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GreeceDELPHI ECONOMIC FORUM IX - FT Foreign Editor Alec Russell: 'The global...

DELPHI ECONOMIC FORUM IX – FT Foreign Editor Alec Russell: ‘The global order of the post-Cold War era is now being completely rethought, reimagined’

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The war in Ukraine, the possible repercussions of the “at best very awkward” relationship between the United States and China, the chances of Donald Trump being elected to a second term in the White House, the rise of the far right and the new environment created by AI in journalism were just some of the issues addressed in an interview with acclaimed journalist and current Foreign Editor of the Financial Times, Alec Russell by ANA-MPA journalist Eva Webster.

The award-winning journalist and former editor of FT Weekend, who is also an author of three books on the Balkans and Africa where he served for many years as a foreign correspondent, will be one of the speakers participating in the Delphi Economic Forum IX, which is taking place in the historic town of Delphi on April 10-13, where he will take part in a series of discussions on geopolitical issues.

Asked to say something about his participation in the DEF IX, he noted that the Delphi Forum is coming at “a really important time”:

“The global order of the post-Cold War era is now being completely rethought, reimagined, restructured and that is going to be at the heart of two of the conversations I am taking part in. One of them is looking at the role of the G7 and whether that can still be the leading body for the world, and whether, indeed, actually there is so much happening at the moment in terms of a war in Ukraine, a war in Gaza, tensions with America and China, that actually maybe it is not the right time to reimagine things, we should just hang on to what we have and make it work. And a separate debate I’m going to be involved in is looking at the position of the Global South, the so-called Middle Powers…I feel passionately, actually, that Western Europe and America need to rethink their relationship with the developing world, and then, finally, I am going to be talking to an American general about war, in particular the war in Ukraine.

Question: You have in the past warned about ‘Ukraine fatigue’ and said that it was important to keep the focus on supporting Ukraine. Do you still believe this and do you think that events in Gaza are impacting this effort?

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Alec Russell: I believe it as strongly as ever, right now. I think there is increasing concern among people who follow the war in Ukraine closely that Russia might try and mount a renewed offensive, try and punch through the lines that have been pretty much frozen for the last year. And one of the reasons why Russian forces might be thinking of doing such a thing, thinking of launching a renewed offensive, is that Ukraine has not been receiving the weapons that it had hoped for and the funding, from America in particular. And also because Russia is aware that there is a mood of uncertainty among Ukraine’s allies, there is a sort of spirit of concern as to what is happening in the war, how it can continue to be prosecuted…So I think it is tremendously important. Those who talk of a possibility of settlement and moving on lose sight of the fundamental lessons of history, that if you just give an imperialist aggressor what they want, they just come back for more. Final point: I was in Washington recently, talking to people that are close to Trump, and we should have no doubt that if Donald Trump is elected for a second term in the White House this November, many people close to him will be pushing for him to cut a deal over Ukraine and abandon the war, and I think that would be a terrible mistake.

Question: As the war in Ukraine enters its third year and the crisis in Gaza spills over into the Red Sea and the Middle East, should prospect of a Trump victory in the U.S. elections be giving everyone pause? How can Europe best prepare for such an outcome?

Alec Russell: Good question. I think the chances of Donald Trump securing a second term in November should definitely be giving everyone pause for thought, and not just in Europe. I’ve recently been travelling in Taiwan and Hong Kong and I was very struck by how this concern is now being felt throughout the world. Alliances, America’s traditional allies in Asia, are thinking about this very seriously. Fundamentally, of course, one, we don’t know if Trump will get re-elected. Anyone who says to you ‘listen to me, I tell you he’s going to win easily!’, they don’t know, no one knows. He may not get elected. Even if there is, let’s say, a 50-50 chance – which seems a reasonable way of looking at it, America’s politics in recent elections has been desperately close – so even if there is a 50-50 chance, we have to take very seriously the prospect of his having a second term and that would have dramatic consequences. Now, what would those consequences be, again, we should be careful about getting too carried away: We don’t know, of course. Donald Trump has a record of saying all sorts of stuff, which he doesn’t carry through on and he also quite likes surprising people, saying one thing and doing something completely different. But all that said, as I said a moment ago, some of his close advisers and, indeed, he himself, have been signalling that he would expect Europe’s NATO members to fund the Alliance much more than they are doing now and we have not reason, I think, to believe that he doesn’t mean that. So, in answer to your second question, what should Europe do, it should be preparing frantically. Eight years ago, the election of Donald Trump came as a bit of a surprise… most people in positions of authority in Europe thought Hillary Clinton would probably just win. This time round, the people doing those same jobs – running European governments, running big companies or doing big jobs in Brussels – they have six months, less than six months now, to start thinking about this eventuality and one of the most important things they need to be thinking about, in terms of the politicians, is defence and rearmament. I think that is absolutely pivotal.

