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Invasion of Ukraine: 'Biggest Security Crisis' Since WWII

Invasion of Ukraine: 'Biggest Security Crisis' Since WWII

What is at stake for European security as the Russian attacks on Ukraine continue? How has the invasion affected people across the continent? Geopolitical expert Jessica Berlin joins the podcast to discuss reliance on Russian oil and the actions she implores European leaders -- as well as U.S. President Joe Biden -- to take.

Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.

Mohamed Younis 00:07

For Gallup, I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is The Gallup Podcast. As we continue our discussions on the war in Ukraine, we welcome a new voice to the podcast to shed light on what's really at stake for European security. Jessica Berlin is a geopolitical expert and commentator on Deutsche Welle News. Jessica, it's great to have you on the podcast.

Jessica Berlin 00:27
Thanks, Mohamed, it's a pleasure to be here.

Mohamed Younis 00:29
As a first question. I'd love to just get your take, really in taking stock of where we're at, in terms of the past two weeks -- almost more now. Of the current state of European security, you sit in Germany, and I thought you could give our listeners a better, more local feel of just how unsettling has this invasion been across Europe?

Jessica Berlin 00:50
We can't overstate what a crisis this is -- what an inflection point this is in European history. This is the biggest security crisis we face since the end of the Second World War. So this means for two entire generations of Western Europeans in particular and, and a whole generation of Europeans across the continent, suddenly we're facing war at our doorstep. Images of cities and towns that used to look just like ours all across the continent are literally in rubble. It looks like scenes from Stalingrad. It's, I can't overstate how unsettled, as you say, people are right now.

Mohamed Younis 01:30
And I got to admit, a lot of us are geeking out on Netflix and, you know, a bunch of stuff. I've been geeking out on Deutsche Welle since this started and really, Jessica, have been watching a lot of your contributions on just how serious this is and what's at stake for Europe. One of the things I heard you say recently that really struck me, and I'm kind of paraphrasing here. You said, if we're not prepared to pay higher energy prices in Europe for the cost of security in Europe, then we'll lose security in Europe. It just really made me pause when you said that. Of course, that was in the context of this huge question about Europe and really Germany's reliance on Russian energy sources. How confident are you, or concerned, about Europe's willingness to really do what it takes to reestablish security in Europe? Do you feel like that's being done right now?

Jessica Berlin 02:23
Unfortunately not. It's been deeply disappointing to see the slow, plodding response from my government -- from Germany in particular. But across Western Europe, nobody wanted to believe that this was going to happen, all right. Even since 2014, with the annexation of Crimea, and then all through the, the mounting tensions and militarization along the border last year, there were warnings. There were signs. And nobody wanted to believe that this could come. And now, after so many mistakes, so much appeasement and denial, we're facing this crisis. And even at this very moment right now, we're importing oil and gas from Russia and financing Russian coffers. Literally, we are financing the war for Russia while we speak. And when I, when I made this comment the other day about Russia being financed by the war and Europe needing to -- excuse me, somebody just came in, sorry. Actually for you, Mohamed, the person who just came inside is a young lady from Kharkiv, a refugee who is now staying in my house. So sorry for the --

Mohamed Younis 03:42
Wow, that's phenomenal. No, I'm so happy, you know, Jessica that you included that. Because the passion I've heard you bring to the analysis on these issues, it's really unique, and it shows that you're really, your heart is in what we're talking about. But at the same time, it's, as somebody who sits in the U.S. and consumes a lot of political media in the U.S., I feel like you've done a really good job of really staying objective about what's at stake. It's obviously devastating for us to see these kinds of scenes anywhere in the world. But I think we come from a generation of Western society citizens that really haven't seen something like this in our lifetimes. We've seen huge outpourings of refugees. We've seen devastating war just in the past 10 years. Europe's seen a lot of refugees come from Syria. But I'm really happy that that happened, because it really drives home how real and emotional this is for all of us.

