Interview: Administrator Samantha Power's Interview with The Daily Show's Trevor Noah

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Tuesday, March 1, 2022

February 28, 2022
Brussels, Belgium

NOAH: Administrator Power, Administrator of USAID, and a member of President Biden's National Security Council.  She joins us from Brussels to talk about the war in Ukraine.  Administrator Power, thank you so much for joining us on the show. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you for having me. 

NOAH: You know, it's really crazy how the last time I spoke to you was actually on The Daily Show.  This was pre, you know, all of this happening.  I think it was even pre-pandemic.  And one of the questions I asked you was about Russia.  You responded saying that Russia is a constant threat, and it seems like that has come true.  If that's the case, my first question to you is how did you see it coming and how did the U.S. seem to not do what it could have done?  Or was this something that was inevitable? 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: It's a great question, and I will say that I was UN Ambassador under Barack Obama in his second term and we could find pockets of cooperation.  But for me, what really made clear that Russia was heading in a different direction and it had grave consequences for humanity was the Syria crisis.  And particularly you might remember the bombing of Aleppo, which was like before it the bombing of Grozny in Chechnya, internal to Russia.  So suddenly, Russia, outside of its borders, was backing, yes, a regime, a government that was also a member state of the United Nations, pulverizing civilians.  First time I ever heard the phrase, Trevor, "fake news," which has now become a staple, was the Russian ambassador at the United Nations making a set of false claims about what was happening in Syria and about how all they were doing is neutralizing terrorists.  And it was the first time they were asking us not to believe what we saw with our own eyes.  And then, of course, we had the interference in the 2016 election, which was so systematic.  So when you ask where are things going, I mean, they have obviously turned now in the darkest direction imaginable, galvanizing the democratic world.  But well beyond that, I mean, galvanizing statements also from, for example, the African countries, Latin American countries, and others in the world who are just saying enough, you know, you cannot pulverize civilians in this way.  You can't try to take over a country just because you want to make your own country bigger.  Like, that's not okay.  But it's been a reality check, I think, for a lot of countries and publics around the world who didn't realize it had gotten this bad. 

NOAH: From a layman's perspective, it feels like the world is in a place where either countries are afraid of Russia or, you know, let's say, for instance, that Germany or many countries around Europe, they are so dependent on Russia for its energy, you know, providing energy.  Their sort of dependence on Russia for wheat, et cetera.  It feels like the world is in a position where they can chastise Russia, but they can't actually do anything to Russia.  Is this something the world could do?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: When we were warning about the troop buildup on the other side of Ukraine there were some countries within Europe that were questioning, you know, is that really true?  Would Putin really do it?  And it was kind of a little bit of wishful thinking in the sense of we don't want to have to impose those costs.  You don't want to do them also to the Russian economy.  I mean, nobody wakes up in the morning and says, I want to inflict severe economic pain on another country. 

NOAH: Right. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, the invasion itself has produced a degree of unity and a willingness to go further than we have seen Europe ever be willing to go and to bear those costs, potentially to their own economies, at least in the short term.  Certainly major questions now about their energy sources and energy prices.  Are those going to be up?  But they basically said what he is doing is intolerable and we are going to bear some of those spillover effects because we have to inflict a degree of punishment here in the hopes of getting him -- right now at the beginning, it's only been going for less than a week.  But to get him to step away from this reckless, devastating course of action.  And the kinds of steps that have been taken just in the last 48 hours goes so far beyond what most observers thought was conceivable for just the reason you say: this kind of mutually assured destruction, interconnectedness of the energy market and of our economic system at large.  But the swift sanction is the most severe sanction that one can impose, cutting off U.S. citizens, European citizens’ ability to do business with the Russian central bank.  That was something that until 48 hours ago, I think President Putin still thought he was going to be able to draw upon. 

Now again, what needs to happen is then the elites around Putin, who also have an awful lot to lose from the severity of these unprecedented sanctions with so many countries behind them is that those elites need to chime in and do everything in their power to affect a calculus that so far, on Putin's part, hasn't shown a lot of regard for the welfare of the Russian people.  This is Putin's M.O., and so that's the question of the people around him and when his cost benefit calculus is going to be affected by all of this and the sanctions that have been brought online and the unity, make it cost much more evident to him than I think anybody expected, including perhaps him. 

NOAH: It doesn't seem like China has condemned Russia.  They put out vague statements that sort of say we just believe that everyone should be able to determine their borders, which you can almost read both ways, funny enough.  Is there a possibility that unless Russia stands up, you know -- I mean, unless China stands up, is there a possibility that the world could almost push Russia to China and then trade in Asia just becomes Russia's way out?  Or do you think the sanctions are going to be enough to get Russia to come to the table? 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, first of all, Russia's economy is massively dependent on Europe and the United States, as is Russian manufacturing and so many of the industries that keep the economy afloat.  And so the dollar economy is still the animating force of the global economy.  I think when it comes to China's reaction, first of all, because of the relationship that President Putin and President Xi have built, a relationship predicated on not wanting any country to question what they are doing to their own people. 

NOAH: Yeah. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Wanting to be able to crack down and repress and round people up.  I mean, that is something they have in common and that has brought them together among other dynamics.  But given the increasing closeness of that relationship, many people expected that China would join Russia in vetoing a recent UN Security Council resolution condemning what is happening.  And instead, to your point, China just said, actually, we're going to abstain and we're going to say all parties should have cooler heads or whatever.  And so I actually think that it doesn't look like isolation.  Of course, we think it's outrageous that any country would miss an opportunity to condemn a full on invasion of its neighbor.  So an abstention is not the desired posture that we would wish China or any member state of the United Nations to take.  At the same time, it is a signal to Putin that China is not attaching its mast to this sail. 

NOAH: Right. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: It is putting some distance in there.  And that, Trevor, I think is partly also because China has its own global projects that it has embarked upon.  China sees that the rest of the world is horrified and that the rest of the world really has brought a degree of empathy and outrage to what Russia has done.  And so China is a self-interested actor in that world as well and is looking out for its own standing. 

NOAH: Well, Administrator Power, thank you so much for taking the time.  I know you're dealing with the crisis on the ground, talking to many of these people.  Hopefully, it'll be resolved sooner than later.  I appreciate you for joining me on the show. 



Last updated: July 15, 2022

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