Velina Tchakarova on China, Russia, and the Future of Geopolitics (Ep.214)

Don’t call her an oracle. She prefers foreseer.

You could try playing out the four-dimensional chess game of how the global order will shift in the next 10-15 years for yourself, or you could hire Velina Tchakarova. Founder of the consultancy FACE, Velina is a geopolitical strategist guiding businesses and organizations to anticipate the outcomes of global conflicts, shifting alliances, and bleeding edge technologies on the world stage.

In a globe-trotting conversation, Tyler and Velina start in the Balkans and then head to Russia, China, North Korea, and finally circle back to Putin’s interest in the Baltics. She gives her take on whether the Balkan Wars still matter today, the future of Bulgarian nationalism, what predicts which Eastern European countries will remain closer to Russia, why China will not attack Taiwan, Putin’s next move after Ukraine, where a nuclear weapon is most likely to be used next, how she sources intel, her unique approach to scenario-planning, and more.

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Recorded May 20th, 2024

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This transcript sponsorship is “in honor of Emily Carlson Allred, 1933–2023, who had 9 children, 53 grandchildren, and currently has 93 great-grandchildren: Pronatalist before it was a thing.”

TYLER COWEN: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Conversations with Tyler. Today I’m very happy to be chatting with Velina Tchakarova, who is a geopolitical strategist with long-standing experience. She is founder of a group, FACE, which stands for For A Conscious Experience. I first learned of Velina by reading her on Twitter. Velina, welcome.

VELINA TCHAKAROVA: Thank you. Thank you very much for being with you, and I look forward to a highly interesting conversation.

COWEN: Now, you’re from Bulgaria. So I’ve long wondered, the first and second Balkan Wars that preceded World War I — do they still matter today? Or what did we learn from them?

TCHAKAROVA: Well, of course, they matter in a sense because you are probably familiar with the term Balkanization. And unfortunately, the term Balkanization means splitting a country into smaller parts in order for external powers to interfere, to play different political actors off against each other. That kind of thing is still very much relevant, and it’s being used and applied to other regions, to other parts of the world.

It matters also in terms of sentiments and in terms of, if you like, moods. Take a look at the political landscape in most of, let’s say, the Balkan countries. We still call our region the Balkan region, even though outsiders describe it as southeast Europe, mostly. You will find all of these sentiments being reflected in various political groups and parties.

We have nationalists in most of these countries, who are getting stronger by the day and are running for elections and are using, actually, agendas and narratives that have been known for the last 200 years. Yes, it’s unfortunately quite relevant. Let me use another example. The incident, the helicopter crash from yesterday, where the Iranian president and the foreign minister passed away, was used as an example by some analysts already.

I would just use the reference here, that it could be the next Sarajevo moment. Now, again, we had Balkan Wars, and then we had also, as you know, the big moment, the biggest black swan, as described by Professor Nassim Taleb, about the Sarajevo moment from 1914. That was an unanticipated event, which eventually resulted in the First World War.

Even now, this reference is being used, as you know. A Sarajevo moment is something that is defined as a black swan and that could lead to a major military conflict if not, let’s say, another world war. All in all, these kinds of things are still relevant, even though they are not having the same influence or scale as used to be the case 200 years ago.

COWEN: Now, Bulgarian nationalism in the past — as you know, it’s so often been about dreams of a greater Bulgaria. There are Bulgarian minorities in Albania and different parts of the Balkans, and this notion of creating something like a Bulgarian world or San Stefano Bulgaria with larger borders. But with the current demographic collapse in Bulgaria, migration to the EU and other places, low birth rates, what is the future of Bulgaria nationalism? Does it have a future at all?

TCHAKAROVA: I think that the second part of the question is easier to answer. Yes, nationalism, as I already outlined, is always going to have some sort of a solid ground in the whole region, including Bulgaria. Again, right now we have a very strong nationalistic sentiment that is also finding a political reflection. We have elections in June for a parliament since the coalition government between the conservatives and the liberals has parted ways.

