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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Russia says Ukrainian drones attacked Moscow.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The defense ministry says eight drones were fired at the capital in what it called a terrorist attack by the Kyiv regime and that all eight were intercepted. Meanwhile, Russia had another wave of air attacks on the Ukrainian capital this morning after launching some of its biggest of the war on Monday and over the weekend.

FADEL: Joining us now from Moscow with the latest is NPR's Charles Maynes. Hi, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So what do we know about these drone attacks?

MAYNES: Well, you know, as you noted, the defense ministry says eight drones were spotted over the city and its surrounding areas earlier this morning, even as media reports have that number much higher - nearly three times as high. Whatever the case, it seems some drones were intercepted by air defense systems. There's online witness video that NPR can't confirm but appear to show a Russian anti-aircraft fire destroying two drones mid-flight. Several other drones apparently got caught in trees and telephone wires as they approached the city. And then Moscow officials say at least three hit residential buildings.

Now, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin says no one was seriously injured and - although he's evacuated the buildings in question and cleanup crews are picking up debris and assessing what appears to be fairly minor damage. Meanwhile, Russia's investigative committee says its investigators are also out collecting evidence.

FADEL: Now, let's talk about the timing here. It does come a day after massive Russian strikes against Kyiv, right?

MAYNES: That's right. You know, Kyiv hasn't commented directly on this, but many here, of course, will obviously blame Ukraine. That's already the conclusion of Russia's defense ministry. As you've noted, they say this is a terrorist attack by Ukraine. Keep in mind, this follows weeks of renewed Russian air strikes on Ukraine's capital, including a Russian drone attack on Kyiv earlier this morning that Ukrainian officials say left at least one person dead. And finally, let's remember, this isn't the first attack on Moscow. Earlier this month, the Kremlin was targeted by a drone in what U.S. intelligence later assessed was likely carried out by Ukraine, even if Kyiv denies it.

FADEL: And has Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, weighed in on these attacks?

MAYNES: Not yet. You know, we'll see what President Putin or his spokesman has to say later today, I assume. But in general, you know, Putin's been relatively quiet of late when it comes to the war in Ukraine. There was a statement to the Kremlin website earlier this month where he paid tribute to Russian fighters involved in what Moscow says was an important victory in the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut. But Putin said nothing, for example, about a large-scale incursion by Ukrainian-aligned fighters into the Belgorod region of Russia that borders Ukraine. That happened last week.

And that incident, along with a series of unexplained attacks on Russian infrastructure, oil refineries, railway lines - you know, that's all created this growing sense of uncertainty, I think, over the government's ability to protect the homeland, particularly as Ukraine prepares for its long-rumored counteroffensive. You know, and while those drones at the capital this morning, whoever was responsible will play to those same fears, I'm sure some here may also see it as an opportunity - you know, an opportunity to gin up Russian anger and possibly through that anger, support to continue the war at all costs.

FADEL: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow reporting on the drone attacks over Moscow there. Thank you so much for your time.

MAYNES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: This happened in China today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF ROCKET BLASTING OFF)

MARTÍNEZ: A rocket blasted into orbit with three astronauts on board. They're headed to China's new space station to relieve a crew that's been there for six months. Among the three is the first civilian to be sent into orbit by China. The country's space program is run by the military. So for them, this is another milestone.

FADEL: To discuss more, we have NPR's John Ruwitch with us from Shanghai. Hi there, John

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So this civilian, who is he and why is it so important that he's going up to space?

RUWITCH: Yeah, it's a bespectacled professor named Gui Haichao who's 36 years old. He teaches at Beihang University in Beijing, which is China's premier aeronautics and astronautics university. He actually got his bachelor's degree and Ph.D. there as well in aerospace engineering. And then he went on to do post-doc work in Canada. He's on this mission as a payload specialist, so he's not navigating or flying, but he's basically going to be conducting science experiments. I called Quentin Parker, who's a space scientist at the University of Hong Kong, to ask how significant this is. He says it's important because it sort of opens a new chapter for China's ambitious space program.

QUENTIN PARKER: If you've got, you know, an orbital space station like the Chinese now have, which is basically a very large science laboratory, then the kind of equipment and payloads they have up there are very sophisticated technological and scientific equipment, sometimes quite delicate. It needs to be operated and understood and managed by people who know what they're doing. And these are the - you know, these are the scientists.

RUWITCH: These are the scientists. You got to remember, up until today, all of China's astronauts came from the military.

FADEL: Now, you mentioned this program is ambitious. What exactly is China planning?

