Noam Chomsky: Putin, Ukraine, China, and Nuclear War | Lex Fridman Podcast #316 | Summary and Q&A

August 31, 2022
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Noam Chomsky: Putin, Ukraine, China, and Nuclear War | Lex Fridman Podcast #316

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In this podcast episode, Lex Friedman interviews Noam Chomsky about the war in Ukraine and the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century. Chomsky discusses the motivations of Vladimir Putin, the blame for the invasion of Ukraine, the role of propaganda in Russia, Ukraine, and the West, and the possibility of war between the US and China. He also talks about the decline of the United States as a global leader and the challenges facing human civilization.

Questions & Answers

Q: What do you think motivates Vladimir Putin?

I don't have any particular insight into Putin's mind, but based on his actions and statements, it seems that his primary goals are to restore Russia as a world power, prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, and possibly exert control over Ukraine. He wants to establish a legacy as a leader who restored Russia's position and overcame its previous challenges.

Q: Has power corrupted Putin over the years?

I don't think anything has fundamentally changed in Putin's policies over the years. While his strategies may have evolved in response to changing circumstances, his main goals have remained the same. He has strengthened his control over Russia and pursued consistent foreign policies.

Q: Why did Russia invade Ukraine?

Any power that commits aggression is to blame, including Russia in this case. The invasion of Ukraine by Putin is comparable to acts of aggression such as the US invasion of Iraq and the Stalin-Hitler invasion of Poland. The blame lies with Putin and Russia for their aggressive actions.

Q: Should the US continue to support Ukraine militarily?

There are two aspects to consider – supporting Ukraine's defense against the invasion and seeking ways to end the conflict. It is legitimate to provide support for defense, but it is also important to work towards ending the war to prevent further destruction and suffering. The US should continue calibrated support for defense while also exploring avenues for a diplomatic settlement.

Q: Do you worry about nuclear war in the 21st century?

Anyone who doesn't worry about nuclear war doesn't have a functioning mind. Steps can easily be taken that could lead to nuclear war. There are proposals to escalate tensions with Russia, such as establishing a no-fly zone, that would increase the risk of conflict. It is a dangerous gamble to ignore the potential consequences of these actions.

Q: How much propaganda exists in the world today?

Propaganda is present in varying degrees in different regions. In Russia, propaganda is pervasive. In the West, there is also propaganda, although it may not be as extreme. The level of Russophobia in the West is unprecedented, even garnering comments from high-ranking US intelligence officials. Propaganda shapes and limits the information presented, and it is important to be aware of the selection and framing of news.

Q: If the media is a source of inaccuracies, how do we find the truth?

While media may have biases or limitations, it is not necessarily a source of outright lying. Media reporting, overall, is reasonably accurate. However, it is essential to exercise critical thinking, seek alternative sources, examine historical context, and look at the documentary record. It requires effort and consideration to arrive at a reasonable understanding of the truth.

Q: If you could sit down with Vladimir Putin, what would you say?

I wouldn't bother sitting down with Putin or any other leader because I know what he would say – the party line. I already have access to his pronouncements and policies. It wouldn't be productive to ask him why he committed a crime comparable to the US invasion of Iraq. We need to focus on evaluating their actions and policies rather than engaging in a futile conversation.

Q: Will there be a war between the US and China in the 21st century?

If there is a war between the US and China, it would be catastrophic and would destroy the possibilities of organized life on Earth. The fate of human civilization depends on the US and China finding ways to work together and cooperate in dealing with the global crises we face. It is crucial to avoid an escalation that could lead to a conflict with devastating consequences.

Q: Do you think the United States as a global leader may collapse in this century?

The United States has the potential to harm itself severely. Internal divisions, declining life expectancy, failing infrastructure, violence, regressive court decisions, and a political party focused on regaining power rather than serving the country all contribute to the decline of the US. The neoliberal assault of the past 40 years has had a detrimental impact. The future of the United States and human civilization depends on addressing these challenges effectively.


Chomsky emphasizes the urgent need for the US and China to cooperate and work together to overcome the global crises we face. He raises concerns about the prospect of nuclear war and highlights the importance of finding diplomatic solutions to conflicts. Chomsky also criticizes propaganda in Russia, Ukraine, and the West, emphasizing the need for critical thinking and seeking alternative sources of information. He warns of the declining state of the US and the consequences it can have on human civilization. Ultimately, the survival and flourishing of humanity require collective action to address the challenges of our time.

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