rather have courses on—I don’t remember who. John Stuart Mill or someone. Do you remember that?

LIKHOTAL: Yes, it matches my attitude and feelings at that time. (We laugh.)

SPENCER: Well, we all march on, though I still am no more favorable to NATO than I was then. But I haven’t introduced you properly. You’re teaching in Geneva at a university for diplomats. So, I hereby authorize you to be our diplomat: Go to Putin and put an end to this impending war. Will you take on that responsibility, please?

LIKHOTAL: I’ve never been a diplomat. I was a scholar, then I was an expert. I was an academic, then I worked for the government, in the administration of President Gorbachev, and then I moved to Geneva to work for an NGO, Green Cross International. And now I’m teaching at this school in Geneva.

Now a real tragedy is unfolding in front of our eyes—a tragedy of people and nations, and not only one nation, but the world at large. Talking about a conflict in the heart of Europe, one never knows what the consequences could be. But this tragedy is just a symptom of a deeper systemic problem.

The current international system and all the relevant institutions were built to address the problems of the “Delusional querulousness” 19th and 20th century—including the Potsdam system and whatever happened after that. Even after the end of the Cold War, there was an attempt to recombine the elements of the old system into something new.

I don’t think that it was successful. In today’s complex, fast-paced digital world, this structure simply does not operate at the necessary speed. You could transfer billions of dollars in one second, because of digital banking but to resolve a political problem we are still depending on very obsolete tools. Look at what’s happening now. You know, every day there is a queue to visit Putin in Moscow. There are telephone conversations that scare everyone and take time. In the meantime, Russia continues massing troops on the borders of Ukraine and there is either misunderstanding or misperception or intended blackmail.

But this obsolete system doesn’t justify Russian behavior toward Ukraine and the West. I was thinking about how to describe this and I found a medical diagnosis. In psychiatry, it is called “delusional querulousness.”

SPENCER: “Delusional” I understand. And I think “querulousness” means complaining or whining a lot.

LIKHOTAL: Yes, and I can quote what is written in the medical encyclopedia: “impaired grasp of what is going on around the patient may give rise to apprehension, misinterpretation, and so to suspicion. Delusions may then emerge, which are usually transient and disorganized. They may lead to disturbed behaviors such as querulousness or aggression.”

The Minsk agreements are not working, so what is left?

I think that amply describes what is going on now in Moscow. And on the other side I see hysteria. The West does not know how to cope with it because the West is used to living in an institutional environment. In Russia nowadays we have practically only one person responsible for whatever is going on in politics. Understandably, people in the West are focused on the 100,000-plus Russian troops poised within striking range of the Ukrainian borders, and wondering what will…

SPENCER: Biden says it could happen at almost any minute now. I don’t know if he’s basing this on real intelligence, or just cautiousness.

LIKHOTAL: That’s the riddle. I’m not sure that the flurry of high-level diplomacy underway right now in Europe will be able to prevent war—if war is intended. Russia embarked on aggression at the end of October last year. Why? In the West, the explanation that we hear is that Russia is thinking about restoring the Soviet Union, or at least, trying to get a sphere of influence, a sphere of control in Europe, or “restraining” Ukraine. The Minsk agreements are not working, so what is left?

Why is that happening? What is the purpose of all this exalted confrontation around Ukraine now? The intrusiveness of this question itself demonstrates that there is no clear answer. An answer would require critical reflection on the very principles of Putin’s foreign policy and another round of discussions on the correlation between domestic and foreign policy, which is very important.

But for now, we can try to limit the discussion to the operational plans of the possible invasion, the preparation for which, according to US intelligence, entered the final stages yesterday, President Biden announced.

But what hypothetically would the Kremlin want to achieve by invading? I’m asking myself. I cannot accept that it is simply the delirium of one person that pushes in this direction. After all, there is a group of people. What are the possible political scenarios? The establishment of a Russian government in Kyiv as the result of a limited invasion seems to me an unlikely goal. It would be a very difficult asset to hold.

SPENCER: It would be counterproductive, even if they succeeded, wouldn’t it?

LIKHOTAL: That’s what I’m saying. It would be a very heavy asset to hold, although de-stabilization and possibly the temporary establishment of such a government is certainly a crucial tactical element.

