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The Inside Story - Politics, US Aid and War | Episode 141 TRANSCRIPT

The Inside Story - Politics, US Aid and War | Episode 141 THUMBNAIL horizontal
The Inside Story - Politics, US Aid and War | Episode 141 THUMBNAIL horizontal


The Inside Story: Politics, US Aid, and War

Episode 141 – April 25, 2024

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Unidentified Narrator:

This week on The Inside Story...

95-billion-dollars in foreign aid approved by the United States congress and signed by the president.

See how we got here... and who’s getting the money.

In its third year fighting a Russian invasion, parts of Ukraine are now littered with landmines.

Plus, the role of artificial intelligence in the coming election in this week’s installment of USA Votes 2024.

Now, on The Inside Story, Politics, Us Aid & War

The Inside Story:

ELIZABETH LEE, VOA correspondent:

Welcome to The Inside Story. I’m Elizabeth Lee.

After months -- even years -- of bitter divide, a moment of bipartisan cooperation at the United States Capitol.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives overwhelming passed a 95-billion-dollar foreign aid bill. It’s since gone through the Senate to the White House, where President Biden Wednesday signed the aid package that features spending for Ukraine, Israel, Gaza relief, and the Indo-Pacific region.

VOA Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson starts us off.

KATHERINE GYPSON, VOA Congressional Correspondent:

Urgently needed ammunition and supplies soon on their way to Ukraine after months of waiting.

US President Joe Biden signing a bill sending more than $60 billion in aid to Ukraine Wednesday.

US President Joe Biden:

This package is literally an investment not only in Ukraine’s security, but in Europe’s security and our own security.


Ukrainian lawmakers expecting a fast delivery now that funding has been approved.

Davyd Arakhamia, Ukrainian Lawmaker:

The logistics for the shipment are pretty well established and it only takes no more than 48 hours to actually come to the frontlines.


Meanwhile, Russia downplayed the impact the long-awaited weapons will have on the two-year old conflict.

Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin Spokesperson:

All these new batches of weapons, which are probably already ready, will not change the dynamics at the front.


After months of debate over American involvement in foreign conflicts, the US Senate overwhelmingly approved the legislation by a vote of 79-18 late Tuesday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell worked closely with Democratic counterpart Chuck Schumer to pass the aid.

Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader:

We tell our allies we stand with you. We tell our adversaries. Don't mess with us. We tell the world the United States will do everything to safeguard democracy.


The measure gained significantly more Republican support after former president Donald Trump scaled back his criticism of sending more aid. The legislation also includes $26 billion in aid to Israel and $8 billion in funding to Taiwan and other Indo-Pacific countries to counter Chinese aggression. China condemned that aid early Wednesday.

Zhu Fenglian, Chinese Taiwan Affairs Spokesperson:

We urge the U.S. side to honor its commitment of not supporting Taiwan independence with concrete actions and stop arming Taiwan in any way.


The legislation also includes legislation forcing Tiktok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to divest ownership of the social media app within one year or face a ban in the United States.

Katherine Gypson, VOA News.


News of the U.S. approving a nearly 61-billion-dollar aid package for Ukraine comes as the country expects a Russian assault this summer. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the assistance “vital” in a post on Telegram. But, as Anna Chernikova reports from Kyiv, there is some concern that 10-billion-dollars of that aid is in the form of a loan leaving a cash-strapped nation on the hook for repayment.


Approval of America’s 60-billion-dollar aid package to Ukraine brought hope to people on the streets of Kyiv as they brace for Russian summer assault in a few weeks.

Many here had worried the U.S. was abandoning them.

Artem, Kyiv citizen:

I am very glad that this issue has finally been moved forward. Finally, there will be help for Ukraine from the US. This brings joy. I think that any Ukrainian will tell you that this was a very critical issue.

Vasyl, Kyiv citizen:

There will be more help, more equipment. We will win faster. Faster the peace will come, without war, without losses, without grief.


People say they are grateful to the American people after weeks of tension made worse by a delay in its passage.

Maryna, Kyiv citizen:

Of course, there are positive emotions. We have been waiting for this for a very long time. Of course, we are grateful to them [Americans] for providing us with weapons. I wish it will get to our soldiers at the frontline as fast as possible.


After the package cleared its first hurdle in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked American lawmakers, saying the aid will benefit both Ukraine and the United States.

Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine:

We appreciate every sign of support for our country and its independence, people, and way of life, which Russia is attempting to bury under the rubble. America has demonstrated its leadership since the first days of this war. Exactly this type of leadership is required to maintain a rules-based international order and predictability for all nations.


Military analysts here say the U.S. aid which includes long-range missiles could be a game changer on the battlefield.

Oleksandr Musienko, Head of the Center for Military Legal Studies, says U.S. support including ATACMS, advanced long-range guided missiles, is critical as Ukraine is running short on weapons and ammunition.

