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Interview With Former U.S. Special Envoy For The Sahel Region J. Peter Pham; Interview With "Joe Biden: The Life, The Run And What Matters Now" Author And The New Yorker Staff Writer Evan Osnos; Interview With The New York Times Moscow Bureau Chief Anton Troianovski; Interview With ENT Doctor And INgenious Founder Dr. Ivanka Nebor; Interview With Plastic Surgeon Dr. Grigoriy Mashkevich. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired April 24, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga sitting in for Christiane Amanpour. Here's what's
coming up on the show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: The safest thing for many Americans to do, who didn't get
out when they were warned to get out, is to stay safe right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Foreign powers scramble to evacuate their citizens from Sudan, while thousands still trapped are told to fend for themselves. I asked
former U.S. special envoy to the region, J. Peter Pham, if governments have been too slow to react.
Also, ahead, Joe Biden is set to launch his reelection bid, even though more than half of his party don't think he should run. I asked journalists
and Biden biographer, Evan Osnos, if he's really the right person for the job.
Then, what will it take to bring imprisoned American journalist Evan Gershkovich home from Russia? Walter Isaacson puts that to "The New York
Times" Moscow bureau chief, Anton Troianovski.
And finally, healing the horrors of war. A New York plastic surgeon and a Kyiv born surgeon tell me about their mission to give life changing surgery
to wounded Ukrainians.
Welcome to the program. Governments across the world are desperately trying to get trapped foreign nationals out of Sudan as the devastating violence
engulfing the country enters its 10th day. So, far, about 1,000 foreign diplomats have been airlifted out of the capital, with U.S. special forces
stepping in to get American embassy personnel out just over the weekend. More than 400 people have been killed. And with multiple broken ceasefires,
there is no end in sight to this conflict.
Here's United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: Let me be clear, the United Nations is not leaving Sudan. Our commitment is to the Sudanese people in
support of their wishes for a peaceful and secure future. We stand with them at this terrible time. We must all do everything within our power to
pull Sudan back from the edge of the abyss.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: This defiant message comes after the U.N. said that it was temporarily relocating its staff from the capital.
Meantime, Britain say they feel abandoned. The U.K. foreign secretary says, help will be severely limited until a ceasefire is reached. And Sudanese
civilians are left with even fewer options, making long, difficult journeys by land and by boat to neighboring countries.
As a former U.S. special envoy for the Sahel Region of Africa, J. Peter Pham know Sudan very well. And he's joining me now from Washington. Thank
you so much for joining us on what is a dire situation right now unfolding in Sudan.
We saw the U.S. evacuating personnel over the weekend. I'm just curious. You know this region well. A lot of people are having images of the U.S.
evacuation, that with quick evacuation and withdrawal from Afghanistan. What is going through your mind when you see this?
J. PETER PHAM, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY FOR THE SAHEL REGION: Well, thank you for having me, Bianna. I very much am empathetic to the dilemma that
Secretary Blinken and other U.S. officials have, on one hand, as senior officials, one has an obligation to protect a person -- mission personnel
and their safety is paramount.
On the other hand, withdrawing diplomatic personnel from Sudan at this time makes it that much more difficult to provide services to the American
citizens, many of them aid workers, many of them dual nationals, many of them children that remain behind, as well as difficult to engage with the
forces that are contending in Sudan right now.
GOLODRYGA: There are some 16,000 American nationals still stranded there in the country, and John Kirby said this morning on CNN that it was just too
dangerous for U.S. personnel to evacuate them at this point. Do you think that's the right decision?
PHAM: Well, I love to second guess officials who have up-to-date and direct information, but from my experience, it's very difficult to -- when you're
not on the ground to engage. And so, it's a dilemma they fully appreciate. But I'm hearing from -- I have friends over there, and I've been receiving
messages as well from people I know and they're very desperate. They're hunkering down. Looters are coming to dwellings.
So, it's really a situation that's almost Hobbesian (ph) in the breakdown of what was left of law and order in Khartoum.
GOLODRYGA: Things are unfolding so quickly. And you have instances now where you're hearing stories, not only western nationals, but of course,
the Sudanese who are really suffering and really stranded because they do have no other alternatives. They're running out of food and water.
Electricity is scarce now.
I want to read what one Sudanese journalist wrote on Twitter, according to "The New York Times," really lashing out at peace negotiators, and we'll
get to the crux of the issue at hand right now and what got us here in a moment. But I want you to respond to what this journalist said. "You put us
in this mess. And now, you're swooping in to take your kinfolk, leaving us behind to these two murdering psychopaths."
We'll get to these two men accused of being psychopaths in just a minute. But what is your response now to accusations that Sudanese are being
PHAM: Well, it's -- you know, it's heartbreaking. Really. I have Sudanese friends who are trying to reach out and there's precious little that can be
done from a distance, and it's really heartbreaking. The hopes that were invested in a transition in Sudan and where we are today. So, my heart goes
out to them, and I don't know what to -- what one can say.
I understand the duty to protect a mission personnel and diplomats, but I also wonder how we take care even not -- you know, that journalist refers
to kinfolk, U.S. citizens, European citizens and others with diplomats no longer present on the ground.