Coming to the first part of your question, these sentiments will be politicized and instrumentalized, but they will not find a common denominator among the population in Bulgaria. The dream of, let’s say, San Stefano Bulgaria or, if you like, big Bulgaria including parts of other countries, neighbors, is over.

This is not going to come back, specifically in the case of Bulgaria and, I would argue actually, in the case of the other neighbors as well, unless we see a major process that right now I don’t see happening in the short term of, let’s say, dissolvement of the European Union. Because so long as these countries are part of the European Union or are candidates for the European Union, this kind of conflict will always find a solution mechanism within the institutions.

There will be enough incentives for the broader part of the parties and actors to find a common denominator. Yes, even countries like North Macedonia — and we saw that there was immediately a verbal conflict between North Macedonia and Greece because the newly elected president of North Macedonia didn’t use the full name but used only the name of Macedonia. These kinds of sensitivities will remain, but again, they do not find a common denominator, even in these countries.

Now, going back to the demographics, I think this is a bigger issue because right now — and probably the most famous person right now who is making the strong case of shrinking demographics all over the world — with a few exceptions, of course, because Africa and Southeast Asia will still see, at macro level, positive demographics. But in general, Bulgaria is probably one of the fastest demographically shrinking countries in the world, not just in Europe.

Here we have a very, very serious issue that is a systematic and structural issue that goes back to 30 years of political mismanagement, corruption, and, I would say, precarious socioeconomic indicators. It’s not just about the missing birth rates. It’s also about the skyrocketing death rates in this country and more or less 3 million, 3.5 million people who have sought their happiness and try to find their luck outside of the country, which is quite telling.

COWEN: Are the countries in the Balkans the right size? Are there too many of them? If we go back to the Balkan Wars, well, first Bulgaria and a number of other countries take from the Ottoman Empire. Then you turn around and basically, a year later, countries take from Bulgaria. Is there any stability in that region without an outside hegemon?

TCHAKAROVA: There is a stability outside the influence exercised by a hegemon, for instance, to the balance of several external powers. This is the case right now. We do not have a hegemonic power in the region right now. We have, let’s say, a balance act of several external and very powerful actors. That’s not just the European Union with its true economic clout. It’s also Russia still very much active in the region; and we have also Turkey, which is also, of course, quite active; and we have the United States and China also trying to play their leverage in the region. So, you see that it’s not one specific hegemon.

That’s always been the case, by the way. If you would like to go back to the Balkan Wars, if you would like to go back to previous periods of the Balkan region, you would find out that once again, it was a competition of several empires, and each of these empires was trying to get a chunk of this region for itself. Practically, through this balancing act, these small states were trying to capitalize on their own interests. This is a geopolitical continuum that is still very much in play in this region.

COWEN: Why do you think it is, say, that Bulgaria and Serbia remain closer to Russia, even with Putin? Or if you compare Czechia and Slovakia, Slovakia seems much closer to Russia — or at least some parts of Slovakia — than Czechia does? What predicts which nations in Eastern Europe will have this attraction to the East?

TCHAKAROVA: First and foremost, I would say it’s cyclical. You don’t have a recipe that reflects realities on the ground one-on-one. You have very strong personal, cultural, and historical roots. Of course, specifically in this region, you have religious and also post-imperial roots. In the case of the Russian Empire, I would argue that what we see right now with Russia is a continuum of the Russian Empire DNA.

Practically, I use this golden rule of the closer, the better. In terms of influence and in terms of penetration and subversion, the closer to the core, the bigger the influence. We saw this clearly also during the Cold War, with Bulgaria being probably the most affected and highly influenced satellite with almost no say in whatever topics. At the same time, if you look at the policies and actions of Soviet bloc satellites such as Poland or Czechoslovakia at the time, you will see that they had much more space to act, and they were prone to more internal turmoil.

Even Hungary — if you consider they had their moments of turning against the Soviet Union. No, this hasn’t been the case with Bulgaria. In the case of Serbia — because again, you cannot use a common denominator. You cannot just say that these two, because they were geographically closer and still are geographically closer, they would be more influenced by Russia.