Oleksandr Musienko, Head of the Center for Military Legal Studies:

Russian troops are preparing to intensify their offensive in the East, and the Ukrainian troops really need additional weapons, additional ammunition, projectiles, we need ATACMS, to restrain this offensive.


Musienko and others believe chances have increased significantly for Ukrainian forces when they face the Russian offensive that’s expected in the coming months.

Washington’s aid package to Ukraine consists largely of loans, which has touched off an intense debate in Ukraine.

The country is already struggling with a national debt that has reached 145 billion dollars, up from nearly 90 billion at the start of the war.

Some economists and politicians are raising questions of how and when Ukraine will be able to pay it all back.

These are desperate times for Ukraine, and for many Ukrainians, what’s most important is the money is coming now.

Anna Chernikova, Voa News, Kyiv.


Of the 26-billion-dollars' worth of aid to Israel in this new package, about half is direct military assistance for a war that’s so far resulted in over 30 thousand dead Palestinians according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Now, university campuses across the United States see daily protests by students, teachers, and supporters demanding a cease-fire and humanitarian aid access in Gaza. Police jailed several demonstrators and organizations suspended students. Despite that, protests persist. VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias has the story.


Pro-Palestinian students protest at Columbia University in New York, even as administrators call for the dismantling of encampments and negotiations are underway to disperse amidst calls by administrators, and ongoing negotiations for demonstrators to dismantle encampments.

Last Thursday more than a hundred students were arrested as universities across the country are urged to clamp down on any signs of antisemitism.

VOA witnessed first hand the aftermath of Thursday’s arrests at Columbia University.

One protester who declined to give her name laid out some of the students’ demands.

Pro-Palestinian Protester:

I’m here to demand an immediate ceasefire along with my other comrades, so we can get humanitarian aid to Gaza.


Professor of Architecture Mary McLeod was distressed by the measures taken to disperse the protesters.

Mary McLeod, Columbia University Professor:

I don’t know why they had to bring in the cops, put handcuffs on students and why they can’t accept a few tents, where the students were totally peaceful.


Argentinian Jewish student Ruth Katias Robles however, didn’t welcome the protests.

Ruth Katias Robles, Columbia University Student:

It’s very scary, I can’t concentrate during the class because they are screaming all day. I’m scared to say that I’m Jewish because you know there you know there are extremists. They were holding pictures supporting Hamas.


Protests have continued to spread to other campuses in the US. On Tuesday, a tent was erected at the University of California Berkeley in a show of support with those arrested at Columbia and Yale University on Monday.

In the nation’s capital, American University Students have also protested internal policies they believe came in response to the wider pro-palestinian mobilizations and curtail their freedom of expression.

Julia Comino, American University Student:

It’s a new policy, a new directive, which banned indoor protests, which AU has a long history of having indoor protests and it also restricted flyering and what type of materials can be posted around campus and who can do it.


In a Statement to VOA, the American University said the directives were implemented to support the safety and sense of belonging for students and that it will continue to support the rights and responsibilities of free expression.

Politicians have also weighed in on the ongoing protests across the United States. Republican Mike Johnson met with Jewish Students on Wednesday at Columbia University.

On Tuesday House Minority leader, Democrat Hakeem Jeffries condemned all forms of antisemitism and called to redouble efforts to bring communities together.

After giving remarks on Earth Day on Monday, President Biden told reporters he condemns antisemitic protests and also quote ‘those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.”

To ease tensions at campuses, expert in religion, conflict and peace Studies, Atalia Omer suggests academic institutions create spaces for meaningful conversations.

Atalia Omer, University of Notre Dame Professor:

One needs to be very careful about talking about sides, and recognize that there are some issues about justice that bring together Jewish Muslim Palestinians, Christian students to that space of protest. And indeed, the issue is that there is a deep confusion in how exactly how to define antisemitism.


There’s no end in sight to the latest war in the Middle East. Israel launched the military offensive after Hamas’ terrorist incursion on October 7 that killed about 1,200 people and turned 250 others into hostages. More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed so far, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Veronica Balderas Iglesias, VOA News, Washington.


More than two years after Russia’s full-scale invasion, officials say Ukraine is now one of the most landmine-littered countries in the world. And as Lesia Bakalets reports from Kyiv, the scattered landmines go beyond just risk to human lives and limbs… they also impact the environment.

LESIA BAKALETS, VOA Correspondent:

The village of Lypivka in the Kyiv region, was occupied by Russians at the beginning of the full-scale invasion. The signs indicate there is a minefield they left 300 meters from here.

Yulia, Demine:

Very carefully, I put my hand at 30 degrees and 60 centimeters forward. If I see something suspicious, similar to a tripwire, I rub it with my fingers. This one is a dry stalk of grass; I feel it with my fingers.


