Sep 12, 2022 - Podcasts

How the U.S. and its allies are giving Ukraine an edge

The Ukrainian military says it’s retaken more than 3,000 square kilometers of territory from Russia. American officials say the advance was in part due to increased intelligence sharing with the United States, but as President Biden asks for more aid for Ukraine, he’s facing new pushback.

  • Plus, major credit card providers will start categorizing gun shop purchases.
  • And, we want to know what’s driving you to vote this November.

Guests: Olivier Knox, National Political Correspondent at the Washington Post and Abené Clayton, reporter at The Guardian.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi, 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: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday, September 12th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: major credit card providers will start categorizing gun shop purchases. Plus, we want to know what’s driving you to vote this November.

But first, how the US and its allies are giving Ukraine an edge, that’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: The Ukrainian military says it's retaken more than 3000 square kilometers of territory from Russia. Ukraine's claims of major progress in Russian-occupied areas in the Northeastern car Kharkiv region over the weekend as the war reaches its 200th day. American officials are saying the advance was in part due to increased intelligence sharing with the US. But as President Biden asks for more aid for Ukraine, he's facing new pushback. Olivier Knox, national political correspondent at the Washington Post has more. Hi Olivier!

OLIVIER KNOX: Hello! Glad to be here.

NIALA: How were the Ukrainians able to achieve these successes on the battlefield so quickly over the weekend? And I should say at least as far as we know.

OLIVIER: Right. Uh, well that, that's a, that's a good caveat, but it does appear as though the Ukrainians have staged a remarkably quick and complete counter offensive in several parts of the country, pushing Russian forces back. And a couple factors here. One is, you know, no one really doubted the Ukrainian will to fight, but one of the big changes you noted the intelligence sharing that there's another factor here, which is that in the past few weeks, the United States and its allies have sharply improved Ukrainian battlefield capabilities. So for example, their artillery range essentially got doubled by the arrival of American and other weaponry. That's really changed the situation on the ground. We just sort of expected this to turn into sort of a grinding war of attrition in the east and south of the country. And what we've seen instead is, um, some pretty demoralized Russians.

NIALA: But how is Russia retaliating, especially as we're thinking about in terms of targeting critical infrastructure in Ukraine like electricity?

OLIVIER: Right. That is exactly how they've been retaliating. On Sunday afternoon and evening, they unleashed a, a missile barrage, what we think is a missile barrage that knocked out electricity to millions of Ukrainians. Very significant. Obviously the people who face the toughest time are places like hospitals, for example. But the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a really defiant address on Sunday saying that Ukrainians would rather be without electricity, without light, without heat, without power, without food, without water than have Russia's “friendship.” So, they don't seem to be backing down for now.

NIALA: President Biden recently asked Congress for another $13.7 billion in aid for the war in Ukraine. As you mentioned, part of this advance may be due to European and American support, but what does the coming fight over more American aid look like here in the US?

OLIVIER: I think it's, it's useful to think of it as a couple of different fights instead of just one argument. You have rising opposition to aid to Ukraine among the part of the house Republican caucus that is most closely aligned with Donald Trump. So they are, they've been pushing back. You saw them vote against the last wave of aid to Ukraine a few months ago. They're now already pushing back on social media and in, and in other remarks, that's one front. There's another front, which is, people who just would like an accounting of where this aid has gone and what impact it has had. And people who are concerned that American stockpiles are being diminished. You know, part of the package that, uh, President Biden requested this time around was to replenish American stockpiles of weapons that are going to Ukraine. And then there's a sort of a third one, and I really don't think we should ignore it, even though it's really, really boring. And it has to do with the way that the Biden administration has packaged this nearly $14 billion of aid for Ukraine in a larger package that includes COVID, monkeypox and other funding. And there is considerable resistance in the Senate to just going ahead with that package. I don't think we'll see a lot of senators vote against aid to Ukraine if it were a standalone. But as a, as a complete package, I think what we're gonna see is an effort to sunder Ukrainian aid from the rest of the, uh, the rest of the money and we'll go from there.