GOLODRYGA: You mentioned the transition, one couldn't think of a more dire situation right now and turn of events in terms of what transpired in
comparing relative to what we saw in 2019, the ouster of Omar al-Bashir, who had been an authoritarian leader for that country for over 30 years
with real sense of optimism that a page had been turned, a new chapter is about to begin, a country is about to endeavor upon democracy.
And this transition was really in the hands of two men, two military leaders, who said that they would be sort of the caretakers of the country
as it transitioned into a democracy. Instead, they ousted the appointed civilian prime minister, and then, they themselves now are clashing and
what has been turned into a coup between these two men.
Tell our viewers about who they are and how we got to this situation today.
PHAM: Well, during his long -- three-decade long dictatorship, Omar al- Bashir, the International Criminal Court indicted former president of Sudan, tried to divide and conquer. So, he created parallel institutions so
that no one institution would be too powerful to overthrow him.
So, there was the military, there's the armed forces of Sudan. But he created this parallel structure, this militia, the Rapid Support Forces,
which grew out of the Janjaweed, the marauders who were accused of the genocide in Darfur, as a parallel structure to balance them. What he didn't
count on was those two uniting to overthrow him in 2019 after the street protests.
And this is where I think the International Community engaged in a little bit of wishful thinking. What happened was there were months of protests by
young people, professionals, seeking the end of the dictatorship. Then you have these two military men who realized that the clock was ticking away on
the dictatorship, so they threw Bashir under the bus, so to speak, but they didn't fundamentally change the nature of the state.
And we treat -- we, the International Community, I think optimistically tried to treat this as if a complete revolution had occurred, when what had
happened was a game of switching chairs or switching characters at the top, but no fundamental change had occurred, and that, I think, was the
elementary perhaps mistake that has led to where we are today.
GOLODRYGA: Well, let me home in on that mistake that you say perhaps that the West and the United States had made and sort of overlooking, perhaps be
seeing with rosie eyeglasses, what this transition would look like. Because once we saw the ouster of Bashir, we saw women really starting to gain
rights, there was more optimism about the direction the country was turning to.
But in these past few years, there had been some warning signs between these two warring generals. And I want to read for you what Jacqueline
Burns, a former advisor of the U.S. special envoy for Sudan, wrote in "The New York Times" and she said, women, internally displaced persons and those
who did not happen to be part of an armed rebel movement were almost entirely excluded. We were so focused on getting concessions and splitting
power between the armed groups to reach a signed peace agreement that, despite paying lip service to the need for inclusivity and sustainable
peace, we lost sight of this longer-term goal."
Do you think that's a fair assessment?
PHAM: It's a harsh judgment, but I think that there are valid points in there. Very often in these negotiations, rather than take a long-term view,
it was always process oriented. Let's get to the next step. Let's build confidence. And, you know, these are words and they are -- they represent,
certainly, tools of diplomacy, but the words and steps have to lead somewhere. We have to have our eye always on the ball, where we want to go.
And I think very often, and in this case in particular, it's -- we're seeing before our eyes, that perhaps we were too focused on the next step
or what happens tomorrow rather than what the whole trend is.
Certainly, last week, there was a lot of focus before the fighting began, a focus on getting to the next announcement of the latest transitional
platform rather than focusing on the trend lines.
GOLODRYGA: And in the meantime, over these past four years since the ouster of Bashir, there has been billions of dollars that has been put and
invested into this country as a sort of race on ideology took place among western nations, in particular the United States, also knowing that other
countries, like China and Russia, perhaps sought an opportunity to invest in the country as well and to gain more impact, right, and influence in
Do you think this was part of the problem? I mean, what do American taxpayers -- how should they be feeling about perhaps, you know, U.S.
taxpayer dollars going to fund what we're now seeing in this coup developing in this country?
PHAM: Well, fortunately, most of the U.S. assistance to Sudan has been limited to humanitarian or developmental aspects, whether each and every --
I can't vouch for each and every program, but by large, we've stayed out of direct support for the government budget support. And that, I think, was a
wise decision in the long-term.
However, the tradeoff there is, although we can assure the taxpayer that the money was generally well spent, one could also say that that cost us,
in real politique terms, leverage with these warriors at the top of the food chain there. So, there was a tradeoff there. I think we made the
correct choice. But one has to recognize that there is a tradeoff.
GOLODRYGA: Talk about the country's significance, just regionally, economically. It's the third largest country in Africa. Located on the Red
Sea. A lot of natural resources, in particular, gold in the country. Is that one of the reasons why so much of the world has been focused on the
country and its future?
PHAM: Well, Sudan, in many respects, bridges two worlds. It bridges the Middle East, Arab, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. It's -- it borders
the Red Sea, which is a vital sea lane. It has numerous resources. You mentioned gold, but other minerals that have largely gone unexploited. It
has a well-educated population.
So, this is a country that really could be an anchor of stability or unfortunately, it could also be a vacuum into which other actors, both
regional Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Eritrea, Libya or farther afield, China, Russia and others play into. So, this is a strategic country, and
it's one that perhaps should be elevated in our attention span.