A more thorough scenario would seem to be a combination of two objectives, a significant expansion of control over eastern Ukraine, and the creation of the so-called Novorossiya, new Russia, linking Russia and Crimea. This kind of plan already existed in 2014, when Russia grabbed Crimea. But it didn’t happen, as the Kremlin overestimated pro-Russian sentiments in eastern Ukraine. It was not welcomed by the people at that time.

SPENCER: Oh, do you mean the people of Donetsk and Lugansk didn’t appreciate the seizure of Crimea?

It [Ukraine] cannot accept an absolutely alien regime being inserted into the body of the country

LIKHOTAL: No, Donetsk and Lugansk were okay. I’m talking about Mariupol and the southern part of Ukraine. There were plans to grasp, not only Crimea, but also part of the territories of Ukraine, in order to connect Crimea to Russia through a land link. It didn’t work.

The second point could be the establishment of a negotiating position to exchange these territories for the le-galization of Crimea and possibly other territories. Russia currently has about 150,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, according to Ukraine’s military. And US intelligence agencies have assessed that the Kremlin has drawn up plans for a military operation involving up to 175,000 to 200,000 troops.

But figures can be misleading. We’re talking about something that is highly visible. Just recall how Russia grasped Crimea. Nobody had the slightest idea that it would happen tomorrow. It was immediate, without any apparent preparation. This today is done in a totally different way. This amassing of over 100,000 people is done very demonstrably. That’s why I think that this demonstrative presence of massive Russian troops on the border is a political tool rather than a preparation for a military operation. I may be wrong.

SPENCER: You think he believes that he could still pressure Ukraine to capitulate and go with the Minsk agreement?

LIKHOTAL: No, nothing of the kind. I think that he wants the West to capitulate, in order to convince Ukraine to be more cooperative on Minsk, in order to avoid the explosive problems in the transatlantic discourse today between the United States and Europe and, inside Europe, between various members of the European Union and NATO. Even if you compare what is being said by United States representatives, and the discussion with Macron recently, these are totally different. Moreover, there will soon be a visit by Scholz, the Chancellor of Germany, who, given the Nord Stream II pipeline, I think will be even more understanding with Russia.

It looks like that right now, but I do not exclude that, if Putin feels that this game is not working, there is a plan B, with a real invasion to produce the necessary impression on the West—not with blackmail, but with real action.

SPENCER: I infer that you think Macron’s willingness to think seriously about the Minsk agreements is evidence of concerns in Europe about this? That Macron is willing now to capitulate, so to speak, by accepting the Minsk agreements?

That may be the only possible way at this point to prevent the war. Indeed, I can understand why somebody might say, yeah, we’d rather have that than a war.

He [Putin] wants the West to capitulate

LIKHOTAL: Good point, but I will give you another example. You go in the street, and you see a drunkard about to rape a woman. Would you say, Okay, let him. I don’t want to have a big quarrel over it.

This is the case. The Minsk agreements were negotiated when Ukraine was going through a massive defeat by Russian troops. Ukraine had to agree to anything to stop the fighting and recover or else the Russian troops could have gone to Kyiv at that time. It had to accept it. Now Ukraine is in a different situation, and obviously, it cannot accept an absolutely alien regime being inserted into the body of the country—I mean, Donbas and Lugansk—if the elections take place. And then the special status for them as they return to Ukraine. That’s what Russia wants to achieve. But Ukraine, of course, cannot accept that because it would completely change its domestic position.

SPENCER: But what’s the alternative? I agree, they can’t accept it without losing. It would be a complete loss. But they can go to war, and Russia will win, so there will still be a complete loss, but this time with a lot more bloodshed. It’s still a loss either way. Ukraine is in a bad situation; nobody else is going to go to war to defend them. And I don’t know of any alternative.

LIKHOTAL: The calculation, I understand, is slightly different in Kyiv. Today it is the second most powerful military in Europe. Second, and no one is even close to that.

SPENCER: That could be. But Russia has more. They will win militarily, for sure.

LIKHOTAL: It’s not a point of winning, it’s a point of how many lives will be lost in winning.

SPENCER: Well, it’s also a matter of winning. If you’re going to lose in the long run, then maybe you should lose without dignity by saying, okay, we give up.

LIKHOTAL: No, I’m saying that, if there is a war, Russia is going to lose thousands of lives there. And that is absolutely unacceptable for Russia. The damage is unacceptable.