NIALA: Olivier Knox is a national political correspondent at the Washington Post. Thanks as always for being with us Olivier.

OLIVIER: It's my pleasure.

NIALA: I’m in Florida this week and the one thing you can’t get away from are TV ads - ads everywhere, really - for the November election. We’re less than two months from it - and I would love to know: what is motivating you to vote this November? Have the issues you care about most changed over the last few months? And if you’re not driven to vote, can you share why? Record a voicememo on your phone and text it to me at (202) 918-4893. Include your name and city, and we may use your thoughts and voice in upcoming stories.

In a moment: Visa becomes the latest to keep track of when its credit cards are used to buy guns.

Major credit card providers will start categorizing gun shop purchases

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Visa, the world's largest payment processor said this weekend. It'll start categorizing purchases from gun shops at the request of the attorneys general of New York and California visa is now joining MasterCard and American express in using a specific merchant code for gun and ammunition store purchases, just like they use codes to flag potential money laundering and terrorism, Guardian reporter Abené Clayton joins us from LA with the big picture. Hi Abené, welcome back to Axios today.

ABENÉ CLAYTON: Hi, thank you so much for having me.

NIALA: So what will categorizing these purchases actually mean?

ABENÉ: Yeah, so merchants each have a unique code prior to this decision, gun and ammunition purchases from federally licensed retailers all fell under the same category of sporting goods or just as kind of a general merchant. So this would create a unique four digit code that would make it clear when a purchase was coming from a gun store.

NIALA: And do we know what the credit card companies will do with that information?

ABENÉ: That is to be seen. I feel like that is something that credit card companies aren't trying to be very obvious about given how concerned some gun rights advocates have been about the privacy implications.

NIALA: We do know in 2016, the Pulse nightclub shooter used his credit cards to buy $26,000 worth of guns and ammunitions, including purchases at a gun shop. Do we know how often mass shootings actually involve credit card purchases like this?

ABENÉ: Most estimates say not very often, but there have been some really, high profile examples of credit cards being opened and used to make, you know, tens of thousands of dollars of purchases, right before a high profile mass shooting. You just mentioned Pulse Nightclub. We had a similar situation happen with the Route 91 shooting at Mandalay bay in Las Vegas. That shooter bought about $90,000 worth of guns and ammunition across three or four different credit cards, people said after it all came out, well, if someone would've known, if this could have been flagged to somebody, maybe there could have been something done to stop this.

NIALA: Abené. You mentioned that gun rights advocates are saying this is a violation of privacy. What other reaction has there been to this announcement?

ABENÉ: The people who have been rooting for this who have been calling on credit card companies to do something are celebrating this as another win in trying to stop high profile mass shootings. It's been really interesting to see the level of opposition that gun rights advocates have over this, when it will impact a very small percentage of overall gun purchases. There, issues like straw purchasers, where people are going and buying guns, selling them to other folks who wouldn't be able to pass a background check. We know that there are pipelines of guns that are trafficked in from places that have loose gun laws, permitless carry and then make their way to the places that are seeing the highest levels of gun violence burden. And I don't know how much this new merchant code will impact those things. But I do think that it sends a signal to folks who work in financial institutions that there is something that we need to do. And just because it won't fix the entire issue doesn't mean it doesn't still need to be put into place.

NIALA: Abené Clayton covers gun violence for The Guardian. Thank you.

ABENÉ: Thank you so much.

Women underrepresented in museum art

NIALA: One last note before we go today. Over the weekend Axios reported on the staggering lack of women’s art on display in major U.S. art museums. Researchers at Williams College found that just 13% of artists featured in the collections of major U.S. museums were women. But according to the career platform Zippia, around 55 percent of working artists are women. That gap is closing, but slowly. Check out our show notes for the whole story.

And that’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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