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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

U.S.: More Russian Forces Are At The Border, And They're Moving Into "Fighting Positions"; Hong Kong COVID Crisis; Teenage Pilot. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired February 16, 2022 - 17:00   ET


CHRISTINA MACFARLANE, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome. This is THE GLBOAL BRIEF. I'm Christine Macfarlane in for Bianca Nobilo.

Tonight, Ukrainian military intelligence says Russia's troop build-up at its border isn't ending but is currently insufficient for a full scale


And then in Hong Kong, dozens of COVID patients are being treated in car parks as hospitals reach full capacity.

And we'll introduce you to a 16-year-old who is attempting to become the youngest man to fly solo around the world just weeks after his sister

became the youngest female to do the same feat.

Well, we begin with new urgent warnings from U.S. State Department about Russia's massive troop build-up around Ukraine. Despite videos such as this

released by Russia's defense ministry to support its claims of a partial withdrawal, the U.S. says more Russian forces are at the border and moving

to fighting positions. It says Russia is planting fake stories to the media that could trigger war, warning such a pretext could come at any time.


NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: It could involve claims about Ukrainian military activity in the Donbas, false claims of NATO or

U.S. activities at land or sea or air, even claims of Ukrainian or NATO incursion into Russian territory. We're particularly concerned about

President Putin and other Russian officials, on going mentions of, quote- unquote, genocide in the Donbas. There is no basis of truth to any of these allegations.


MACFARLANE: Just today, the Kremlin said the danger level in Donbas remains high, but Ukraine also worried about a possible diplomatic threat

to eastern region, asking the U.N. Security Council to discuss a bill passed that urges Vladimir Putin to recognize two separatist areas as

independent nations,.


NATO says the threat from Russia have become the new normal in Europe and at a meeting of defense ministers in Brussels, Secretary General Jen

Stoltenberg said NATO will not be bullied into compromising on its core principles by Moscow's show of force. He says, instead, the alliance is

beefing up its defenses.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: Therefore today, ministers decided to develop options for further strengthening NATO's terms on

defense, including to consider establishing new NATO battle groups in central and eastern and southeastern Europe. And I welcomed the offer by

France to lead such a battle group in Romania.


MACFARLANE: Ukraine's president visited troops in several parts of the country today. Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukrainians are not afraid and will

defend themselves if attacked.

CNN's Sam Kiley has more on what Ukraine called a national day of unity.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The chorus of Kharkiv opera house singing in defiance of this, Russia massing what the

U.S. says are 150,000 troops on three sides of Ukraine's border.

In Kharkiv, 25 miles from the frontier, a day of national unity is quickly marked amid dire warnings from Washington.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An invasion remains distinctly possible.

KILEY: Here, though a message of calm.

Do you expect an invasion?

No, we don't expect it, he says. I think we should be ready for anything. But I'm also sure everything is going to be fine.

If the Russians did attack, they'd have a short run to Kharkiv.

We're driving north towards the border with Russia, which is now about 15 or 20 minutes away. About half and hour beyond that is the city of

Velingrad, where, according to reports the first tank army. On paper, they're capable of mustering 50,000 or so infantry, 600, 800 tanks, surface

missiles, but there isn't a single sign on this road north of Kharkiv, a city of 1.5 million people, of any kind of Ukrainian military activity.

Just trucks waiting on routine entry into Russia and business as usual at the border crossing here. Russia is on the other side of that fence. The

locals here, relaxed.

Ludmila (ph) says, how is it we're forced to quarrel with our brothers? I can't comprehend it. On the contrary, we should not have borders at all.

There is no will to fight with Russia, and we don't see the will of the Russians to fight with us. There are no armed forces, not even a hint, says


In case Russia does send tanks into this vast landscape, Ukrainians insist they recall the words of their national anthem.

Our enemies will die as the dew does in the sunshine and we brothers will live happily in our land.

Sam Kiley, CNN, Kharkiv.


MACFARLANE: Well, thousands of British and U.S. troops arriving in Poland to bolster its borders with Belarus. Meantime, Poland is also bracing for a

possible refugees from Ukraine, if Russia invades that country.

Prime Minister Mateusz spoke about it from Poland's eastern border.


MATEUSZ MORAWIECKI, POLISH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We must be prepared for the worst, which today, means a Russian invasion on Ukraine,

or, as the military officers say, a full-scale war. This may cause an exodus of Ukrainians. Obviously, our task today is securing NATO's eastern

flank but we also offer humanitarian aid to Ukraine and Ukrainians to help minimize the effects of a possible Russian attack.

We'll prepare necessary infrastructure in eastern Poland and if necessary, also in other parts of the country.


MACFARLANE: Well, let's bring in international security editor Nick Paton Walsh, who watched troops arrive near the Polish-Ukrainian border.

