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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

Russia's War On Ukraine; UNGA Meeting; Hurricane Fiona Slamming The Caribbean. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired September 20, 2022 - 17:00   ET



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

Russian-backed separatists accelerate plans for a vote on joining Russia, as Ukraine pushes deeper into occupied territory.

At the United Nations General Assembly, Brazil's president calls for peace talks, not sanctions, to end the war in Ukraine.

And Hurricane Fiona batters the Caribbean, leaving thousands without power and clean water.

Battles are waging on Ukraine's frontlines. Yet Ukrainian defense officials say, Russia is starting to fear defeat. That's after Russian occupied

regions announced new referendums to vote on Russian citizenship. They are scheduled to begin Friday in Kherson, and parts of Zaporizhzhia, and in the

Russian-backed separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Ukraine says, these will be sham votes and will have no legal impact. And according to the U.S. State Department, it's a desperate move by Russians


Meantime, Ukraine's counteroffensive has slowed down as its troops rest and regroup. But heavy fighting has picked up in Donetsk and the eastern town

of Bakhmut, which Russian forces have been trying to capture for months.

Our Nick Paton Walsh was just there and he joins me now from Kramatorsk.

Nick, just before we get to that situation in Bakhmut, these sham referendums we are hearing about appear to be Putin's next move, really,

following the loss of a bunch of the Kharkiv region that we saw earlier in September. What would the implications be if these areas become part of the

Russian federation, and how likely is it actually happen?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Becoming part of the Russian Federation in Moscow's eyes, yeah, I mean, look, no doubt if these

votes go ahead, which looks like it could be the case in the next week or so, they could simply be rubberstamping the idea that Moscow has of sort of

bringing these occupied territories taken by invasion by military forces into broader Russia.

Now, that does two things, potentially increases the possibilities that Russia has to defend them. It might make a claim for other kinds of weapons

in its arsenal, or it might use other elements of its armed forces in defending what it might claim as its own territory. That's one issue here.

And secondly, it creates a lot of pressure on Ukraine to potentially disrupt that, say, a voting process. This is going to be a bunch of numbers

announce in a few days time to try and disrupt it not only on the battlefield, but also in the information space as well.

But what we are seeing around here in Donetsk, continued changes in the front line. A possible advances by Ukraine, but as we saw around Bakhmut, a

city that Russia has made very clear that it wants to take, lots of advances and intense fighting on its outskirts.


WALSH (voice-over): The mood here is black and old. From a time passed, Ukraine did not feel it was winning, taking heavy losses and struggling to

hold on.

But the Russian enemy is something new.

This is the very front line with Russian positions literally 100 meters away from where I'm standing.

The Kremlin really wants the city of Bakhmut, so here, on its edges, it sent ruthless mercenaries from the Wagner group to fight. The shelling,


We are taken off to their vantage point from where they see the Wagner fighters rushing them, leaving the Ukrainians to open fire.

It is just over there. They say that the Russian Wagner mercenaries appeared to try to run at them, exposing Ukrainian positions, so the

Russian artillery can hit where they are.

The field but between them, charred, pockmarked. They are almost eyeball to eyeball. The next attack is imminent.

We can see a mortar unit, the drone operator says. They are preparing to fire at us.

Down in the shelter, the commander says, they've captured Russian convicts who were recruited to fight.

It was get shot or surrender for the convict, he says. Wagner act professionally, not like usual infantry units.

Shells continue to land all around them.

Bakhmut is a mess. Russia edging towards it, but not inside, prepared for street to street fighting and meanwhile torn to pieces. The losses are

heavy and exposed positions around the city, particularly here. Russia's invasion, tearing through the green treasured land that claims to covet.

Why do they want Bakhmut?

They retreated elsewhere and they need a victory, something significant, he says, so they throw forces here. Of course, we have casualties, not today

in our unit, but you can't avoid dead or wounded, sometimes heavily injured. I lost my close friend five days after we came here.

A few roads away, Andre's cycling away. His eyes tell you how life is here. First, the shooting but there's no electricity or water. It's not too bad.

Only every second house is ruined.

There are still many people here, buying a lot of Natalia's potatoes.

We sold half a ton today, she says. Who knows where the shooting is coming from or going. Don't to be scared, she said.

Twenty-four hours later, an Ukrainian artillery is hitting positions on the city's edge, amid reports Russia has gotten closer. Much fresh smoke, but

it's always hard to know what Moscow thought it was hitting.

Walking home with a squeaky wheel and food is Maria, back to her son.

MARIA, BAKHMUT RESIDENT (translated): With God you have no fear. And on your own land you cannot feel fear either.

WALSH: Silence and terror in turn enveloping the city.