SPENCER: How much do Russian people object to this? In general, when you say, “Let’s go to war,” even if people don’t like the idea, when there’s an impending war, everybody rallies around the flag–-or in this case around Putin, saying, “Oh, yeah, yeah, let’s do it!” How much do you know about Russian public opinion on this issue?

LIKHOTAL: Public opinion polls show that the majority of Russians don’t support a war with Ukraine. Particularly, they will be even less supportive when they start receiving coffins. The rulers understand that and do not want the risk. In the next elections in 2024, according to various informed sources, Putin will not be in a position to continue. The transition of power may happen before or during that period of time.

Ukraine is in a bad situation; nobody else is going to go to war to defend them

SPENCER: Wait a minute, you’re leaking some big news? What’s the matter with Putin? Is he sick or something? Everybody assumes he wants to keep going until he’s 100 years old.

LIKHOTAL: There are speculations and information that he has real health problems that will prevent him from running and leading in the future. I don’t know. Though when I look at him and compare him to videos that were taken even four years ago, now he looks like a different person.

Okay, but let’s not fixate completely on Ukraine, because Ukraine is a foreign policy goal, not part of Russia’s real interests. Real interests are different.

First, politics is always “the art of the possible.” And today when Putin looks from Moscow, what does he see? He sees the world falling apart. The West is particularly now in bad shape. The United States, starting from the Trump period, has lost its leadership. Germany has different interests, France has different interests, Great Britain now has totally different interests. And to reconcile all that, the United States cannot afford to spread itself that thinly, especially with China behind its back.

At the same time, the situation in the rest of the world, in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, it’s also not ideal. The global agenda looks in disarray. For the past three decades, the West has had the luxury of making policy primarily based on its preferences, being able to ignore opposing positions from weaker states, including Russia and China, at least until 2005. That is no longer the case, because both Russia and China have reached near peer status with the West, at least on a regional basis. Russia wants a commensurate role in shaping the international agenda. Ukraine is not the interest. Ukraine is just an instrument to achieve the agenda. Russia wants to force the West, particularly the United States to pay attention and be more cautious about Russia.

SPENCER: If that’s true, if Russia is really looking for a more influential role in global affairs, what would they do with it? I don’t know of any ideological difference—that they would steer the world in, in a significantly different way. Is it just a matter of pride? I don’t minimize the importance of just emotional sensitivities. Wanting to be regarded as a big shot is an extremely important motive in itself, even if you don’t have anything you want to do with more power. But would you say that if Russia got all of the dignity and power that it wants, that it would change the direction of global affairs in any particular direction? I’m not sure where they would go with things.

LIKHOTAL: Metta, good question. I would say that it would change the direction—and maybe not for the better.

Russia and China have reached near peer status with the West

For Russia, it’s not primarily about dignity. It’s about the power transition of Putin. Everything is now determined by the considerations of the power transition in Russia and because of that, he needs a kind of ‘Autocratic International’ in the world, and he expects to preside over it.

That is also delusional because we’re talking about the old international system going to pieces and you cannot just recombine the elements and create again a kind of bilateral balance of fear in the world. There are new actors in the world. Today not only states are actors, and the international system must recognize the new ones. But he wants to recombine the elements and to reinstate Russia at the commanding heights of the new system. That will not work, but what is offered today by the West will not work either.

SPENCER: Definitely, there are certain real factors going on that people cannot just ignore, though states are trying to ignore them. Notably, nobody is doing enough about climate change and states were not good enough in dealing with COVID, but the inadequacy of both sides in addressing these issues is going to get to a hundred times worse within ten years. So, anybody who keeps on downplaying the importance of these urgent issues is going to get clobbered. They can’t forever go on being blind. Or can they?

LIKHOTAL: Yeah, certainly. I don’t necessarily share either the position of Russia, or the position of the West, which is conservative. They want to conserve the system that existed before. Russia wants to break this system, but it wants to establish bi-polarity with the world split between these two camps. That will not work. This is number one.

Since 2014, Russia has become an outcast in Europe

The second goal of Russia is simply to improve the geopolitical situation for the approaching power transition for Putin. It should demonstrate that Russia is a winner, that Russia can influence world developments. And it will then prepare a smooth transition of power to the successor who will be chosen by Putin.

