Morning news brief
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a partial mobilization of Russia's armed forces on Wednesday morning, signing a decree that will send Russians with military training to join the fight in Ukraine.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Military reservists are being told to leave their civilian lives. Russia's president is making plans to annex parts of Ukraine. And he also made what was seen as a threat to use nuclear weapons. He's heard through a translator for Sky News.
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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) And if there is a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and for protecting our people, we will certainly use all the means available to us. And I'm not bluffing.
MARTINEZ: For more, we're joined by NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Charles, tell us more about who exactly is going to be sent to Ukraine and when.
CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Yeah. You know, A, really, since the beginning of this conflict, the Kremlin's been very careful to frame its actions in Ukraine to the Russian public as limited in nature, presumably because the government's sensitive to what Russians will support. So this is a special military operation, not a war. These are professional soldiers fighting on the ground, not conscripts. And in his address this morning, President Putin once again seemed to toe that line. Instead of a national draft, he's offering partial mobilization. Let's listen.
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PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).
MAYNES: So here, Putin says that only Russians with military backgrounds will be drafted and, first and foremost, those who've served in the army and have the right experience. Now, as you noted, this announcement comes as Russia's campaign has struggled of late. In a separate television interview, Russia's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said he would immediately call up 300,000 reservists to hold the line at the front in Ukraine. Shoigu also updated, for the first time since March, casualty figures, saying Russia had lost nearly 6,000 soldiers.
MARTINEZ: Now, this announcement comes just a day after some Russian-controlled areas in Ukraine announced plans for referendums on becoming part of Russia. Did he address that as well?
MAYNES: Well, you know, Putin repeated these claims of calling for the liberation of the Donbas, Luhansk and Donetsk regions from so-called neo-Nazis. He said that was Russia's key goal and claimed some success on that front, arguing that Russian forces had swept into additional areas in the south as well. And Putin told Russians Moscow had a moral obligation to protect these people from what he called fascist barbarism and defend their right to self-determination. So he said Russian forces would provide security as they hold a series of referendums aimed at joining the Russian Federation later this week. In fact, they'll start Friday.
MARTINEZ: I know more troops are something hard-liners in Russia have been calling for, but is this going to satisfy them?
MAYNES: You know, it would seem so. You know, they've long argued that without mobilizing society, Russia was in danger of losing this conflict. Now, 300,000 more troops will help, but the question is, can they equip them? You know, they've already been fighting for seven months, with the loss of weapons and equipment that comes with that. There are reports of shortages of basic gear among troops. So imagine the requirements now of keeping a larger fighting force in the field in subzero temperatures.
MARTINEZ: How did Vladimir Putin characterize what's happening in Ukraine? Has he changed his tone at all? And what message did he have for the West and for its backing of Ukraine?
MAYNES: Well, you know, he seemed to frame any problems Russia might be having on the idea that his forces were now taking on what he called the collective West. That's the U.S., NATO, European allies, whom Putin said were intent on weakening, isolating and destroying Russia. Now, Putin accused them of providing Ukraine with long-range weapons systems that could strike deep into Russian territory, even menacing Russia with nuclear threats. And he reminded them, as he did in your intro, that the Kremlin has its own nuclear arsenal and would resort to all available means in its defense, adding this was no bluff.
MARTINEZ: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thanks a lot, Charles.
MAYNES: Thank you.
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MARTINEZ: The political battle over the migrants brought to Martha's Vineyard last week on flights arranged by Governor Ron DeSantis is now becoming a legal one as well.
INSKEEP: Yeah, this is a federal class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of the mostly Venezuelan migrants. They say they were tricked into boarding planes from Texas to the small Massachusetts island. We've heard this story laid out by law enforcement. A Texas sheriff has opened a criminal investigation saying that people who had, quote, "fallen on hard times and were here legally," he said, were preyed upon for a video op.
MARTINEZ: NPR correspondent Tovia Smith has been following the story. Tovia, so, OK, a civil suit - what is the case being made here?
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: So the claim is basically that these migrants were lied to, that they were duped into taking these flights to Martha's Vineyard. They say they were told they were going to Boston or another big city. So the lawsuit accuses DeSantis and his, quote, "accomplices" of a premeditated political stunt - basically, playing these migrants - for example, buying them shoes and food and promising them jobs and housing and immigration help. But when the migrants landed, they say there was no one there. And as one attorney put it, they were terrified. And this was after they'd already been traumatized by their journey from Venezuela to seek asylum here, as I heard from one man who didn't want his name used for fear of retaliation.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).
SMITH: He says, "you risk your life to cross that jungle, and you get here, and people like this come to scam you, to play with your life, with your dreams, with your desire to help your relatives." And this man says, "my world fell apart." I should say that the migrants ultimately did get help from island residents, and they now moved off-island, most to a shelter on Cape Cod, where they're getting services and where they're also starting to share in about $300,000 in donations.
