Alexandra Wachter: Thank you for joining us today, Mr. Varoufakis! Let's start with the geopolitical situation: between the effects of the COVID pandemic, the exploding energy costs, rising inflation, and the war in Ukraine. What is your current assessment?
Yanis Varoufakis: We're getting our comeuppance. We're paying the price for 13 wasted years. The beginning of the crisis is not the pandemic, it is not the invasion of Ukraine. It is a crisis for the people of Ukraine who are suffering war.
But the world - and the West in particular - is paying a hefty price for having wasted 13 years after the financial crisis of 2008.
Because if you think about it, what we've been doing for 13 years now is we have asked our central banks – the Central Bank of Europe, the Federal Reserve in the United States, the Bank of England and so on, to print money for 13 years, give it to the bankers, hoping that that money would trickle down towards companies that actually invest in things society needs. That never happened.
Instead, it took this money and bought their own shares, or bought houses in Berlin or Vienna or in New York or London, so you had a huge degree of asset price inflation, house prices going up, stock exchanges going up, with very low investment; the lowest investment in the history of capitalism in comparison to the amount of money we had. And then the pandemic comes and that restricts supply because of the lockdown while increasing demand for goods to be shipped from China and that starts the spiraling of energy prices and transport prices. Then Ukraine comes along.
So COVID-19 and Vladimir Putin were the sparks that lit up a bomb that we have been creating for 13 years - to use a terrible analogy from war. That's where we are, I think.
Wachter: So is this the downfall of the global economic system? Are we heading towards some sort of collapse?
Varoufakis: No, nothing as dramatic as that. The downfall was 2008. You look too young to remember, but in 2008 every bank in the West went bankrupt, every single bank. And the world was salvaged by central banks, that was as near a death experience as capitalism could have had.
Since then, we have a process of treating the patient that is global capitalism with something like cortisone.
The cortisone of central bank money, which steadies the patient, the patient looks reasonably well. But you know the cancer continues to work under the skin and that cancer has been very low levels of investment.
We have not been investing in green energy, in good quality jobs, in education, in health, everywhere! In the European Union, in the United Kingdom, in the United States. Think about it, Germany is still building lignite fired power stations, when we should be moving towards the green transition. And why is that?
Because we have not invested and a country like Germany should be investing because it's rich. It's got surpluses everywhere or we used to have, so we wasted 13 years and now we're getting our comeuppance.
Wachter: I watched many of your interviews to prepare for this interview today, and one of them stuck in my mind, namely the interview you gave "Democracy Now!" on February 24th. There you say the following: “Vladimir Putin is to blame for taking this step, but at the same time, NATO must be condemned for creating the circumstances leading to Putin's escapade in Ukraine.” So the day Russia invaded Ukraine, you blame NATO. Do you think it is NATO's fault that Russian soldiers kill, rape or torture innocent people in Ukraine?
Varoufakis: Of course not. This is what I said in "Democracy Now!", I said the blame is 100% Vladimir Putin's. Vladimir Putin has no excuse. It can never be said convincingly that it was NATO's fault that Vladimir Putin invaded. He had the choice. He could have tot invaded and he chose to invade.
I personally have gone on the record back in 2001 calling Vladimir Putin a war criminal. You have to remember that Vladimir Putin at that time had just become President of the Russian Federation, and to solidify, to stabilize his Presidency effectively, he killed 250.000 Chechens.
And I was in the streets, demonstrating against Putin in 2001. At the time when Tony Blair, when you know Mr. Schröder, when various Liberal Democrats were doing business with Mr. Putin. So, I have no qualms whatsoever to pin the blame for the invasion 100% on Vladimir Putin. But the question is: Why is Vladimir Putin in Moscow and why is he so strong and why has he managed to create his regime? And the answer has to be sought in the 1990s.
It was in the 1990s that the United States of America and NATO, humiliated the Russian people. Remember the International Monetary Fund bankrupted the very liberal progressive government of the 1990s that wanted to join the West. Instead of allowing Russia back in the early 1990s mid 1990s to join the West, Russia was humiliated.
Do you realize that the life expectancy for males went down from 72 to 58 years of age? This is what happens to a country that has been completely crushed and was crushed by the West. And NATO never wanted to include Russia when we could.
Putin is a creation of a concerted effort by the United States of America and NATO to keep Russia at bay. So, I'm against Putin and I'm against the causes of Putin.
Wachter: But you say NATO provoked the situation, right?
Varoufakis: No, I said that NATO created circumstances. Not now! Because when you take a people like the Russian people who are a proud people, who've come out of communism, who want to join the West, who want democracy in the first years, and you crush them, completely crush them! And you know if you were old, over 55 over 60 in Russia between 1991 and 1998, you would die very early deaths, of malnutrition, of disease. The average expectancy went down from 72 to 58.