Nick, I know you've been there some 24 hours, what have you been seeing?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I have to point out to you, Christina, on the Polish side of the Polish-Ukrainian border, we

are not seeing anything remotely anyone coming over, fleeing conflict at this stage. We're seeing Ukrainians going the other direction and the other

time today, we saw hundreds of the 82nd Airborne out of Fort Bragg in the United States. U.S. troops coming in said to be ready just in case the U.S.

sees the need to pull out American citizens from inside of Ukraine in a sort of prepared posture here.

But I have to say, in quite significant number, here's what we saw.


WALSH (voice-over): They don't really want you to see this, but it's hard to hide. These are U.S. troops landing near the Polish border with Ukraine,

high end Black Hawks, C-17 cargo planes, dozens in the past days.

Media haven't been given official access but they're pretty hard to miss. Trucks, pallets, signs these 82nd airborne from Fort Bragg are not here an

hour's drive from Ukraine, just overnight. They even came this day with a Cessna-like aircraft which seems to be innocently carrying top brass who

get on to a nearby helicopter.

Moscow may point to these scenes as NATO massing troops on Ukraine's border but these are here with the approval of Poland, a NATO member.

And a standoff that's all about messaging. These American troops are about ensuring the U.S. allies feel their presence. The unit we saw decamps to a

nearby conference center. They're here just in case, to help stranded Americans in Ukraine if the need arises.

These sort of movements in NATO war games and drills have been practiced for years. They don't really want us to see this, the larger base where

they are.

Americans over here? This is the main base, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: We can't talk about this.

WALSH: I understand. Can we talk to somebody about this?


WALSH: They walk right by us.

Don't be afraid, it's all right.

And the size of the operation, these are a lot of tents over a wide operation, is both what you might expect to support that many soldiers but

also something that is almost definitely not for show, and portrays a lot of readiness even if you hope they all stay bold and cold under canvas in

the weeks ahead.

Border of Ukraine, an hour away, is normally busy, but Sasha is on his way back in as his visa has run out.

Ukraine's my country, I have to stay, yes, in the army if need be, but no running away.

At another crossing, Ukrainians returning are pretty blunt. He won't get as far as Kyiv, we won't let him, one says. We'll raise a resistance, fighting

in the woods. It will be like Stalin, his own people will kill him.

Bravado running hot, far away from a front line that is still mostly cold.


WALSH (on camera): That's important amongst all these warnings, a reality check. Obviously, Poland not seeing anything like anybody crossing in mass

over from Ukraine. I have to say, after seeing the last two invasions in Ukraine, it's a big enough country to absorb its own displaced but it's

remarkable, Christina, to have known about NATO going through drills, practices, for something like this in the future with all these exercises

we've seen over the past years here and to actually see U.S. troops coming here in number with all the resources they bring with them because of an

actual possible threat that's imminent is a startling site to see at Europe in 2022.

MACFARLANE: Yeah, it is a startling reality indeed. Nick Paton Walsh there from Poland, thanks very much, Nick.

And while the West is focusing on Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is courting leaders from half a world away. He met with his Brazilian

counterpart Jair Bolsonaro in Moscow on Wednesday. President Bolsonaro says nuclear technology and defense were some topics discussed, both of their

foreign ministers held talks as well as before signing a deal on the exchange of classified information between the two countries.

Now, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator says the country is closer than ever to an agreement on reviving the Iran nuclear deal. Iran and U.S. spent

weeks in indirect talks in Vienna and Western diplomats say the next few days will make or break them. Russia and the EU and China are mediating the

discussions. And despite the optimistic tone, the negotiator warns nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Iran nuclear deal struck in 2015 but

Trump administration pulled out of it in 2018.

Now to a landmark ruling from the European Union's top court. It's dismissing challenges by Poland and Hungary against a new E.U. sanction,

that means billions of dollars in funding are now at stake. Poland and Hungary both receive massive amounts of E.U. funds while populist leaders

have been accused of violating democratic rights.

But Brussels want to cut funding to member countries that don't uphold those values using a new sanction and this judgment paves the way for that

to happen.


PETRI SAVARMAA, FINNISH MEMBER OF EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT: It is high time to start implementing the regulation. The clock cannot be restarted again --

once again, to play time -- but the commission must act real fast. The future of the rule of law, the protection of most fundamental values of the

union and the protection of the union's budget now lie in the hands of the European Commission.


MACFARLANE: Now, the bloc's internal cohesion is at risk.


MORAWIECKI (though translator): Centralization of the E.U. structures is a dangerous process, in this unequal dialogue, we are trying to highlight and

show the risk related to that. I can interpret today's ruling only in this context.


MACFARLANE: Rescue crews in Brazil are searching for survivors after devastating floods and landslides, at least 65 people dead and an unknown

number of others are missing.

