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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

Russia & Chemical Weapons; Russia's Information War; Kyiv Ballet Stranded In Paris. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired March 11, 2022 - 17:00   ET



LYNDA KINKADE, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to the program. I'm Lynda Kinkade in for Bianca Nobilo, and this is THE GLOBAL BRIEF.

Russian forces striking two major cities for the first time as warnings continue to ramp up over Russia's potential use of chemical weapons.

Then the White House holds a briefing for social media creators as Russia open a criminal case against Meta. We debrief on the information war at


Plus, a theater in Paris offers temporary residency to the stranded dancers from Kyiv city ballet.

Well, Ukrainian officials are urging Belarus not to get involved in Russia's war. It comes after the Belarusian leader told Vladimir Putin that

he's glad the war started. That war is taking an increasingly hellish toll on civilians as Russia widens its offensive to strikes cities in the far

west, a region which had so far been spared.

Heavy shelling is also reported in the other areas, including Mykolaiv. Now, officials call it indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets. Ukraine

is calling on Russian forces to release the mayor of Melitopol. He was dragged away after being accused of aiding terrorist activities.

This is the first known instance of a politician being detained by Russians since the invasion.

On the eastern Donetsk region, the city of Volnovakha has apparently fallen to Russian-backed separatists during the fighting there.

We want to get more now on the shifting targets on the battlefield. Take a look at this. You can see the locations tagged for the first time on

Friday, including two cities near the west on Poland's border and Dnipro in central Ukraine. Now, Dnipro had been considered a safe haven, a hub for

the coordination of humanitarian aid.

Our Sam Kiley has the details.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here in Dnipro I'm at the site of a shoe factory, center of the country that was hit in some kind

of missile or air strike, in the small hours of this morning. Two other locations hit as indeed there were also air strikes in the far west of the

country, three different air strikes against an airport in Lutsk. That makes a degree of military sense from the Russian perspective. They clearly

want to knock out the capacity of the Ukrainian air force to get into the air.

But this doesn't make sense. It is a civilian shoe factory, indeed a largely abandoned area. There was one fatality, tragically the caretaker or

guard was killed in this early morning air strike as sirens had been ringing out across this city for some time now.

Now, the nearest Russian ground forces are some distance away. They're south of Zaporizhzhia, about 30 miles, about an hour's drive south of here,

but Dnipro does represent a strategic target, a significant feather in the military cap for the Russians if they can capture it.

There are no Russian forces close, but clearly, they are beginning perhaps to be shift their emphasis to try to get into Dnipro, or at least break the

civilian will to resist. The attempts to break the civilian will in cities like Kharkiv, Kyiv, and, of course, Mariupol, where we've seen for several

day a deliberate targeting of civilian areas as the Russian forces militarily have been held up by stiffer than expected Ukrainian resistance.

Sam Kiley, CNN, in Dnipro.


KINKADE: Extremely dire. That's how the international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders is describing conditions in the

besieged eastern city of Mariupol.


It says, amid the relentless bombings, many families lack sufficient food, water, and medicine, which can be particularly dangerous for children. The

group also says with the city under constant bombardment, people are at risk of long-term mental health problems. It says, quote, in Mariupol

today, there's hardly any safe place.

Well, Ukraine is warning Russia might try to stage a terrorist incident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which Russian forces now control. The

ministry of defense says intelligence indicates that Vladimir Putin has ordered his force there is to stage some sort of attack and blame it on

Ukraine. That's Ukraine's latest claim about the dangers the war is posing to its nuclear plants.

Well, no outsiders appear to know precisely what is happening at Chernobyl. International nuclear watchdog agency says it's lost data communications

from there, and the plant lost electric power several days ago. Accusations of a false flag operation on Friday reached the United Nations, igniting a

fierce exchange between the U.S. and Russia. Moscow called the meeting to accuse Washington and Kyiv of operating biological weapons facilities in


But the U.S. directly called the Russian accusation a lie and voice its suspicion that blatantly false assertion is to cover for a potential

Russian biological or chemical weapons strike.

And as our Nina Dos Santos reports from London, Russia has a long history with these weapons. We need to caution you, her reporting contains some

graphic images.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First it was nuclear weapons Russia claimed Ukraine was working on. Now, the Kremlin, with no

evidence, is suggesting Kyiv has a secret chemical stash, too.

These allegations have been debunked multiple times, but fresh talk of chemical weapons is giving cause for concern.

PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): What are these allegations of preparing chemical attacks? Have you decided to carry out

de-chemicalization of Ukraine using ammonia? Using phosphorus? What else have you prepared for us?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They not only have the capacity, they have a history of using chemical and biological weapons and that, in

this moment, we should have our eyes open for that possibility.