SPENCER: Uh huh. That sounds reasonable. But by winning, if he wins militarily, it’s going to backfire in terms of public opinion, because nobody, after such a big military adventure, is going to be very enthusiastic about his tenure.

LIKHOTAL: If there is a war with Ukraine, the transition will be dead, because people will be absolutely fed up with what is going on now in Russia. There might be provocations. They might even imitate the Ukrainian attack on Donbas or something like that, and retaliate to punish Ukraine. There might be things like that, but I do not believe that Russia would want to capture Kyiv or half of Ukraine. That’s not on the agenda, I think.

But second, in order to adjust the geopolitical situation to the approaching power transition, you need instruments. What instruments does Russia have? Economic? My God, I’m talking to my friends in Russia. The economic situation is awful. The fraction of poor people is growing in the country. There are no economic tools to do anything political. Since 2014, Russia has become an outcast in Europe. Everybody wants to keep aside from the problems it brings. There is no political soft power.

Come on! Except for the demonstrative case of Moscow and St. Petersburg –very prosperous cities with shops full of goods—the rest of Russia lives in the nineteenth century. So soft power does not work. What is left? Weapons, military power, new capabilities. Russia is the first to introduce hypersonic missiles on submarines, Russia now has, not a conscript, but a regular army. And I would say this is a totally different army than what it used to be fifteen years ago.

SPENCER: Really? I’m not sufficiently up on that.

LIKHOTAL: If you have a hammer in your hands, as Putin considers that he has, then you think everything around looks like nails. That’s his approach. This is an attempt to re-assemble the institutional balance of power on new foundations today.

SPENCER: But he may really believe that this is going to work. If you have a hammer, even if things do look like nails but they don’t look like you can hit them, you may not use it. Does he really think that’s going to work?

LIKHOTAL: Frankly, I was a little surprised. I do understand that the freedom of any other nation to join NATO, which is on the agenda today, is a normative idea of great importance for the West—the freedom of choice of any sovereign nations. And NATO, of course, cannot say, Okay, we will close the doors to Ukraine.

SPENCER: I wish they would! I would give up on that very easily, frankly, because I don’t think it’s a God-given right for every country to join any military alliance they want to. I don’t think it’s a good idea. That’s where I would capitulate without any complaint.

The NATO expansion happened because these East European countries were scared of the Soviet Union and of Russia

LIKHOTAL: I’m glad NATO has a charter and the charter stipulates differently. The charter creates an open organization. There are very few restrictions, but any country can apply. But anyway, let’s talk about a different aspect of that.

SPENCER: Let’s say you could turn Ukraine into an Austria—have it declare itself a permanently neutral country. That’s a good solution. Ukrainians would be pretty safe—at least as safe as they will be with the outcome of anything that’s on the board right now.

LIKHOTAL: We are talking about a hypothetical situation. We should ask the Ukrainians what they want, and I assure you that after what happened to them, the Ukrainians would want to be under the protection of NATO. Actually, after the Cold War, the NATO expansion happened because these East European countries were scared of the Soviet Union and of Russia. It was not demonstrating good will in the relationship with these new sovereign countries. NATO did not force them to join NATO. That was their choice because they did not trust the new Russia.

Remember even the war in Chechnya? Can you imagine 100,000 casualties? The East European countries were looking at Russia and thinking, okay, they’re ready to kill 100,000 of their citizens. What will they do on our territory if something happens? That is why they ran from Russia to NATO.

Russia’s intellectual leadership at that time should have demonstrated totally different politics toward their past allies, because the attempt to discuss their fate with the United States over their heads (that’s what is being done today regarding Ukraine) is scaring them even more. And the third point that I wanted to raise is that we keep talking again and again about Ukraine, but no one is talking about Belarus. And in my judgment, Belarus today is more important to Russia than Ukraine.

SPENCER: Really!

LIKHOTAL: Yes. One goal may be the transformation of the Russian military presence in Belarus. Why is that? First, Belarus is facing a referendum on the transition of power after the events two years ago. With all the rallies and people protesting against the falsified elections of Lukashenko, Minsk has been to the wall. Nobody wants to talk to Lukashenko. He is a dead weight, no longer of interest even to Russia. There is no room for him to maneuver. Integration with Russia is the only possibility now. But Russia seeks to squeeze the maximum out of this situation—not only integration, but maybe the establishment of a military base on the territory of Belarus. Today Russia has a couple of military installations on the territory of Belarus. There is a very old, obsolete station there, and a long-distance communication center for the Russian navy. But Russia has installed parallel structures duplicating this on her own territory with much more advanced systems.