Question: Talking about politics in general, there has been a shift recently towards politics becoming increasingly polarised, and also a shift toward far-right parties and policies and a “hollowing out” of the liberal democratic centre, as it were. So, if electorates should bring more far-right parties to power, mainly in Europe but also elsewhere, how do you think this is likely to impact international developments generally?

Alec Russell: You ask that question at a very good time ahead of the European parliamentary elections, which will be seen as something of a weathervane, as we way, for the strength of far-right, populist parties. One caveat I would just throw in is that, sometimes, politicians that we think of as being far-right can surprise us. So, Giorgia Meloni in Italy is an interesting case study of a politician who took power with the support of far-right parties, with a record herself of being on that side of Italian politics and she has governed quite cannily, quite cleverly, and has not governed as a stereotypical far-right politician. So, we should just bear that in mind. That said, a rise of the far-right in European politics would lead to an increase in tough, anti-immigration rhetoric. That whole issue is very problematic for centrist European politicians, because they are out of touch with a swathe of their electorates, you can see it in the opinion polls. I think the other issue, a big issue, is that of foreign policy, the issue of relations with Russia. In the right-wing movements in France, in Germany and in other countries there is – as they would put it – a greater understanding of the Russian position. I would argue that that is a pretty outrageous position to hold given the nature of Putin’s increasingly tyrannical role but I think a rise of the right wing in positions of power in Europe could lead to a rethinking of Europe’s position vis-a-vis Russia, with massive consequences for Ukraine.

Question: Do you see some sort of outcome for Ukraine and Russia, some sort of end for the war?

Alec Russell: Well, obviously, that is the big, big question. I do think that, however agonising this may sound, we have to remember that sometimes big wars can last a long time. We are used in the West to quite quick wars in recent decades, certainly since the end of the Cold War. It is possible that this will grind on for a while, for several more years, that neither side will give much ground but neither side will make a breakthrough. And so, to use the first world war as an analogy, this is like 1915-1916, with two or three more years to go. I talked at the beginning about the possibility of a Russian breakthrough; I discussed that last night, actually, with one of the most distinguished strategic writers and thinkers in Britain, this is a great expert on military tactics and strategy. His view was that Russia doesn’t yet have the military capacity to punch its way through the Ukrainian lines, that they lost so much equipment and they have expended so much ammunition in the first two and a bit years of the war that, actually, this semi-stalemate, maybe not even a semi-stalement, maybe this stalemate is the most likely scenario and that might work to Ukraine’s advantage as the world waits to see what happens in the US election. I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t know. What I do know based on trips to Ukraine is that there is no appetite there for a settlement yet, certainly not a settlement that would lead to Ukraine giving up that swathe of southern and eastern territory currently occupied by Russia. Final thought: whether ultimately Crimea would have to be ceded to Russia, I think that’s an interesting question. No one wants to talk about it in Ukraine but could that be a price that they have to pay? I think people are asking that question.

Question: When the Greek prime minister visited India in February, he urged Indian businesses to invest in Greece because, among others, of its political stability. Basically, what he said was that, unlike in the rest of Europe where there was a lot of discussion about ‘fragmented politics’ and a rise in populism, Greek voters had actually done all that, had experimented with populism way before and have no desire to go back. Do you see any parallels between the Greek experience and what is happening elsewhere in Europe?

