Feb 2, 2022 - Podcasts

Reality check on the Russia-Ukraine crisis

Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that the U.S. was trying to pull Russia into a conflict it does not want with Ukraine. Meanwhile, we’ve heard mixed messages from the Ukraine government about the U.S.’s stance.

  • Plus, trying to solve the affordable housing crisis in fast-growing cities.
  • And, football’s huge news day.

Guests: Axios' Zach Basu, Danielle Chemtob, and Jeff Tracy.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, February 2nd. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: the affordable housing crisis in America’s fast-growing cities. Plus, football’s huge news day.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: Russia, Ukraine, and the U.S.: who’s saying what, and why it matters.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue to grow. And the story has had a lot of twists since we last talked about this on the podcast. Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that the U.S. was trying to pull Russia into a conflict it doesn't want with Ukraine. Meanwhile, we've been hearing mixed messages from the Ukraine government about the U.S.’ stance. So what's going on here? I asked Axios national security reporter, Zach Basu, to give us a reality check. Hey Zach, can we start with what Putin actually said yesterday?

ZACH BASU: So none of what he said was really surprising. He accused the U.S. and NATO of ignoring Russia's security demands in the written responses that they delivered last week. And he claimed that the U.S. is trying to pull Russia into a military conflict over Ukraine as a pretext for harsher sanctions. He left the door open to more dialogue, but with each passing day more and more troops are massing on Ukraine's border and getting into a position to invade. So at a certain point in the next few weeks, I think things could really escalate.

NIALA: Is there any truth to what Putin said? Has the U.S. been goading Russia to some extent?

ZACH: Yeah, I mean, the tricky thing here is this is a crisis that really stretches back to the 1990s during negotiations over the end of the Cold War. It's a complicated history. And Putin has definitely held a grudge about that. But the really important thing to remember here is that Russia is the one that has been the aggressor toward Ukraine. The people of Ukraine want a democratic future closer to Europe and the west. And Putin views that as an existential threat.

You know, we keep talking about an invasion of Ukraine, the reality is that Russia already invaded Ukraine in 2014 when they annexed Crimea and again, supporting separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Putin is the aggressor here. He's the one who wants to change international borders by force and coerce Ukraine into staying in Russia's sphere of influence. So, you know, I would not recommend taking anything that he says in good faith.

NIALA: Zach, I think part of the confusion here is that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been sending some mixed messages saying the U.S. is causing panic while still asking for help from the U.S. Do we know where Ukraine stands on this?

ZACH: Yeah, I mean, Zelensky has a really tough job here. He obviously wants his country to be prepared as best it can to deter a Russian invasion. At the same time he has to govern Ukraine and hold together this somewhat fragile society that's already gone through so much over the last eight years.

So, you know, he's expressed some frustrations about media coverage and the warnings from people like President Biden, who say a Russian invasion is imminent because you know, that kind of rhetoric has already had a serious effect on Ukraine's economy. It's scaring people. And, you know, there are even some Ukrainian officials who believe that this is part of Putin's plan. It's a form of psychological warfare that destabilizes Ukraine and does all the work for him without any Russian troops even having to cross the border.

NIALA: Axios’ Zach Basu. Thanks Zach.

ZACH: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: In 15 seconds: how Charlotte, North Carolina is trying to address its affordable housing shortage.

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NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

The U.S. has a shortage of affordable rental homes available to low-income renters. How much? Well, we would need 6.8 million more homes to house the country's poorest renters today. This is a problem almost every big city in the U.S. is trying to solve, especially those cities that are growing fast, like Charlotte, North Carolina. Although the city is trying to quickly build, at its current rate, it would take more than 70 years to solve Charlotte's housing shortage. Danielle Chemtob is an investigative reporter with Axios Charlotte and has been digging into the city's efforts to fix this. Hi, Danielle.

DANIELLE CHEMTOB: Hi Niala, thanks for having me.

