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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

Putin Recognizes Breakaway Areas; The Queen's COVID Diagnosis; Iraqi Women's Sports Club. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired February 21, 2022 - 17:00   ET


BIANCA NOBILO, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome. This is THE GLOBAL BRIEF. I'm Bianca Nobilo in London.

Tonight, a provocative move. Vladimir Putin recognizes the independence of two pro-Russian regions in Ukraine as fears of invasion escalate.

Then, we'll be live in Windsor where Queen Elizabeth is self-isolating after testing positive of COVID-19.


And in Baghdad, a former Iraqi athlete with one mission -- promoting sports among women in her country.

Leaders across the Western world are holding emergency meetings after Russia announced a move that could escalate the crisis in Ukraine. Vladimir

Putin signed a decree today recognizing two Ukrainian separatist regions as independent. Leader of those pro-Russian self-proclaimed republics joined

Mr. Putin in Moscow after asking him for protection against what they call a Ukrainian offensive.

In an address to his nation, Mr. Putin went so far beyond Donetsk and Luhansk saying that Ukraine is an integral part of Russia's history. He

also questioned its sovereignty saying Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): There's just no independent Ukraine. Ukraine just follows any Western demands, that Ukraine

has given up their own right to choose their own charges and via the U.S. embassy, U.S. embassy directly controls national anti-corruption agency,

anti-corruption bureau, and their specialized prosecutor's office and judge's office.


NOBILO: The fallout from Mr. Putin's speech was immediate. Both the U.S. and some European nations say they're preparing more sanctions.

To talk more about the significant of what happened today in Moscow and how it could affect the crisis along Ukraine's borders, we're joined by CNN

contributor for Russian affairs, Jill Dougherty, as well as Nick Paton Walsh in Lviv, Ukraine.

Jill, let's go to you first, so the Russian Douma and other prominent politicians and advisers called for Putin to recognize these nations as

independent territories in what seems like an orchestrated buildup. So, what's the significance of the recognition of these republics now? And

also, what political paths does it open up in terms of undermining Ukraine's sovereignty further?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: I think you're absolutely right, that this feels very choreographed, and it happened in

stages. The Douma asked the president to do this. The president did it today.

You mentioned that very long speech, really pretty furious speech incorporating a lot of history and saying essentially that Ukraine was

created from pieces of Russia, and then the president signing this agreement. In fact, the two leaders of those breakaway regions, Donetsk and

Luhansk People's Republics were there at the Kremlin, sitting at the table. So, they were watching him as he did it.

And then finally after they signed the agreements for friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance, as part of that, there is a phrase

about using the Russian military to ensure peace in those regions. So you can interpret that as having Russian peacekeepers going to those regions.

Now, legally, of course, that violates the sovereignty of Ukraine. President Putin would say the people of the region are being attacked and

we have to protect them. But I think, you know, Bianca, If you look at what he's saying this would create the basis were going much further than we

expected, certainly, and the basis for taking more military action. We don't know precisely what he'll be doing, but these incremental steps

really now are speeding up. This is major.

NOBILO: Thanks, Jill.

Nick, CNN just had an alert that the Russian decree recognizing separatist republics as calling for Russian peacekeepers. That's from the Kremlin.

Nick, would you interrogate that language for us and also tell us how this is going to affect what's happening on the ground and also the Minsk


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yeah, very much what Jill was just saying there. This decree is calling for Russian peacekeepers

to go into the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republic, the breakaway territories of Ukraine that were just recognized by Vladimir Putin.

Now, this is important obviously because it does in the very imminent future -- and the decree says the actions should be taken at the time the

decree is signed. It suggests Russian troops will be entering into the separatist republics imminently if not now. Now, that is not full scale

invasion that Western intelligence has been warning of for weeks or months now. It is a reduced move, certainly. It's not one without risk, either,

too, for the Russian military and government because it puts their troops on the line of contact with the Ukrainian military as well.

And it's also one which is potentially very escalatory because we haven't heard what Ukraine intends to do as its response to the Russian declaration

that recognizes the two separatist republic, and this is potentially where, as Jill was mentioning, we could see escalation.

Vladimir Putin is fond of small steps, of waiting for the patience or attention span of his opponent and laps and then taking another move. You

have to listen to that speech that we heard today. That was an hour-long rant justifying essentially why it might be okay for Russia to militarily

act against Ukraine, I'm paraphrasing, a country that doesn't really I think has the right to exist in order to defend Russia from NATO, which

Vladimir Putin essentially said was using its missions for training in Ukraine as cover for what he said were essentially NATO bases there.