Alec Russell: First off, I’d say I hope so, it would be rather heartening if the model of Greece was reflected elsewhere. Namely, Greece had its flirtation, serious flirtation, with political extremes during the debt crisis and yet now its politics have stabilised, returned to the centre. Could that happen in other parts of the continent? Well, as I say, I’d find that reassuring but I think it’s a bit early to tell. Look at France, for example. If you look at the opinion polls, which show Marie Le Pen looking in quite a good position looking ahead to the next French presidential elections. Macron, of course, can’t run again but the centre’s not been held in very high esteem in France at the moment. In Germany, a different scenario. Let’s see what happens in the European parliamentary elections but the numbers for the AfD, particularly in what was formerly East Germany, are eye-popping. So, sadly, I fear it is a bit too early to say that, as it were, the Greek scenario of flirtation with populism and then heading back to the centre is yet going to be reflected across the whole of Europe.

Question: Greece in 2023 regained investment grade after 13 years and was named “Country of the Year” in the ‘Economist’ rankings. So, do you see it as being all plain sailing from here or are there still shocks and hurdles that Greece has to overcome?

Alec Russell: Well. One – congratulations to Greece for that accolade. Two – I can say with some confidence, having been in Greece during the worst of the sovereign debt crisis, the Eurozone crisis, it has obviously, as a country and an economy, made an impressive recovery. The caveat, I would just say though, of course, is that the growth figures are from a pretty low base. I think I am right in saying that there were some figures out just the other day from Eurostat suggesting that Greeks have the second-to-last purchasing power across the Eurozone to Bulgaria. Bearing in mind that you went from the debt crisis, just starting to recover from it, then into Covid, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a long road ahead. The other thing, obviously, is that Greece, and not just Greece, faces the risk of all sorts of external shocks to the system. Tensions between China and America – they’ve been slightly eased by the meeting last year in San Francisco between China’s President Xi Jingping and the US President Joe Biden but that is the sort of fundamental deciding factor on the health of the global economy. I think it is still far too soon for anyone to be able to predict confidently how that, at best very awkward, relationship is going to pan out and, obviously, if the two economies continue to move in different directions, that has all sorts of consequences for Europe. Not least, many European countries are going to have to decide what their relationship with China is. It’s still a tough old road ahead for Greece but, hats off for getting out the scenario of a decade ago when things looked really, really bleak.

Question: The 2023 Reporters Without Borders report on World Press Freedom identified ‘fake content’, the use of AI and the disinformation industry as a major threat to journalism and journalists, and also increasingly hostile governments and animosity to journalists in the social media and the physical world. My question is, how do you think journalism can best protect itself and remedy these problems?

Alec Russell: We think about that alot here at the FT and it is troubling. It’s troubling on two fronts, I guess, in particular for the media: one is the risk that we may publish something which is fake, whether video footage or a fake statement that’s been dressed up to look like the utterance of a prime minister or whatever and is totally bogus. The business of checking, always at the heart of great journalism, is even more important now, if it could be more important than it always was…It’s interesting, for example, what the BBC is doing, which is it’s set up a whole separate unit called BBC Verify to try and authenticate material before they broadcast it. I think it is also, though, of huge importance for journalists in terms of how do we use AI ourselves, what is the message we give to our journalists. Because, on the one hand, it would be crazy for journalists not to take advantage of this extraordinary breakthrough in technology but, equally, we don’t want our journalists getting ChatGTP to write their articles for them. That is not an edifying way to go. So we’ve made that very clear to all our colleagues but we, like other news organisations, are experimenting with how a generative AI could help our journalism, in terms of the processing of data and so on.

Maybe in the verification…

Exactly, exactly. It is deeply troubling, this year of all years, given that it is a year when there are so many elections around the world and how easy it is for voters to be misled by what used to be known as fake news, or was known as fake news eight to 10 years ago, before that it was just known as propaganda but is now being pumped out on an industrial scale by bot farms, content farms, troll farms etc. It’s a problem.

SOURCE; ANA-MPA

The copyrights for these articles are owned by the Hellenic News of America. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hellenic News of America and its representatives.

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