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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

Battle For Mariupol; View From Belarus & Moldova; Human Rights Watch Russia Report. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired May 04, 2022 - 17:00   ET



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

The enemy is here. The Ukrainian commander at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol says the Russian soldiers have breached the complex.

Then, we will look at the risk of the conflict spreading beyond Ukraine's borders, through the lens of Belarus and Moldova.

And Russia's actions in Africa. A new Human Rights Watch report accuses Russian-linked forces of executing, torturing, and beating civilians in the

Central African Republic since 2019. The lead researcher on that report joins me live.

Right now, Ukrainian defense forces are fighting heavy, bloody battles inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Ukrainian fighters say that

Russian forces are now inside the complex and, according to Ukrainian officials, so are hundreds of civilians, including 30 children. They are

still trapped inside, as all day, Russian forces have bombarded the complex with endless heavy artillery attacks, like the ones seen in this video.

CNN's not in Mariupol, but our analysis confirms this footage was likely filmed this week. Russia says it will open evacuation corridors out of the

plant on Thursday.

Sam Kiley is in the eastern town of Kramatorsk.

Sam, we are seeing video of heavy bombardment, hearing that the Russians have breached the Azovstal steel plant. What more can you tell us about

that? And also, are you seeing evidence, where you are, that Russia is increasing the tempo of its offensive in the east?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is no question they've increased the tempo, Bianca, in Mariupol, where they are

conducting, as you rightly pointed out, this newly-assault. For the first time, potentially penetrating the underground complex underneath the steel

plant, which is where these hundreds of civilians, hundreds of soldiers, 30 children, as you pointed out there from the Ukrainian perspective, have

been hiding now for weeks.

Now, handles, effectively, have been able to be evacuated. The Russians are offering evacuation in either into Russian held territory or, they say,

into Ukraine starting tomorrow, and the day after that. But it's very difficult, indeed, to see how that will be possible in the context of this

ongoing assault.

On top of that, of course, the assault continuing here in the east with a number of people being killed in Avdiivka, which following is a strike of

some kind, artillery or aircraft, we are not sure, on a bus stop, we workers from the local -- factory there were hit and a number of other

people across this region, 21, according to local authorities. Bianca, some civilians have been killed. We don't know, of course, the Ukrainians never

released the figures of their own wounded or dead, in terms of their military.

But the Russians have also been knocked back a bit, close to Kharkiv with the claim from the Ukrainians that a village about 13 kilometers from the

Russian border have been captured. But we've seen ourselves on the frontline close to Izium, that this is a long, grinding war and, of course,

local officials here are saying, a little early material -- promised NATO equipment, particularly the long range artillery and radar systems that can

intercept, or rather, identify locations of enemy radar and hit them back effectively.

That is something that could turn the pace of this conflict, but I think it will come too late for the people still fighting on, still cowering in

those catacombs underneath the steel complex in Mariupol -- Bianca.

NOBILO: Sam Kiley in Kramatorsk, thank you.

The southern city of Kherson fell into Russian hands early in the war. Civilians in the region have shared stories of widespread it magnetize and

alleged war crimes, including rape under Russian occupation. So, many are desperate to get out and are taking any chance that they see.

Nick Paton Walsh caught up with a convoy of people on their way to safety.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): The road to salvation here is a dusty track, where few know the route and just

follow the car in front. Above the trees, the dust likely from fires caused by distant shelling. These are over 100 cars that have run the gauntlet out

of Kherson, the first city Russia occupied.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No school, no almost hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the moment, it is terrible. So many Russians, military there. It's terrible.

WALSH: What do they do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They -- at the moment, they do nothing.

WALSH: Eyes here tell of exhaustion, hours held at Russian checkpoints. The only emotion left after two months under the Russian gun, a slight

smile of freedom. The idea dawning that life under occupation is behind them, even if a life displaced by war is ahead.

You can see just in the length of this queue here, the scale of the desperation we're talking about here. People fleeing Russian occupation,

leaving this morning at the first light from the city of Kherson, the first to be occupied by Russia at the start of the war, some of them on their

fifth attempt to get out.

Something this time was different. It was easy.

We left early, and they were all asleep, she says. Goods have dried up. Everything is from Crimea, she adds.

Edik, in front, squeezed ten in here.


WALSH: Tried for a week to get out.

We were just on the way to get out, and they let us pass as human shields when things were flying over us, she says. It was terrifying.

Five attempts, Edik said, they didn't let us through. Just turned us around.

They fled a city where things were not going according to the Kremlin's plan. The sham referendum Russia planned to consolidate control never


And this weekend, almost at the moment when they introduced the Russian currency, the ruble, the Internet and cell service suddenly went off.