The Kyiv region is one of three areas in Ukraine where the HALO Trust, a British and U.S.-based organization, is working to clear landmines and other explosive devices.

Sam Rowlands, The Halo Trust:

With the conflict ongoing and the scale of contamination, it's hard to say precisely, but it's likely that Ukraine is the most contaminated country in the world. So, estimates for how long it will take to demine Ukraine range from 10 years to more.


Ukraine’s Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, Ruslan Strilets, explains the scale of the issue.

Ruslan Strilets, Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine:

25% of the territory of our country is mined or potentially requires study and future demining.


Apart from the mortal danger for people, mines also cause significant damage to the environment, says the minister. Each uncontrolled explosion can cause a forest fire.

Ruslan Strilets, Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine:

We had cases when foresters, receiving information about the start of a forest fire, tried to get to the place of this fire and were blown up by mines. So, we cannot even get access to some territories due to the mining.


Explosive objects also kill animals whose movement cannot be stopped by warning signs about mines. Every explosion, even a controlled one during demining, means heavy metals seep into the soil.

Mariia Diachuk, Center for Environmental Initiatives Ecoaction:

It is important to record the level of pollution after demining. This impact on the environment is currently not being tracked. So, we encourage this to be changed so that the level of pollution is already taken into account when the land is returned for use.


That is a goal The HALO Trust is working towards with its agricultural team.

Sam Rowlands, The Halo Trust:

They have started conversations with national universities and other actors in Ukraine to see if it's possible for us to start conducting soil analysis from areas where we know there have either been explosions or heavy metal contamination.


The Minister of Environmental Protection says Ukraine’s ecosystems represent 30% of the entire biodiversity of Europe.

He says demining is the first step in healing the damage.

Lesia Bakalets, VOA News, Kyiv.


Elsewhere, a group of activists in Turkey is planning to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Several vessels are expected to leave Istanbul, carrying aid to the Palestinian territory. A previous mission in 2010 ended in a deadly confrontation when Israeli forces intercepted a Turkish group leading to 10 people killed. From Istanbul, our correspondent, Dorian Jones reports, there are warnings this attempt may trigger a new crisis.

DORIAN JONES, VOA Correspondent:

The Akdeniz will lead the flotilla of three ships from Istanbul carrying more than 5,000 metric tons of aid to Gaza, including medical supplies and food.

The flotilla is organized by a coalition of international and Turkish humanitarian groups. They say it’s not just about delivering aid but challenging what they describe as Israel's blockade on Gaza. They want Israel to allow aid to enter from Egypt.

Ann Wright, US Boat to Gaza:

We hope to break the illegal naval blockade of Gaza that Israel has had on it for decades. We hope to certainly bring food and medicines that are needed by the people of Gaza. It's a small drop in the bucket. We're calling for the border of Rafah to be open where there's tons of food that's waiting.


It’s been 14 years since flotilla organizers last tried to break the blockade. The last time, Israeli commandos intercepted the Mavi Marmara, the vessel leading the flotilla. The raid led to the deaths of ten people.

Activists say they are aware of the dangers they face but say the risk is worth taking, considering the scale of the humanitarian crisis.

Nima Machouf, Canada Boat to Gaza:

We are conscious that it's not a mission without any danger. But the danger and the horror (are) part of exactly the horror that we want to denounce.


Everyone taking part is lessons on how to deescalate a possible confrontation with Israeli forces.

There’s been no comment from Israeli officials, but analysts warn the risks are real given the tensions in the region.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, Institute for National Security Studies:

Obviously, this is a very, very intense, time now in Israel. And, also, I would be very careful, and hope that, the authorities are on both sides (Turkey and Israel) are aware of what they need to do to make sure that this will not escalate into violence.


The flotilla is awaiting permission from Turkish authorities to set sail.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not mentioned the flotilla publicly, but officials say he discussed humanitarian aid when he met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday. Israel condemned that meeting.

The flotilla’s organizers say they are looking for international protection.

It is a voyage analysts warn could be fraught with danger for the activists...and for the region.

Dorian Jones, for VOA News, Istanbul.


In the southern African nation of Eswatini, less-than-half of the girls there complete secondary education. That’s according to UNICEF with pregnancy and poverty being the major contributing factors. Now, a new mentorship program aims to buck those trends by educating girls in the fields of science and technology. From Manzini Eswatini, Noko-khanya Musi reports.

Nomphilo Shabangu, St Marks High School Student:

I have always wanted to be a cardiologist since I was in Grade Six. I like it because it saves lives and it's a risky job and I like taking risks. Being a girl, these days is a very hard thing to do because people limit you and tell you you can't do this, you can't do that. I want to prove them wrong.

