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News Brief: Putin says U.S. is stoking war, Black coach sues NFL, OPEC meeting


We got a glimpse yesterday of the world as it looks to Russian President Vladimir Putin.


PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) Their main job is to deter the development of Russia, to hinder the development of Russia. And in this sense, Ukraine is just a tool. You can do it in various ways. You can drag us into some kind of military conflict, armed conflict, and by using their allies in Europe to impose these hard-line sanctions against us that the United States is talking about.

INSKEEP: That's Vladimir Putin speaking yesterday at a news conference, suggesting that an invasion of Ukraine is not a big event that he's been planning for, but a trap that the United States is luring him into. He made that statement at a press conference, his first public statement in weeks. With us on the line now from Kyiv, Ukraine, is NPR's Daniel Estrin. Hey there, Daniel.


INSKEEP: How did Putin's words sound when you heard them in Kyiv?

ESTRIN: Well, you know, for Ukrainians, they're never really reassured by anything Putin says. I mean, yesterday, I met a combat veteran in his print shop. And he had a dart board with Putin's face on it in his office. So that's the attitude towards Putin here. But yesterday's remark from Putin were important. Like you said, it was the first time he spoke publicly about this Ukraine crisis since December. And Putin said he wanted to explain the logic of our behavior and our proposals. He said it's all about NATO. Countries in Eastern Europe close to Russia have joined NATO. Weapon systems have been positioned in those countries. And Putin says, that's not defensive. That's a military threat to our country, especially if Ukraine joins NATO.

So Russia's demand remains, no to Ukraine ever joining NATO. Putin has not budged on that. And as you said, he claimed the U.S. was dragging Russia into a war kind of as a pretext so they could impose new sanctions on Russia. And Putin also had this new argument, which was - he said, let's say Ukraine goes to war with Crimea to recapture that Ukrainian territory that Russia captured in 2014. He said if Ukraine tries to recapture Crimea, would Russia, then, have to go to war with the whole NATO block?

INSKEEP: And we feel the need, at this point, I think, to just observe all of this is about the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO, which Russia does not want.

ESTRIN: Right.

INSKEEP: And it's not clear at all that the NATO alliance wants that either. The United States has said it would be a nice idea. They said that years ago. But NATO has made no move, actually, to do it. So this is an argument over stopping a thing that isn't happening.


INSKEEP: Now, Ukraine's president had a visitor, as I understand, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. What did you hear from him?

ESTRIN: That's right. He spoke alongside the president. And he framed this as a possible incursion, as a possible conflict, not just between Russia and Ukraine, but between Russia and all of Europe. Here's what he said.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: We have to face a grim reality, which is that, as we stand here, Vladimir, today, more than 100,000 Russian troops are gathering on your border in, perhaps, the biggest demonstration of hostility towards Ukraine in our lifetimes.

ESTRIN: And he said the U.K. is preparing sanctions. And he threatens to use them the moment the first Russian soldier steps further into Ukraine.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should just note there are some Russian soldiers in parts of Ukraine. There's a Russian army just across the border in Belarus, not very far from where you are.

ESTRIN: Right.

INSKEEP: What's it like to be in Kyiv in this moment?

ESTRIN: There's no panic in the streets here, Steve. Life is going on. And, you know, people seem to feel that there's still more time for diplomacy. And that was the bottom line that we heard yesterday. Putin is still ready for dialogue.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin. Thanks so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.


INSKEEP: What does a mistaken text message reveal about pro football?


That text message is part of a lawsuit over racism in the NFL. Most National Football League players are Black. Only one of 32 head coaches is Black. And that longstanding reality is the backdrop for the suit by former Miami Dolphins Coach Brian Flores. His class action suit alleges racism in hiring and names the NFL, as well as three teams, the Giants, Broncos and Dolphins. The NFL calls his claims without merit.

INSKEEP: ESPN panelist and Washington Post columnist Kevin Blackistone is back with us. Good morning.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Good morning. How are you doing?

INSKEEP: I'm doing OK. Thanks for joining us. There is a lot in this lawsuit. But one key piece of evidence is that text message from Bill Belichick, one of the great coaches in the history of pro football. What was going on at the time of that message, and what happened?

BLACKISTONE: Well, Bill Belichick had two guys play coach on his staff for a few years. One was Brian Flores. And the other one was a guy named Brian Daboll. And they both happened to be up for the same job. And Bill Belichick texted one of them to let him know that he was getting the job. He texted Daboll, so he thought. But it actually went to Brian Flores. And it was two days before Brian Flores was supposed to interview for the Patriots job. And he was congratulating Daboll for actually getting the job, but the text actually went to Flores. So he played the cards of the hiring. And Flores would then go ahead to take the interview knowing that, in fact, it was a sham interview, which exposes the league on all number of fronts, but basically made the Rooney Rule, which is set up to ensure equitable hiring practices within the league, was just a ruse.