For even the youngest, the hope ahead is palpable. It was sad to leave, he says, but where we're going will be better. This is happening as villages

and roads change hands daily here.

These Ukrainian soldiers in the next village anxious to not have their location or faces shown. We evacuated 1,500 people over the last week, one

said -- kids, elderly. Russians let them through if they say they're going to Kherson, further on, they drop off their cars, bikes, and go on foot to

our side.

Across the fields, the agony of Russia's blundering and senseless invasion pours out.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Kochevayabka (ph), Ukraine.


NOBILO: The European Union says it's now considering how to ramp up military support for Moldova following rising tensions in Transnistria, a

breakaway region backed by Russia. European Council president, Charles Michel, visited Moldovan president, Maia Sandu, on Wednesday and said that

some decisions have already been taken to and has a logistical and cyber defenses support.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's Russia-backed neighbor, Belarus, conducted a large series of drills on Wednesday. The video that you are seeing is from the

Belarusian ministry of defense's official channel. Belarusian officials claim they are testing the country's combat readiness, not posing a threat.

To look at the risk that this conflict spreading beyond Ukraine's borders, I want to bring in tight U.S. Army Major John Spencer, who currently serves

at the chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute.

Thank you for joining the program this evening, sir.


NOBILO: So, Belarusian armed forces are suddenly beginning large-scale drills on Wednesday morning. This is obviously reminiscent of what we saw

prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Do you think it's more likely than not that Belarusian forces officially enter this for?

SPENCER: Yeah, I absolutely think it is not likely. I think it's, you know, the president of Belarus is basically a Russian puppet, but he is

also concerned about his survival, since there's a giant pro Ukrainian population within Belarus. I think this is just a Putin maneuver, much like

Transnistria as a faint to force the Ukrainians to either allocate troops or worry about that front.

I think it's highly unlikely, just the survival of the Lukashenko and his government, which he really lost his last election, it would go terrible

for him. Not even speaking change of the geopolitical system in the war, as in, he's bordered by NATO countries, it's highly unlikely.


NOBILO: I think that point of political balance is an important want to make, as of course, we have seen many reports of Belarusians fighting in

Ukraine, for Ukraine, almost as a proxy fight for freedom because of their situation. So I think that's very important to note.

And what are you expecting to see in the lead up to a Russian victory day on May 9th? A lot of analysts are saying they are expecting further

escalation from the Kremlin, whether that's rhetorically declaring an official or, or in other respects, militarily or strategically. What do you

think we'll see?

SPENCER: Yeah, I think we are seeing it on the ground as we speak. Just yesterday and I think going up to the day of May 9th, extremely pushing to

try to get advances, especially along the eastern Donbas, along the Izium front that we see them pushing, which again, is why I think the Belarus

isn't a coincidence that this is combined with Russians trying to push to some type of more things to celebrate on May 9th, other than the fact that

they've lost everything up to this point.

And that includes, unfortunately, pushing in Mariupol, the one place they said they would not push. There's even rumors of them clearing rubble,

trying to gain some type of mini parade in Mariupol.

NOBILO: We will definitely keep an eye out for all of that and what we see over the next couple of days.

And back to what we are saying about Moldova, so the EU Council president, Charles Michel, he did not disclose the details of the support that the EU

is giving Moldova, really.

What kind of help do you think they might be providing?

SPENCER: I think some of it is just political assurances that, since Moldova is not a member of NATO and they do have to worry about Russia and

what Russian-backed forces might do, and the fact that Russia won't say that Ukraine, but I think a lot of this is the political power of the EU

assuring Moldova and, to be frank, the 40 nations that met recently to say that we will support Ukraine's fight against Russia in all means. And that

includes helping bordering countries.

NOBILO: And more looking at the wider battlefield picture, how successful has the increased missile strikes been from the Russians in hampering

Ukrainian resupply lines?

SPENCER: I mean, clearly that's what they are trying to do along with what I call missile terrorism, just striking civilian sites, just adding to

their giant list of war crimes. You can see them trying to hit, like, railway transformers, things that some of the railways are used for. There

are just too many.

So I think they are very, very not effective in stopping that Western support like the U.S. has already said, most of the auxiliary systems that

were promised are in the field of battle at this moment. So, you can see, as we are talking, how Russia is losing on every front.

NOBILO: Retired U.S. major, John Spencer, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

SPENCER: Thank you.

NOBILO: Now, Pope Francis is warning the head of the Russian Orthodox Church not to become, quote, prudence altar boy. The comments came in an

interview and his strongest words yet against Patriarch Kirill, who claimed that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was justified spiritually.