Because in the case of Serbia, being still in a very, very specific situation following the collapse of Yugoslavia, trying to find external partners that support the leadership, at the same time facing new realities with the buildup of the other states: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, and so on and so forth. Of course, Serbia was in dire need to have a very strong supporter, and it has found this supporter in the face of Russia.

In the Bulgarian case, this is more historic. It has the sentiment in the Bulgarian population — even up until today — that has to do with emancipation of the Bulgarian state, the third Bulgarian state following the Russian-Turkish War from 1878, and then practically, because of the Russian Empire, Bulgaria could regain its statehood. The first tsar of Bulgaria was also practically from the Russian Empire with Alexander Battenberg. We had a very different mode of, let’s say, development and, in the same time, influence.

Today, we have, for instance, political parties in Bulgaria that are still very much rooted in the same mindset that one needs an internal friendship with Russia, that this is the only way forward. Even on behalf of the Social Democrats, you will find this kind of voices. We have a Bulgarian president who is very much pro-Russian, even though he will deny it. You see that this kind of layers of influence and penetration, to some extent, are manifold. You will have some that are taking place on a free base out of political convention or out of individual convention, but you will have also some instrumentalized influences.

I wouldn’t use any generalization for the region except, as I said, this golden rule that could be applicable: that, of course, the geographic approximation is certainly an indicator that will tell you a lot about how an external and powerful player would behave towards smaller neighbors and would try to, of course, increase its leverage via different mechanisms and actions. This goes through cultural ties to personal, business ties, but also political and economic projects. It goes also via instrumentalization of dependencies, raw materials, and all of these kinds of things.

Let me give you another example just to end up this topic. If you go to Serbia nowadays and just conduct a poll in the Serbian population and ask who is one of the biggest investors in Serbia, a lot of people will tell you that this is Russia, which is actually not the case. It’s not factual because still, the European Union is, in fact, the biggest institutional investor in the country. But it tells you a lot about perception, how Russia is being perceived in terms of its strong role in the country.

COWEN: Maybe we’ll come back to Bulgaria, but let me try some questions about the broader world. Why is it you think China will not attack Taiwan? They claim it as theirs, and arguably, in five to ten years, they’ll be able to neutralize our submarine advantage from the US with underwater drones and surveillance of our submarine presence. At that point, why don’t they just move on Taiwan and try to take it?

TCHAKAROVA: Well, I do understand that there is a lot of analysis coming out right now, especially on behalf of the military experts, not only in the United States but also in other parts of the world, pointing to this realistic scenario that we may see a military attack by China on Taiwan not later than 2027. And why 2027? Because it is being anticipated as the year when China will be able to catch up militarily with the United States.

I do not share this assessment. I just don’t see why China will have to take such a big risk in achieving something that it can achieve in a much smarter and more efficient way. What do I mean by that? I call this approach “death by a thousand cuts.” That would mean that China could spend a little bit longer in a slow but steady political, social, economic, and societal penetration of Taiwan. We could argue it’s the old Soviet playbook. It could be done in a more subtle way, using plausible deniability.

Taiwan is still the most successful democracy in the Indo-Pacific. That means, also, it is vulnerable to this kind of penetration, where you can practically use agents provocateurs on the ground. You can buy up a lot of institutional or individual players. You can start doing all this subversion process in a longer timeframe, but it could bring about bigger success than actually risking military intervention, which is not giving you, I would say, even a 50–50 chance of success.

The terrain of Taiwan, if we compare it with the most sophisticated war that’s going on right now, is much more difficult. You have a very, very limited window to attack. In the case of Taiwan, this window of opportunity is probably limited only to two periods in the whole year, which, of course, is also known by everyone in the region. That particularly means the defense of Taiwan. You have a window of opportunity in April and then in October, so you cannot attack at any time in the year.

