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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

U.S.-Russia Prisoner Swap; Putin's "Blood Gold" In Sudan; Amazing Discoveries. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired July 29, 2022 - 17:00   ET



BIANCA NOBILO, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Bianca Nobilo in London. Welcome to THE GLOBAL BRIEF.

Sources say that Russian officials have requested a convicted murderer to be added to the compost swap to release Americans Brittney Griner and Paul

Whelan. We will be live in Moscow and Washington, D.C. for the latest developments on that.

And an exclusive CNN investigation on how far Russia is going to evade international sanctions and funds on its war in Ukraine.

And in our Friday debrief, I will speak to a scientist who may have found evidence that could buttress the theory of the Loch Ness monster.

But we begin with a CNN exclusive on the proposed prisoner swap between the United States and Russia. Multiple sources familiar with the discussion say

that Moscow wants another convict Vadim Krasikov to be released in addition to arms dealer Victor Bout in exchange for two Americans held in Russia.

One big stumbling block, though, the second convict is not in U.S. custody. He's serving a life sentence for murder in Germany.

We're joined now by Natasha Bertrand in Washington and Frederik Pleitgen in Moscow.

Fred, let's start with you. It seems cynical to say this, because obviously, a mercenary, these are people's lives, but there was a lot of

commentary that seemed like an asymmetric exchange, even for these two Americans for Victor Bout for the strategic importance of him to the


So, tell us about this convict that Russia also wants an exchange, and if they realistically think this would be an exchange of equals

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. So, his name is Vadim Krasikov and he's very well-known actually in Germany for

being responsible with the Germans called the tiered garden murder. This happened in 2019 in Central Berlin in a park, where someone used to lead a

militia in Chechnya that fought against the Russia, was gunned down and killed by said Vadim Krasikov, and the German later convicted Vadim

Krasikov to a life sentence and that this murder was organized and ordered by the Russian state, by Russian special service.

Now, the Russians have always denied that they were part of this. The Russian government has denied that they were part of this, but this led to

a massive diplomatic spat between United States and -- between Germany and Russia.

The interesting about this of course is that this is someone who is held by Germany but apparently the Russians hoped would be part of a deal with the

United States. So, that alone makes it very difficult and certainly very difficult to see how somebody could be viable, Bianca.

NOBILO: And, Natasha, do you, how is this being interpreted in America and they feel like the Russians are just trying to exploit the situation? And

how should we regard the likelihood now of Whelan and Griner being returned to the United States if this is how Russia is engaging with this process?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, frankly, Bianca, they view it is entirely unserious. The U.S. officials that we speak to

view this offer by the Russians or this request, there is a better word for it, as not a legitimate counter proposal.

The chief among those reasons why it is so problematic, according to our sources, is because this guy is in German custody and of course the U.S.

would have to use its influence to try to see the Germans would be willing to release him from German custody, but that is looking extremely unlikely.

Now, a source did tell Fred that the German government was contacted by the U.S., kind of feeling out whether or not the Germans would be willing to

release him from custody where he is serving a life sentence.

But, ultimately, this never reached the highest levels of the German government. This is not being taken very seriously, and the U.S. officials

we spoke to view it is again that the Russians are playing in order to stall. They want to buy time until Brittney Griner -- until her trial is

over, and of course is the basketball player who has been detained in Russia on charges of bringing cannabis into the country.

And so, the U.S. officials told us that they believe that the Russians are just stalling, they offered this as bait to see how the U.S. would react,

but that even they understand that this is probably not going to happen, and so, what we are told is it really does not bode well for how seriously

Russia is taking a U.S. proposal to trade Bout for Griner and Whelan.

NOBILO: It seems that way.

Natasha and Frederik Pleitgen, thank you both so much. This is obviously developing. We will check in with both of you again soon. Thank you.

Now, in an exclusive report, CNN can reveal how Russia stopped democratic change over 6,000 miles away.


In Sudan, just as its people had successfully toppled one of the longest standing African dictators through street protests, why? Sudan is one of

the biggest exporters of gold in the world. And Russia has been illegally exploiting and smuggling this resource from Sudan for years, controlling

vital government and non government institutions to secure this golden financial pipeline.

Nima Elbagir and her team travel to the north of Sudan to show how Russia manipulates the Sudanese military government and how it's using front

companies to circumnavigate U.S. sanctions to hold on to the gold illegally moving from Khartoum to Russia.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Deep in Sudan's gold country, miners toil in the searing heat, barely

surviving in what should be one of Africa's richest countries providing gold for a war a continent away.