Shasta Darlington has been looking at the terrible destruction.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A terrifying scene as rushing water carries a car down an embankment. Heavy rain drenched the

city of Petropolis, a mountainous region of Brazil's Rio de Janeiro state, causing deadly flooding and landslides. Emergency crews tossed debris out

of a giant hole, racing to find anyone left alive under the muddy mess.

Dozens are dead, including several children. The Rio de Janeiro fire and civil defense department says it's unclear how many people are still


Rio's governor visited the area to assess the damage.

CLAUDIO CASTRO, RIO DE JANEIRO GOVERNOR (through translator): I think it is not time yet to discuss numbers. Our work now is to find survivors in

this horror scene, to clean and rescue and bodies that are here.

DARLINGTON: A rescuer carries a dog to safety and residents look on at what is left of their neighborhood.

More than 1,500 families have been displaced as the property destruction is enormous. The city has declared a state of public calamity. One shop keeper

says he lost everything in a matter of minutes.

HENRIQUE PEREIRA, SHOPKEEPER (through translator): It arrived by surprise. Started flooding gradually, the wall here in front was taking everything,

the water pressure was taking everything. Everybody on this street has 100 percent damage. It was very difficult. Now, to start over.

DARLINGTON: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro who's on a trip to Russia tweeted that he is asking for assistance for the victims.

Rio's civil defense says that Petropolis had more rain in one afternoon than the historical average for all of February, officials advocating

residents to relocate to shelters until the debris can be cleared away.

Shasta Darlington, CNN, Sao Paulo.


MACFARLANE: Chinese President Xi Jinping says Hong Kong must take all necessary measures to control its spiraling COVID outbreak, some hospitals

in Hong Kong, so full that they're treating patients outdoors.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is there.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chinese President Xi Jinping is urging the Hong Kong government to take the main responsibility to

stabilize a growing COVID-19 outbreak, this according to local pro-Beijing media on Wednesday.

According to Xi, they say, the Hong Kong special regional government should take up responsibility, mobilize all forces and resources that can be

mobilized and take all necessary measures to protect Hong Kong's peoples' lives and health, as well as ensure Hong Kong's social stability.

Other reports add that Beijing will help Hong Kong by boosting testing, treatment and quarantining capacity.

Hong Kong's top leader Carrie Lam issued a response thanking Xi for his concern while promising to unit Hong Kong to fight the virus. Now as they

battle a growing fifth wave of infection, on Wednesday, city reported 2,485 daily new COVID cases and 7,000 more preliminary positive cases, a

significant rise from the previous day.

A number of public hospitals are running out of beds, and some have set up outdoor treatment areas. At the Caritas Medical Center, patients waiting

outside for care, the parking lot turned into a field hospital and isolation facility.

Despite the worsening situation, Carrie Lam on Tuesday said the city remains committed to its dynamic zero COVID strategy, designed to suppress

every outbreak.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN, Hong Kong.


MACFARLANE: Germany plans to ease COVID restricts starting March 18th. Chancellor Olaf Scholz says some measures will be lifted depending on

situation in German hospitals. He says face masks requirements indoors in public transport will still remain in place, restrictions for those who

gather will be all lifted for those who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID.

Mr. Scholz says omicron but warns pandemic is not over.


Meantime, Austria says it will loosen some restrictions starting Saturday and lift most by March 5th.

All right. Coming up on THE GLOBAL BRIEF, ex-president of Honduras may be heading to the U.S. to face drug trafficking charges if the Honduran

Supreme Court allows it.

And we look at a ban on religious clothing in parts of India is triggering backlash from the Muslim community.


MACFARLANE: U.S. President Joe Biden and German chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke over the crisis of Ukraine. The two leaders agreed that, quote,

Russia must take real steps towards de-escalation. They said they welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for more diplomacy but they also

said that must be pursued at full speed.

Okay. The Supreme Court of Honduras deciding whether to let the country's former president to be extradited to the United States. Honduran police say

Juan Orlando Hernandez is facing drug trafficking charges in the U.S. and based on at least that charge, the U.S. requested extradition, former

president surrendered to police on Tuesday. The man has led the country for eight years. His arrest comes just a few weeks after he left power.

Okay. Well, CNN correspondent Matt Rivers joins me now live from Mexico City.

And we're still waiting, I believe, Matt on the results of that Supreme Court hearing on his extradition.

We know that Hernandez still has a lot of influence in the country even on those making the decision as we speak. So what can we expect to happen


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're doing now is going through the process, watching the process play out in Honduras where we

know the former president was arrested Tuesday in a shocking scene, frankly. This was a guy who was the president just a few weeks ago and yet

on Tuesday, we saw scenes of him literally being led out of his house in chains, shackled by both the wrist and ankles, those shackles a stunning

scene for the people of Honduras to see a man who had been really unquestionably in power for better part of a decade now being taken to a

jail cell.