DOS SANTOS: The White House warns Russia could be setting up a false flag operation, laying the ground work for a chemical attack of its own, just as

in Syria where Russia was accused of providing cover for Bashar al-Assad's regime to use toxic gas on his own people.

KENNETH ROTH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Russia has this indirect complicity in chemical weapon use, and indeed even went out of its

way to try to cover up the Syrian military's use of chemical weapons.

DOS SANTOS: Thus far we haven't seen Russia engaging in chemical weapons warfare on innocent civilians in large numbers, have we?

ROTH: It hasn't done that so far, but it is part of what makes people worry, that this is not beyond the realm of possibility.

DOS SANTOS: What weapons does Moscow have? No one knows exactly.

There's no evidence Russia used more common chemical weapons like chlorine and sarin, all are banned internationally for their cruelty.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia will pay a severe price if they use chemical weapons.

DOS SANTOS: That price not yet clear, though.

How do you think the world would react?

BOB SEELY, MP, UK FOREIGN AFFAIRS SELECT COMMITTEE: It will be crossing a line, but it's not necessarily one that would spark a military response. If

Putin knows that we will react militarily, then we know that he can decide on what terms the West enters this war or NATO enters this war, which would

be incredibly unwise.

DOS SANTOS: At a U.N. Security Council meeting on Friday, the U.S. was in to mood for disinformation.

LINDA THOMAS GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Today, the world is watching Russia do exactly what we warned it would.

DOS SANTOS: Russia is already facing calls for a war crime investigation for its alleged use of other banned weapons. The mere mention of chemical

ones is a worrying escalation.

Nina Dos Santos, CNN, London.


KINKADE: Joining me now via Skype from Chevy Chase, Maryland, is Gregory Koblentz. He's the director of the biodefense graduate program at the

Chance School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

Good to have you with us.


KINKADE: As we just heard in Nina's report, Russia has a history of using chemical weapons. We've seen Russia being accuse of using nerve agents to

assassinate opposition fission or figures or dissidents. The U.S. has fears Russia may resort to using them in Ukraine. What chemical and biological

weapons does Russia have? What's the reality of this threat?

KOBLENTZ: Russia inherited a extensive chemical and biological weapons program from the former Soviet Union, and we know they did not fully

dismantle and destroy that program in 1991.


The most recent evidence is the use of Novichok nerve agents in the attempted assassination of Sergey Skripal and Alexei Navalny. These were

nerve agents developed during the Cold War, but Russia has now taken out and started using them. That's a major source of concern.

KINKADE: Russia has accused Ukraine of planning a chemical attack. Ukraine President Zelenskyy says this is what they do. They accuse us. If we want

to know Russia's plan, look what Russia's accusing others of and there's a fair indication they might be doing that. Russia, of course, fought along

the al Assad regime in Syria.

What chemicals were used on people there?

KOBLENTZ: The Assad regime mostly used chlorine, a toxic industrial chemical against civilians in the opposition-held areas. But they also used

sarin, which is a deadly nerve agent and is a chemical weapon that's banned by the chemical weapons convention that Syria claimed it had gotten rid of.

The Soviet Union also had sarin, which means Russia would have the ability sarin as well to choose to.

KINKADE: Gregory, the U.S. president says Russia will pay a severe price if it resorts to using chemical weapons. How would the use of chemical

weapons expand this conflict, and what are the far-reaching implications if, in fact, Russia does instigate chemical warfare?

KOBLENTZ: The use of a chemical weapon, you know, a weapon of mass destruction in the heart of Europe on a large scale would radically

transform this conflict and would pose a graver threat to European security beyond what it's doing now, so I think it would fundamentally change the

calculus of country in the region and the United States in terms of the danger that Vladimir Putin poses to the world and the stakes at hand for

the conflict.

KINKADE: So, is there anything Ukraine and supporters should be doing now to potentially protect itself from a threat like this?

KOBLENTZ: What they have been doing already in term of publicizing the risk of a false flag or a staged incident is the right thing to do since

that really takes away the power of those kinds of incidents to serve as a provocation. The U.S. and its allies have been doing that during the run-up

to the invasion, which I think has helped. It puts Putin on notice he's being watched, that there's a high likely hood if he attempted use these

weapons in a direct attack or a staged attack, that it would be detected and uncovered that it was Russia's responsibility.

So, hopefully, these kinds of measures will help deter Russia from going down this road in the first place.