It is a sophisticated military attack that cannot be conducted on the whole of the island. Even though China is catching up militarily right now, I think that the mindset of this Chinese leadership — the way the Chinese leadership is actually conducting strategy — does contradict such risky endeavor, again because time is on China’s side. China only needs to really prepare this sum of minor actions in a longer period of time. At least, this is what I would actually do as a strategist, which would promise a much better percentage of success than, like I said, an adventurous military attack.

Now, we may argue that under unanticipated circumstances for the political leadership — think of a situation where the political stability in China is shaken, where the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, is somehow put into a corner to take a very, let’s say, ad hoc decision on the matter because of certain circles of the hawks, of the military hawks. Of course, we have this possibility as well. It could be a black swan event, something that has happened in China, and this makes him take this decision in order to draw the attention away from internal problems.

Foreign policy adventures are always gathering public support. It’s not 100 percent to be excluded, but in my scenario, I would actually point to, as I explained, this death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach rather than a military attack on Taiwan.

COWEN: Are we now in a world where the laws of war are basically obsolete? Putin is acting in Ukraine without restraint, killing civilians. The conflict in the Middle East — whatever one might think of it, there’s clearly a lot of disagreement about it. The ICC, the morning of this recording, is bringing charges against Netanyahu and the Israeli government. The United States government does not really recognize that as legitimate. Do we have international law anymore at all?

TCHAKAROVA: Well, we have international law, but in the world of realpolitik and geopolitics, the strong do what they want, and the weak suffer what they must. This is the principle, unfortunately, that more or less overrides international law norms and rules.

Right now, in this gray area of an interministic international system, the old international system is crumbling down, and the new international system is trying to be born. We are in, let’s say, a stadium of an emergence of a new global system in which each and every single field, including the international law — we see it also with international organizations such as the United Nations.

The United Nations Security Council is a perfect example for it, where we have clear bipolarization, bifurcation of the club between China and Russia on the one hand, and the United States, France, and UK on the other. The same goes for all these international bodies. That is to say that they are, of course, being used on both sides, and at the same time, they’re being misused, unfortunately.

That is the reality we are in right now. We are in this period of international relations where the number of international military conflicts and wars hasn’t been that high since the end of the Cold War. It’s the highest number of military conflicts and wars. We have a lot of, as you said, casualties. I argue we are going to have even more tensions and more military conflicts in the next years to come, with this year, 2024, being extremely volatile.

In a sense, I’m not surprised that we are in this situation where both sides are trying to instrumentalize legal norms, rules, standards, but to no avail because in the end, until we do not have a new winner or new emerging blocks with their reading of international law, with their understanding of organizational principles, with their structures, we will be in this gray zone of interpretation and misinterpretation. And practically, there is almost no common ground in between. We do see that there is no more global police power that can decide over the end of military conflicts or wars.

At the same time, we see that, more or less, the narratives that are coming from both sides are equally being instrumentalized. Right now, you mentioned the case of the Middle East. In fact, I argue that the war between Israel and Hamas probably will find its way by the end of this year, as compared to some other tensions that will still be ongoing, like the war in Ukraine, which will still be ongoing in the next several years.

But here, we have a clear case where you see that the West — United States, European Union powers — are supporting Israel, and countries like China and Russia are actually supporting the Palestinian question. I argue that in the end, probably, this balancing act will be the positive influence on finding a two-state solution for this conflict, with devastating humanitarian consequences for the Palestinian people without a doubt.

COWEN: Let’s say that Putin manages to take and then keep something like a third of Ukraine, and then there’s an uneasy truce. What would Putin do next? Is it Suwalki Gap? Is it Lithuania? Is it eastern Estonia? Is it Moldova? Play out the scenario in that case.

TCHAKAROVA: First, let’s start with the calculus, what Putin wants. I would like to give you my assessment as to what’s going on there and what’s been going on there for quite some time now. Now, first and foremost, Putin wants the whole of Ukraine, not just one-third of Ukraine or 20 percent. Right now, Russia controls around 18 percent. No, they want all of it, and if it’s necessary, they will just make 10- to 15-year plan how to slowly but surely subjugate the whole of Ukraine. That means, in a similar way, how it’s proceeded since 2014.