So, that happened Tuesday. This morning starting at 10:00 a.m. the first extradition hearing was held, so made his first appearance in front of

judge where the judge basically said he instituted a temporary detention provision, essentially saying while this hearing plays out that Hernandez

will remain in detention in Europe, the second hearing scheduled some time in mid March.

So what it doesn't appear like is that Hernandez just put on a plane and sent to the United States anytime soon. However, this process is beginning

to play out. I think you're seeing a real shift in Honduras right now where you saw this once very powerful leader literally arrested in his own home

and brought to a detention facility where he will remain until at least March 16th which is when that second extradition hearing will be held.

Clearly, though, what was happening here is that the United States who has long suspected and accused Hernandez to be involved in drug trafficking

were waiting on him to leave office before this request. He was listed as a co-conspirator.

Remember, his brother is currently serving a life sentence in the United States, having seen sentenced to a life term in prison early in 2021 and in

those, in the paper work filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Hernandez was listed as a coconspirator who funded campaigns with large sums of drug

money. So, he was basically called a co-conspirator with his drug trafficker brother, he leaves office and now seeing the scenes play out in


And I think it may very well might end up that he ends up in front of a U.S. judge sometime in the nearly relatively near future.

MACFARLANE: We'll be watching it closely, as you say, it was dramatic and it was swift. Crazy to think he was only in charge just a few weeks ago.

Matt Rivers there from Mexico City -- thanks, Matt.

Well, three weeks after leading a coup, Burkina Faso's military leader was sworn in as president. Paul-Henri Damiba took the oath of office on

Wednesday. He overthrew the previous government saying it could not stop an Islamic insurgency that killed thousands and forced more than 1 million

people from their homes. Damiba says he plans to fight corruption and depoliticize the government.


PAUL-HENRI DAMIBA, BURKINA FASO PRESIDENT (through translator): Even the fight against corruption, a really sea naked snake in the fight against

corruption in our country must take a new dynamic. The Republican administration we want to put in place must constitute in itself by its

motive operation and by its moral values the first responsible as a tool which dissuades.


MACFARLANE: Damiba also promised a eventually return to Democratic elections.

Okay. Let's take a look at the other key stories making international impact today.

Prince Charles' charity, the Prince's Foundation, is under investigation for an alleged cash-for-honors scheme. London police say they're looking

into whether the chief executive helped nominate a Saudi businessman for an honor in exchange for charitable donations. The accusation originated in

"Sunday Times" investigation last year. Prince Charles maintains he had no knowledge of the alleged scheme.

Senior schools reopened Wednesday in Karnataka, India. They were closed for a week after protest broke out against a ban on wearing hijab. India's

Muslim minority make up about 30 percent of the country. The court is deliberating on the recent ban, which initially ruled that schools

shouldn't allow religious clothing in classrooms.

All Internet traffic in Cambodia will now be routed through the government service, raising fears of surveillance and censorship. Authorities will be

able to monitor online authority and switch off Internet access. Critics say this gateway undermines privacy and violates free speech.

U.N. says it's making progress to transfer oil of a decaying tanker in Yemen. The goal is to shift more than 1 million barrels of oil to another

ship. The FSO Safer has been stranded since 2015, causing environmental crisis. The area is controlled by Houthi rebels, making an agreement

extremely difficult.

Okay, you're watching THE GLOBAL BRIEF. We'll be back right after this short break. Stay with us.



MACFARLANE: New Zealand's parliament has passed a law banning so called conversion therapy by almost unanimous vote. The country's minister of

justice said, quote, this is a great day for New Zealand's rainbow community. Conversion practices have no place in modern New Zealand. The

government said that they received the highest number of public comments ever seen, almost 107,000.

New Zealand is the latest country to ban the controversial practice which wrongfully claims it can cure LGBTQ people. It joins Brazil, Germany,

Albania, and Canada, where parliament unanimously passed a similar bill a few months ago.

Now, there is nothing like a bit of sibling rivalry, 16-year-old Mack Rutherford is trying to set a new record, the youngest male to fly solo

around the world. The British Belgian teenager has a unique inspiration, his sister, who weeks ago became the youngest female to fly around the

world herself.


MACK RUTHERFORD, 16-YEAR-OLD: I want to show that young people can make a difference. I'm going around to all these places but I want to show that

you don't have to be 18 or older. You don't have to be an adult to do incredible things. You can be young. You can be 16.


MACFARLANE: The young pilot is set to take off from Bulgaria in March. He's expected to be gone two to three months. Rutherford says he feels

pretty confident that he's ready for the challenge and, you know, his sister will be rooting for him.

I mean, great story, you got to feel for their parents, right.

Okay. That was THE GLOBAL BRIEF. Thank you so much for joining us.

Stay tuned. "WORLD SPORT" is up next.