RUWITCH: Well, look, I mean, their first manned space mission was in 2003, right? So in 20 years, they - 20 years later, they now have an operational space station. They've gone from basically one crewed mission every two or three years to now they're doing one every six months to change crew at the space station. They've picked up the pace. They've sent a rover to Mars. They've sent various crafts to the moon, brought back moon rocks. And they just announced plans to put a Chinese person onto the surface of the moon by 2030. By the way, the U.S. is also trying to do some of this same stuff, including getting Americans back to the moon.

FADEL: OK, so how does all this fit in with the tension and competition between the U.S. and China? Is this a new space race?

RUWITCH: Right. It's a little more complicated. I asked Dean Cheng about this. He's a senior adviser with the U.S. Institute of Peace.

DEAN CHENG: This original space race was, at the end of the day, only a little bit about a science and a whole lot about whose system was better, ours or the Soviets. Fast forward to today, we are seeing aspects of that coming back. It's not quite space race 2.0, but, yes, in the background is a political competition.

RUWITCH: Yes, there's a political competition. You know, one thing that does make people nervous - not only is China's space program developing quickly, but it's very opaque. China issues white papers on space every few years. The last one was last January. It didn't say anything about the military side of the program. The white paper also did not mention putting people on the moon. And just this week, they said they're going to do that within seven years. You know, another example, this guy, Gui Haichao, the first civilian to go into space with China's space program - they didn't announce that that was happening or that it was going to be him until yesterday.

FADEL: NPR's John Ruwitch in Shanghai on the not quite space race 2.0. Thank you, John.

RUWITCH: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: And in some domestic news, Republican presidential hopefuls are in Iowa this week.

MARTÍNEZ: They'll be hitting the state hard with speeches and events to make their case to voters as Iowa is still set to kick off the primary season with GOP caucuses early next year.

FADEL: Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters is covering all the campaigning there and is on the line with us. Hi, Clay.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So who's making appearances there in Iowa?

MASTERS: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will be here today and tomorrow, hitting several cities in the state. He's been in Iowa a couple of times, but this will be the first time he's been here since announcing he's running. Of course, DeSantis is still seen as the biggest threat to Donald Trump, although there's still a decent gap between them in recent polls. Trump will be here Thursday, speaking to a conservative breakfast club at a restaurant, followed by a chat with local pastors, which is, you know, much different than his normal rallies we've become accustomed to. He actually canceled one last minute a couple of weeks ago here. His campaign said it was because of a severe weather potential.

All the action ends on Saturday with a bunch of the candidates at the bottom of the polls. That's when Iowa Senator Joni Ernst holds her Roast and Ride fundraiser - features a motorcycle ride, a pork roast, and then speeches from people like Senator Tim Scott and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, amongst others who are running.

FADEL: What are voters telling you about these candidates?

MASTERS: Well, first off, you know, it's early. And keep in mind, those coming to these campaign events are among the most politically engaged in the state.

FADEL: Right.

MASTERS: But talking with these folks this early can give you kind of a read on how the race may take shape later on. You do have voters who are ready to move on from Trump. Here's a mother and daughter I talked to as they were leaving a campaign event for Tim Scott last week. Here's Judy Burgin and Krishna Phair from Sioux City.

JUDY BURGIN: I voted. I respected Donald Trump. He did what he needed to do, but I don't want him to be...

KRISHNA PHAIR: Our nominee for...

BURGIN: ...Our next nomination for the Republican Party.

MASTERS: That being said, there are also a lot of voters this cycle who seem to already have their mind made up. They want Trump back in the White House. Last month, I talked to Jolene Rosebeck at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition dinner.

JOLENE ROSEBECK: It feels a little different to me. But, like, yeah, I'm going to listen to everybody, but I don't think my mind's going to change on who I want.

MASTERS: She said she kind of sees the other candidates running in a race for vice president.

FADEL: What makes these campaigns different from the ones that Iowans saw ahead of the 2016 and 2020 elections?

MASTERS: For starters, the Republican Party has just changed so much with Trump at the head of the party compared to eight years ago. And then, obviously, a former president running for the nomination again makes this very different. Trump was a known entity eight years ago when he was first running, but he had no political record. Now he does. He also has sparking an insurrection of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 on his record, the multiple criminal charges he could face, and, certainly, that's largely just noise to Trump's base. But it's on the mind of voters that I've talked to.

Then the other big difference for Iowa this time around is that the Democratic and Republican parties here are fighting over, like, the one thing they've agreed on for decades, and that is keeping the Iowa caucuses first in the nation. Now, the DNC voted to boot Iowa out of the early window, but their calendar is currently in chaos. Governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican, has until the end of the week to sign a bill that could deny Iowa Democrats their kind of, like, last Hail Mary to try and stay in the early window. So you have a fight among the parties over how to run a caucus happening. At the same time, all these Republican hopefuls are descending on the state this week.

FADEL: Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters. Thanks, Clay.

MASTERS: Yeah, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.

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