GOLODRYGA: A strategic country, we should note, that up until recently has been home to many refugees from neighboring countries as well. And now,
you're having Sudanese facing the same crisis that their neighbors have been. This is a very important story. Of course, we'll continue to cover
it. J. Peter Pham, thank you so much for your insight. We appreciate it.
PHAM: Thank you, Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: Well, turning now to the state of American politics. This week, U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce his run for a second term
as commander in chief. But a recent poll shows only about half of Democrats think he should run again.
So, with Trump already in the mix with an early announcement and leading the Republican field, will it be deja vu for America?
Joining me now from Washington, D.C. to discuss is Evan Osnos, staff writer at "The New Yorker" and author of "Joe Biden: American Dreamer." Evan,
welcome to the program.
So, a lot of people wondering. Is it really true, are we going to see another Biden-Trump runoff here and campaign? Listen -- looking at certain
polls now, only 5 percent of Americans want a Biden-Trump rematch. Are you surprised that once again it's between these two men likely?
EVAN OSNOS, AUTHOR, "JOE BIDEN: THE LIFE, THE RUN AND WHAT MATTERS NOW" AND STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: I think it does have the feel to a lot of us
like a rerun, and it's not one that people were crying out for. You know, I do think we need to be cautious. We don't exactly have an announcement yet
from the White House. We'll know more in 24 hours or so.
But yes, I think people are surprised. I'm surprised, frankly, that Donald Trump is the Republican frontrunner today in 2023 after all the country
went through in January of '21, around the attack on the Capitol, and obviously, the month since then, in which people have been contending with
lies about the election. And in some ways, you can't understand Joe Biden's potential candidacy without that, because one of the reasons why Joe Biden
would run again is because he does see himself fairly one could say is the only Democrat who has beaten Donald Trump in the presidential election.
And as long as that's the case, he's going to put himself forward because he believes that, in that sense, the Trump era is not yet over.
GOLODRYGA: So, do you think that -- and again, we have to wait the announcement. You are right. But do you think that would be the impetus for
a decision to run again, the fact that it looks like it will be Donald Trump as the Republican nominee again?
OSNOS: I think there are short-term factors and long-term. In the short- term, yes, Trump's participation in this campaign is a key piece of this for Joe Biden. It was the reason why he joined the 2020 election. I think
his rationale, as he has said, and it's pretty deeply felt, was he looked at what Trump represented about this country, the kind of politics he
expressed, the way he talked about race, and he said, that's not how I can imagine us going forward, and that's part of the reason why Biden got into
But the truth is, you also have to go back into his life. And, you know, if you've studied his history, you know that he has been talking about being
president of United States for a very long time. In fact, on his -- you know, his first date with his late wife, he said to her parents that he
wanted to be president of the United States. I mean, he was barely out of his teens at that point.
This is something that has been a part of his life for a long time, but I think the fact that he's considering doing it again is a measure of the
fact that he believes that this is still a moment in which the United States is at some vulnerability in terms of democracy, in terms of
protecting abortion rights, and he doesn't look around and see another Democrat who is in the obvious position of being able to beat Trump. And
for him, that is the most important element.
GOLODRYGA: It's interesting that you keep focusing on the Trump factor here, because I was going to ask you this question of whether, you know,
some say that the President Biden is going back on his word, that in the 2020 campaign, he described himself as sort of a bridge and sort of a band
aid, right, to get the country through the rough patch and was talking and promoting about this younger generation of Democratic leaders.
So, some may say that he's gone against his own word, but then, juxtapose that to what we've been talking about in these first few minutes, and that
is the Trump factor. So, do you think that this is Biden keeping his word more than going back on it?
OSNOS: Well, I think a lot of Americans will remember very distinctly, as you said Bianna, he talked about being a transition figure. You know, that
was his image of what he was going to be. He talked about what he described as a bench of younger Democrats who needed more visibility and opportunity.
You know, a lot of people took that as him sort of winking and saying, I'm only going to run for one term. He never said that, and I think his
advisers at the time were saying, look, he's not saying he's only going to run for one term.
For one thing, they said that would have been bad politics, because if he said that, he would have been a lame duck, essentially from day two.
Everybody would have been talking about the next election already. But what he has done, and I think you're going to hear him talk about this, is open
up his administration to a more diverse roster of talent than you've seen in the past administrations, particularly in the past two.
You also look at his nominees to the federal bench. You know, they have proposed and had confirmed 22 black women to federal judgeships. So,
there's a way in which he says, look, I know that it's the same guy at the top of the ticket here, but we have tried to make sure that this
administration is more representative of the United States than it ever has been before.
GOLODRYGA: But isn't that what he's already done in the past -- I mean, in his current, you know, role as president? I mean, the past two years, he's
really championed the fact that it is the most diverse administration that the country has seen. So, does he feel the need to really double down on
that going forward?
OSNOS: I think it's important for people to, in a sense, see the numbers, to hear that this is something that's important to this administration. It
is no surprise, Bianna, you know this as well as I do, that he's not a popular president right now, by the metrics that we use.
I think people in his -- around him will tell you, and it's kind of an interesting point, that they no longer feel as if popularity polls, that
approval polls are the thing that they are basing their decisions on because they look around and they say, look, actually, if you look at the
G7 g leadership, with the exception of the Italian leader who is so new to the job that they haven't formed much of a public perception yet, he
actually still has higher there favorability than other leaders of major countries.