It's the first time that Pope Francis has mentioned Vladimir Putin publicly since Russia's troops crossed into Ukraine. The pope has labeled the

conflict as unjustified and brutal. But during this interview, he also said that NATO may bear some blame. He said that perhaps Putin felt that the

alliance was barking at Russia's door.

Meanwhile, two sources now tell us that the European Union is planning to include Patriarch Kirill in his new round of sanctions. The Russian

Orthodox Church is lashing out at that proposal, and Pope Francis for, quote, choosing the wrong tone.

The EU is also trying to ban oil imports from Russia. But as the president of the European Commission says, it won't be easy. On one hand, Brussels

wants to stop funding Vladimir Putin's war machine and on the other, some member states like Hungary are heavily dependent on Russian energy.

So let's hear from CNN's Nic Robertson.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: This announcement by the European commission president that the EU plans to end all Russian oil

imports by the end of the year is significant, because the European Union gives Russia billions and billions of dollars for this oil. There are get-

outs for Hungary and Slovakia, because they are so dependent on Russian oil, but already, Hungary is indicating that it will not sign up to this

proposal as it stands at the moment. And potentially that means discussions within the European Union will take longer, pushing a decision on the sixth

round of sanctions, potentially pushing it to the end of May, maybe even later.

The European Union commission president, Ursula Von Der Leyen, also saying that they will target Russian banking, sanctioning three more banks. Also

targeting Russian state-backed broadcasters, three of those are currently broadcasting into the European Union will be banned.


And also saying that there will be sanctions placed on high ranking military officials and other officials believed to be connected to the

alleged war crimes in Bucha.

Pushback, however, from the Kremlin. Dmitry Peskov, President Putin's spokesman, saying that these sanctions are like a double edged weapon. They

may be paying there for Russia, but implying there will also be pain for the European Union.

Nic Robertson CNN, Kankaanpaa, Finland.


NOBILO: Let's take a look more of the global reaction. Britain is imposing further sanctions on Russia, targeting more than 60 Russian citizens and

entities. The foreign secretary says media companies helping Russia's disinformation campaign, and Russian war correspondents in Ukraine, will be

among those sanctioned. Australia is also imposing travel sanctions and travel against members of Russia's parliament, as well as Ukrainian

separatists. More than 100 individuals will be sanctioned, including more than 30 members of the Russia led movements in Donetsk and Luhansk.

And German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is urging Ukraine to mend ties after in a diplomatic impasse. The row began after the German president was stopped

from visiting Kyiv in April, because of his past support for Russia. Mr. Scholz says the cancelled visit is a problem for Germany's government and

its people.

The U.S. Federal Reserve is raising interest rates by half a percentage point to fight record high inflation. The last time it raise rates this

sharp was in the year 2000, when they raced at half of today's rate. So, Chair Jerome Powell told reporters the Federal Reserve is not actively

considering even bigger rate hikes. U.S. markets rallied sharply on Powell's comments. The Dow rose nearly 3 percent, it's best day in since

2020. Nasdaq and S&P also surged on the news.

And after the break, a Human Rights Watch report says that Russian missionaries have committed human rights abuses in the Central African

republic since 2019. So, we'll debrief on the Russian presence in the African continent.



NOBILO: Human Rights Watch is accusing Russian mercenaries of committing human rights violations in the Central African Republic. Several witness

told the humanitarian organization that Russian speaking soldiers have systematically tortured and killed civilians since 2019. The Central

African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world, but rich and gold, diamonds and uranium.

Meanwhile, France accuses Russian mercenaries of burying hundreds of bodies in mass graves in Mali, in an attempt to make it look like French forces

were responsible. The French army released this footage, which shows the mercenary staging the siege.

U.N. experts have suggested that Russia-linked forces operating in Africa include many members of the Wagner Group. That's a Russian private

mercenary organization, active in conflicts all around the world. The Russian government has denied any link to the company.

So, I'm joined now by Lewis Mudge, Central African directorate at Human Rights Watch, who led this report.

Thank you for joining the program this evening.


NOBILO: So you've been documenting abuse by these Russians forces in the region for a few years now. What more have you learned about their abuse in

this latest report that you published?

MUDGE: Yeah. We've been documenting abused by these Russian forces since 2019. They arrived in the country in 2018. It wasn't after it wasn't very

long before the abuse started.

The abuse originally started as arbitrary detention of people who are suspected of being terrorists, and some pretty agree just cases of torture.

But last year, we really started to get these indications of executions being carried out by these Russian linked forces. These were executions of


And we were able to highlight in this report that we just recently released, we were able to highlight the execution of 12 young men. These

men were not armed. They were stopped by these Russian forces in the middle of the country, on a road. They were forced to lie down. And they were

summarily executed.