That was a policy by the United States of America at the time, through the International Monetary Fund, ask the professor Jeff Sachs who was part of the IMF team and - to his credit - he now says that he regrets, that when you humiliate a proud nation like Russia, then eventually from within that nation that emerges a criminal like Vladimir Putin
So, we have to be tough on Vladimir Putin and have to be tough on the causes of Vladimir Putin and we have to remember that the United States of America taught Vladimir Putin how to invade countries against international legislation.
Wachter: But my point, my point is, you blame NATO on the very day Russia brought war to Ukraine, so Russia would have had a reason to invade Ukraine. And that is exactly the narrative of the Kremlin and or Vladimir Putin, isn't it?
Varoufakis: Well, would you like to replay what I said on "Democracy Now!"? Because if you do, you will see that what you just said is absolutely negative and that is a polite tone putting it.
Wachter: But you said that you said that the NATO must be condemned for creating the circumstances leading to Putin's escapade.
Varoufakis: You know what the circumstances are? Vladimir Putin is the circumstance.
Do you remember the war in Iraq? Do you remember Saddam Hussein, who was a killer, a menace to society? He used chemical weapons against the Kurds. Who created Saddam Hussein? It was the United States of America.
Do you remember in 1982, 1983, Dick Cheney who was Vice president of the United States of America at some point, going to Iraq to support Saddam Hussein, immediately after he had gassed the Kurds of northern Iraq?
Wachter: Okay, but not now we're talking about Russia and Ukraine. Let's change the perspective. Should Ukraine continue to defend itself and be supplied with weapons of European countries and the US?
Varoufakis: Of course, they should defend themselves. I support entirely anyone who is defending their homeland. It was the first thing I said on the 24th of February, that we stand with Ukraine, DiEM25 the movement I belong, the first thing, the big headline was: We stand with Ukraine!
In the same way we stand with anyone suffering an invasion, whether it's Czechoslovakia in the 1960s or the Palestinians, anybody who's invaded, we stand with them.
And of course, I understand why President Zelensky wants more guns and more weaponry.
The question that we must now face, as the West, as a world, as humanists is: How does this thing end? How does this war end? Those, who call for victory of Ukraine. What I say to them is that there was already a victory of Ukraine.
I am so pleased that the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian defenders gave Putin a bloody nose and threw him back from Kiev, back from Kharkiv. They are creating such a passionate resistance in the Donbass. They are not letting the Russian army get away with it. But how do we define victory?
Because victory surely cannot be the Ukrainians beating Russia and taking Moscow and dragging Vladimir Putin to International Criminal Court.
I wouldn't mind seeing the downfall of Putin. I have already on your program and for decades now called Vladimir Putin a criminal. But it is hypocritical, is it not? For you and me, and President Biden to be sitting in our very comfortable surroundings and say to the Ukrainians: go and beat Russia, Russian armies back to Moscow and capture Putin, when we are not prepared to enter the fight.
Wachter: But what is the solution, in your opinion?
Varoufakis: The solution is for Joe Biden to call Vladimir Putin and have a summit with Zelensky and with the European Union with a very simple demand coming from the West to Putin: Take your armies back to where they were on the 24th of February, as a precondition for having a discussion about the future of Ukraine that will be sovereign, it will not be part of NATO.
You can go back to Moscow and say that you've won the neutrality of Ukraine. This is neutrality that both Washington and Moscow must guarantee, together with the European Union, the European Union must put the money in. That's the only thing that the European Union can do, can invest in the rebuilding of Ukraine. And we have to find a solution for the Donbas area, which we know is a very difficult area, a disputed area.
A bit like the solution in Northern Ireland, which under the Good Friday Agreement after many decades of bloodshed, found a peace in which both London and Dublin are involved together with local communities. There are solutions to be had, but to continue this war, until one of them topples over is inhuman and it's against the interests of Ukraine.
Wachter: So, I have so many questions, but we don't have time. One last question, is there security for Eastern Europe with Putin in power?
Varoufakis: Well. Do you remember Libya, Muammar Gaddafi? He was a despot. He was a beast. He was killed. He was overthrown.
Was Libya after Gaddafi better than it was before Gaddafi? I'm not sure. Is there more security in Libya today?
So, suppose that Putin is toppled. Suppose you know the best wishes of Volodymyr Zelensky are filled and there is at coup d'état in Moscow and Vladimir Putin is overthrown, are we sure that what is going to emerge in Moscow is going to be better for Eastern Europe? For you, for me? For the Russian Democrats, I'm not sure.
Wachter: So, you're not sure on this point. Thank you so much for joining us today, Yanis Varoufakis, thank you.