So, you know, in some sense, they are looking and saying, as Joe Biden often does, don't compare me to the almighty, compare me to the
alternative. And if this election unfolds in the way that it's beginning to appear to be, then that alternative is going to be Donald Trump.
And so, the question for Democrats is, ultimately, going to be, if he decides to run, do they come around, coalesced around him in the way that
happened in 2020? Which is to say that people were not wildly enthusiastic about him, but they saw somebody who had a set of policy ideas and an
approach to governing, one would hope the sort of inclusive approach, that ultimately was embracing enough that people can get behind it.
GOLODRYGA: We'll talk about the polls in just a minute. But let's talk about really the elephant in the room, and that is his age. He is 80 years
old. I mean, there are some things that you can adjust and tweak and change along the campaign trail. He can't change his age. He can't change the fact
that if he wins again, he will be 86 years old once he leaves his second term, and that he's already the oldest U.S. president. This is something
that he's addressed already.
I want to play for you what he said in an interview a few months ago with "ABC News" on this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MUIR, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: Is your age part of your own calculation into whether to run again?
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: No, but it's a legitimate for people to raise issues about my age. It's totally legitimate to do that. And only I can say
is, watch me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: So, watch him do what? I mean, what is it that he points to as sort of the example of being able to do the job, not only for the remaining
two years of this term but for another potential four years?
OSNOS: Yes. Look, the reality is it is the elephant in the room. He's 80 today. He would be 86 at the end of a second term. When he says, watch me,
I think part of that is to say, look, I get it that this number is alarming to a lot of people. But judge me on the basis of, can I make the decisions?
Can I participate in these high stakes negotiations? Can I make these difficult overseas trips?
You know, if you look at what they've been dealing with over the last year and a half or two years, you know, the complexity of confronting the
Russian invasion of Ukraine, of assembling a coalition of partners in NATO and beyond, you know, these are sort of the complex questions that, in some
ways, he would say, his experience has allowed him to take on.
But the honest answer is that people are also just looking at the physical mechanics. They look at them and they say, is he -- does he sound vigorous?
Can he get into the cut and thrust with his political opponents? And on that, it's a mixed verdict. I mean, there are many days where people say,
look, he looks much older than he did a few years ago.
I think what he would say is, take a look at the State of the Union in 2023, where you saw him, you know, giving a long speech and dealing with
this kind of pretty difficult back and forth with Republicans in the chamber, and the goal for him is to try to put more of that sort of
vigorous image forward and less of the person that people say, I'm not sure he's got gas in the tank for this.
GOLODRYGA: Let's go back to those polls, because there is a real disconnect between what he can vouch for as -- and show as his achievements. I mean,
12.6 million new jobs created since he took office, the lowest unemployment level in half a century, he had historic legislation passed, Build Back
Better, obviously, the impact of America's leadership in the war in Ukraine and really aligning allies in NATO at a time when there was real doubt
about the future of the alliance under his predecessor.
That all having been said, in a new AP poll, just 26 percent of Americans want Joe Biden to run again. Only 40 percent of Democrats want him to run.
You know this administration. You know the man. How worried is he about these kinds of figures?
OSNOS: You know, I think they've developed a bit of a habit of mind over the last couple of years in which they say, as Ron Klain, former chief of
staff, said to me in an exit interview when he was leaving, you know, we've learned that you have to be persistent. And you said a lot of what we do is
talked about a little bit the way sports has talked about on sports talk radio, which is to say that, no matter what we do, there's going to be
people telling us how we could have done it better. That can be a risk.
Look, in politics, if you become too convinced that you're doing the right thing when people tell you you're not, then you can end up going down the
wrong path. But it is also the case that the number of times, since the beginning of this administration, that they've been told that it was going
to be impossible to do things like passing legislation on climate and combating climate change, or passing a major investment in infrastructure,
and they've done the kind of not particularly glamorous legislative mechanics that were required to get there.
Their argument is going to be, we know this is not the -- you know, the sexiest administration in the world, but trust us that we know what we're
doing, and that the work of government in the end should be that, the work of government. This should not be a political drama that takes up so much
of our mind share.
OSNOS: I remember, Bianna, you know, when he was running in 2020, one of the things that a Democratic senior official said to me was, in some ways,
people want to get this back to being a normal sized presidency. It shouldn't have to occupy our dinner table conversation every night. That
doesn't mean that they don't have ambitions, but it does mean that they say, let's dial back the drama and let's get about the work of governing.
GOLODRYGA: And something that he had always been running on is this sort of embodiment of truth and democracy as a whole, and that's obviously after
Charlottesville. He said that was what drove him to announce in 2020. And now, here we are again. You mean, we saw January 6th, the insurrection.
I mean, one could argue that the party that he's running against, in many regards, is Fox News as a whole. And I'm curious to get your thoughts on
the breaking news that we had just earlier today that its star host, Tucker Carlson, has parted ways with the network. We'd be remiss not to say it
comes just days after a nearly $1 billion settlement with Dominion Voting Systems.