We investigate a force more powerful than Sudan's government controlling its gold. Subverting Sudan's destiny, threatening me and our sources and 14

democracies to evade sanctions in Russia's war on Ukraine question managers on his way they say. We uncover the extent of Russia's grip on Sudan.

For millennia, Sudan has produced some of the most sought after gold in the world. And Putin's private army, the notorious paramilitary group Wagner

knows it.

Sudan's government is denying Wagner's existence in country but we're not buying it and we've come to investigate.

Further tentacles stretch right across Africa. We've discovered some of its most notorious operatives are working on Sudan. Evgeny Prigozhin the Head

of Wagner. Mikhail Potepkin, Prigozhin's hHead of Sudan Ops and Alexander Sergeyevich Kuznetsov Wagner's key enforcer previously convicted of kidnap

and robbery working with this man, Sudanese General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo AKA, in a quid-pro-quo for training and weaponry.

We traveled 200 miles north from the Capital Khartoum to Gold Country to take a closer look at Wagner's main moneymaker Artisanal Gold. Miners bring

rocks they extract here to be processed 85 percent of Sudan's gold is produced artisanal.

This right here, it may not look like much. This is what's left after the rocks that the miners have brought in is milled. Now they've taken what

they can out of it, but this gets sold and when it's properly processed with someone who has superior technology, you can make 10 times what those

miners over there are making.

Ten times more money without any of the backbreaking work. And the only foreign processing plant operational in Sudan is Wagner's Moroe Gold,

despite a Sudanese law limiting ownership to locals. Also troubling Moroe Gold was sanctioned two years ago by the United States for exploiting

Sudan's natural resources and spreading their malign influence around the globe.

According to the Sudanese government, they officially ceased operations but they are still here, still evading sanctions. We verified their location

with coordinates provided by Sudanese anti-corruption investigators and head there to see for ourselves.

As we approached the red flag of the former Soviet Union blows in the wind, increasingly used by Russian nationalists. It brazenly marks the Moroe Gold

compound. A Russian tanker sits next to it. We get to the entrance and decide to ask a few questions, but not before we turn on our covert


Well, that's convenient they've just confirmed the Russians are at this location.

(translated): We are journalists from CNN. I'd like to see the Russian manger. We'd like to ask the Russian manager.

There's a black pickup approaching. OK, get on. Guys just confirmed that the Russian managers are on this black pickup and is on his way to us.

A Russian van races to the office but no one seems to be coming over. Seems the Russian manager has changed his mind. But others turn up instead.

(translated): I'm sure you've already been our permission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): But we are a Sudanese company. It's a company Al Solag.

ELBAGIR: They claim this plant is Sudanese owned and is called as Al Solag. Remember that name. It's important, Al Solag.

We head off the property to do some more filming. But we're followed. Security approaches. They want us to stop.

This is public ground. This is public ground. Why is your van stopping here?

Trying to get us to move on they're taking pictures of us of our license plates.

The reason they're so nervous, Al Solag is a front for the Russian company Moroe Gold, Wagner is still operating illegally, a foreign company

pretending to be Sudanese to evade U.S. sanctions.

We obtained their registration documents to prove it. The document on the left is from Moroe Gold, the one on the right, Al Solag. These dates

represent complaints made in employment courts against Moroe Gold. These ones from Al Solag are the same.

Under Sudanese law, when a company's holdings are transferred so are any judgments against it. Here, you can see the judgments against both

companies are identical. All they've done is changed the name, Wagner hiding in plain sight to avoid U.S. sanctions and keep the financial

pipeline flowing back to Moscow, and its war on Ukraine, a dangerous business to delve into.

Since we've arrived in country, I've been informed by sources of threats that they believe to be credible against me. They say that's what happens

here. When you look too closely at Russia's business dealings.

We have to meet one of those sources and he's asked that I come alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Moroe Gold is a front for the Russians, specifically for the forces of Wagner that are working to exploit gold in Sudan and its

export. It's the front it's not a company that extracts gold from tailings and it buys gold from the Sudanese artisanal miners. That's not legal,

because the law says that any gold producer is supposed to report the quantity it produces to the central bank and to the Ministry of Mining, and

that does not happen.

ELBAGIR: Inside Sudan's central bank a whistleblower snapped this photo of computer screen showing official production in 2021 at 49.7 tons, 32.7 tons

are unaccounted for by the central bank. But the real figure we're told by whistleblowers could be over 220 tons. That's around $13.4 billion worth of

gold a year that's being stolen from Sudan.

How has this happened?

