Feb 22, 2023 - Podcasts

Putin's missteps and miscalculations in Ukraine

We are almost at the one-year milestone of Russia's war on Ukraine. And Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military have had a lot of missteps along the way. Axios' Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath examines Putin's year of miscalculations in the war.

  • Plus, Biden's fiery message of freedom and democracy.
  • And, fatter paychecks could be in your future.

Guests: Axios' Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath and Emily Peck.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Naomi Shavin, Lydia McMullen-Laird, 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 Wednesday, February 22nd.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we are covering today: Biden’s fiery message of freedom and democracy. Plus, fatter paychecks could be in your future. But first, today’s One Big Thing: Putin’s missteps and miscalculations with his war on Ukraine.

Putin’s missteps and miscalculations with his war on Ukraine

NIALA: President Joe Biden was in Warsaw yesterday, where the the Washington Post reported that the Polish capital had been taken over by the president’s visit.

JOE BIDEN: One year after the bombs began to fall, Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine. Ukraine is still independent and free. [applause]

NIALA: Biden addressed a cheering crowd of thousands that included Polish citizens and Ukrainian refugees.

BIDEN: When President Putin ordered his tanks to roll into Ukraine, he thought we would roll over. He was wrong. The - the Ukrainian people are too brave. America, Europe, a coalition of nations from the Atlantic to the Pacific, we were too unified. Democracy was too strong. Instead of an easy victory he perceived and predicted, Putin left with burnout tanks and Russia's forces and delay - in dis - in disarray.

NIALA: To examine Putin’s year of miscalculations as we approach the one-year milestone of the war in Ukraine, we’re joined now by Axios’ World Editor Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath.

NIALA: LW, let's start at the beginning of this war. What did Putin think would happen on February 24th, 2022?

LAURIN-WHITNEY GOTTBRATH: What Putin thought would happen was that Kyiv would fall within 48 hours. That was also the expectation of the West, and that was largely based on a lot of other miscalculations that had happened in the lead up to the war about how prepared both Ukrainian and the Russian forces were heading into this invasion.

NIALA:So how prepared were Ukrainian forces coming into this?

LAURIN-WHITNEY: They were a lot more prepared than anyone expected. And I also think a lot of it had to do with they, they had a lot more will than I think a lot of people had expected - drive, to, um, push back this invasion. That is something I think a lot of folks, whether in the West or inside the Kremlin, just had not really expected at all. And as we've seen a year later, that resolve really hasn't gone away.

NIALA: Can you contrast that with the Russian military and what Putin expected of the Russian military?

LAURIN-WHITNEY: Well, a lot of people thought that obviously the Russian military would outpower the Ukrainian forces, not just by size, but also the equipment, the training that they had, et cetera. And I think it was very clear early on that Russian forces just weren't as prepared as anyone had expected, and a lot of that might have had to do with the fact they didn't even know why they were invading Ukraine and what exactly they were fighting for.

NIALA: Do we know how the reactions of ordinary Russians have met or defied what Putin expected as well?

LAURIN-WHITNEY: We obviously know that Putin controls the media in Russia and we sort of need to have that in, in the back of our heads when we look at Russian reactions. But initially we did see protests, um, in, in bigger cities like Moscow, and obviously there was sort of a harsh crackdown on dissenters and those who were protesting the war. Another big moment came in September when Putin initiated the mobilization, which ended up to be around 300,000 men. At that point in time, we saw men fleeing the country to sort of escape this partial mobilization or escape having to go to this war that maybe they weren't all that committed to.

So since then things have calmed down in Russia. I just spoke to an independent pollster there, um, who said, by and large, people support the war and that hasn't really gone down over the last year. And I think that's reflective of not just the sentiment inside Russia, but also the things Putin has been saying leading up to February 24th, 2022. You know, obviously this is a battle against the West, that sort of thing.

NIALA: What did Putin expect from the West and from NATO? Was that another miscalculation?

LAURIN-WHITNEY: We don't think that he expected the West to really rally around Ukraine in the way that it has and continue to sustain, um, a year later. Obviously in the beginning the U.S. NATO allies and, and other western countries were sending, you know, some types of weapons and that sort of thing. But even in the last few months, we've seen commitments of even more advanced weaponry like tanks and other things that you know the Ukrainians really want because they're preparing for now a very long, probably drawn out war.

NIALA: What do we know from close Kremlin watchers about whether or not Putin is aware of these miscalculations or these missteps and what clues that gives us to future movements by the Russian government and military?

LAURIN-WHITNEY: So there have been sort of tactical adaptations, throughout the war, which sort of indicate that at least the Russia military are learning some lessons. So that includes pulling back their logistical depots and their leadership command structures so that it can't be hit by Ukrainian strikes. It also means, um, better training for Russian forces so that they can get better at certain kinds of maneuvers on the battlefield. So there are little things that are happening that indicate Russia is learning at least some lessons, but it's very unclear and unlikely that the Kremlin or Putin are looking at the big picture and thinking, you know, there's some big changes we should make.

And I should note for Putin in particular, he's extremely secure inside Russia and I think that's really important to this story. Because at the end of the day, he set up this structure where it's easy for him to bring in new and old commanders, to blame other people and that sort of thing. So at least for, for Putin, whether he's learning the lessons or not, we don't expect huge, huge changes going into the next few months, year, or even longer.

NIALA: Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath is Axios’ world editor. Thanks LW.


NIALA: In a moment, how more money may be landing in workers pockets.


Fatter paychecks could be in your future

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

Yesterday Emily Peck filled in for me - it was great for me to spend some time with my family in North Florida over the holiday weekend - celebrating a big birthday for my mom - so thanks Emily. And she’s back today to tell us about a new survey out this morning that’s showing some promising news for workers this year.

EMILY PECK: I have some good news. It looks like most workers will be getting a raise this year. That's according to a PayScale survey. PayScale surveyed about 5,000 compensation professionals mostly in the U.S., a sprinkling in Canada and Europe. And the gist is 80% of employers say they plan on giving their employees a raise in 2023. That's down a little bit from last year, which when the high was 87%. But maybe even more striking is 56% of the compensation professionals surveyed said those raises would be greater than 3%.

So yes, most people would be getting raises. For more than half of employees, those raises will be greater than 3%, which is all for the good. All good news, the one hitch, I'm sorry to report is that inflation is running hotter than 3% right now. It's been about 6% in the U.S. year over year, and a lot of workers are barely keeping pace. So to sum up, bottom line, good news raises coming, bad news, inflation maybe erasing a lot of the raises.

NIALA: That’s Axios’ Markets Correspondent Emily Peck.

Black history month and Black artists

NIALA: We’ve been asking you to share your favorite Black artists this month. Michelle in New York mentioned the former two-time U.S. Poet Laureate - Natasha Trethewey - especially her poem “At Dusk.”

I interviewed Natasha in my last job, hosting the statewide public radio talk show “The 21st.” So I thought it would be fitting - especially after President’s Day - to play some of the poetry she read when I spoke with her. This is her poem “Enlightenment” about a portrait of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello - and about her beloved father - she told me it was one of the most difficult things she’s ever written.

NATASH TRETHEWEY: Imagine stepping back into the past. Our guide tells us then, and I can't resist whispering to my father, this is where we split up. I'll head around to the back when he laughs, I know he's grateful I've made a joke of it. This history that links us, white father, Black daughter, even as it renders us “other” to each other.

NIALA: Thanks to my former colleagues at Illinois Public Media for that audio - and we’ve still got a week left for you to nominate your favorite Black Artist! You can text me at (202) 918-4893.

That’s it for us today! You can also always reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning

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