Obviously, Fox News and Tucker Carlson, in particular, many times were promoting that this election was stolen or election denying. What do you
make of this and the impact this could have on this administration?
OSNOS: There is just tremendous turbulence going on right now in right-wing politics, in conservative politics, in Republican leadership. I mean take,
for example, that the current front runner for the Republican presidential nomination is facing not only an indictment in New York, but, as we all
know, a range of other potential legal -- potential indictments and other legal challenges. That in itself is just astonishing.
And then, you have what is arguably the largest defamation settlement in modern history on behalf of Fox News, which has forced it into a situation,
in which clearly as the departure of Tucker Carlson indicates, it's going to be on difficult ground.
I think this is an argument to some, on the other side, on the Democratic side, that they want to be the party of stability, of steadiness, of saying
to people out there in the United States, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, if you are sick of the kind of grueling chaos of American
politics, there is an option for you.
And, you know, the 2020 midterm elections, in the end, hinged partly on the judgment that a certain number of voters said, look, this is just too
extreme out there. What we're seeing, particularly on the right, worries us.
OSNOS: And when that happens, people look for a safer harbor. And the Democrats, particularly Joe Biden, are going to be presenting themselves
GOLODRYGA: All right. Evan Osnos, we shall see what happens tomorrow if we have an official announcement for reelection run. Thank you so much for
your time today.
OSNOS: You're welcome. Thanks, Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: Well, now, turning to an assault on press freedom abroad. Over 300 foreign correspondents who have worked in Russia are demanding the
immediate release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.
In a letter to the Russian government, they condemned Russia's accusations of espionage and said that the arrest is "a disturbing and dangerous signal
against honest journalism."
At the U.N. Security Council today, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also called out Russia for their violation of human
rights and detention of American citizens.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: And right now, Evan Gershkovich is being wrongfully detained by the Russian
government simply for doing his job as a respected journalist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: New York Times Moscow bureau chief, Anton Troianovski, discusses his latest reporting on Russia with Walter Isaacson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Bianna. And Anton Troianovski, welcome to the show.
ANTON TROIANOVSKI, MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you for having me.
ISAACSON: Your friend, colleague, sometimes competitor, Evan Gershkovich, was detained, "The Wall Street Journal" reporter, in Russia. Before we get
into the charges that they put against him, tell me a little about him as a person.
TROIANOVSKI: Well, he's a brilliant journalist, a great friend. You know, you pointed out that he's a competitor, which is strictly speaking true. He
was working for "The Wall Street Journal" in Moscow. I was with "The New York Times." But just an incredibly supportive colleague. You know, someone
who would always reach out when you had a good story, someone who was never shy about sharing contacts or ideas.
You know, he was really one of those correspondents when you're working in a place like Moscow, where it can be tough to report, you really need
journalists to support each other, and that's what he was doing.
ISAACSON: You dealt with the story about some salmon roe that he brought, you kind of humanized him when I was reading them. Tell me about that.
TROIANOVSKI: Oh, of course. Well, we -- so, I've been based in Berlin since last year. And --
ISAACSON: Because he had to leave Moscow, right, after the --
TROIANOVSKI: Exactly, exactly. And so, I've been based in Berlin. He was visiting Berlin. And he, for New Year's, came to my house and brought some
salmon roe, which they call red caviar in Russia. It's kind of a traditional Russian food for New Year's, and that was -- you know, that's
how I really think about him now, someone who kind of was always very sharing and someone who really cared about Russia, which is a country where
he grew up.
His parents are Soviet emigres. He grew up in New Jersey, speaking Russian at home. And he was really interested and excited about being in Russia and
getting to know the country, getting to know its traditions.
ISAACSON: Well, you and he share that in a way, coming from families that are Soviet or Russian emigre families. How does that give you an insight
into the Russian soul? And what do you feel personally, both you and Evan, as you see what's happening now?
TROIANOVSKI: Oh, it's really, really tough, frankly. It's true. Like I'm also from a Russian immigrant family to the United States and worked in
Russia from 2018 as a journalist. It's -- you know, you could never certainly never have full insight into the Russian soul. But we did feel, I
think both Evan and I, a special connection to the place, really a special responsibility to tell people as best we could about what was going on in
Russia with its nuances, with its complexities, and that's something that you saw Evan do, you know, he bravely continued to report from Russia after
the war began.
And he just really felt a special responsibility, a special duty as one of the few journalists, American journalists working there at the time to
really tell people about what was going on. Speak to everyone he could, you know, both pro war and antiwar and try to explain to the world what was
happening in Russia at this time.
ISAACSON: The Russians say he was arrested for espionage. The West says he's unlawfully detained. Why do you think the Russian authorities did
TROIANOVSKI: Yes. So, the charges are espionage, which are absurd. This is a journalist who was doing his job. I think this is really part of this
overall escalation that you're seeing in Putin's conflict with the West, his conflict with the United States in particular.
You know, we've had this crackdown on the free press in Russia for years now under Vladimir Putin. For most of that time, it really mainly affected
the Russian press, Russian journalists who were jailed, exiled, in some cases even killed in the country.
Now, it's come -- this crackdown has come to affect western journalists. I think the fact that Evan has an American passport made him more of a
target. We've seen Russia practicing essentially hostage taking with American citizens as happened with Brittney Griner.