INSKEEP: I want to explain that. The Rooney Rule, if I'm not mistaken, is a longstanding NFL rule. They've acknowledged they have a problem with diversity at the top.


INSKEEP: They said, if you're interviewing - if a team is interviewing for a top job, you got to interview at least one person of color. And Flores was essentially finding out he was being fake-interviewed for a job that was already settled.

BLACKISTONE: Absolutely, which was devastating and angering to him, frustrating to him. And it proved that - what a lot of people said about the Rooney Rule, that it was just being used as a public relations cover, was actually true in this particular incident. And this is, as you pointed out, from the finest coach, the greatest coach, arguably, in the history of the NFL, Bill Belichick of the Patriots.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should be slightly fair in that Belichick wasn't the one doing the hiring. But he was the one who had some inside information on all of this, it seems.

BLACKISTONE: Absolutely, which once again shows that the fear of coaches who are aspiring - or aspiring to be coaches, who are coaches of color, have often wondered if the white boy network, and the white man network in the NFL, is preventing them from getting jobs. And this seems to be proof that that network does exist.

INSKEEP: Flores also makes a lot of allegations about the Dolphins, which makes them sound corrupt, and talks about his firing. And that is part of the lawsuit. Speaking briefly here and granting the NFL has basically denied everything, does the lawsuit sound like the NFL that you cover?

BLACKISTONE: It does sound like the NFL that I've covered for most of my sports career. It's very problematic that Black coaches have had a very difficult time getting jobs, holding onto jobs once they get them and being treated the same as white coaches when it comes to their successes and failures. And the one thing I would say about the part about Ross that is dragged into this is that's beyond discrimination. This calls into whether or not the league has presented a fraud to the public, to ticket-buyers who thought they were getting an honest game in front of them.

INSKEEP: This is an allegation that the Dolphins' management wanted the team, the coach, to throw some games.


INSKEEP: Kevin Blackistone, thanks so much.



INSKEEP: OK. Crude oil prices just set new seven-year highs. And some analysts are predicting we could go back to $100 per barrel soon.

FADEL: These prices have a big impact on everyone's pocketbooks. And now the oil cartel OPEC and its allies are meeting today to talk about the world's oil supplies.

INSKEEP: NPR's Camila Domonoske is here to make sense of it all. Good morning.


INSKEEP: What is driving up oil prices?

DOMONOSKE: A lot of things. You have geopolitical tensions, on the one hand. If you think about who's going to be at the table today, it includes Russia. We just got an update about the situation in Ukraine.


DOMONOSKE: Saudi Arabia - there's this conflict with Houthi rebels. This could all cause huge disruptions to the market. Then there's demand, which is pretty strong. Despite omicron, the world is using a lot of oil right now. And then the biggest factor is that supply just isn't keeping pace. And hypothetically, OPEC could change this in today's meeting. But it's not at all clear if they actually will.

INSKEEP: Well, sometimes in the past, they've had. The Saudis have said, OK, we'll pump a few million more barrels per day. Why wouldn't OPEC countries produce more to ease the supply?

DOMONOSKE: Well, a few of them can't. There's a lot of different countries in OPEC. In some places, including Nigeria, they're already going flat out and can't meet their quotas today. But a lot of other major players don't really want to pump more precisely because it could push prices down. Muqsit Ashraf, he heads global energy for the consulting firm Accenture. And I spoke to him right after he got back from a trip to the Middle East.

MUQSIT ASHRAF: You know, frankly, there is a little bit of getting comfortable for now with the pricing that those countries are enjoying.

DOMONOSKE: You know, why would they pump as much oil as they could and push prices down when they're making so much money off of these prices?

INSKEEP: How do climate policies affect the prospects for the industry both now and in the future?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. So for now, the analysts I've spoken to say this is not what's driving high prices. It could be a small factor. And it could be a factor in the future. The big question is whether supply and demand go down at the same time. If companies are feeling pressured by the government to pump less oil before the world actually starts using less oil, then those climate policies would be contributing to this mismatch between supply and demand, right?


DOMONOSKE: But on the topic of companies being under pressure to pump less oil, there's actually something else happening unrelated to climate that's super significant right now, which is a lot of companies are under pressure from their shareholders to spit out money back to their investors rather than put it into new production. And that is having another - it's another factor that's keeping supply relatively low right now.

INSKEEP: Camila, thanks so much for the update, really appreciate it.

DOMONOSKE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Camila Domonoske.


Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.