Integration [of Belarus] with Russia is the only possibility now

Objectively, this is not important for Russia, but on the other hand, the appearance of a full-fledged Russian military base, or even more than one, would both consolidate the Russian control over Belarus in the light of the constitutional reform soon there and provide time for unhurried integration into the union with Belarus. It would also increase pressure on Ukraine. This is why today there are military exercises in Belarus.

And we should not forget the Baltic countries and Poland. Russia has the Kaliningrad region. It is the so-called Kaliningrad Defensive Region. There is a naval base of the Baltic Fleet in Kaliningrad. There is the headquarters of the 11th army corps there and there is a missile attack warning system located in Kaliningrad.

But as you know, Kaliningrad is an enclave. It doesn’t have a border with Russia and doesn’t have a border with Belarus. It borders with Poland and a very short link with Lithuania. For the past eight years, the Western diplomats, military analysts raised the question of the so called Suwalki Gap. That’s a section of the Polish-Lithuanian border that goes right from Belarus on one side to the Baltic Sea on the other. And on both sides of…

SPENCER: Is that part of Kaliningrad?

LIKHOTAL: No. Kaliningrad is on one side, Belarus on the other side. And the 100 kilometers from Kaliningrad to Belarus are shared by Poland and Lithuania. This line is called Suwalki Gap.

SPENCER: I didn’t know anything about it. That’s interesting.

LIKHOTAL: Okay. But you can simply check on the internet for maps. Okay, so this very short 100-kilometer passage to Kaliningrad is extremely important for Russia.

SPENCER: For transit?

LIKHOTAL: No, all this territory belongs to two countries—Lithuania and Poland—and nothing belongs to Russia or Belarus. But this is very short, it’s 100 kilometers. And according to military calculations, in case of some rough situation in Europe, this could be captured by Russia very quickly. But in order to achieve that, Russia needs to have its own troops on the territory of Belarus, because if they are not your own troops, you are never sure whether the current leader of Belarus or the next one would be willing to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for your side. So Russia wants to have its military base in Belarus.

In addition to the connection to Kaliningrad, that would create the possibility, in case of a crisis, to completely cut off the Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, from the rest of NATO, because they are connected to Poland only through this border. And if it is captured, the Baltic states will fall immediately. So, it’s a very important strategic point. That’s why, in my judgment, Belarus today is more important militarily and, given the current situation, is easier to get.

Russia in fact, betrayed its ally, Armenia

And besides, Russia also wants to have its own troops on the territory of Belarus because—I always like to show as an example the precedent in Armenia. Remember, during the Karabakh war recently between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan grabbed a large territory of Karabakh and won the war. And Russia in fact, betrayed its ally, because Armenia is part of the military alliance with Russia. It didn’t help them. Despite this betrayal, Armenia is remaining loyal to Russia, because there is a Russian military base on the territory of Armenia. So, this is an important point to keep in mind.

And the fourth element of my analysis is that the elections of 2024 are just three years away. Today the consumer prices in Russia have increased 20 percent. Inflation is terrible. And sanctions, of course, are continuing. For Russia to adjust to new sanctions is absolutely unimaginable. And I expect it to try to weaken the burden of sanctions in order to get a bit of air before the elections of 2024. It needs to pacify the people because they have started grumbling. According to the recent polls of the independent Levada Center, people are getting upset with Russian politics. Whatever you see from the official source is totally falsified. If you ask the people in the street about their views, you will hear a lot of obscenity.

This balancing and brinkmanship, which is being used today, is a banalization of war. Everybody’s talking about war as a routine subject and people are getting used to it. But banalization of war in a nuclear age is very dangerous, because threatening with war turns into a drug addiction. You need bigger and bigger doses to get the same effect.