You had a series of military actions followed by ceasefire, followed by some kind of negotiations, then followed by military actions and rinse-and-repeat tactics. This was the case for almost 10 years. Due to this kind of strategy, Russia was able to militarily control eastern Ukraine, and then it could seize the opportunity to make a move.

Of course, I have to say that in my assessment from December 2021, I was pointing to a scenario in which I was absolutely sure that there will be a war, but I actually called this war a limited military operation.

I thought that this was my mistake, that the war will start in the east and south of Ukraine. I did not think that Putin would make an all-in move in 2022. This, I must say, was a mistake on my side because, as I said, I was seeing this as a 10- to 15-year plan, how to slowly subjugate the country. Why did he make an all-in move and practically launch the full-scale war from five directions?

Well, I think it’s so early to make all these assessments, but certainly, I would argue the regional environment and situation prior to 2022 and also the global environment — think of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Then think of elections in key European countries. In 2021, there was a political vacuum until new governments were built. We had a key election in Germany. This is, as you know, the key provider of support for Ukraine. We had the worst energy crisis in 2021 already looming in Europe. We had the worst, actually, indicator for food prices. This is the FAO index that was already reaching levels of 2011 in December.

All of these were regional and global environment indicators that probably led also to this decision. More importantly, what Putin got was also this assurance of full-scale, comprehensive support coming from China. He has been building up these models with Xi Jinping since 2013 when Xi Jinping came to power.

He knew that by launching a full-scale war — and this is my personal assessment, of course — he would not just trigger the systemic competition between the United States and China. China at that time was not ready for that kind of fast-speed competition, which meanwhile, as we know, has accelerated to the point of the introduction of tariffs and the decoupling has really, really been triggered. But also, in a sense, Putin correctly bet on China, that China, even if not agreeing with the whole decision, actually would support Moscow in this endeavor as it turned out.

Going back now to your question — I just wanted to make this clarification — what would be the next steps? What would be next on his agenda? Now, again, what is on his agenda is that he will not give up on attacking Kyiv and attacking Odessa and trying to get as much as possible from Ukraine. If he’s not able, for whatever reasons, we cannot debate now about technical issues, the technicalities of the war. Russia has been adapting, but Russia has also made a lot of mistakes. Ukraine has been adapting in the war, but in reality, right now, they are attacking the second largest city, Kharkiv.

Obviously, they’re also attacking Odessa. Like I said, my expectation is that they will be attacking Kyiv again. Let’s assume Putin succeeds in getting a large part of Ukraine, and then we have some sort of negotiations, some sort of ceasefire, and then negotiations. Like I said, this is the best-case scenario from Russia’s point of view because every time there were ceasefire agreements and any kind of negotiations in this case, this will also legitimize the Russian territorial gains.

This ceasefire has always been violated. In a sense, this actually plays into the cards of Russia. This is the main question — will Russia actually attack other countries in Europe, right? Am I understanding correctly your question?

COWEN: To split NATO, right? So, if Putin hates NATO and holds a grudge against NATO, he’ll want to take some marginal action that will split the NATO coalition, not so dramatic that everyone is against him. Something like, say, send an army group into eastern Estonia, claim there’s ethnic turmoil, side with the Russian minority, tell a bunch of lies, and then work to subvert the Baltics. Is that in the cards to come next or not?

TCHAKAROVA: Yes, absolutely, if I were him, or if I were to consult with him. And he’s successful in his actions so far. Why would he not try it? First and foremost, the Baltics — I think that they already understand the high risk of such a situation.

In fact, we have to split it in two parts, the one part being neighboring countries like Moldova and Georgia. There, I would also go for territories because I have already the military presence. From Russia’s point of view, territories like Transnistria, which is neighboring Odessa and practically will enable cordon sanitaire with the European Union. Also, in Georgia, with the sweeping borders in South Ossetia, for instance, and Abkhazia, I would just go for these territories because this is about status and about great power exercise.