A very strident speech, revising, frankly, the history of Ukraine, and giving his idea as to why the Russian audience he was talking to, should be

comfortable with whatever he has coming next.

Now, frankly, this move to recognize these two breakaway areas is the lesser end of the scale of what he could have done. He could have done

nothing or he could have done this. But I have the say, many people looking at the volume of forces he's been amassing at the boarder and the fact that

a western official I was talking to said, they can't be there in the heightened state of readiness they are for that many more days.

That we could be seeing this as the begin of more actions, or, as Vladimir Putin, a fan of judo, where you wrong foot your opponent is always fond of

doing, essentially calling the bluff of Western intelligence and not doing what they have been suggesting for a great lengthy period of time he would

do, which is launch a broader invasion and going for the smaller.

We can't look inside his head, Bianca, what we have seen is his first declaration and it showed a man of a mind set potentially able to do

something as unwise as launch a full scale invasion of Ukraine, but instead initially going for this very choreographed smaller option.

NOBILO: And, Nick, in terms of the timing here, I mean, as you say, President Putin's address was so trident and aggressive in the rhetoric.

These aren't exactly new concepts, because if we think back to President Putin's essay on Ukraine and Russia, last year, I think it was. These are

sentiments he's expressed before.

So why do this now? Why recognize the republics now?

WALSH: Because I think he probably felt he had to do something at this stage to advance the Russian cause. Yes, it was an argument that anyone who

read his essay would be very familiar with. I think it's quite clear the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seemed to be on the phone with his

counterpart President Joe Biden for some of the speech, to not everybody paying the attention that Vladimir Putin seemed to think he would get to

revise his history of Ukraine.

But it leads us to this dangerous moment where we have Russian troops now on the move into Ukraine. I should say, look, reality, they have been doing

this twice already before, when they moved into Crimea and denied it was them coining it, and when we saw these phenomenally well-equipped

separatists who are considered to be locals by the Russian government who are backing them, back in 2014 and 2015, sweep into various areas there.

So, essentially, this is formalizing Russia's control on these areas. It's a move that some analysts thought may not be ideal for Moscow, because what

you're doing is publicly owning the problem of these areas, and might argue, defining clearly what Ukraine's new borders are perhaps and that you

no longer suggesting you as Russia consider these areas to be in dispute.

But it is possibly the beginning of a number of steps that we are going to see. We just don't simply know. And we do know that Moscow do not like

having their moves dictated to them by others, like to pursue their own timetable.

So, I think possibly the concern of some analysts might be that we're looking at a small step, maybe a pause, and then another one, trying to

catch people off guard.

NOBILO: Nick Paton Walsh in Lviv, and Jill Dougherty in Moscow, thank you both.

Let's bring in Orysia Lutsevych. She's a research fellow and manager of the Ukraine Forum in the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House, an

international policy think tank.

Orysia, thank you for joining the program.

What is -- what was your reaction to President Putin's remarks today? And do you think they gave any clues as to the extent of his ambitions which

have been relatively obscure?

ORYSIA LUTSEVYCH, RESEARCH FELLOW, MANAGER OF THE UKRAINE FORUM, CHATHAM HOUSE: Well, I think for any Ukrainian that was listening to Putin's

revisionist history, it was deeply humiliating this narrative. Obviously it's not new, but it was reiterating Putin's despise for Ukraine, this

independent state in the center of Europe.

Clearly, he is create a false pretext for an invasion by claiming the false narrative of genocide, by staging attacks, presumably on Russian territory

from Ukrainian armed forces, which never happened, and now recognizing the independent proxy groups that he himself carved out of Ukraine, armed and

used to harass the rest of Ukraine.


So, it's deeply stressful development. I treat it as the direct attack on Ukrainian territorial integrity and I think it merits an immediate

introduction of sanctions that would inflict cost on this Russian wolf.

NOBILO: Obviously, Putin's been trying to undermine Ukraine's statehood for some time, and by asserting that it is an integral part of Russian

history and can't stand alone as a state. Obviously, states are created from somewhere, and national memories are largely imagined and constructed.

So to what extent do you feel like this is a sincerely held position by the Russian president and part of his psychology, and how much of it is just

geostrategic opportunism?

LUTSEVYCH: Well, I think it's a fusion of deeply entrenched belief with geostrategy. Putin believes that control of Ukraine is a control to the

gate of Europe. He's very much into geopolitics of Eurasia. And it's well- known belief that with Ukraine, Russia is an empire. Without Ukraine, it's just regional state.