Jessica Berlin 04:39
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for that. And it just shows, you know, even after your home office, we're, we're all still trying to make do. And now with this humanitarian crisis, we've had literally 70,000 refugees from Ukraine arrive in Berlin in the last six days. And most of those people are now living with volunteers, people like me -- just folks with a with an extra couch or room. And, and so it's all a bit improvised right now. But it's, it's really important, the point you raise, and it applies just as much here in Europe as it does for, for you guys in the U.S. People here are so removed from the reality of war, of poverty, of oppression that we've forgotten that this is still very much among us in the world.

Jessica Berlin 05:26
And I have a different perspective on this perhaps. You know, I'm, I'm a child of the '80s. I also grew up in peace and prosperity, but I've lived and worked in Afghanistan, in China, Myanmar, Rwanda, and traveled in dozens of countries, more in conflicts or postconflict situations. Also, I'm a grandchild of war on both sides of my family. And, and so between the family legacy of, of war and being a refugee and losing everything that most Europeans somehow still carry in their cultural, societal and family memories, they've forgotten that it's still around us in the world, and that the peace and prosperity we've enjoyed for so long here is not actually, in the historical sense, that long at all. But suddenly we think this is normal and here to stay forever.

Jessica Berlin 06:23
And so when I, when I say, if we're not willing to pay more for our energy consumption in Europe in exchange for freedom and security of our neighbors, then we will lose freedom and security here in Europe. This is very simple. If we're not willing to sacrifice -- to put our money where our mouth is and where our values are -- then there are plenty of bad actors in this world and, indeed, in our immediate neighborhood who will challenge that. And our, our fickleness and our lack of resolve will, will ultimately lead to us losing the freedoms that previous generations fought for. And so although this is an emotional topic because we're dealing with human suffering, it is also for me a very objective historical and sociopolitical fact that this is how the world turns. And if we don't recognize that and act accordingly, we will lose what previous generations fought for, which was namely peace in Europe.

Mohamed Younis 07:25
It's fascinating to me, Jessica, to be somebody who, thanks to people like you -- real experts -- have been trying to learn as much as I can in the past several years about geopolitics and the global order, and so much, just like you know, volumes and volumes written about the, the shifting global order. The global order is shifting. And here we are. Like we're facing it now, right up against our nose, in that a lot of the things, like you said, that we have taken for granted, our generation and particularly the U.S. and Western Europe, really are an exception to the history of Europe, to the history of the world.

Mohamed Younis 08:01
I want to go back to this -- where we started, with this reliance on Russian energy sources. Of course, German leaders have made it very clear that they are executing a plan to eventually shift away. Obviously, that's going to take at least a year and a half, if Superman was in charge of it; it's probably gonna take much longer than that. Your point is, it hit me really hard about this, being willing to pay more for energy, because we are having the same debate in the U.S. But is it more, isn't it more than just paying more for energy? Like I can think of, OK, wearing heavier coats and making a sacrifice personally. But shutting down like German industry would have massive implications just to the European economy, let alone to Germans themselves. So how do you get your mind around like the difficulty of really doing that so suddenly?

Jessica Berlin 08:54
Absolutely, Well, firstly, this wouldn't necessarily mean shutting down German industry overnight; it would mean having to pay more for energy sources coming from elsewhere. So coming from the Gulf, from Scandinavia, from Canada, from the U.S. But what I find quite shocking and disappointing is the fact that the German government is not even trying to communicate the need for this and the potential for this to the people. Not, not a, not a word from the chancellor's office -- our equivalent of the White House -- telling people, out of solidarity for Ukraine, let's turn down the thermostat one or two degrees. Put on that sweater. Take public transit and leave the car at home; carpool. Or even such a basic thing as imposing even just a temporary speed limit on the autobahn, which famously has no speed limit. But, but of course --

Mohamed Younis 09:51
I think that's going too far, Jessica. it's just --

Jessica Berlin 09:52
Yeah, exactly. So some lines can't be crossed.