In the next step, I would actually consider doing something like this: an attack on the Balticum [Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania] because there will be a certain regional environment that will allow it. What do I mean by that? If, let’s say, the members of NATO and the European Union are somehow in conflictual blocs because of the future of these organizations . . .

We do not talk about 2024, obviously, but in the next years, the European Union, as a bloc, will undergo major shifts and a lot of troubles. The member states will probably not be so coherent in their positions all the time. The same goes for NATO, especially if we have a very, very different US leadership.

Under these circumstances, provocation like this would mean to test the article 5, to use the opportunity to show that article 5 of NATO is not really going to be activated. This is a possibility. I would say right now, from today’s point of view, it’s absolutely possible, and to some extent probable, but not plausible. But in the next few years, depending on the success of Russia in Ukraine — and I mean the time frame of 2025, 2026 — I would not exclude, as I said, such a possible and probable act by Russia, for instance, on the Balticum.

Not so much on Poland. I do not take this really seriously as some analysts are pointing to an attack on Poland. I would also think that Poland may actually seek to get nuclear weapons. If Poland decides to go nuclear, this question will be automatically answered as to whether Russia would be eager to attack Poland.

COWEN: Now, I know this is a highly speculative question, but if you had to guess, where would strategic nuclear weapons most likely be used next? What would be your pick?

TCHAKAROVA: First and foremost, I want to stress that the risk of the use of nuclear weapons has not grown bigger. With all the nuclear blackmail, with all the threats that nuclear weapons will be used coming from Russia, we saw a precedent in the international relations in modern times. That country, obviously a great power, tries to legitimize territorial gains by the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, but the risk of the realistic use of nuclear weapons hasn’t grown bigger. That’s the first thing that I really want to stress, that I still don’t see actual nuclear war taking place.

Okay, second point: Russia has a lot of conventional weapons systems that it is obviously already using against Ukraine. It doesn’t need, actually, the tactical nuclear weapon against Ukraine.

COWEN: But it doesn’t have to be Ukraine. I mean a strategic nuke. Say North Korea — if they’re approaching some kind of strange endgame. Or if American forces are doing badly in the South China Sea, and we’re tempted to take out a fleet of Chinese warships using a nuke. Of all the scenarios you can imagine, which is the one that would surprise you least?

TCHAKAROVA: Maybe actually, the use of tactical nuclear weapon by Russia against Ukraine.

If you outline all these scenarios, I just do not anticipate the United States using the nuclear weapon. Think of all the military defeats that the United States had experienced over the decades, and they still did not use the nuclear weapon, be it Vietnam or Afghanistan or whatever kind of military endeavors they had.

North Korea — I think that North Korea would not go for the nuclear weapon because the moment when they decide this, they will be annihilated not by one, but by two critically important players because the whole lifeline for North Korea is coming from China and, by extension, from Russia. Neither China nor Russia will actually allow a small player in international relations to use the nuclear weapon because there is a scalability in the international relations.

You are allowed, as a smaller player, to do some steps to create some havoc in the regional environment if it’s in the interest of some of your supporters, as is the case right now in North Korea. Why is North Korea receiving all this technological transfer and the whole political and diplomatic support from countries like China and Russia? Well, it’s obvious, activating the North Korean card plays into the cards of Beijing and Moscow because North Korea creates tensions in the Indo-Pacific and overstretches the attention of the US leadership.

It also complicates the situation with South Korea. South Korea, together with Japan, are the most important Indo-Pacific allies of the United States. So long as North Korea plays its card smartly and in its allowed, let’s say, scope of activities, things will be fine, but I just don’t see why North Korea would actually be eager to use a nuclear weapon.

Maybe, just because we are at the level of speculation, right? If we are at the level of speculation, one region that would probably see nuclearization, will witness more nuclearization, is actually the Middle East because Iran has never been closer to getting the nuclear weapon. Given the most recent escalatory part between Israel and Iran — Israel has the nuclear weapon, Iran still doesn’t have the nuclear weapon — we may argue that this could be one such scenario.