ISAACSON: Wait. Do you think that he might a hostage in a way, that he's being taken so that he could be traded for somebody else?
TROIANOVSKI: I believe that that, unfortunately, is how you have to look at it. That's what it looks like. You know, the Russians still have prisoners,
people who are in prison in western countries that they apparently want back. We don't know for certain that this is the case here. You know that,
at this point, we can only speculate, though there have been Russian officials who have already been speculating about a prisoner exchange after
Evan is convicted, which is something, you know, in the very Kremlin controlled judicial system in Russia that unfortunately we can expect to
But it's also part, as they said, of this overall escalation of Putin's conflict with the West, sort of yet another way to show the West that Putin
is ready to take actions that would escalate this overall conflict.
ISAACSON: Isn't this really the first time a western journalist since the Cold War has been arrested in Russia? And does that signal some new phase
TROIANOVSKI: Yes. I think it does. The last time that a western journalist was arrested for espionage was not even in Russia, it was in the Soviet
Union in the 1980s. And that was a case that took only a few weeks to play out until that correspondent, Nick Daniloff, was freed.
In this case, again, it's already taken longer. It's already been close to a month that Evan has been detained. And it is, it's a new thing. It's --
this very unpredictable phase, frankly, of the conflict, because this is one of those things that would have been really, really hard to imagine not
ISAACSON: You've written about an outburst of solidarity, I think you called it, among at least some segments of the Russian population in favor
of Evan and perhaps in resistance to what's happening in Russia. To what extent is that happening now, some pushback against what the Russian
leaders are doing?
TROIANOVSKI: Well, overall, there's -- there is still push back inside the country. Thousands of people have been arrested, you know, for speaking out
against the war. And this is -- Russia has become a country where you can get a year's long prison term for so much as criticizing the war and the
Russian president on social media. So, there is still that kind of pushback happening, it's just being repressed in an incredibly aggressive way.
As for Evan, yes, I've been really moved by the outburst of solidarity from Russian journalists, most of whom are actually now in exile outside the
country. Because, you know, it was -- for a number of years, it was Evan and the rest of us, in the Western Press Corps, who were writing about the
crackdown on Russian journalists and trying to kind of give voice to their plight. And now, those roles have been reversed. It's Russian journalists
who are helping western journalists try to figure out how to help Evan.
You know, in that article, I wrote about how I was trying to send him a letter using this online letter writing service for Russian prisons, and
the person who helped me was actually the fiancee of a Russian journalist who's in prison right now and has been since 2020. She showed me how to use
that service. So, that -- just as of one tiny example of this great outburst of solidarity we're seeing now.
ISAACSON: Do you think that the Russian people are generally supportive of this reaction against the West or is there some sentiment amongst the
Russian people that they are better off being closer to the West?
TROIANOVSKI: That has really fluctuated, that sentiment. Obviously, there was a lot of pro-western sentiment 30 years ago when the Soviet Union was
collapsing. Now, there's a lot less of that. I think a really big reason is the propaganda, if you think about it.
If you turn on the TV in Russia, no matter what channel, it's going to be a pro Kremlin channel, where you will have hours of talk shows and newscasts
every day telling you about why the West is evil, why the West, led by America, wants to destroy Russia and how Putin has, as Russian propaganda
says, brought Russia up from its knees and made it, you know, an independent sovereign, powerful actor again on the world stage.
So, there are many people who believe that. There are also people, as I was saying earlier, who despite this repression are still trying to speak out
and say, you know, to their fellow Russians that what's happening now is wrong.
But there's also a big set, I think, of the population that just, you know, it sees that there's nothing, really, they can do about this situation.
That -- the fact that Putin appears to be firmly in power, there aren't any political groups that we can see that could challenge him in the near term.
So, when people see there's nothing, really, they can change about a situation, I think they also look for ways to kind of rationalize it in
their mind or pay as little attention as possible. And I think you've got it big group of Russians inside the country who feel that way.
ISAACSON: Russian opposition leader, Vladimir Kara-Murza, was sentenced to 25 years in prison this past week for opposing the Ukraine war, for
treason. He was actually on his way to be on this show when he got arrested. Tell me about that sentence. Is it unusually harsh and what does
TROIANOVSKI: That's an incredibly harsh sentence, even by Russian standards. You know, even people who are convicted of murder typically get
a shorter sentence than 25 years in Russia. So, it tells us that, again, this escalation in repression is continuing.
Another key thing to point out here, as you said, is he was convicted of treason and the treasonous actions that he took in the narrative of the
government are that he spoke out against the war and about -- and against Vladimir Putin. And so, that tells you that now speaking out against the
leadership of Russia can be tantamount to treason. And this comes as, you know, both Putin and others in the Russian leadership are referring to
people who are against the war, who are pro-western as potential traitors.
And that just tells you how incredibly repressive the environment is inside Russia, and the fact that when it comes to these kinds of repressive
actions, we, frankly, can only expect them to get more and more intense.
ISAACSON: A year ago, after Russia invaded Ukraine, there was a big deal in the United States and the West about putting on crushing sanctions we set.