Mohamed Younis 09:55
No, but those are really, really great, actionable, immediate steps, right, that leaders could be communicating to the public. I find it fascinating that here in the U.S., we kind of had the same thing going on. President Biden gave a speech recently about, you know, no longer importing Russian oil, which is obviously a totally different world than what Europe is relying on. But it really has struck me the silence of, you know, this is the small part we need to do to avoid going back to war like our grandparents.

Jessica Berlin 10:27
Exactly, and also taking a step like that and having that conversation with the people would help people understand that the little things we do have an impact in the world. I think in Germany -- I'll speak for Germany, Germany in particular, but this is a dynamic, of course that spreads across the Western world in, in all the so-called rich countries -- we're so used to our comfort. You know, right now, it seems like every week, there's a new company offering instant delivery, instant this and that. You know, you can have it all cheaper, better, faster, now. And we're so used to that. We're not used to even getting up off the couch to go downstairs and get milk. Oh, I can, I can order it in the app, and someone will bring it to me in the next 10 minutes. And, and if this is the society that we've built and the promises our economy and our politics have been giving to people, and now all of a sudden we're facing potential World War III, and images of Western modern flourishing cities bombed to dust, people are, are of course having a culture shock and are going into denial. But this is where we need leadership, real leadership to help people connect with the reality that faces us and show, hey, the decisions we make matter.

Jessica Berlin 11:43
And I think on the issue of energy, that's only the first step. Because really, for the last 20 years since Vladimir Putin has been in power, we, all of us across the Western world, have enabled his government, looked away from his crimes in Chechnya, in Georgia, in Crimea. Again and again, he was allowed to, to commit war crimes to oppress his own people and people beyond his borders, even to shoot down a passenger airline. But we continue to do billions and billions in business with him and his cronies every year. And so when the reckoning comes now politically and economically -- for the business world and for the political world that has been in bed with him for the last two decades -- I think this is also part of the, how do you say, the "Hemmungen," this is part of the hesitation of our governments right now, to really have that conversation full on. Because once you open that Pandora's box, there is so much, so much dirt that's going to come out.

Jessica Berlin 12:55
But I say, Bring it on. None of us are innocent. None of our countries, none of our massive companies and banks are innocent in this. We need to have this out, because ultimately, this is a turning point for the West to recognize that this is what happens; this is the consequence of when our business and our politics do not reflect the values we preach. And that's not moralization. That's not subjective. This is just an objective reality that our hypocrisy has consequences. These are the chickens coming home to roost.

Mohamed Younis 13:30
Wow! I can't believe I just had somebody use the first German word and quoted my favorite American Malcolm X in one response. That's amazing. But just preach on, Jessica, I'm seriously just really impacted by the seriousness and the alarm in your analysis and your take. It just strikes me that not everybody is sharing that concern to the degree that you do -- certainly not just in Germany but also here in the U.S. There's been a lot of celebration of Western unity lately, which, which it felt that way in the very beginning. But after the situation with Poland and, and fighter jets, I mean, obviously it's much more complicated than we were celebrating last week. In your view, what should be happening? If you were on the receiving call from the German chancellor or the leadership of the EU or, or Joe Biden, and they said, "Jessica, what are my next steps on getting the situation under control?" What's your best advice?

Jessica Berlin 14:37
Well, to Chancellor Scholz, I would say, "Block the oil and gas. Stop the energy imports. And talk to the people. Tell people the truth, tell them what they need to know, and you will be surprised what the German people are capable of. They just need to be woken up and informed." And to Joe Biden, well, I, I hope that that these things are already happening, but I think this is truly a moment where America's clandestine skills, shall we say, are in order. Who knows what's going to come after Vladimir Putin? One way or another, this is the beginning of the end for him. And whether he's, whether he's finished next Tuesday or in two years, who knows at this point? But this is the end for him. So we already need to be thinking about, how do we deal with Russia after Putin? And we need to start that conversation right now with the elites around him -- the oligarchs and the generals who right now are running scared. They have all been blindsided by this. They did not see this coming. They do not want this; this is not in their interest. So we need to be having conversations with them openly, frankly: What does it take? What do we need to stop the killing? Stop this madness now. What guarantees for your security do you need for us to stop this? How can we get Putin to back down and be put into retirement in the least, in the most face-saving way possible for Russia, so that we can build a new relationship between the West and Russia?

