Oct 4, 2022 - Podcasts

A reality check on Putin’s nuclear threat

Putin has said that Russia would use all available means to protect itself, with thinly veiled warnings about using nuclear weapons. He said last week, “This is not a bluff.” Just how credible are these threats?

  • Plus, why we stay and rebuild in the face of devastating storms.
  • And, Kim Kardashian’s $1.26 million settlement with the SEC.

GUESTS: Axios’ Michael Graff and Dan Primack; The Brookings Institution's Angela Stent.

CREDITS: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Robin Lin, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. 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 Tuesday, October 4.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today: why we stay – and rebuild – in the face of devastating storms. Plus, Kim Kardashian’s 1.26 million dollar settlement with the SEC.

But first, a reality check on Putin’s threat of nuclear war – that’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: Concerns are growing that Russian President, Vladimir Putin, will escalate the war in Ukraine, including via a nuclear strike. Last week in a televised address, Putin announced that Russia would use all available means to protect itself and he stated, this is not a bluff. Just how credible are these threats? Angela Stent is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of Putin’s World: Russia Against the West and with the Rest. Hi Angela.


NIALA: So Putin's warning about nuclear capabilities is clear. I guess the big question is, is this a bluff?

ANGELA: I think we have to take what he says seriously, but we shouldn't exaggerate it. He's obviously trying to intimidate the Ukrainians and to deter the US from continuing to supply Ukraine with the weapons that are pushing back against Russia. But it's a huge step from that to actually believing that he would instigate a process where he would detonate some kind of nuclear device. People also think that what Putin might do first is to test a nuclear weapon. They have some new fancy nuclear weapons that Putin displayed already in 2019, so they might do that again just to intimidate people before actually exploding a device.

NIALA: And how likely is it that if there was some sort of nuclear attack, it would be a surprise. Is this something that the US and other allies in the west would be able to detect?

ANGELA: I don't think it would be a complete surprise. I think the US and its allies would be able to detect some of the preparations beforehand.

NIALA: What's the White House's view on all of this?

ANGELA: The White House takes it seriously. But the White House has also said and Jake Sullivan was on the talk shows this weekend saying, we have been giving the Russians very stern warnings for some time now that there will be very serious consequences if they were to use a nuclear weapon. And President Biden has been saying the same thing.

NIALA: So what would those consequences be?

ANGELA: Some people argue that it could involve a US or a NATO strike, conventional strike not nuclear strike on Russian military capabilities somewhere. But they deliberately won't say what they would do because they want to keep the Russians guessing.

NIALA: And obviously Putin also wants to keep everyone guessing, what's his end goal here?

ANGELA: To first of all take complete control of the territories that he annexed quote on quote last Friday and the Russia doesn't even control all of those territories. And then he wants the Ukrainians to say, we surrender, we are gonna give up these territories. But as overall end goal is still to conquer all of Ukraine, it's just that the Russian army has been doing so badly that they're not in a position to do that for the foreseeable future.

NIALA: So Angela, how are you thinking about this moment?

ANGELA: Well, I'm concerned by the rhetoric, and I'm concerned by the fact that Putin is being, as he says, really backed into a corner and there is more overt criticism of him at home, So I'm concerned about how he will respond to that, but I still think that the most important thing is for the US and its allies to continue supporting Ukraine and give it the wherewithal to push back against what the, what Russians are doing to their country. I think we shouldn't spend too much time talking about the danger of nuclear war. I think if we do that, that will distort the way we think about going forward in this conflict and that's what we need to keep our eyes on.

NIALA: Angela Stent is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Thank you for being with us.

ANGELA: Thank you.

In a moment: choosing whether to stay or go…before a deadly storm like Ian.


Why we stay and rebuild in the face of devastating storms

NIALA: Welcome back, Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

NIALA: It's been almost a week since Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida, and although 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders, many didn't leave, and the reasons for that can be complicated. Axios Southern Bureau Chief Michael Graff has covered storms from North Carolina for years and is here to talk about why people choose to stay in the face of a storm and to rebuild in places that are likely to see more damage from future storms. Michael, thanks for being with us.

