Feb 22, 2022 - Podcasts

Russia orders troops into Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops into two Russian-backed separatist regions of Ukraine. Many European and several African countries, in addition to the U.S., have condemned this as a violation of international law and a direct threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty.

  • Plus, dropping COVID mandates.
  • And, why your next job interview could be with a robot.

Guests: Axios' Dave Lawler, Chelsea Cirruzzo, and Joann Muller.

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, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. 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 Tuesday, February 22nd.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: dropping COVID mandates. Plus, why your next job interview could be with a robot.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: Russia escalates the Ukraine crisis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops into two Russian-backed separatist regions of Ukraine. Many European and several African countries, in addition to the US - have condemned this as a violation of international law and a direct threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty. Axios world editor Dave Lawler is here to explain all the latest – Good morning Dave.


NIALA: Dave, there's been so much focus on Russia Invading Ukraine, has that happened?

DAVE: It does, in a sense, depend on who you ask. Yes, basically Russian troops are entering Ukrainian territory, but they have operated in this area before, as you mentioned, they back these separatists, including militarily. For now, they're not moving beyond the territory they've already operated in, but obviously this is an extremely dicey situation because they are violating Ukraine's territorial integrity. They're moving across the border, but they're not moving, let's say for the capital Kyiv yet at this moment.

NIALA: People are going to be hearing a lot about this Donbas region today, Dave, what do we need to know about this?

DAVE: So these are two sort of provinces in Eastern Ukraine of Donetsk and Luhansk. They're areas where Russian-backed separatists declared independent republics in 2014. That's not recognized internationally. And it was not recognized as independent states by Russia until yesterday.

But you do have an issue where the separatists don’t control all of the area that they claim. And so the question is whether Russia will send troops just to the areas the separatists already have, or push beyond that point in which it really would be a declaration of war and things could escalate quite quickly.

If you ask Vladimir Putin, he would say that these are areas where you have lots of Russian passport holders. You have people who speak Russian as their first language in some cases. And so he says - Actually, he says, all of Ukraine is really ethically part of Russia, but, uh, he really, uh, would say that this territory is. Obviously Ukrainians would have a much different view. And they'd say that this is a part of Ukraine that Russia is now planning to occupy.

NIALA: What are we hearing from the international community on this, including the U.S.?

DAVE: Yeah, a lot of condemnation. Certainly, as you mentioned, some African countries spoke quite passionately at the UN last night about the idea that, you know, larger countries shouldn't be able to just march into smaller ones. The U.S. did announce some sanctions yesterday and more are expected today. These are not these quote unquote “unprecedented” or massive sanctions the U.S. has promised if Russia invades Ukraine. They're holding back on those for now, but still more sanctions from the U.S., more sanctions from the Europeans.

And then obviously we'll wait and see what Vladimir Putin's next move is because obviously you could see that full package of sanctions if Russia pushes further into Ukraine and you could also see, you know, this full-scale invasion that the U.S. has been warning about for weeks. Uh, you know, that still is not necessarily off the table, just because Vladimir Putin took this other quite dramatic decision yesterday.

NIALA: The story will, of course, continue to develop throughout the day. So you can head to axios.com or the Axios app for the latest. Dave Lawler is Axios’ world editor and writes the Axios World newsletter. Thanks, Dave.

DAVE: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with countries – and businesses – pulling back on mask and vaccine mandates.

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NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. It feels like we’re entering yet another new chapter of the pandemic... and even though many scientists have cautioned that it’s too early to fully relax, more countries on Monday announced rolling back covid restrictions:

BORIS JOHNSON: In England, we will remove all remaining domestic restrictions in law. From this Thursday, it will no longer be law to self isolate if you test positive. Source

NIALA: That’s England’s prime minister Boris Johnson announcing the removal of covid mandates just a day after 95-year-old Queen Elizabeth tested positive for the virus. And Australia removed its final travel restrictions – here’s 7 News Australia.