KINKADE: There are accusations that Ukraine has U.S. backed secret bioweapon labs. Russia made that claim. Belarus repeated it, as has a right

wing commentator here in the U.S.

Is there any evidence for that?

KOBLENTZ: There's no grounds for that whatsoever. The U.S. said there's no evidence of any activities in Ukraine that violate the biological weapons

convention. Ukraine's been a good standing member of the biologic weapons convention which bans these weapons for many years. And there's just no

grounds to it.

Ukraine doesn't have a biologic weapons program. The U.S. is not supporting one in Ukraine. The U.S. is supporting public health and veterinary

laboratories that are doing significant research and publishing in literature. Nothing secret, nothing any nefarious. This is just Russia

trying to cover up the crimes they're committing in Ukraine.

KINKADE: Gregory, great to get your perspective. Really appreciate your time today. Thanks so much.

KOBLENTZ: Thank you.

KINKADE: Let's take a deeper dive on more of the global reaction.

Britain is imposing new sanctions on 386 members of the Lower House of Russia's parliament. They're now facing travel bans and their assets held

within the U.K. are frozen. Vladimir Putin told his Belarusian counterpart Friday that Western sanctions are an opportunity and that both nations will


French President Emmanuel Macron says the war in Ukraine will deeply destabilize food supplies in both Europe and Africa. He says Europe is

already seeing the effects and it could be worse in 12 to 18 months.

The E.U. is quickly working on proposals to create independence from Russian energy. The European Commission says they hope to present a plan by

mid May with a goal phase out Russian oil, gas, coal by 2027. Earlier this week, the E.U. said it would cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds by the

end of this year.

Lithuania has renamed the street where the Russian embassy is to Ukrainian Hero Street.


The mayor of Lithuania's capital, now the embassy, says, we'll have to use that address to honor Ukraine's fight against Russian forces.

Latvia has done the same thing, changing the address of the Russian embassy to Independent Ukraine Street.

When cries over fake news have very real consequences. We're going to examine the information we're running parallel to the invasion in Ukraine

and ask how the truth itself has become a casualty.


KINKADE: Welcome back to the warfare on a digital front now. Russia is making moves to ban Instagram. It also plans to designate parent company

Meta, an extremist organization. The social network said it would allow call for violence against Russian soldiers invading Ukraine. Russia's

investigative committee has opened a criminal case accusing Meta's staff of making calls for murder.

This comes as human rights experts are saying they're alarmed by the clampdown of information in Russia. You may remember the independent

broadcast TV Rain being forced off the air earlier this month.

Well, Donie O'Sullivan is in New York following all the developments now.

So, Donie, Facebook decided to allow posts calling for violence against Russian invaders. Russia quick to respond. Take us through their response.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right. Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minster of the United Kingdom, now a very senior

executive at Facebook, he put out a comment in the past few hours why it decided to do this and it reads in part -- the fact is if we applied our

standard content policies without adjustments we would be removing content from Ukrainians expressing their fury at the forces, which would be viewed

as unacceptable.

You can see how Facebook is getting itself into a bit of a bind here. They have a rule on their platform where basically any calls for violence are

unacceptable, but they don't want to be seen here to be removing content from Ukrainians who, in their view, have a right to express this. But I

think what we're seeing, the flipside of this here, in that when you -- when these companies do act against Russia like how we've seen Facebook

also limit access to RT and other Russian state propaganda, Russia can then hit back.

Now they're talk about banning Instagram. They've already banned Facebook in the country. So it's a real -- it's a real bind, I think, companies like

Facebook have found themselves in.

KINKADE: A bit of a slippery slope. It really is a challenge for them.

So, Donie, I understand YouTube has recently announced it's blocking Russian propaganda channels.

O'SULLIVAN: Yeah, this kind of goes back to, you know, how these companies have done a complete 180 here.


For years, Russia to the RT has been broadcasting to a huge audience on YouTube. I looked at some of the numbers on their accounts. RT has multiple

language accounts. Their English language account has 3.5 billion views. Their Spanish language account, 4.5 billion. Their Arabic account, 2.5


Even up until just a few weeks ago, YouTube and Google were allowing ads to run on these videos, meaning that both YouTube and RT were making money on

this Russian state propaganda.

A few weeks ago, YouTube removed that ability and now they're saying, well, we're going to block these platforms entirely. Look, I mean, I think this

is where these companies find themselves in that they don't have clear policies about how to deal with state-run disinformation, and by completely

flipping the switch, by completely doing a 180, that, of course, is now provoking a reaction from Russia.