So I think it serves him a good purpose to hold these -- hold historical beliefs there and to share this ideology en masse with Russian people.

And we see how much Russian state television is also spinning this false narrative, creating Ukraine as a puppet state of U.S., not giving it any

legitimacy, and actually, what is even more dangerous, humiliating and dehumanizing Ukrainians as neo-Nazis, stoking a very aggressive rhetoric,

spiking up this hatred between Ukrainians and Russians, which I think we'll have to deal with for generations.

NOBILO: One of Putin's goals has been to try to foment divisions within NATO and the European Union, when it comes to Russia. And, obviously, we've

seen markedly difference responses from Germany, soft leaning from France, Italy when it comes to sanctions.

How much of a mistake do you think it's been strategically speaking for the E.U. to become so reliant on Russia when it comes to energy and gas given

that the relationship with the Russian president has been frosty and unpredictable for decades?

LUTSEVYCH: Well, absolutely. I mean, it's one of the problems that you're pointing where the European Union allows Russian leverage to persevere

regardless of tense relations from 2014. But you can go further back to 2008 when Russia invaded the Caucasian country of Georgia.

So I think the problem is that we have to make stark choices today whether he make ourselves independent and resilient in view of revisionist Russia,

or we continue to buy into the narratives of spheres of influence for the sake of making money. This is the time to make this choice.

NOBILO: Orysia Lutsevych, thanks so much for joining the program and for sharing your thoughts.

As we have been discussing, the Russian president just hours ago recognized two rebel-held regions in Eastern Ukraine as independent republics.

CNN's Sam Kiley just traveled to a town on the front line of separatist controlled territory, where residents are left with few options. .


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In a small town called New York in Eastern Ukraine, and a short flight for a mortar

bomb from rebel territory, lies Slavyansk Street. After eight years of war so close to the frontline, homes here are almost worthless.

These houses haven't been smashed by war. They've been destroyed by the poverty conflict brings. Torn down and sold as recycled bricks and tiles,

locals tell us that these houses sell for about 70 bucks.

This is the end of Slavyansk Street. Now just down there is the checkpoint and beyond that is rebel held territory. And in the last hour or so, we've

heard at least eight explosions.

Lilia is 3. She's out amid the shelling with her mum, lending a hand, playing with the family pump through a gate riddled with shrapnel holes

from a shell that landed before she was born. Her parents tell her that the latest barrage is thunder, but it is something to worry about.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): She does not understand. But very soon she will understand, because she is three. So we are now thinking about

whether we stay here.


Andrey is a rescue worker. He's acutely aware of the surge in recent shelling.

According to Ukrainian authorities, there were at least 70 strikes along the frontline that Saturday.

So what kind of life do you think your daughter's going to have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translate): How could I know? There is no stability in the country. I'm doing my best to provide all that's needed. But still, I

can't change reality.

KILEY: The increased Russian backed rebels shelling the kill to government soldiers on Saturday is being seen as a possible prelude to a Russian

invasion, perhaps along this very street.

Across the road, Maxine draws water from a well. This community is sliding back into the 19th century. And fear bears down on everyone.

Is there much shelling?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): There, you hear it. Yes.

KILEY: You've had this for a long time. Are you feeling frightened now there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): Yes, I'm scare. Very scared.

KILEY: But many living in Ukraine's New York are trapped by these war time blues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): Where should we go? Why? Nobody cares. And where should we get money to live and rent? So that is why we are staying

in this house.

KILEY: Sam Kiley, New York, Ukraine.


NOBILO: We'll be right back after this break, and we have been bringing you the breaking news here on CNN that a Russian decree recognizing the

independence of two separatist regions has also called for Russian peacekeepers in the region. That's from the Kremlin.

We'll be right back after this short break.


NOBILO: Welcome back.

Just a quick reminder of our breaking news now, that a Russian decree recognizing the independence of two separatist regions in southeastern

Ukraine has also declared -- has also called for Russian peace keepers in the region, and that is from the Kremlin, breaking over the last half an

hour. Also, we're bringing you more as soon as we get it.

Now to testing times in more ways than one for Queen Elizabeth. She will engage in only light duties in the coming days after testing positive for

COVID-19. The 95-year-old is experiencing mild cold-like symptoms, according to Buckingham Palace. It comes after an already challenging

period for the queen, following Prince Andrew's sex abuse lawsuit in the U.S. and Prince Charles's embroilment in a cash for honors scandal.