7 NEWS AUSTRALIA: After 704 days, Australia has finally reopened to the rest of the world.

NIALA: But New Zealand - which has had some of the strictest covid rules - said it will wait to move away from mandates until the country is well beyond its predicted omicron peak in mid march. Here’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a news conference:

JACINDA ARDERN: We all want to go back to the way life as it was – and it will. I suspect it will be sooner than you think.

NIALA: Meanwhile, last Wednesday the WHO reported deaths worldwide from COVID-19 increased for the sixth week in a row. And here in the US, a highly contagious new variant of omicron could complicate a return to normalcy.

Nonetheless, in the last couple of weeks, we've seen cities and states around the U.S. begin to lift indoor mask and vaccine mandates.

But the response from business owners has been mixed. We heard from one listener – David Ford who owns a gymnastics and dance business in Bucks County, Pennsylvania – about how frustrating this return to normalcy has been for small business owners. He texted me that this is a very confusing time.

He’s not the only one, with similar responses coming from business owners in Washington D.C…

Here with more is Axios DC reporter Chelsea Cirruzzo. Hi Chelsea!

CHELSEA CIRRUZZO: Hi, thanks so much for having me.

NIALA: Chelsea, so the DC vaccine mandate ended a week ago today, but I was out this weekend and I was asked to provide a vaccine card at one restaurant I was at. Are some businesses still doing that?

CHELSEA: Yeah, so I've been speaking with a lot of different business owners. Some folks have decided just to remove their vaccine requirements and other folks have decided just to continue them. So I spoke with Sandra Vasanti who owns The Pie Shop in D.C., which is both a pie shop and a music venue. And they'll continue to require proof of vaccination or a negative test. And this is what she said.

SANDRA VASANTI: I hope folks can just be patient as we're all trying to figure out constantly what's best for our businesses and our staff and our community as a whole.

CHELSEA: She makes her decisions based on three things - ensuring they're following all local and federal rules, which at this point there is no more vaccine mandate, but there still is a mask mandate, ensuring that their staff is comfortable with whatever they choose to do but also at The Pie Shop, they do have live music and she has contracts with bands that do require vaccine checks. So it's kind of putting together that patchwork approach.

NIALA: What do we know about how customers feel about all of these changes?

CHELSEA: I mean, with every stage of the pandemic, when there have been these changes or there have been new variants, people start to recalculate their risk. They think about what they feel comfortable with. They think about what it means for their families and their loved ones that they live with. And this is just another, another thing to contend with and to think about. And certainly something I'm thinking about as a resident myself.

NIALA: Axios D.C.’s Chelsea Cirruzzo. Thanks, Chelsea.

CHELSEA: Thank you.

NIALA: Virtual job interviews are now a common part of the hiring process, but a growing number of companies are adding a new twist: automated interviews and chatbots to screen candidates before they ever meet a human. Axios’ Joann Muller has been reporting on this latest hiring trend.

NIALA: Joann, can you explain how this works?

JOANN MULLER: You might apply for a job and you get an invitation to a asynchronous video interview, which basically means it's a one-sided interview. But it's all prerecorded, so you're not having any real interaction with that person. You basically are told, all right, click the link to begin the interview and the timer begins and off you go.

NIALA: You talked to someone who went through an interview process like this. What was their experience like?

JOANN: Well, really, they hated it. They found it really, off putting and you know, very hard to connect with the company. It was like talking to yourself, she said. And she really never got a feel for the company and really struggled with how to behave in her interview.

NIALA: So what's the advantage for companies doing this?

JOANN: Well there's a couple of reasons why companies are turning to this one.

It's a great way for them to interview a lot more people. And, the argument is that it routes out some of the bias that often seeps into interviews. When people, you know, find a way to schmooze themselves into the favor of the hiring manager. But AI has a different kind of bias because the data that are used to train the prediction models may be limited or because the humans who train the machine are biased as well. And so bias seeps in all the time.

NIALA: Joann Muller is one of the authors of Axios is What's Next newsletter. Thanks, Joann.

JOANN: 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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