We said it was going to bring the Russian economy down and especially hurt the oligarchs. And yet, you're reporting shows that hasn't happened. Why?
TROIANOVSKI: Well, look, the sanctions have certainly affected Russia's economy. They have led to some decline in the country's economic output.
But it's been limited and the government has found ways to really reduce the impact of those sanctions.
So, you know, western cars are no longer being officially imported into Russia. But there are all kinds of parallel exports schemes, as they call
them, that allow Russia -- that allow cars and other western consumer goods to be imported into Russia through other countries that aren't part of the
sanctions. You know, Chinese car manufacturers have become huge in Russia and other Chinese consumer electronics.
So, you know western companies like Starbucks and McDonald's and Ikea have left the country. But there are local alternatives that have been popping
up. And so, you know, it's -- and at the same time, the overall economy kind of continues to keep going. There is not mass unemployment or --
ISAACSON: How did we miscalculate the sanctions so badly then?
TROIANOVSKI: Well, I think, these sanctions were incredibly aggressive. You know, they were more intense than we've seen pretty much any sections --
ISAACSON: But the Russian economy is not doing much worse than other economies at the moment?
TROIANOVSKI: Well, I think what we've seen is the success of the Russian government's planning for this kind of thing. You know, we've been talking
for a number of years that Putin has been working on sanctions proofing his economy, piling up reserves, you know, through the country's central bank.
ISAACSON: But you say he's even getting hard technology. I mean, we were supposed to stop some of the technology, some of the chips, but even those
are getting in, right?
TROIANOVSKI: Yes, yes. I mean, because there are many countries around the world that are not participating in the sanctions, like China, like India,
like all of the Central Asian countries, you know, that border Russia in to the south in Asia.
So, there are still many places that Putin can turn to around the world as economic partners. And at the same time and his economy really functions in
the way that it's just not as susceptible to western sanctions as it would have been just five, 10 years ago.
ISAACSON: You've been writing a lot about the leaks of national security documents from the United States. First of all, tell me what those leaks.
Tell us about what's happening inside the Kremlin.
TROIANOVSKI: Well, there was one in -- one document in particular that pointed to some competition between the FSB, which is the domestic
intelligence agency that used to be called the KGB in Soviet days and the Russian military. According to one of those documents, it looks like the
FSB is saying that internally the Russian military is saying there are fewer casualties of the war on the Russian side than there really are.
At the same time, we did not see much in those documents that would show that the United States has direct knowledge of what's happening inside
Putin's inner circle. Obviously, those documents are very small, tiny subset of what American intelligence agencies know, but, you know, it
really -- we are not seeing much evidence that the U.S. has that deep inside into the Kremlin that a lot of people are looking for.
ISAACSON: Anton Troianovski, thank you so much for joining us.
TROIANOVSKI: Thank you, Walter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And finally, a closer look at the cost of war. According to the United Nations, there have been over 22,000 casualties so far in the war in
Ukraine. Many of the injured have been left with life changing injuries, requiring complex and delicate reconstructive surgery.
Well, now, a group of leading American and Canadian surgeons called Face the Future is trying to give them some hope. I'm joined from Lviv, Ukraine
by Dr. Grigoriy Mashkevich, an ocular plastic surgeon who has just arrived in the city to train local surgeons, and by Dr. Ivanka Nebor, an ENT
specialist and one of the first Ukrainian doctors the group collaborated with. Welcome both of you doctors.
I have to first disclosed, Grigoriy, that we are related. Your wife is my cousin, and actually, it was during a conversation amongst family members
that I found out that this was what you were doing, and your first trip to Ukraine last year, and we've worked together on trying to cover your next
trip, which just happens to be now. So, thank you so much for joining us, and I appreciate the time.
Let's begin with you, Dr. Nebor. This is a huge logistical challenge. I'm just worried, in the middle of a war, how were you able to put all of this
DR. IVANKA NEBOR, ENT DOCTOR AND FOUNDER, INGENIOUS: So, it's actually -- we just talked about this, that this is kind of like a forest of every
single person who's participated in this mission. Every nurse, every surgeon from American side, every surgeon and nurse from Ukrainian side, a
lot of logistical question that were covered by the volunteers who is keeping all of the -- our travel, logistic and everything. So, every person
is super important for this.
And it's so interesting that we actually have like some leading organization who is kind of like putting all of the logistic together. We
have the American Academy of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery, we have like organization, Rise for Ukraine, we have medical organization, INgenious.
So, leaders from three of these organizations are putting most of their -- for us (ph), and we have a lot of like sponsors and donors who are
supporting all of this.
So, I feel like this project is super important, just in the sense of that every person whose, you know, contribute to make this happen, make the --
made the project to be alive and constantly continue. So, to having the second mission just prove that every single person is important for this.
GOLODRYGA: And, Grig, for the purposes of this interview, I will be calling you Dr. Mashkevich, which is novel for me, but I want to get that clear
with our viewers to talk to you professionally. And I know on your last mission, you carried out some 34 surgeries. As we mentioned there are
thousands, 75,000, if not more patients who need care right now.
How do you go about making sure that you see the patients that are available to you? I know that there are many more surgeries that you would
like to do and perform. But how does that planning work?