Our royal correspondent Max Foster is, of course, across all of this and he joins us now from Windsor. Max, what do we know about how her majesty is


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: She's in isolation because we're told she's following current guidelines, and those guidelines are that you have

to self-isolate when you tested positive for COVID-19.


Of course, from Thursday, those rules will change. You don't have to do that. But for now, she does are to isolate.

She does have symptoms, so that is a concern. So, she is being monitored by her doctors, but they are mild symptoms, as you say. They have been

described as cold-like symptoms.

At the same time, we know she's got some mobility issues. You'll remember, Bianca, last week, she met senior members of the military. She wouldn't

walk towards them. I'm told that's because she's under some strange -- not injured, but she might stiff.

She is stuck on her own, but in her true style, keep calm and carry on, her mantra. Of course, she is carrying on with work. Light duties, as you say.

That's the way the palace described it. Paper work, showing that she's still head of state and looking after the matter of state despite the fact

that she is suffering from COVID@. We think this all started because there was an outbreak of COVID behind castle walls because they have been

loosening things up. She's been busier.

It was perhaps inevitable at some point she would catch COVID, but at the age of nearly 96, there's concern about it. So, of course she's getting the

best care and everyone's watching out for her, wishing well for her. But there was a message sent to Brazil today about the floods from the queen,

and that was -- I think part of that was a message to the world to say, she's still in business, so don't worry too much, Bianca.

NOBILO: Max Foster in Windsor, thank you.

Let's take a look at the other COVID stories making international impact today. The British prime minster laid out plans to lift England's legal

COVID restrictions. Speaking in parliament, Boris Johnson said the requirement to self-isolate following a positive COVID test will end from

Thursday. But the prime minster was keen to express the pandemic was by no means over and he announced living with COVID plans.

After clearing out the protesters who descended on downtown Ottawa for three weeks, Canadian authorities say they're freezing the assets of

companies and people suspected of funding. Police are using tactics to push out the crowd. Still, Canada's prime minster says the situation remains


New Zealand says it will drop its COVID vaccine passes and other measures once omicron resides. The prime minster says they are not in response to

the anti-vaccine protests in the country modeled after the ones in Canada. Rather, she says by now many of the unvaccinated people have already had


And emotional scenes in Australia after the country re-opened its borders to international travelers for the first time in two years. There were some

reunions at Sydney airport which you can see here. Australia is welcoming those who have been fully vaccinated with the prime minister declaring,

quote, the wait is over.

Wildfires in northern Argentina have now destroyed more than 800,000 hectares of land. That's more than twice the size of the U.S. state of

Rhode Island. Argentina is dealing with an extended drought because of the climate pattern. That means there's been a lot less rain in the country's

farming regions allowing these fires to take hold.

Firefighters and volunteers have been trying to put them out for weeks now.


LUIS CANDIA, HELPING IN FIREFIGHTING EFFORTS (through translator): The truth is that the province is going through a catastrophe with the fires. A

lot of animals have been lost. Flora and fauna, and on top of that, there's the jobs. What is to come of us if it's all lost tomorrow?


NOBILO: Coming up after the break, we look at how a former Iraqi athlete has overcome life threatening challenges and used her strength to inspire



NOBILO: Jamal Edwards is a pioneering figure in British rap and rhyme music has died after a sudden illness.


He was age 31. If you're outside the U.K., you may not be familiar with his name, but his work has helped launch the careers of many international

stars, including Ed Sheeran. When he was just 15 years old, Edwards founded SBTV, an online music platform to promote emerging British artists. He

received an MB and served as an ambassador to Prince Charles' charity.

Now the prince, among the many dignitaries and stars honoring him and expressing appreciation towards Jamal Edwards.

Now, Rasha Rafaat, a former Iraqi athlete is on a mission to promote women sports in her country. , a former professional cyclist, has opened a sports

club for young girls in Baghdad. The club offers free cycling training for the girls and Rafaat says that she wants to break the barrier, shame and

fear that Iraqi women face in world sports.


RASHA RAFAAT, FORMER ATHLETE AND CYCLING TRAINER: The goal is to develop women's sports in Iraq, to establish a base for several games and to try to

promote women sports because we don't have women competing in most international championships. This is unfortunate because we have talent and

champions who enable us to develop women sports but there is no support.


NOBILO: Rafaat is faced her own challenges. During her professional career, she received death threats from extremists, and her coach was

killed in the 2006. Rafaat says that she realized her strength could be passed on to other girls.