So it's very clear that these forces are operating with the high level of impunity. They feel they can get away with this type of murder. What's very

worrying is that they are now moved to this type of mass killings.

NOBILO: Absolutely horrific. Have the contents of the report been disputed by local authorities on the ground or the Russian federation?

MUDGE: No. Not yet. We obviously shared this information with both the Russian Federation and the Central African authorities. There is no dispute

that the massacre took place. Both are the Russian Federation -- the Russians in central African republic I should say, and the central African

authorities, originally said this were rebels that committed this, on the very same day that this massacre took place, they say this was part of the

rebel coalition.

But the fact is that all of the evidence we collected does not point to that direction, on the contrary. It points to the being carried out by the

Russian linked forces. The problem with trying to get the Central African Republic government to launch a meaningful investigation is that these

Russian forces are actually in the Central African Republic at the behest of that government. So it is very difficult to get them to come on side and

to try to launch a meaningful investigation into these killings. We are hoping that this report is going to spur some of that renewed interest in

launching a credible investigation.

NOBILO: Okay. So, I mean, that's a very important point. If these Russian linked forces are there at the behest of the local government, what

interest would Russia have and keeping a heavy presence in the country and in the African continent? I just want to underscore for our viewers, these

are Russian speaking, Russian linked forces, but the link with rushers is difficult to definitively prove.

MUDGE: Yes. Yes. It's difficultly told to it's difficult to definitively prove. We did share this information with the Russian Federation. We

haven't received a response to date. As to the why, I mean it is very difficult to say.

I worked in the Central African Republic. I've been there numerous times since 2018. I've seen these Russians. And yet today, we have not seen the

publication of the memorandum of agreement, a memorandum of understanding, as to why the Russians are there. The Central African authorities continue

publicly to be at least to be very cagey about the relationship as to why the Russians are there.

What I can say definitively is this. They have moved out of the capital. They are not only doing training. Originally, they were there to do some

degree of training of the Central African forces.


They are not doing that exclusively anymore. They moved out of the capitol. They are in many towns of the major towns of the countryside. They are

credible allegations that they have taken control of some of the mining sites in the center of the country.

And yet they are this force that no one knows about. No one even knows who they actually work for. All they're re-re-told it is that they are Russian-

linked friends of the Central African government.

We made illusions to the Wagner Group in our report. But I can tell you, today, we can't definitively say that their Wagner, because Wagner Group is

emerging as a nebulous and shadowy organization that is very hard to pinpoint.

NOBILO: I mean, it is all shadowy, obscure, and deeply suspicious, these links that you outlined.

Lewis Mudge, thank you so much for joining us. We'll have to have you back on to speak some of the similarities we can see between the violence there

and the violence in Ukraine. But thank you for your time.

MUDGE: Thank you. Thank you very much.

NOBILO: Now let's take a look at the other stories making an international impact today.

Turkey is trying to prove swayed 1 million Syrian refugees to return to their homes. The program will be voluntary. It's an effort to convince the

refugees that Syria is now safer for them. Turkey currently hosts more than 4 million Syrian refugees.

South Korea and Japan say the North Korea have carried out a new ballistic missile launch. They say it was fired into the waters east of the Korean

peninsula, just days after North Korean's Kim Jong-un vowed to ramp up his nuclear arsenal. Both Seoul and Tokyo are condemning the launch.

And Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Paris right now to discuss the war in Ukraine with French President Emmanuel Macron. The two leaders

embraced at the Elysee Palace. It is the last leg of Mr. Modi's European tour.

He urged peace talks to end the war after meeting the German chancellor in Berlin on Monday. And Mr. Modi has refused to speak out against Russian

President Vladimir Putin.

Actress Amber Heard took the stand on Wednesday in the trial pitting her against her husband ex husband actor Johnny Depp. Heard testified about the

first time she says Depp hit her and said she thinks that drinking is what's caused Depp to be violent.

Depp has denied ever hitting her and is suing her for more than $50 million for defamation of character.

A group of Cuban diver instructors have come up with another way to save a local underwater reef. They collect broken pieces of the reef, and then tie

them to all plastic shoots, creating something that looks like an underwater Christmas tree. The fractured pieces soon start to grow, can be

attached to holes in the reefs. Those behind the project say it's turned into a labor of love.


LUIS MUINO, LEADER OF ECOVALOR RESTORATION PROJECT (through translator): We do not see this as a job anymore. We see it as our way of life. We do

not sleep. We try to find ways to make this coral reef better.


NOBILO: The process allows the drivers to replace 50 to 80 meters of damage reef per year.

Well, on that happy note, thank you for watching. And I'll see you again tomorrow.