MARTINEZ: Tovia, when it comes to damages, what kind of damages is the lawsuit seeking?
SMITH: The suit doesn't specify a number, but it seeks compensation for emotional distress and also punitive damages. One of the plaintiffs is an immigrant advocacy group called Alianza Americas, and the group's head, Oscar Chacon, explained it like this.
OSCAR CHACON: First and foremost, we want these actions to stop. And sadly, our system is built in such a way in which unless you hit people's pockets, they tend to continue to misbehave.
MARTINEZ: What has Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said about this?
SMITH: He continues to defend the move. He says he gave migrants, quote, "more resources and greener pastures."
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RON DESANTIS: They were provided an ability to be in the most posh sanctuary jurisdiction maybe in the world. And if you believe in open borders, then it's the sanctuary jurisdictions that should have to bear the brunt of the open borders. So that's what we're doing.
SMITH: DeSantis' office addressed the lawsuit specifically last night. They were shooting back at those accusing him of a political stunt by calling their lawsuit political theater. And DeSantis, who is seen as a frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, insists that all migrants boarded the plane voluntarily, and his office attached a copy of a consent form that they signed, but they made no mention of the claims that the migrants' consent was based on bogus promises.
MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Tovia Smith. Tovia, thanks.
SMITH: Thank you.
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MARTINEZ: Puerto Rico is assessing the damage and beginning its recovery from the floodwaters that engulfed many communities in the wake of Hurricane Fiona.
INSKEEP: After an islandwide power outage, electricity has come back for some communities. The power company says a large part of Puerto Rico should have its electricity back today, but many communities do not have clean water. The U.S. Health and Human Services secretary has declared a public health emergency for the island.
MARTINEZ: NPR's Greg Allen is in Puerto Rico. Greg, it sounds like the damage done by Hurricane Fiona was mostly associated with flooding. What issues are people dealing with there?
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, you know, Fiona was a Category 1 hurricane with winds up to 85 miles per hour. So those high winds downed trees and power lines and is responsible for much of the electricity outage. But restoring those downed power lines is a lot easier than replacing the poles and the towers that went down when Hurricane Maria was hit by those 155-mile-per-hour winds. So Fiona's damage came mostly from rain, over 30 inches in some places. That led to swollen rivers and washed-out bridges, caused mudslides in the mountainous interior. And thousands of homes have flooded in a number of communities, many in places that were hit hard five years ago in Hurricane Maria.
MARTINEZ: Now, you visited one of those communities yesterday, Toa Baja. What was it like there?
ALLEN: Well, in Toa Baja, the cleanup is well underway. This is an area that flooded badly in Hurricane Maria and saw flooding again this week from Fiona. And the floodwaters have receded in most neighborhoods, and you see a layer of mud everywhere. Yesterday when I was there, people were dragging waterlogged sofas, mattresses and other goods out to the street. City workers were using heavy equipment and dump trucks to collect it. Yesenio Nazario, a social worker with the city, says the first floor of every house here was flooded.
YESENIO NAZARIO: (Speaking Spanish).
ALLEN: She pointed down the street and said, "the La Plata River is right behind the Catholic church. As soon as the river rises, it always floods here."
MARTINEZ: And as you say, this area flooded before. Were people expecting they would be flooded again when Fiona started to hit?
ALLEN: Well, you know, this is a low-lying area right next to a major river with a history of flooding. But one resident, Elaine Santiago, said she and her family didn't expect this from a less powerful storm.
ELAINE SANTIAGO: Honestly, no, because Fiona wasn't, like, the same as Maria. This was, like, a hurricane 1, so we didn't thought it was, like, going to flood this much. So it was really unexpected.
ALLEN: Some said they only left their homes after official word came down that the nearby river was likely to flood.
MARTINEZ: So what's this mean for people that are cleaning up after the second major flood in five years there?
ALLEN: Well, one of the neighborhoods in Toa Baja, called Toaville, there were several inches of floodwater still in the streets yesterday. It's not clear when it's going to go out. Power and running water is still out here, like it is most places in Toa Baja. And some residents are discouraged, unsure when it will come back 'cause it's hard to clean when there's no running water. I talked to Gilbert Hernandez, a Navy veteran, who says he struggled for months with his insurance company to recover money to fix up his house after Hurricane Maria. He says he doesn't want to go through that again, and he's planning to move and let the mortgage company take his home.
GILBERT HERNANDEZ: Who wants to live here now?
ALLEN: Right. Would you think about selling out?
HERNANDEZ: Selling out? Who wants to buy here? Am I going to take a hit on my credit? (ph) I ain't going to come back.
ALLEN: Hernandez was very discouraged. He said yesterday that other neighbors are also considering it in Toaville, and his next-door neighbor, he says, has already left.
MARTINEZ: NPR's Greg Allen reporting from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thanks a lot, Greg.
ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.