WALSH (on camera): I have to say that from what we are hearing, things don't look particularly good on the outskirts of Bakhmut for Ukrainian

forces. Things can still be reversed, but it's a rare moment, frankly, in which the narrative on the frontlines here is going in Russia's favor. That

is obviously behind these southern sham rushed referenda that we are going to see in Donetsk and Luhansk. They've been asking for them for sometime.

But in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as well, the freshly occupied parts of Ukraine, you know, there's even suggestions only on one day in Donetsk they

may actually be doing voting in person. No mistake this is just a process that will end in a number that will say these areas are going to be part of

Russia, and this will happen under a state of war anyway.

So the nature of democratic process is kind of farcical, but it creates a dynamic in which as I said Russia might be able to use different kinds of

resources, provide different justifications for what parts of its arsenal it might use. And that may make some of Ukraine's supporters in the West

questions the rationale but also to -- we are meant to be hearing, there have been rumors we should be hearing from Vladimir Putin at some point.

He's trying, it seems, to grasp the narrative here after weeks of putting catastrophic defeat, whether he's able to alter dynamics of the battlefield

here, the, through this referendum, essentially information piece of warfare here, we'll have to see in the weeks ahead, but we are in for a

very tense week here -- Christina.

MACFARLANE: Important to have you here during that week, Nick. Thanks very much for your reporting.

U.S. Senate Republicans are signaling they are willing to support $12 billion in new aid to Ukraine, but they say they are also concerned that it

could take two years to replenish America's weapon stockpile.

Meantime, we've learned the U.S. may be considering reversing its hesitation to give Ukraine tanks that it has been desperately been asking

for, for a while. And there's also a new report on just how effective Ukraine has been against Russian forces in the air.

Let's bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann. He's live for us from the Pentagon.

And, Oren, we know that the U.S. and other European nations have provided Ukraine with Soviet-era tanks in the past. So, do we know if these are

likely to be the same or Western? And if they are Western, what would that signal?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: So, there are a number of different considerations here when the U.S. and other allies and partners

look at what weapons it might be willing to send Ukraine. Of course, the beginning of that conversation is the short term. What do they need right

now? And that's where you see them continue to send over the ammunition for the HIMARS, GMLRS, that is, as well as more artillery of different

calibers, 155 millimeter, 105 millimeter.

And that continues to go over in the tens of thousands of rounds for the fight that's going on right now. But the U.S. and other countries are also

looking at the medium term and the long term, and that's when Western tanks come into discussion. This is not something that a senior defense official

says the U.S. is ready to provide right now, or willing to consider right now. But in the future, when you look at how Ukraine will defend itself

long term, yes, the U.S. says a senior defense official told reporters it is willing to have, as part of that discussion, a consideration of U.S. or

Western tanks.

To some extent, it's not surprising. As this war has dragged on, even before, to some extent, we saw the U.S. and European nations trying to

shift Ukraine from the Soviet era weapon era weaponry they had, to more NATO standard ammunition.


That process took time and it continues to take time. Unfortunately, the more complex the weapons get, the more advanced they are, the harder they

are to maintain. That's something the U.S. is very much aware of, which is why you are not seeing them sending tanks right now.

It's part of the conversation. We are not likely to see it imminently. We are talking months, if not years into the future. But the U.S. is at least

willing to consider sending Ukraine tanks at some point in the future to defend itself.

MACFARLANE: All right. Oren Liebermann there from the Pentagon, thanks very much, Oren.

Well, the U.S. State Department says Russia appears to be, quote, on the ropes in Ukraine. In a recent interview, the deputy secretary of state also

slammed Moscow's muse to hold a referenda on Russian citizenship in reasons that Ukraine controls. She also said, Russia is showing signs of

desperation as Ukrainian forces pushback Russian forces.

But with winter fast approaching, it remains to be seen how the battle may shift, as freezing conditions close in.

Let's get more on where things stand strategically in Ukraine, CNN military analyst and retired lieutenant general, Mark Hertling, is a former

commanding general of the U.S. Army in Europe and the Seventh Army.

General, thank you for joining us.

Just before I get your perspective, general, on the battlefield of Ukraine, I want to first get your quick thoughts on what Oren Liebermann was talking

about their, about a possible transition to the Western tanks. What impact would that have for Ukrainian forces? How important is it for them to

switch to NATO compatible models?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Oren had it exactly right, Christina. As a tanker myself, I grew up in tanks, I'm an armor

officer, it would be very difficult to do this right now with the battle raging, to transfer M1 tanks or the more advanced -- technologically

advanced thanks to Ukraine from various Western forces. And there are reasons for that.

And please don't get me wrong, Ukraine could certainly -- the Ukrainian army could certainly learn to fire and maneuver the tanks. But the

logistics trail and the requirement for maintenance of these vehicles are staggering. Having commanded a tank division in my latter days of my

career, I know how much support you need to do this, and that's the main element of all of this.