NOKO-KHANYA MUSI, VOA Correspondent::

While some young women have the passion and drive to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math, societal barriers have kept them from reaching their full potential. But through the STEM Sisters mentorship program sponsored by Eswatini’s Queen Nozizwe, aspiring civil engineers like Siyanda Dlamini can learn, grow, and even dream bigger.

Siyanda Dlamini, St Michaels High School Student:

In Form Three, I entered my first science competition, where I actually competed, and I enjoyed it a lot. I enjoyed the fact that I was given a problem, and I was able to solve it. That's what I enjoy the most. After that, we had career expos where people who have pursued careers in the science department came and told us more about their careers and that's when I realized, I wanted to do anything under engineering.


As the first female managing editor of Eswatini Bank, Queen Nozizwe Ka Mulela-Zulu has worn many hats throughout her career, but her latest role as the driving force behind STEM Sisters could turn out to be the most impactful.

Mulela-Zulu has previously broken down barriers for women in Eswatini, and now she’s using her platform to open doors for the next generation of girls.

Queen Nozizwe Ka Mulela-Zulu, EswatiniBank Managing Director:

What is important is that we as young professionals, as women that participate in STEM courses or STEM jobs and careers, it is important that we also take time to visit them to guide them so that they can see that it is actually doable. They can see that there is a woman who is an engineer, there is a woman who is actually a scientist of some sort so that they can then be encouraged and take on these courses.


Eswatini girls often miss out on potential careers in engineering, computer science and medicine.

In order to break limiting stereotypes, Mulela-Zulu has partnered with WomEng Eswatini, which promotes women in STEM fields.

The future is full of possibilities, she believes, and the STEM Sisters are just the beginning.

Nokukhanya Musi, VOA Central Asia Division, Manzini, Eswatini.


Before we leave you, here’s our weekly installment of USA Votes 2024, where we look at the run-up to this year’s presidential election. Artificial Intelligence runs deep in U.S. political life from fundraising to campaign advertising. Now, some lawmakers want to regulate the use of generative content, saying it threatens voter confidence. VOA Correspondent Scott Stearns has our story.

SCOTT STEARNS, VOA Correspondent:

So far, artificial intelligence in this presidential campaign has been most pronounced in the New Hampshire primary, where thousands of voters received a call from a voice sounding like Joe Biden telling them not to vote.

Audio from fake Biden robocall:

Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again.


The fake voice was made by Louisiana magician Paul Carpenter for $150.

Paul Carpenter, Magician:

If anybody is looking for some kind of flag, not a false flag, but like a flag, a gameplay flag where something bad happened, I'm the flag.


U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal says there is no time to wait for another flag.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Judiciary Committee Democrat:

Disinformation and deepfakes are about to descend on the American public.

The form of their arrival will be political ads and other forms of disinformation that are made possible by artificial intelligence. There is a clear and present danger to our democracy.


At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on AI in this election last week, Senator Josh Hawley said it is time to act.

Sen. Josh Hawley, Judiciary Committee Republican:

The dangers of this technology without guardrails and without safety features are becoming painfully, painfully apparent. And I think the question now is, is that are we going to have to watch some catastrophe unfold?”


It is already possible to detect calls like the one in New Hampshire, says artificial voice generation developer Zohaib Ahmed.

Zohaib Ahmed, Resemble AI CEO:

We believe that AI watermarking technology is a readily available solution that can already check the integrity of audio content.


With that technology in place, what’s lacking is regulation, says deepfake detection entrepreneur Ben Colman.

Ben Colman, Reality Defender Co-founder:

There's a really nice framework in both national and also state level regulations in place. When you upload something on, for example YouTube, it's checking for a few things. It's checking for violence. It's checking for underage imagery. It's checking for, are you uploading the latest Drake song? That's because of regulations. So to scan for generative media, that could be another check within that same flow.


The U.S. Federal Election Commission is considering rules that would prohibit using AI in ads to deliberately deceive voters.

New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan told the Senate committee that unchecked generative AI like the fake Biden call threatens voter confidence.

David Scanlan, New Hampshire Secretary of State:

The most fundamental, important thing that I perceive in my role as secretary of state is to make sure that an election is not messed up, that the voters believe and know that it was run fairly and accurately to the highest standards possible. And if we lose that, it will be very, very hard to get it back.


In New Hampshire, lawmakers are working to require that political advertising within 90 days of an election disclose if audio, still images, or video, quote, “has been manipulated or generated by artificial intelligence technology and depicts speech or conduct that did not occur.

Scott Stearns, VOA News.


That’s all for now. Thanks for watching.

For the latest news you can log on to VOA news dot com. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook at VOA News.

To get all the Press Freedom related content, follow me on X at @ELeeTV1. Catch up on past episodes at our free streaming service, VOA Plus.

I’m Elizabeth Lee. We will see you next week, for The Inside Story.