DR. GRIGORIY MASHKEVICH, PLASTIC SURGEON: Bianna, first of all, thank you so much for shining a spotlight on the human suffering in Ukraine. We're
seeing firsthand the devastating impact that this war has made on multiple people in Ukraine, both civilian and military.
And to answer your question. This is no easy task. We certainly prioritize and value and emphasize the actual patients. We're here because we're
incredibly advanced in our training in the United States, and we can offer this next level expertise and treat injuries that otherwise would be very
difficult to handle locally.
But the big part of the picture here is that we need to train local doctors to be better at what they do. And as we grow this mission, as we grow this
particular investment of time and energy, we hope that long-term we can actually get local doctors to become incredibly proficient in doing these
Just to give you an idea, I just walked out of surgery that lasted 12 hours. You know, we have multiple surgeons working on the patient who had
significant devastating physical, emotional injuries and had trouble with speaking, eating, swallowing, you name it. And, you know, I think this kind
of an effort will require quite a few years and hopefully, we'll be able to speed it up based on just the local interest and the need.
So -- and I will echo with Dr. Nebor just stated, that it's really about everybody involved, nurses, surgical techs, members of the Academy of
Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, ocular plastic surgeons. You know, we have such a wonderful collection of individuals, that it's just my
pride and honor to be a part of this mission.
GOLODRYGA: I'm so glad you mentioned the emotional wounds too, because the physical wounds you can fix. That's what you're trained to do. But so many
of these people are going to be scarred for life with these emotional wounds. So, whatever you are doing to help with them physically, I'm sure
that's having a huge impact on them as they are trying to recover emotionally as well.
Dr. Mashkevich, I want to play for you some sound from a report from our own David McKenzie, who met a man by the name of Roman Belinsky, who is a
Ukrainian soldier. He was badly injured in the war. Here's part of his story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Early in the war, his mechanized infantry brigade faced the brunt of Russia's
invasion, and the oncoming tanks.
I do not understand how I survived, he says. I don't even understand how I got through the shelling because it was dark. I was hanging out. I was
concussed. My whole face was covered in blood. Shrapnel went right through me.
He says, many in his brigade were lost. We were all like one family, he says. You know, somewhere you feel your guilt that I didn't also die like
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Dr. Mashkevich, I know you're familiar with Roman's treatment there and his story and also, you get the sense of the guilt that he feels
that he's sort of the lucky one. He survived and many of his peers did not. Are those types of injuries that you're seeing amongst these patients
DR. MASHKEVICH: They are, and they're just very difficult to describe. We see young people, old people, from all walks of life, teachers, scientists,
you know, salespeople, small business owners, everyone's been affected. And, you know, the emotional trauma is incredibly challenging. Just walking
the streets of Lviv and looking at people who have just devastating physical trauma, that really does drive the message home.
And, you know, Roman has had several surgeries. Last one in Ivano- Frankivsk. And he's just a shining example of what we can do for people like him. And hopefully, we'll will continue to do so.
GOLODRYGA: Dr. Nebor, I mean, for both of you really, this is a personal story too, you both have roots in Ukraine. Dr. Nebor, this is very recent
for you though. You have just recently, in the past few years, resided in the United States. You still have family I know in Kyiv. I'm just curious,
personally for you, what is this experience been like knowing that this is hitting so close to home?
DR. NEBOR: Yes, absolutely. I feel like that was one of the reasons why I decided to be like involved in this project because I feel that by helping
all of these patients, helping all of these soldiers I'm kind of like paying back to them because they like technically and actually defending my
family, because all of my parents, my brother with his family, all staying in Kyiv and they stay there during the -- since the war was started.
So -- and I know when I talk with the soldiers, and they shaking my hand, saying, like, thank you for your help, I actually like shaking their hands
and saying, like, you know, like, actually, it's a big honor for me to shake your hand because you are defending -- you defeat and continue to
defending my family. And this is super important for me. And I feel like this project showed me how -- actually, how much these people pay for my
family to be alive and to be healthy.
And as we saw locally in the hospital, we saw not only our patients who had like facial injury, we also, all the time, seeing patients who had the
trauma of their body who does -- like young people who doesn't have their leg or hands. So, it's -- everything that we're seeing today and all of
this week, it's very, very sad.
So, yes, this project is -- like, absolutely, I have my personal motivation.
GOLODRYGA: Dr. Mashkevich, last 25 seconds for you. I'd just be remiss not to ask you. What is your message to those patients who, sadly, won't be
able to experience time with you and treatment from you?
DR. MASHKEVICH: Well, the message is to stay strong and positive. You know, we just got started here. There's plenty of work to do. But we can mobilize
physicians who are our colleagues in the United States and overseas and provide the necessary training to the local doctors and continue to come
DR. MASHKEVICH: We will help a lot of people.
GOLODRYGA: You'll be back.
DR. MASHKEVICH: No question about it.
GOLODRYGA: You'll be back.
DR. MASHKEVICH: And we'll be back.
GOLODRYGA: I know that. Dr. Mashkevich, Dr. Nebor, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for everything that you are doing. It is so important.
And that is it for now. Thank you so much for watching. Goodbye from New York.