So, yes, Ukraine will eventually transform to a modernized force. There was talk about that before this most recent conflict started. But that takes a

long time. Poland is just now transforming to M1 tanks, and that deal has been in the works for over five years. So, there's a lot of requirements of

training, maintenance, and support for these kind of vehicles.

MACFARLANE: And, General, we know that Ukraine has obviously made huge and significant gains in recent weeks in the region of Kharkiv, but we are also

hearing there from our Nick Paton Walsh in Bakhmut that Ukraine is also suffering huge launches in that city itself. So, in your assessment, is the

tide turning in Ukraine's favor in this war at the moment or are the sort of isolated advances that we have seen?

HERTLING: I think the tide has definitely turned in Ukraine's favor. Next report I was listening to it had to do with a tactical fight going on in

one location.

When you look at the front, there are certainly some real slug fest going on, especially in the Donbas region, where Nick was. That's the area that

has really been equivalent to World War I trans warfare, where the gains on the ground are minimal. There's a back-and-forth going on and most of it

has to do with the artillery duels and the gaining of inches, rather than miles.

When you take a look at some of the other things that are occurring, the fact that the Russian military is extremely demoralized, they haven't been

able to conduct any kind of defensive operations in other areas like Kharkiv and Kherson. They are having difficulty, in terms of manning

they're force, and we are all waiting for what President Putin's referendum is going to look like, and there are reasons that he's doing that.

All of those things give an indication that Ukraine is on the front foot and certainly the Russian forces on the Russian military are on their back


MACFARLANE: And on those sham referendums, General, what is your read on what Putin is trying to do there? What is this about?

HERTLING: Well, you remember he tried to do a referendum in Kherson. He's now trying to do in the Luhansk and Donetsk. And Nick has it exactly right,

this will be a false referendum, a vote will be skewed toward voting for the referendum and the people's republic as it's so-called, the fact that

Russia put a lot of Russian citizens in those two provinces before the war started.

But I think what Mr. Putin is attempting to do is claim that territory as Russian ground.


And if the Ukrainians continue their advances, he can then portray to his people that the Ukrainians attacking now mother Russia. That's not how the

world looks at those two o blocks of Luhansk and Donetsk. They are seen as Ukrainian territory. They are illegally swatted upon by Russia and their

forces, they have been since 2014.

So, I think what we are seeing is an attempt at a strategic maneuver by Mr. Putin that's going to be laughed off. And I think the Ukrainian forces are

going to continue to attempt to regain that territory, which they lost to these insurgents -- irredentist would be a better word, in 2014.

MACFARLANE: General, it's good to have your perspective. Unfortunately, we had to leave it there. Thank you very much, and, of course, we will be back

with you to discuss the weeks ahead.

HERTLING: Thank you.

MACFARLANE: Now, this year's United Nations General Assembly week is underway. Ukraine is at the top of the agenda. It's the first in-person

session in three years. About 150 world leaders are expected to take the podium this week.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was the first world leader to address the general assembly a short time ago, calling for an immediate cease-fire

in Ukraine while criticizing sanctions against Russia.

CNN's Shasta Darlington is in Sao Paulo in Brazil and joins us live now.

And, Shasta, I guess it's not surprising to hear Bolsonaro criticize sanctions and he's been unwilling to condemn Putin's actions since the

start of the war, and we know that he is also seeking reelection. How much of the speech is really about that?

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Christina, most of the speech was in fact more domestic politics. It was almost a campaign speech.

But he did as you mentioned, call for peace talks, as the best way to end the conflict in Ukraine. He urged all parties to engage in dialogues and

said sanctions against Russia are not a viable way to end the violence.

But remember, Brazil relies heavily on fertilizers from Russia for its agro history, which is huge. So, he's been careful not to criticize Putin, and

was actually in Moscow on the eve of the conflict. This attitude is not surprising, and then he went on to vote most of his speech to all other

aspects of what is important in Brazil -- you know, domestic politics, promoting his achievements, he praised Brazil's COVID response, despite the

fact that there was a very high death toll here and he's come under a lot of criticism. He held a strengthening economy, with inflation and

unemployment now reined in, that's, of course, because they were quite high a couple of months ago.

He even addressed climate change, the Amazon, the environment and accused the media of being overly critical of his government. But the fact is, we

have seen soaring levels of deforestation that critics say have a lot to do with his attitude towards the Amazon and allowing economic development

there. He also touched on gender ideology, again talk more about the agro industry. This is important for his right-wing base, and, really, he used

it as an opportunity to criticize his rival, the left wing Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is leading him in the polls ahead of elections, Christina.

MCFARLANE: All right. Shasta Darlington there -- thanks very much, Shasta.

All right, up next on TEH BRIEF, the Caribbean Island plunged into darkness by a killer hurricane. We'll show you the damage to hurricane Fiona has

done so far and show you where it is heading next.