Two years ago, the Sudanese people successfully overthrew Africa's second longest ruling dictator, Omar Bashir.

Eighteen months later, the military staged its own coup, sweeping aside civilian and they did this we're told with Wagner's support in exchange for


This man had a front row seat to Russia's machinations, and has evidence to prove it stood to gain by supporting the Sudanese military's coup. Under

threat of assassination, he's been in hiding for the last nine months, moving from safe house to safe house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Russians and Sudanese officers saw the civilians in the government as an obstacle to the plan. The official anti-corruption

task force was in caving to pressure or threats or even bribery. The armed forces were found to be complicit in the smuggling of gold by the Russians,

and it was raised with them.

ELBAGIR: Do you blame Russia for the death of democracy here in Sudan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely. Russia carries the majority of the blame for the silk birthing of Sudan's democracy.

ELBAGIR: Just days later, his nephew was killed by state actors trying to stop a pro-democracy demonstration. And the two weeks we've been in Sudan

investigating Russia's illegal gold mining, 10 people were killed, protesting for change.

It's not just on the battlefields of Ukraine that Russia is spilling blood. Here too there is a human cost. The cost of Russia's support of Sudan's

generals in return for its gold.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, Khartoum, Sudan.


NOBILO: From exploiting sedans resources to fueling war in Europe. The Wagner Group also operates in Ukraine, and Ukrainian intelligence is now

accusing it of the terrorist attack on a prison in Russian controlled Donetsk where many Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered to Mariupol were

held. The separatist leader says at least 53 prisoners were killed. Russia blames Ukraine for the attack.

Elsewhere in the Donetsk region, the mayor of Kramatorsk said three people were wounded Friday in a missile strike, and to the north, Russia is

escalating attacks on Ukraine's second largest city, shelling the heart of Kharkiv.

In another, escalations of tensions elsewhere over Taiwan, China plans to hold live fire exercises on Saturday in opposite the island.


It comes after a week of Taiwan's own military exercises, and amid growing anger in Beijing over potential visit to Taipei by U.S. House Speaker,

Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi is leaving for a tour of Asia, including stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore. She has not said if she would

visit Taiwan and saying it's a security risk to talk about traveling.

Will Ripley has more on the tensions.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Taiwan trains for a Chinese attack, air raid sirens in Taipei fighter jets

scramble. Helicopters hunt submarines, destroyers open fire. China's refusal to publicly condemn Russia's war on Ukraine is adding urgency to

the islands annual military drills, fueling fears of a cross strait conflict.

Taiwan tensions dominated a more than two hour call Thursday. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping is trading warnings on Taiwan. Chinese

state media quoting Xi: those who play with fire will perish by it.

The ominous warning amid growing speculation U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be planning a trip to Taiwan, a plan discouraged by Biden.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: But military thinks it's not a good idea right now.

RIPLEY: Pelosi won't talk about her travel plans for security reasons. It would be the highest level U.S. visit in 25 years.

BRIAN HIOE, TAIWANESE-AMERICAN LIVING IN TAIPEI: There could have been more dialogue between Taiwan and the Biden administration rather than have

this confusing mixed signals presented out there openly in the public in a way that now China has noticed and will respond in some way.

RIPLEY: A U.S. aircraft carrier strike group is back in the South China Sea, citing routine operations ahead of Pelosi's possible visit.

HIOE: It could be caught in the crossfire of a conflict between the U.S. and China, it would be Taiwan which is right there next to China.

RIPLEY: Beijing promises firm and resolute measures to safeguard national sovereignty. Chinese passports show Taiwan as a mainland province, even

though it has its own military and government for more than seven decades.

WANG TING-YU, TAIWANESE MP, DEMOCRATIC PROGRESSIVE PARTY: Taiwan is the country highway is our home. We are not home of anyone, not Chinese, not


RIPLEY: China considers U.S. Taiwan diplomacy a red line, Beijing won't rule out using force to prevent the island's formal independence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will show our waiting to defend ourselves.

RIPLEY: Defending against China's massive military would be a Herculean task. Taiwan is counting on friends like the U.S. to defend their democracy

from what they call a growing threat.


NOBILO: Thanks to Will Ripley for that report. Still to come tonight on the show, you have no doubt heard of the legend of the Loch Ness monster. I

would talk to a scientist that found evidence that monster enthusiasts would be very happy about.



NOBILO: Every time scientists make discoveries, it opens up a world of possibilities. In tonight's debrief, we are talking about a new study in

the journal, Cretaceous Resource, I never miss an edition, it's my favorite geological period.