You're watching THE GLOBAL BRIEF. Stay with CNN.


NOBILO: Let's update you on our breaking news. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops into separatist held regions of eastern

Ukraine. The orders say troops would be carrying out peace keeping duties. This comes hours after Mr. Putin signed a decree recognizing the

independence of those separatist areas.


Jim Sciutto is in Lviv, Ukraine, and he joins us now.

Jim, what are you learning about these developments? And does this mean democracy -- sorry, not democracy -- diplomacy has failed?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It does appear that way. Listening to the Russian president's statement, it was sweeping, and

not just about Ukraine, but beginning with Ukraine. He denied, really, its existence as an independent country. He launched into an hour-long history

lesson claiming it was originally part of Russia and should never been independent, therefore seeming to say he doesn't recognize it as an

independence country.

Now, the step he took at the e of the long ranting speech was to sign an official degree recognizing the independence of two self-declared republics

they call themselves in eastern Ukraine, and that was a move that had been expected to come degree, and the U.S. had said if it were to happen, and

NATO said if it were to happen, they would have a swift response. They would consider it a violation of international law. And we've since heard

that from the secretary of state.

What followed though is equally concerning, and that is that the Russian president said he called on the military to send in what he referred to as

peacekeeping forces in the eastern provinces. That would be from the view of the international community sending Russian forces into another country,

into Ukraine.

And I'm told by a senior U.S. official that the U.S. intelligence assessment is that those Russian forces will go into those territories

tonight as soon as tomorrow. And that would be seen by the U.S., by NATO as a partial invasion, at least. Then the question becomes, is there further

military action?

And I'm told s well that preparations at least for further military action outside Donbas, those continue as well. Quite a tense situation here in

Ukraine and among NATO allies that are close to Ukraine tonight, Bianca.

NOBILO: And, Jim, what will this mean in reality for people on the ground who live there and in terms of the potential further escalation of this

diplomatic -- this conflict between Ukraine and Russia now?

SCIUTTO: Well, if Russia follows through on the plans that the U.S. and NATO believe they have set in place for a comprehensive invasion of this

country, it means a great deal of suffering for the people of Ukraine.

Russia has raised close to 200,000 forces on really three borders -- the north, east, and south of Ukraine to invade. The U.S. sent a letter to the

U.N. high commissioner for human rights in the last 24 hours to say that part of the intelligence indicates that part of that plan involves

arresting, killing, sends into camp certain Ukrainian officials, dissidents, et cetera, that they would consider enemies of a new Russian

controlled Ukrainian state. It remains to be seen in Russia follows through on those military plans, those political plans, but if they do it means a

great deal of suffering for this country.

Today, since I have been here for about a week and a half now and my colleagues found that most Ukrainians quite sanguine about things, or at

least calm, waiting to see what happens. But if the air campaign begins, the missile campaign, the tanks come across the boarder and Russia follows

through on those threats, those plans -- it would be quite a different situation on the ground here.

It was a remarkable speech from the Russian president. The level of concern certainly in Europe among NATO allies but also in Washington is very high

tonight, and certainly in the capital Kyiv here in Ukraine.

NOBILO: And, Jim, finally, is there anything the international community can do that's meaningful, that would have the potential to interrupt these

plans or prevent further escalation? We heard how determined Putin sounded in his address to the nation earlier today.

SCIUTTO: Well, the U.S. and its allies have been staying for some time that if Russia were to invade and they would define an invasion -- a

further invasion I should say because Russia did invade in 2014 as well, and still controls Crimea, but the U.S. and NATO saw a further invasion of

Ukraine, any troops crossing the border, that there would be strict and a wide-ranging response.

We've heard tonight from the White House, one small step, and that is imposing sanctions just on those newly declared independent republics in

the east. But the White House does say that more is coming in coordination with U.S. allies.

But this is a test. We'll see how fulsome it is. Then the question, does it change Russian behavior? That is the hope of U.S. and NATO leaders. It

remains to be seen.

We certainly have seen sanctions imposed on Russia in the past, including for its annexation of Crimea, but eight years later, that remains, claimed

Russian territory. That did not change their behavior. We'll see if they do this time.

NOBILO: Jim Sciutto in Lviv, Ukraine, thanks for joining us.

And we'll keep you updated as the story develops, and we'll continue to take you live to Ukraine and Russia in the coming hours.

And a short edition of "WORLD SPORT" is going to start right now.