MACFARLANE: Welcome back to THE BRIEF.

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

Protesters are sweeping Iran after a young woman arrested by the morality police died in custody. A human rights group says at least five protesters

were killed in Iran's Kurdish region on Monday, when security forces opened fire. Police claimed a 22-year-old woman died of a heart attack, even

though families say that she was in good health.

A quarantine bus has crashed in southwest China, killing 27 people. The bus was traveling in a remote, mountainous region early Sunday, when it

overturned into a ravine. The incident is reigniting fierce criticism of the government's zero COVID policy.

American actress and U.S. special envoy Angelina Jolie has arrived in Pakistan to visit areas of the country ravaged by historic levels of

flooding. Jolie, who will work alongside the rescue committee, wants to draw attention to the country's unfolding humanitarian crisis. Almost three

and a half million children need urgent lifesaving support, according to UNICEF, with one third of Pakistan submerged by flooding after record


Hurricane Fiona is steaming through the Caribbean, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Much of Puerto Rico is in the dark as Fiona

devastated the island's power system, and more than half the island is without drinking water. At least four people have died, and rescues from

floods are ongoing.

We get more now from CNN's Leyla Santiago in San Juan.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hurricane Fiona gaining strength and hammering the Caribbean with strong winds and intense rain.

The storm is heading towards Turks and Caicos today, following landfall in the Dominican Republic on Monday. On Sunday afternoon, Fiona hit Puerto

Rico, causing and an island-wide power outage.

PEDRO PIERLUSI, GOVERNOR, PUERTO RICO: By the time the tail leaves Puerto Rico, we would have gotten roughly 35 inches of rain. That's a huge amount

of rain.

SANTIAGO: The governor says he hopes it would just be a matter of days to get electrical service back to most customers.

PIERLUISI: Well, one thing to keep in mind is that our grid is quite fragile still. It got not fixed after Maria but not really improved since


SANTIAGO: The storm coming just as parts of the island were finally recovering from Hurricane Maria 's destruction five years ago.

JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ, RESIDENT AND BUSINESS OWNER: It's been rough. We've been struggling to get this neighborhood back from Maria. Everything was

destroyed, restaurants, houses, everything was destroyed. And we just -- we just -- not all the way back, but we just halfway back. A lot of people

more than Maria lost their houses now. Lost everything on their houses because of flooding.

SANTIAGO: This is the barrio, the neighborhood where the National Guard had to come and rescue people. Still a lot of flooding. I can hear

generators powering the home. And it is still pouring down with rain. Neighbors looking out, wondering exactly what will come next, as hurricane

Fiona, the remnants of it, continue to demolish this area.

The family rescued overnight now safely in a shelter.


She says this was worse than Maria.

She's pointing out that they've already been under water for 24 hours and the rain is still coming down, so, she's concerned about the 2,500 families

that she says are impacted by this here.

About 1,000 people rescued from flood waters. More rescue efforts still under way, as emergency responders try to navigate through difficult to

reach areas. In Utuado, the interior part of the island, 25-year-old Roman Rodriquez (ph) watched this bridge come apart in just minutes and wash down

the river.

On the west side of the island, rainfall swelling a river, the Guanajibo River in Hormigueros, surpassing its previous record high at 28.59 feet,

set during Hurricane Maria, now gauging to over 29 feet, the National Weather Service said. The damage from Hurricane Maria still looms large

over the island.

CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, FORMER MAYOR, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: We wasted five years, so the fear of the Puerto Rican people is that history will repeat



MACFARLANE: Fiona is now hammering the Turks and Caicos and could get even stronger as it heads towards Bermuda.

Let's bring in Jennifer Gray at the CNN weather center.

And, Jennifer, what are going to we see here?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, we're going to see the storm strengthen. In fact, it is right now, the pressure is lowering. You can see

the center of the storm, the, eye this pup in the last couple of frames. And that indicates that the storm is strengthening.

So, with the latest advisory, the pressure has dropped, the winds are still 185 kilometers per hour, gust of 220.

Turks and Caicos still very much in this, even though the storm is lifting away. We are still getting very strong winds and very heavy rainfall, the

surf is extremely high as well. Hurricane warnings and tropical storm warnings still in effect, 5 to 8 feet storms expected. As the storm heads

to the north, it is going to strengthen.

We are looking at a potential for a category four storm as early as tomorrow, and then as it continues to travel to the north, staying away

from the U.S. mainland, we are still going to see a very strong storm in the Atlantic, making it very close brush with Bermuda and then on into

Canada. The storm could still have 165 kilometer per hour winds by the time it makes it that far north -- Christina.

MACFARLANE: Goodness me. We're taking a close eye on that.

Jennifer, thank you for now.

And that will do it for this edition of THE GLOBAL BRIEF. Thanks for joining us.

Stay tuned. "WORLD SPORT" is coming up next.