Mar 10, 2022 - Podcasts

Mariupol, Ukraine an "absolute humanitarian catastrophe"

Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian civilians continue to escalate. The southern city of Mariupol has been pounded by intense bombing, including of a children’s and maternity hospital that left at least 3 people dead, including a child.

  • Plus, the White House signals crypto is here to stay.
  • And, we answer the first of your climate change questions.

Guests: Axios' Zach Basu, Ryan Lawler and Andrew Freedman.

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, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. 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 Thursday, March 10th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today’s one big thing: Russia's indiscriminate killing of civilians in Ukraine.

And then: the White House signals crypto is here to stay. Plus, we answer the first of your climate change questions.

But first: the latest out of Ukraine.

Russia's attacks on Ukrainian civilians continue to escalate. The Southern city of Mariupol has been pounded by intense bombing, including of a children's and maternity hospital that left at least three people dead, including a child. Officials there say there have been so many casualties in the last week, they're now resorting to using mass graves. Zach Basu is covering the war for Axios. Zach, it's hard to imagine that we're just in the third week of this, how much worse did this humanitarian emergency get just even in the past day?

ZACH BASU: It's gotten really bleak. So Mariupol is a city in Southeastern Ukraine on the Sea of Azov. It's got a population of about 400,000. So think similar to the size of Minneapolis and it's just 35 miles or so from the Russian border. So this is a city that Putin really expected to seize within, uh, you know, the first few days of the invasion. The city has been encircled by Russian troops for seven days now. There's been no heat or electricity. No electronic communications. Residents have been running out of food and water and as you said, they've come under a barrage of indiscriminate Russian shelling for seven days straight. Now that culminated yesterday, uh, and the horrific attack on a maternity ward and children's hospital.

President Zelensky overnight pointed to this as evidence that Russia is committing genocide. He once again pleaded for the U.S. and NATO to help them set up a no-fly zone over Ukraine, uh, which at this moment, it's just not going to happen. But I mean, Mariupol is already an absolute humanitarian catastrophe. The deputy mayor said yesterday that over a thousand civilians have been killed. That number hasn't been verified, but there's really no doubt at this point that the death toll is going to be extremely high and only get higher.

NIALA: Ukraine says there are new evacuation plans for today. What do we know about those?

ZACH: So President Zelensky says there are at least six humanitarian corridors being set up today. Russia has agreed in principle to allow civilians to safely evacuate out of these routes. But at the same time, Russia has been accused of actually targeting these routes, firing at and killing civilians who are trying to leave. So it's really a risky and life-threatening scenario for any family to take this chance. And it kind of underscores the profound lack of trust between Russia and Ukraine right now.

NIALA: Foreign ministers from Russia and Ukraine are meeting as we speak for new peace talks?

ZACH: That's right. So Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba and Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov are meeting in Turkey. There have been three rounds of peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives so far. But you know, this is by far the highest level of meeting between the two countries since the invasion began. Zelensky desperately wants an end to the killing and he's open to things like neutrality for Ukraine. But honestly, it's just not clear at the moment, whether that alone will be enough to satisfy Russia.

At the same time that all that's happening, Vice President Kamala Harris will be in Poland for meetings with the president and other top officials in Poland, which, you know, borders Ukraine, has accepted a flood of refugees and is also a key frontline NATO ally.

NIALA: Zach, do past Russian invasions - I'm thinking of Chechnya - provide a playbook for how much more brutal this can all get?

ZACH: Absolutely. I mean, we're now entering the third week of an invasion that, according to US and UK intelligence, Vladimir Putin did not think would take this long or be this difficult. So Russian forces are now adopting what you call seize tactics, as you said, he did that in Chechnya, which was Putin's first war. It's notorious for being extremely brutal. He completely leveled the Capital city of Grozny. Experts we've spoken to are really afraid that, you know, nothing will stop Putin from adopting that same kind of mentality in Kyiv. He's already done it in Kharkiv in the north, and then Mariupol and judging from what we've seen already, there's just nothing to suggest he won’t be willing to do it at a far larger scale.