Researchers from the University of Bath and University of Portsmouth have discovered fossils of small plesiosaurs in an African river. And why is

this remarkable? Plesiosaurs were marine reptiles, meaning they lived in salt water environments. These fossils were found in an ancient freshwater

river. That's sparking a lot of questions such as, could it be possible that a plesiosaur could have described in the Scottish Loch Ness, possibly

solving the mystery of the Loch Ness monster.

Well, Nick Longrich is the senior author of that new study. He's also a senior lecturer in paleontology and evolutionary biology at the University

of Bath. And he joins me from Alaska.

Welcome to the program, Nick.


NOBILO: So, I think I know the answer to this but does it mean that plesiosaurs could have lived in Loch Ness? Theoretically, could it buttress

the notion of a Loch Ness monster at some point?

LONGRICH: Theoretically, lots of things are possible. Is it likely? No.

One aspect of the scenario which is plesiosaurs in freshwater is plausible, and I think people have seized on that were plausible and ignored other

words before and after that, where they kind of say the Loch Ness monster might be plausible.

It's not likely. The Loch Ness, it is a small lake. It's about 20 miles. There are marine animals that move into freshwater. There's a seal in Lake

Baikal. But Lake Baikal is 10,000 square miles. It is a huge area. It can support a seal species. Loch Ness is too tiny.

Around 12,000 years ago, the Ice Age, all of northern Britain was under ice. That was covered by glaciers. So, it is unlikely that a place your

source could have to survive there and they may vanish (INAUDIBLE) 66 million years ago.

So, it's -- there are things that vanished from record, they seem to go instinct and they turn up alive. That happened to coelacanth. I am sorry to

disappoint anyone, but there probably wasn't a Loch Ness monster.

NOBILO: Can you explain to our viewers exactly what your team discovered? And even if it might not prove a Loch Ness monster, how it revolutionizes

the way that you will see plesiosaurs and also what might be possible?

LONGRICH: Yeah. So, we are looking at some fossils from an ancient river and north Africa. It has a lot of freshwater animals, things like

salamanders and frogs that don't tolerate salt water. It shows you have a river environment. Then we were stunned to find plesiosaurs living there.

It is not the first time people found plesiosaurs in fresh water, but it's another piece of evidence that they're able to move out of oceans and into

the sea into other habitats like lagoons, brackish water and potentially lakes and rivers. We are not quite sure what they are doing their. Modern

seals and dolphins will move into fresh water to feed opportunistically.

A few species can tolerate freshwater for a period of time. And then a few species have become fully adapted to freshwater, like freshwater seals and

dolphins. It is conceivable that plesiosaurs did something similar. They were very adaptable in wide ranging places.

It is by no means established that was happening here, but you need to take another look at it, get some more fossils, do more analyses and figure out

what they're doing in an freshwater ecosystem.

NOBILO: Given that there are so many models and ministries just in the actual fossil record of paleontology, why do you think people latch on to

the idea of the Loch Ness monster so much?

LONGRICH: You know, I don't know. I mean, it's like -- you know, mystery, like the idea of mystery in the world. There are a lot of mysterious things

that we don't know in fossil record, but it's different to imagine something like that existing today.


I mean, another thing is if you look at the evolutionary origins, 250,000 years ago, we were living in Africa. We evolved in this environment where

there were for all intents and purposes, all practical purposes, there were monsters. There were hyenas and lions out in the dark. They were rivers and

lakes, they were crocodiles and hippos. It was dangerous out there.

So, we might simply be wire to see the world in terms of monsters being out there in the deep send the dark and maybe we just kind of still

instinctively look for threats out there and that's why we think of things like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. Just wire to see the world as

dangerous animals being out there. And we have fascinations with dinosaurs.

NOBILO: Fascinating. Well, congratulations on this discovery for you and your team. Nick Longrich, thank you for joining us.

LONGRICH: Thank you.

NOBILO: American actor, Will Smith, posted a video on Instagram short time ago addressing this moment from the Oscars in march.

Smith begins by explaining that he didn't apologize to Chris Rock during his acceptance speech that evening because he was fogged out by that point.

He says this is what he said right after that.


WILL SMITH, ACTOR: I've reached out to Chris, and the message that came back is that he is not ready to talk. When he is, he will reach out. So, I

will say to you, Chris, I apologize to you. My behavior was unacceptable, and I am here whenever you are ready to talk.


NOBILO: Smith then apologized to Chris Rock's family, promising that they would be able to be friends again.

And thank you all for watching. That was THE GLOBAL BRIEF. Have a wonderful weekend.

"WORLD SPORTS" is up next.