Jessica Berlin 16:16
Here in Germany, we see Russia as, as a cousin, as, as a sibling nation. Our histories are so intertwined and our people. That's something I think in the U.S. that doesn't get, get noticed or talked about so much. Our histories go back together for centuries. And, and any war between Russia and Germany is a deeply painful, personal thing. But right now, we really need the help of the United States to, to defuse this family crisis -- once again, Europe is having a family crisis -- and, and find a new future, find a new way forward together with Russia. Whatever mistakes happened in the '90s, whatever misunderstandings emerged between the NATO powers and the wreckage of the Soviet Union, we need to stop looking backwards and look forwards and say, OK, fine, we messed it up 30 years ago. Let's not destroy the peace and relative prosperity we've, we've established in Europe for this -- for one madman. We can salvage this. We will, just as we emerged from, from World War II and created a Europe and built it, rebuilt a Europe that was stronger than ever, we still have a chance to get this right. And it will never bring back the lives that are lost and undo the horrors that we're seeing right now. But we still have a chance to save this. And so Joe Biden, please help us out.

Mohamed Younis 17:48
I want to ask you, Jessica, just like on a personal level. If things don't turn out the way Western nations are hoping in Ukraine, how does that change your own analysis as a geopolitical expert on really the future of Europe and the EU? Like one of the things I love about your analysis, Jessica, is you were one of the first people that was bold enough to talk about what comes next after Putin. Because a lot of people were very afraid to go there in the first few days of this, because it seemed very exaggerated. The other pieces, you've not been afraid to really talk about the fact that this could be World War III. I mean this could literally turn into a global conflict that we haven't seen. I want you to imagine a scenario where the West fails to show the will we're hoping that it will show, and things turn out in the long run on the positive end for Putin and Russia. What does that look like for Europe's security and future, really?

Jessica Berlin 18:48
This means that European security is a memory; that Putin then turns his eyes to the Baltic states basically to any former Soviet, USSR member states, and tries to keep moving his borders back, tries to push the U.S. military presence and nuclear presence out of Europe. But actually the more terrifying thought for me in that scenario is what it means also for the rest of the world. This means China emboldened to attack and annex Taiwan and any other territory it fancies. I mean, remember, just like Russia has done this before, so has China. Look at Tibet; look at Xinjiang. They're watching what happens in Ukraine and, and all eyes will be on Taiwan next if, if we're not able to stand up for Ukraine and stop this madness.

Jessica Berlin 19:43
But it goes even beyond China, because if the West cannot stand up to Russia at this moment and defend Ukraine, then every dictator with half an army all across the world knows it's hunting season. I can go for any weaker neighbor that I fancy, anybody with mines or with offshore oil or with fresh water -- you name it, it will be truly, it would mark the beginning of a very unstable and unsafe period in our history. And in the history books we would be looking back at the peace and prosperity that people like you and me grew up in as, as a blip in in our geopolitical realities and history, rather than the beginning of, of a peaceful age, ours would be the, yeah, the exception to the rule.

Mohamed Younis 20:42
And that's, and I wanted you to paint that picture because, no matter what right now, the global order is shifting. And it's either going to shift in a direction that we all would like to see it shift, or it's going to shift in the direction you just described. It will literally in fact every corner of the world. That's Jessica Berlin, geopolitical expert and a voice you all should be learning from, as I have, as this conflict wears on. Jessica, it's such a pleasure having you on the show.

Jessica Berlin 21:07
Thanks, Mohamed.

Mohamed Younis 21:09
That's our show. Thank you for tuning in. To subscribe and stay up to date with our latest conversations, just search for The Gallup Podcast wherever you podcast. And for more key findings from Gallup News, go to or follow us on twitter @gallupnews. If you have suggestions for the show, email The Gallup Podcast is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is Gallup: reporting on the will of the people since the 1930s.

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