NIALA: Axios’ Zach Basu. Thanks Zach.

ZACH: Thank you.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with President Biden’s action on cryptocurrencies.

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

Yesterday, President Biden directed government agencies, like the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department, to figure out what to do about cryptocurrencies. It's just the latest in a series of steps to regulate the use of crypto in the U.S. Axios’ fintech reporter Ryan Lawler has been following this. Hey Ryan, welcome to Axios Today!

RYAN LAWLER: Hey, thanks for having me.

NIALA: So Ryan, this was an executive order. How does this expand on what the U.S. government had already been trying to do around cryptocurrencies?

RYAN: Well, I think it's important to understand sort of the background to all of this. And that is that, you know, in Congress, both the House and the Senate have held a series of hearings with people from industry agencies, like the treasury and fed, but they haven't really resulted in any formal proposals that everyone can agree on. So this is kind of one way for the administration to move the ball forward by asking the departments that will essentially be enforcing these rules to submit proposals, to assess both the risks and the benefits of digital assets. And on a macro level, it just wants to know how the U.S. can potentially leverage crypto to maintain a leadership role in the global financial system.

NIALA: Right, are we behind compared to how other countries have been handling cryptocurrencies?

RYAN: I would say not yet, but there is a worry that we could fall behind if we don't get a framework in place soon. So one example of this is the idea of a U.S. central bank digital currency, which the order is asking The Fed to look into. So today there are about a hundred countries around the world that are in some phase of exploring or rolling out a digital currency of their own. And some would argue that if the U.S. is going to maintain its leadership position in the global financial markets, we're going to need one of our own.

NIALA: If you don't know anything about crypto, that's why this is so important?

RYAN: One of the reasons that cryptocurrencies are so important is that it really is fundamentally rebuilding the way that money moves from one place to another. The hope is that we can make things move faster. We can make them cheaper. The people in this space really believe that they're building the next version of the internet. So I think there's this belief that these technologies aren't going away. And if the government doesn't create some sort of policy framework, then we really do risk being left behind.

NIALA: Ryan Lawler is Axios’ fintech reporter and also writes the Axios Pro Fintech Deals newsletter. Thanks Ryan.

RYAN: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Recently we asked you what questions you have about climate change, as we got more bad news about Earth’s future. Well - we’re going to be answering many of them with help from Axios reporters and outside experts, as we try to make sense of what comes next.

MATT: Hi, Niala. This is Matt from Dallas, Texas. And my question is: If we actually do manage to get everyone using electric vehicles instead of gas vehicles, how much change would that actually impact to climate change? And wouldn't there be a rise in demand for electricity? It be it coal or non-renewable energy resources and just shift the problem elsewhere.

ANDREW FREEDMAN: Hi Matt. So if we were to take all cars and trucks off the road, suddenly transform them into electric vehicles, that would take care of the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the country. It would also save thousands of lives, due to the air pollution that it would reduce, especially, in and around urban areas. However, there’s a catch. And you're correct. That if we are charging those EVs off of fossil fuel based power plants, that's not going to be the carbon cure-all that it's advertised to be. These EVs need to be charging from solar panels, wind power plants, other clean energy sources, more and more of which are coming online. And many areas are also powered by nuclear power, which is not a carbon intensive source. So, overall, shifting to EVs is a win for the climate. However, how big of a win it is all sort of depends on the changes that take place in power generation in the United States.

NIALA: Andrew Freedman is Axios’ climate and energy reporter. Thanks Andrew – And thanks Matt, for the question. Keep your climate change questions coming – You can text me (202) 918-4893 – And we’ll keep answering them.

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

As Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine continues, companies the world over are distancing themselves from Putin and Russia. From food like McDonalds and Starbucks, which are closing locations in Russia, to tech giants Apple and Microsoft which are suspending sales in the country.

And now the world’s angry response seems to be even reaching into concert programming. For example the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra has removed Russian composer Tchaikovsky from its upcoming concerts quote “in light of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine” according to its website.

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