MICHAEL GRAFF: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Michael, you and I have lived through so many hurricanes, right? And so we know firsthand how hard it is to make that decision to stay or to go. What do we know about why people stayed during Ian?

MICHAEL: Well, this was a tricky storm. You know, even 24 hours before the storm hit, we were talking to our reporters in Tampa and they were preparing for a direct hit to Tampa Bay. And it turned and landed farther south in Tampa. And I think more people in Tampa Bay will stay next time because this storm turned, you know, I think that that's the case. So that's probably why people south of Tampa stayed.

NIALA: Do you think there are also emotional reasons why people, ‘cause it is hard to think about leaving your home and thinking it might be gone when you come back.

MICHAEL: This is the thing I think about during every storm. The decisions that people have to make to leave where they live and to leave it vacant and just hope that you have a place to come back to. These storms wreak terror on smaller towns and there are so many places where people have generational ties to these towns. Like I can't leave my home, I can't leave my hometown where my dad raised me, where my grandfather raised me, where, you know, where grandparents raised me for just up, to chance with this storm. So folks, you know, it's an emotional attachment that folks have to these places. And I think sometimes that does get lost in some of the coverage from, you know, international coverage, national coverage of storms. It's like, why? Well, why don't you just leave? Like it's a very simple decision. Well, when would you leave your home and when would you leave your heritage?

NIALA: And how much do you think that factors into rebuilding? We know that people in Florida and the Carolinas are likely to face more or possibly even worse storms down the line.

MICHAEL: Yeah, I think there are several crystal clear examples in North Carolina, one of them is the town of Princeville in Eastern North Carolina, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and flooded out and again from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and flooded out. Princeville was the first town in the United States incorporated by freed slaves. So it's the first town incorporated by black people in the United States, and it was originally known as Freedom Hill in 1865 and it's in a floodplain. It's in a flood zone, and everybody knows it. But every time there's a storm that comes through and it floods the town out, there's always this calculation of, well there's history here and there's heritage here, and we have to figure out a way to rebuild in some of these places.

NIALA: Is there anything you think government should be doing or like local government should be thinking about better?

MICHAEL: Yeah, actually in Charlotte, McLemore County bought out homes that were in flood plains. And that that just was a huge program that gained national recognition. So, I think you're gonna see more and more of that. But we need to do more.

NIALA: Michael Graff joining us from Charlotte, where he's Axios Southern Bureau Chief, thanks for being with us.

MICHAEL: Thank you.

Kim Kardashian’s 1.26 million dollar settlement with the SEC

NIALA: Yesterday, Kim Kardashian agreed to pay a 1.26 million dollar settlement after being charged by the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission for touting crypto schemes. Axios’ Dan Primack has the big picture.

DAN PRIMACK : The Kim Kardashian settlement is basically a giant warning shop to celebrity influencers of cryptocurrencies or of any other sort of investment product like stocks or real estate that they can't do it without being very transparent about why they're doing it, not just putting hashtag ad at the bottom of their posts like Kardashian did on her Instagram one about the EthereumMax token, but also who is paying them and how much they're getting paid.

The big reason it matters is there was a huge boom in celebrity ads for crypto tokens over the past couple years, and a lot of them including the one Kardashian hyped, lost all of their value. And the SEC's primary role is investor protection. Remember Kardashian wrote on that Instagram post that her friends had been telling her about this token. Made it sound authentic, natural. She didn't say anything about being paid a quarter of a million dollars, even though that was the friendship. That was the relationship, pay to post. So why Kardashian and not others who promoted the same token like Boxer Floyd Mayweather, or former NBA star Paul Pierce, all three of whom, by the way, are subject of a civil lawsuit from investors. Well, the basic answer is that Kardashian is one of the top influencers out there, a top 10 Instagram account. And the SEC hopes that with this settlement, because of how high profile she is, it will stop others from following in her tracks and making these sorts of posts.

NIALA: That’s Axios’ Business Editor Dan Primack.

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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