Feb 23, 2022 - Podcasts

Biden hits Putin with sanctions

Yesterday, President Joe Biden announced the first tranche of sanctions against Russia. He called this moment the “beginning of a Russian invasion” of Ukraine.

  • Plus, the Ukraine crisis rocks energy markets.
  • And, two years after Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, how Georgia has changed.

Guests: Axios' Zach Basu, Andrew Freedman and Emma Hurt.

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 Wednesday, February 23rd. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: the Ukraine crisis rocks energy markets. Plus, two years after Ahmaud Arbery’s murder: how Georgia has changed. But first, today’s One Big Thing: Biden hits Putin with sanctions, and a warning.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: I'm announcing the first tranche of sanctions to impose costs on Russia and respond to their actions. Yesterday. These have been closely coordinated with our allies and partners, and we'll continue to escalate sanctions if Russia escalates

NIALA: That's president Joe Biden yesterday speaking from the white house. He called this moment, quote the beginning of a Russian invasion quote of Ukraine. Axios' Zach Basu is here to explain the scope of these new sanctions and what to watch for next. Hi Zach.


NIALA: So when Biden says the first tranche of sanctions against Moscow, what does that actually look like?

ZACH: So the sanctions announcement can really be broken down into three parts. The first is what's called full blocking sanctions against two large Russian financial institutions known as VEB and PSP. Together, they hold about $80 billion in assets and provide financing for the Kremlin and the Russian military. So their assets in the U S and Europe will be frozen and they'll effectively lose to the global financial system. The second part of the sanctions includes new restrictions on Russian sovereign debt. So the Kremlin will no longer be able to raise money from the U S and Europe. And third, the U.S. is sanctioning five Russian elites and members of their family.

NIALA: You said locking some Russians out of the global financial system – that tracks then with European countries also announcing other sanctions yesterday?

ZACH: That's right. A lot of the moves are really done in coordination with the EU and the UK as well. And the level of coordination and speed within the Transatlantic Alliance is actually really impressive. You know, the European Union is notoriously slow and bureaucratic because it needs consensus from 27 member states. But then they pose many of the same hefty sanctions within basically 24 hours of Putin's decision to send troops to Ukraine.

NIALA: Have we seen this kind of action from the US before?

ZACH: We've seen this kind of action in response to a Russian malign activity, like the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. But nothing really at this scale. I mean, just to give you an example, the sanctions that Biden announced on these two Russian financial institutions are the first time the US has ever used this kind of full blocking tool.

And given that this is the first step, I think we can expect them to use that same tool on much larger financial institutions and other targets if Putin escalates.

NIALA: Zach, in a minute, we're going to talk about how this crisis has been playing out in the oil and gas markets. There was an interesting element of that as part of the sanctions that Europe announced yesterday.

ZACH: That's right, so Germany suspended the certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is this Putin backed natural gas pipeline, that would circumvent Ukraine that the US has long opposed, Ukraine has long opposed. A lot of critics had said that because Germany is so reliant on Russian gas, they wouldn't be able to stand up to Putin. But to his credit, Germany's new chancellor, Olaf Schultz moved very quickly to suspend this $11 billion Russian pipeline, and really surprised everyone. And it's viewed as a major blow to Russia.

NIALA: After the break we’re going to have more on that. Zach Basu covers national security, foreign policy and European politics for ex-CEOs. Thanks as always, Zach.

ZACH: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. The crisis in the Ukraine is also roiling energy markets. Yesterday future prices for Brent crude oil went as high as $99.50 a barrel - that’s the highest level since 2014. So, what does this mean for American consumers? Here to explain is Axios’ energy and climate reporter Andrew Freedman. Hey Andrew.

ANDREW FREEDMAN: Hey there, thanks for having me.

NIALA: Why is that number so significant?

ANDREW: People freak out at thresholds. It does sort of mark a threshold in oil price history. But you know, really this stuff is translated to pain at the gas pump ultimately. So that's why people start freaking out. When they see the price of crude oil going to a certain level

NIALA: And can you connect the dots for us how oil prices relate to what is happening in Europe?

ANDREW: Yeah, so Russia is a huge energy exporter of both natural gas and oil. That natural gas and oil flows into Europe. It flows to the rest of the world as well. But really the crisis is roiling energy markets in part, because it creates more uncertainty. And markets don't like uncertainty.

NIALA: The price of gas in the US was already a problem for the Biden administration. Andrew and the President said yesterday that defending freedom will have a cost for us here in the US. What can the administration do about gas prices?

ANDREW: Really what they would want to do is to get other major suppliers of oil to boost their production but it doesn't seem like that is in the cards. And even if it happens, we already have inflationary pressure in the United States and around the world that is raising costs in general. You're going to have a combination of the inflation plus gas prices going up even further. And who do you blame for that? You blame the occupant of the white house but really the situation is is largely not necessarily under their complete control here.

NIALA: Andrew Freedman is an energy and climate reporter at Axios. Thank you, Andrew.

ANDREW: Thank you.

NIALA: Yesterday, a jury found the three white men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery guilty of federal hate crimes and attempted kidnapping. This was months after the men were sentenced to life in a state trial.

Today marks exactly two years since Arbery was shot and killed while on a jog in the suburbs of Brunswick, Georgia. His murder was one of several high profile killings of Black men and women that sparked protests around the world in 2020.

Axios Atlanta reporter Emma Hurt has been reporting out how Arbery’s murder has led to changes in Georgia. Hi, Emma. Let's start with yesterday's verdict - What was the reaction?

EMMA HURT: This verdict is something that really shows what Black people especially have been feeling about these crimes - that they have been racially motivated. And here we have actual convictions on that with actual evidence proving it. And a local activist told me that it makes them feel vindicated, that this has been out there, has been real and we've been feeling it. And now the world is seeing it.

NIALA: We've also seen some changes over the past two years when it comes to the police force in Glynn County, what has that looked like?

EMMA: So we have to remember that on the day of Ahmaud Arbery's murder police officers responded to the scene, but nobody was arrested even though men were found with blood on their hands and a gun that had shot Ahmaud Arbery. And that sparked a lot of outrage about this police department that already had faced repeated scandals, allegations of corruption and since then we have seen in Glynn County, the County Commission really make a priority of changing that. They've found a new police chief. He's the first Black Police Chief to lead the department in its history. They've already started implicit bias training, training for mental health crisis intervention, and just going beyond policing, as he told me, into community engagement and trying to rebuild trust between this department and it's community.

NIALA: So where does the community in Brunswick and Georgia go from here, Emma?

EMMA: You know, the community still has work to do, as people have told me. The Georgia attorney general has indicted the former district attorney who was also accused of misconduct when Arbery was murdered. And there's further questions about whether another DA who was involved will also face charges and whether those police officers that we talked about could be under investigation as well. And the attorney general says that the investigation is certainly still ongoing.

NIALA: Emma Hurt is a reporter with Axios Atlanta. Thanks, Emma.

EMMA: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: One last headline for you: yesterday, the US women’s national soccer team announced a $24 million settlement of a class action lawsuit over gender pay disparities against the US Soccer Federation. This brings a six year battle over pay equity to a close.

And the federation has committed to equal pay rates going forward for women and men’s soccer.

But: it’s all contingent on a collective bargaining agreement by the players being ratified.

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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