Again, I don’t consider it to be probable, but because you want me to speculate, I will do this with big pleasure just for the sake of intellectual exercise, to outline a scenario in which Israel would consider using the nuclear weapon for the sake of not allowing Iran to do so.

COWEN: Now a question about your work at FACE. We’re recording a day after the Iranian helicopter crash, and we don’t know what happened. It might have just been a helicopter crash because of bad weather and fog, but surely you have clients calling you, messaging you, pinging you, wanting to know what’s going on. What is it you do in the course of the day to be able to respond to them coherently? What concrete steps do you take to have a message that is more interesting or more informative than what they might see on Twitter?

TCHAKAROVA: Well, first and foremost, what I post on Twitter is not what I actually discuss with my clients off the record. That’s very important because I have networks. I have 25 years of professional background, and I have networks of people who have a proven track record of analysis and assessment, and they are very often also on the ground. What I do is, of course, get as credible information as possible.

My clients usually ask exactly these kinds of questions as you’re doing right now. In the example you gave, will there be an escalation between Israel and Iran? Will there be political turmoil in Iran following this helicopter crash? Will there be a next military episode between Israel and Iran? What will be the cascading effects beyond the region? Or the question that you asked about the military conflict and the possible military attack on Taiwan. These are questions that come out almost every day.

Practically, what I post on Twitter is linked to information I read. These are open-source analyses and mostly assessments by other colleagues or articles being published. I just go through these sources, and I post and comment. That’s not the same as when you have to give an answer to a client, for instance, who has certain exposure in a particular region or has an investment portfolio and this investment portfolio is, for instance, affected by certain military conflicts, and so on and so forth. So it’s a very different way of consulting.

Twitter, which is now X, is just for fun. This is my rescue from the day because the whole day I just read and read and read a lot of sources, a lot of information. I have a lot of chat rooms on various telecommunication platforms. Of course, with time, I can easily identify whether the source is credible or not. I use five different languages. It’s a very, very diverse way of getting information.

I know, for instance, when it comes to a certain conflict or a certain region, which sources to use and which platforms are credible. That is a very, very different kind of approach if, for instance, a common user on Twitter will just check on Twitter and start reading through the sources. Thanks to this kind of long-term experience, it’s very easy for me to track and understand what is credible, what is not.

This is only one of several pillars of my activities at FACE. Yes, I have private clients within FACE, but these are individuals from different backgrounds, different professions, who are mostly interested in this world of geopolitics and do not have the same amount of time to read and to go through all these sources. They just rely on my assessment for specific topics.

Now, I must also highlight that the daily business of politics is not my main field. My main field is actually the long-term, 10- to 15-year macro perspective. I actually draw scenarios for the future of international relations and for the future of the relations between great powers — for instance, China-United States, or Russia-China, or India-China, and so on and so forth — for the next 10 to 15 years, thanks to trends and risk analysis. This is something that is derived from the daily business of politics but in fact is a different methodology.

This different methodology is not helpful for, let’s say, tactical developments. It is helpful if you, for instance, consider long-term-oriented investment based or derived from this macroanalysis. What do I mean? Let me give you one example. Now people are talking about semiconductors, and an investment in semiconductors would be a very smart investment. I invested in semiconductors six, seven years ago, knowing that there will be actually a bifurcation of the global system, and one of the critical areas of it will be semiconductors.

Having the long-term trend projections in mind helps you to get the big picture in the long run if you are, of course, patient and if you really want to play this game, the long game. This is where I’m located mostly, not at the tactical level.

COWEN: You find prediction markets or Metaculus useful at all?

TCHAKAROVA: I do not do any predictions. That is the whole point.

COWEN: They’re information sources you could incorporate into, say, a 10- to 15-year forecast, or do you just think they don’t contain much extra information?