KINKADE: Wow. Well, good to have you across this, I'm sure. We will continue to discuss this as it all progresses, this information war that


Thanks so much to you. Donie O'Sullivan in New York.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

KINKADE: Well, today marks two years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, the virus has killed more than 6

million people and upended all our lives. As vaccination rates increased, many parts of the world are dropping restrictions and learning to live with

the virus.

But that's not true yet in China, the country where the virus was first discover second down still locked off to much of the world and it's seeing

the highest new cases since the pandemic began. Some 1,100 infections on Thursday.

On Friday, a city of 9 million residents began lockdown. People are banned from leaving their neighborhoods and will undergo mass testing. Shanghai is

closing all of its schools and for the first time, official just approved the use of rapid antigen tests.

Well, let's take a look at the other key stories making international impact today. South Korea's military says it has identified unknown

military at a North Korean nuclear test site. Pyongyang announced a moratorium on nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in 2018 and destroyed

tunnels leading to the Punggye-ri test site at the time. South Korea says it presumes those tunnels are being restored.

Israel's parliament has renewed a hugely controversial law that effectively bars Palestinians from the West Bank in Gaza from becoming Israeli citizens

if they're married to an Israeli. The rule dates back to 2003 during the Second Intifada and was renewed until last year, when Israel's coalition

failed to get enough votes.

Israel's interior minister praised the renewal of the bilk but critics say it's a racist policy that divides families.

Tropical cyclone made landfall Friday in Mozambique, which was struggling to recover from a series of storms. The cyclone is bringing winds,

torrential rain and flooding and is expected to devastate the region throughout the weekend.

And at just 36 years old, Chile's youngest ever president has been sworn in. Gabriel Boric's arrival is seen as a major shift for the country

politically. He comes to power with an ambitious, social and democratic agenda.

Still to come, Kyiv City ballet receives a standing ovation in Paris as the war rages back home.


KINKADE: Welcome back.

Well, dancers the Kyiv City ballet used to being away from home and performing but one day after they arrive in the France, Russia launched

their attack making them exiles overnight.


CNN senior correspondent Jim Bittermann reports on how the stranded dancers have put on a brave face while their families are fighting in Ukraine.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 34 dancers of the Kyiv city bally troupe practiced for weeks before coming

to France on tour, but no rehearsals could have prepared them for the news they saw the day after they arrive in the Paris. Their country was being

invaded and they found themselves with no direction home. In the days that have followed, they've nearly completed their schedules tour, but stranded

abroad now, they face an uncertain future.

Director Ivan Kozlov says all his troupes, some as young as 18 years old want to go back because of friends and families who under fire at home, but

he knows how dangerous that would be.

IVAN KOZLOV, BALLET DIRECTOR: The most good thing they can do is dance to provide Ukraine, to show Ukrainian heart, to show Ukrainian culture from

the stage, to show it to audience, to share our culture. And we call ourselves the warriors on the stage.

BITTERMANN: But if they are warriors, they are warriors practically without uniforms.

The dancers came here expecting only a brief tour with only the costumes for the Nutcracker and no scenic backgrounds or stage props. For now,

they'll continue performing around France, but borrowing everything right down to replacement ballet shoes.

Olga Posternak and Mkyahailo Scherbakov, two of the ballet company's star performers toured abroad before, but this is different. Neither can stand

being apart from their families, knowing they are increasingly under the Russian boot.

MKYAHAILO SCHERBAKOV, BALLET DANCER: At this moment I understand I'm safe here, but still -- I want to return home.

BITTERMANN: Olga says there are times she steps off stage and breaks into tears.

OLGA POSTERNAK, BALLET DANCER: All my family is in Ukraine. What I am without my family? Nothing. Sometimes I feel like I'm shame because I'm

here. I want to help them.

BITTERMANN: But as the mayor of Paris said at the ballet's fundraiser, creativity is its own form of resistance. The French are helping the dance

company stay, lending them what they need, trying to arrange performances and giving them a dance home at one of the most prestigious theaters in


The dancers from Kyiv closed out the program not dancing but singing the words to the Ukrainian national anthem. A kind of cultural identity and

patriotism Vladimir Putin wants to crush. But in their own small way, 1,000 miles from home, the dancers are helping to keep it alive.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.


KINKADE: Well, as the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine unfolds and millions of people are fleeing their homes, there are things you can do to support

the aid groups scrambling to care for displaced people and to provide food and vital supplies inside Ukraine. Just head to our website, that's your world, to find out what humanitarian organizes you can donate to, all of them verified by CNN.

And please continue to follow CNN's coverage of the war in Ukraine for the latest.

I'm Lynda Kinkade. That was THE GLOBAL BRIEF. Thanks very much for tuning in.