NIALA: Danielle, how has the situation gotten so bad in Charlotte?

DANIELLE: Yeah, well, Charlotte, as you mentioned is such a fast growing city. And so we've seen not only rent prices, but also home prices accelerating at really rapid rates. At the same time, a lot of people who have lived here a long time who earn relatively low wages, especially people in minimum wage jobs in particular, you know, are having a hard time affording to live here. For example, I spoke to some families at a mobile home park here in Charlotte, where the park was just sold and they said they were being pushed out of there. They were trying to find new housing, and, um, many of them worked in fields like construction and fast food and made, you know, about 600 to 800, maybe every two weeks, which is pretty similar to what you'd be making on minimum wage. When you're making that little money, you're really at risk of things like homelessness, of housing insecurity, because you're spending 50 - 75% of your income on rent and you have very little left for anything else.

NIALA: So Charlotte's biggest effort to address this is the housing trust fund. Can you explain how this works?

DANIELLE: Yeah. So Charlotte, like many other cities, uses a housing trust fund to subsidize construction of affordable housing. So it gives out a piece of a $50 million pot of money, which was increased in the wake of protests here over the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a Black man. And it basically ignited sort of this conversation about housing and brought her in equity. It has been effective in terms of increasing the number of units in total that we're building, but I think it's clear that it's still not enough, even with all of this investment. One of my sources told me, you know, it's a billion dollar problem.

NIALA: What other solutions are people talking about or trying to implement in Charlotte?

DANIELLE: I think I would say that vouchers are basically one of the main alternatives to subsidizing housing costs for people. And they're a lot more immediate of course than waiting for construction. Without federal intervention, it would certainly be a challenge for cities to give vouchers to everyone who needs them. But I do think there are conversations going on in Charlotte and across the country about local programs that can at least help fill some of that need.

NIALA: Danielle Chemtob is an investigative reporter with Axios Charlotte. Thank you, Danielle.

DANIELLE: Thank you.

NIALA: Yesterday was a huge day of news for football that actually had nothing to do with the great playoff games we've seen over the past couple of weeks, unfortunately. Quarterback Tom Brady, arguably the greatest of all time, announced yesterday he's retiring from the NFL after 22 seasons. Also yesterday, news broke that former Miami Dolphins head coach, Brian Flores is suing the NFL and three teams, the Dolphins, the Broncos, and the Giants, for racial discrimination after he was fired last month. Axios’ sports reporter Jeff Tracy is here to break down this wild day in the NFL for us. Hey Jeff, let's start with this lawsuit. What do we need to know about why this happened?

JEFF TRACY: Basically Flores was fired, uh, about a month ago after leading the Dolphins to two really good seasons. So it was a little bit confusing. Didn't hear much about the reason behind it, but then suddenly this bombshell comes out that actually involves a couple other teams. Flores was in the running for the head coaching job with the New York Giants, uh, which was just recently filled. And he thought he got it when Bill Belichick, actually, the coach of the Patriots, texted Flores to congratulate him. He actually meant to text a different Brian, Brian Dabble, who actually got the job. That was sort of a last straw for Flores because he realized that the interview that he was supposed to have with the Giants after that text message was, in his words, a sham, uh, it stems from the Rooney Rule, which is a rule that's been around since 2003 that makes NFL teams interview a number of minority candidates for big positions. And Flores basically realized, okay, this is not even the first sham interview I've had. It happened also with the Denver Broncos in 2019.

NIALA: Let's turn to Tom Brady, who often gets this greatest of all time title. What will his mark be on professional football?

JEFF: Well, I think we've seen it for what, 22 years now. It's not going anywhere. I…just cannot imagine, say somebody, catching his seven rings. And seven is just an enormous number. He led the league in touchdowns and yards at 44 this year. I don't think anybody's going to catch him.

NIALA: Axios’ Jeff Tracy. Thanks, Jeff.

JEFF: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! Text me your feedback and story ideas: I’m at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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