TCHAKAROVA: The big difference is that predictions . . . for instance, you have these big prediction houses when it comes to elections. They try to predict the outcome of elections. Contrary to predictions, I anticipate possible futures. I do foresight, not predictions, not forecast, so I cannot forecast anything. What is foresight? Foresight is, thanks to the daily observation of events and developments, categorizing these events and developments into trends to assess a possible trend projection that will point to a certain direction in which, for instance, the global system goes.

What do I mean by global system? I’m really focused on the macro perspective. The global system — this is my own concept that I’ve been working with since 2014. And that is that practically all the relevant socioeconomic networks — you take a global finance system, you take a global energy system, you take the global finance, trade, economy, agriculture — so these most relevant socioeconomic systems that have emerged specifically because of the last globalization wave following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Introduction of most of the countries into a global capitalist system, so they are now more or less intertwined. Looking at the interactions between these networks and looking at the way these systems are undergoing transformation gives me some answers as to the direction in which it goes.

Let me give you an example. Most of the analysts, you would agree, have been pointing, at least for the last 20 years, towards multipolarity. The biggest cliche that we’ve been hearing is that we are sliding into a multipolarity order. We have several big centers of power, several great powers, and so on and so forth.

I’ve never bought into this. Since 2014, when I started looking at this macro perspective based on this global system concept I’ve developed, I saw that, practically, we have only two centers of power. Everything in between is in this gray zone that is oscillating between United States on the one hand, and China on the other. Now, Russia has taken sides already in 2014. In fact, Russia has been saved by China following the first intervention in Ukraine and following the first launch of Western sanctions, when Russia, facing a serious, almost precarious economic situation, was saved by China.

Meanwhile, most of these middle powers are still avoiding taking sides. They want to capitalize from both worlds. A classic example right now is the case of India. India is acting as a geopolitical bridge between the two antagonists, trying to take the best of both worlds. But it is very, very difficult to bring this long-term picture that is to play out in the next 5 or 10 or 15 years to the daily business of politics. Why? Because people are just not following. They just don’t have the time to follow all these trends, and then don’t have the time to go into all these specific systemic processes.

When I was talking about bipolarity in 2015, or when I was talking about the Dragonbear since 2014 — the Dragonbear being this modus vivendi of China and Russia, as modus operandi to coordinate without the necessity to enter any strategic alliance — people were not interested because it did not really affect the daily life of politics. But now you would agree that China-Russia axis, or whatever kind of articles, are almost coming out on a daily basis, and we are already talking about decoupling, and we are already discussing this kind of bipolarity.

This is the point. We have a 10-year time span that I have been investing in every day to try to get the trend projections correctly, but it is absolutely not possible to convince anybody else of the correctness of this assessment so long as the reality doesn’t kick in and prove you right. This is what was happening, at least with most of my assessments. This is how I am right now not stuck in 2024. I’m already in 2030, 2040, and so on and so forth. Most of my assessment is actually helping clients to prepare for the long-term perspective.

I’m not a consultancy like most of these consultancies, providing these daily briefs and analysis, telling you about the dynamics in a specific country, explaining to you the constellations between the political actors and whatever, which is equally important. I’m not denying the importance, on the opposite. It’s just that what I do is so rare. Right now, I’m observing that a lot of consultancies, like the big consultancy Goldman Sachs, are trying to enter this business of geopolitical foresight with big teams and trying to foresee the future.

But in the end, I would argue it’s a methodology that is not so easily conducted. Especially, it’s not easily conducted because you have to free yourself from any kind of personal biases, and you have to have a model. Now, we may argue some have developed indexes like the geopolitical risk index that is now being published by the Federal Reserve. They try to track back different headlines in various newspapers and magazines. Then, based on the number empirically, they just point to the severity of a geopolitical risk, like it happened with Russia’s war against Ukraine.

We have a different kind of metrics, an algorithmic and empirical one. My approach is a very qualitative one, and it’s really derived from what I just explained to you.

COWEN: Velina Tchakarova, thank you very much.

TCHAKAROVA: Thank you.