Banalization of war in a nuclear age is very dangerous

SPENCER: From your analysis of Putin’s calculations, any one of them illustrates that he’s not being very rational, that he’s not making good choices, either for the country or even for his own future. But you’re in touch with Mr. Gorbachev, I guess. If Mr. Gorbachev were making these decisions, what kind of policies would he make now, in this situation? I heard that he didn’t object to the takeover of Crimea, but I don’t know his position on much of anything else. In fact, I’m not even sure of that. What would he do—or what would he have you do for him?

LIKHOTAL: Well, Metta, I do not care to speak now on behalf of President Gorbachev because I have been detached from him so long. During the pandemic we are even more detached from contact. I haven’t talked to him for months, so I do not want to guesstimate and to say anything representing Gorbachev.

But I will tell you my position. First, it is necessary to recalibrate the problem. Stop talking about the war. Stop crying wolf all the time, because the wolf is happy that somebody is shouting Wolf! Wolf! all the time.

To overcome the situation, you need to re-engage Russia on a broader context, on a discussion of a new security system. Not a recombination of the past system on a new basis, but a totally new system. And encourage Putin to take this opportunity because it’s parallel to what he wishes. He wants his security concerns to be taken into account. So, recalibrate and invite him to discuss it—not only on the basis of the so-called Putin Ultimatum that he sent to the Western capitals, but on the basis of the necessity to reconsider the international system.

Re-engage Russia on a broader context, on a discussion of a new security system

Listen, no international system worked forever. There was the Westphalian system in the 17th century. It worked for 100 years. Then the world needed a new system and the Vienna Congress after the Napoleonic wars established the European Concert system. It worked for maybe 50-70 years. Then, there were the Wilsonian ideas before and after the First World War, creating the League of Nations, which was a stillborn child, but still an attempt was made. And then there was an extremely successful Potsdam, United Nations. It was an excellent idea for the period after the war. Then it was transformed into the Cold War mechanisms, with red telephone lines creating the possibility to communicate with each other, and the taboo against using nuclear weapons. But today, we are out of this situation as well. Look at what is happening. Take the Trump period when there was…

SPENCER: We’ll probably have a second Trump period as well.

LIKHOTAL: Maybe. I’m not sure. But at that time, while the Senate, Congress, were discussing how to cope with the assault against Congress in Washington, the digital companies, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest simply stopped Trump’s accounts. They have tremendous impact on international relations. Have you heard that Denmark and France created new positions: “digital ambassadors”? Denmark’s minister of foreign affairs declared that the decisions of these companies have a bigger impact on Denmark’s interests than the decisions of the majority of governments of the world.

SPENCER: I hope you’re not saying that that’s progress. We’ve got to do something about that too, you know. Let’s not have a federation of world social platforms, please. Let’s create something that erases borders between countries and makes these digital outfits more accountable to human needs than they are now. I’m not happy about my relationship with Facebook, for example.

They [digital companies] have tremendous impact on international relations

LIKHOTAL: Sovereign states have been in existence only for 350 years and as an institution will not exist forever. Look at what happened during the pandemics. The cities have taken on the bulk of responsibility. I live in Geneva. Just beyond the border is French Lyon. Lyon’s hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID patients. So, they just communicated with Geneva and decided, without even consulting the confederal government, to re-fit some high-speed trains for the hospitals. They started to move the sick people from Lyon to Geneva, where the hospitals were still able to accept them.

SPENCER: Indeed. David Miller has consented to become part of Project Save the World. He was the mayor of Toronto, then head of C40 Cities, and now he’s setting up an institute for C40 to share knowledger among municipalities as Green New Deals. So you’re mentioning a wonderful trend. But when you started talking about it, I thought you might be implying we’re going to have a world system based on the authority of Mark Zuckerberg.

LIKHOTAL: No, that’s not realistic. Can you imagine the prime ministers of the modern world just ceding their power to Meta, which Facebook is called now? No, but we’re talking about starting the process, because we live in a situation when artificial intelligence is being used for producing the budgets of states.

SPENCER: Here’s the deal. You and I will get together and design a new system of global governance to replace the current one. I want another whole conversation about what that’s going to look like. I’ve got a few ideas, and it’ll be interesting to combine our ideas and save the world. (We laugh.)

LIKHOTAL: With you, I’m ready for any adventure!

SPENCER: It will be fun—and a good exercise. I hope to listen to you another time soon. It’s always a joy talking with you. I appreciate it very much. Bye!

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Peace Magazine April-June 2022

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