Apr 14, 2022 - Podcasts

Mariupol on the brink

The Ukrainian port city of Mariupol is holding on by a thread, as Russia concentrates its attacks on the east of the country. Earlier this week, the mayor of Mariupol said its streets were carpeted with bodies. Now the world is watching to see if Russia will capture its first major city since the start of the war against Ukraine in February.

  • Plus, Mexican truckers stage a border protest against Texas Gov. Abbott.
  • And, Western states brace for a dangerous dry season.

Guests: Axios' Zach Basu, Astrid Galván and Andrew Freedman.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, 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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Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday, April 14th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today, Mexican truckers stage a border protest against Texas Gov. Abbott. Plus, Western states brace for a dangerous dry season.

But first: Mariupol, Ukraine on the brink…is today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: The Ukrainian port city of Mariupol is holding on by a thread as Russia concentrates its attacks on the east of Ukraine. Earlier this week, the mayor of the city said its streets were carpeted with bodies. Now the world is watching to see if Russia will capture its first major city since the start of the war against Ukraine in February. Axios’ Zach Basu has the latest. Zach, what's the status of Mariupol right now?

ZACH: So the latest assessments are that Mariupol could fall within hours, if not days. Russia claimed this week that more than a thousand Ukrainian Marines have surrendered because they're out of ammunition, and also that they've taken control of the commercial seaport. The Ukrainian government has denied this, and of course the Ukrainians claim they're still fighting, but they've also admitted that the situation is very dire. It's clear that the remaining troops are running out of ammunition and food and the city has been surrounded for weeks. So ultimately I think Mariupol falling is, a matter of not if, but when.

NIALA: Can you remind us why this city is so strategically important for Russia?

ZACH: So, I mean, President Zelensky said this week that the battle for Mariupol is the center of the war, right now. It's basically wedged in between Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and areas of the Donbass region, Eastern Ukraine that are currently controlled by Russia and its proxies. And so if the Russians are able to finally seize Mariupol, it will allow them to establish this land bridge along the coast, connecting Donbass to Crimea, which will be very important for the next phase of war, in which the Russians are preparing to launch this major offensive, uh, to take the Donbass.

NIALA: President Biden spoke to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday, and also committed some new military aid?

ZACH: That's right, this new phase of war in the Donbass we're expecting to be much more of a grinding protracted battle for territory, almost something like, out of world war two. So yesterday president Biden announced a new $800 million package of military aid. That includes for the first time artillery systems and armored vehicles, it's the kind of heavy weaponry that Ukraine's been pleading for, Uh, to help them prepare for this very decisive phase of the war. Biden also announced that the U S would transfer helicopters to Ukraine that were originally earmarked for the Afghan security forces, which of course no longer exists.

NIALA: President Biden has also ramped up his language against Russia this week, using the word “genocide”, saying Russia has committed genocide. That's not a phrase all Western leaders are willing to commit to. What is going on with that?

ZACH: Yeah. So the line from the administration is that this is president Biden's personal view of what's happening. He saw the same images from Bucha that we all saw: Russian forces killing civilians for no other reason than the fact that they're Ukrainian. And he made a personal judgment that, that this looks like genocide. Biden was pretty clear that, you know, there's an official process going on with international lawyers and investigations that will determine whether Russia's actions to meet the legal definition of genocide. The Biden administration has actually made the genocide determination on two separate occasions already: the Myanmar military’s treatment of the Rohingya, and the Chinese government’s repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. So this is not going to be something that they shy away from, if they believe that the legal threshold has been met.

NIALA: Axios’ Zach Basu covers national security, foreign policy, and European politics for Axios. Thanks as always, Zach.

ZACH: Thank you.

We’ll be back with news from the Texas border and what it means for the U.S. economy.

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

NIALA: Commercial truck drivers bringing in produce and other goods from Mexico are protesting new inspection rules set by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. In the last few days, many have started blocking points of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border causing extremely long wait times. Mexico is the US’s biggest source of agricultural imports. And yesterday Governor Abbott announced he'll end the mandate at one of the 13 affected border crossings access, Latino editor Astrid Galván is here now with the details. Hi Astrid.

ASTRID GALVAN: Hi, thanks for having me.

NIALA: First, why did Governor Abbott do this?

ASTRID: The governor is upset that the Biden administration is ending what's widely known as Title 42, which was a pandemic-era rule that basically didn't allow migrants and asylum seekers to enter the US um, based on health reasons. And his claim is that more migrants are going to try to sneak in through commercial trucks, which kind of goes against the narrative of, well, if people are going to be allowed in now, they're less likely to sneak in. What he's doing now is he's requiring state troopers to conduct inspections of these northbound trucks, even though they are already inspected by Customs and Border Protection.

NIALA: What are truckers saying about what they've experienced as a result of these new inspections?

ASTRID: Yeah. So they're going through double inspections now through the federal government and then from state troopers. Um, some have said that they've waited up to 36 hours in their trucks. The food that they're carrying has rotted, in some parts of the border, it's a hundred degrees already. So they're going through quite a bit.

NIALA: What's the Biden administration's response been to this?

ASTRID: They've criticized Abbott about this and the Customs and Border Protection agency released a statement on Tuesday, actually saying that they know how to do these inspections they're effective at them. And that the inspections by the Texas troopers, um, was just wreaking havoc on the border.

NIALA: Governor Abbott has lifted the rules at one commercial crossing in Laredo. What about everywhere else?

ASTRID: Yeah. So it sounds like the governor wants to, quote unquote negotiate with, local officials in the towns on the Mexican side of the border. But it kinda sounds like he's gonna make these decisions on a piecemeal basis.

NIALA: When we think about the fact that imports from Mexico are worth over $200 billion. What are the economic implications of this for the US?

ASTRID: Yeah, huge. I mean, just for agricultural loan, it's $34 billion, um, most years. And already there are supply chain issues, where people aren't able to access some of the goods that they were pre pandemic. And so this could really impact grocery stores, pretty quickly actually, because the United States does rely so heavily on, um, Mexican agriculture.

NIALA: Axios Latino editor Astrid Glaván. Thank you Astrid.

ASTRID: Thank you.

NIALA: The dry season is starting in California – following the driest start to the year on record. That has Californianas, as well as those in other Western U.S. states, worried about wildfire risk this summer. Andrew Freedman is Axios climate and energy reporter – Andrew, how much worse are we starting off this year?

ANDREW FREEDMAN: California and other parts of the Southwest and the broader West are entering the dry season in a really vulnerable position with really extremely dry conditions in California, the record dry conditions from January through this week. There's some precipitation this week and next week that may put a little bit of a dent in some of the dryness, but it's not going to make up for the longer term drought that they're dealing with. And when you look ahead to the summer conditions, once again, favor hotter drier summer than average. And so you think again about wildfire danger in the West in California, in Colorado where there have been fires throughout the winter and into the spring. We're seeing really unusual things that are consistent with climate change. And then if you set it against the longer term, California and other parts of the Southwest are dealing with a mega drought that has been going for almost two decades now that is worse than any historical drought that is in the tree ring record for at least the past 1500 years. And is the first known climate change driven mega drout that we have seen.

NIALA: Andrew Freedman is climate and energy reporter for Axios.

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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