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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

Russia's Sham Referendums; Iran Cracks Down On Protests; Italy's Historic Election. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired September 23, 2022 - 17:00   ET



PAULA NEWTON, CNN HOST: Hello, and a warm welcome. I am Paula Newton, in for Bianca Nobilo. And I want to welcome you to THE GLOBAL BRIEF.

Let me begin in Ukraine, where Russia has launched a referenda to annex four occupied regions, a move Western governments call illegal.

Then, the Iranian army says it's ready to, quote, confront enemies, as dozens of people have been killed and protests right across the country.

And Italians head to the polls on Sunday for a potentially historic election. We'll debrief why expected winner could steer Italy far to the


So, Russia has launched referenda in four Russian occupied regions in Ukraine, with the aim to an extent to the federation. Now, it's happening

in parts of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, and in Luhansk and Donetsk, which are almost fully controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

Now, during the next five days, residents will vote on whether to join Russia in a referenda that have -- we want to be clear, absolutely no legal

standing. Ukrainian officials are urging people to boycott.

Now, they say now many people are ignoring the process. But they also claim pro-Russian authorities are coercing people to participate in some areas,

even going door to door with armed men.

Nick Paton Walsh joins me now from Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine.

You've been following this development very closely. What is the likely goal of these staged votes?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Essentially, Russia use this in the past and Crimea, and even in Chechnya, about 20 years ago.

These referenda, staged as they are, and as you mentioned, essentially, people are being asked to vote, at times at the point of a gun, sometimes

reports of soldiers going around with ballot boxes, asking people what their vote would be, designed to get some kind of synthesized mandate for

Russia's military occupation of these areas. And then, with that mandate, Russia can internally justify claiming that these areas are essentially

Russian sovereign territory.

That is what we expect will probably happen next week. And that may enable Russia then change what it feels it can deploy and in defense of these

territories, on a low level, perhaps, conscripts may be, although there's partial mobilization, seeming to throw the window, frankly, of previous

years for defending Russian territory. But on the higher end, the more troubling and, possibly, more unconventional tools, and there are some even

nuclear weapons, as threatened by Putin, a matter of days ago.

But for ordinary Ukrainians who are living in areas under Russian bombardment, under threat of Russian occupation, today was as deadly as any

other day they faced.


WALSH (voice-over): As Russia forces a fake choice and a sham vote on occupied Ukrainians, elsewhere, Igor (ph) and Xena (ph) make the daily

deadly choice of their own. They must brave the shelling to go and get food.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): We have no relatives, nowhere to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): It's worse and worse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): That's it, we're going home.

WALSH: They've heard of Russia's staged referendums here in Bakhmut, but Moscow makes itself felt here with artillery rather than imposing a ballot,

likely having entered the city's east.

Streets, in a strange quiet as I've been the eye of a storm when nobody is in control. They will have to fight their way in.

A sign of how things are changing fast here, Ukrainian forces have blown the bridge in the middle of the city in the last day or so. Russian forces

are getting close.

The people left ask us not to film the outside of shelters as the Russians will target them, and they have already gone underground as much as they


He is saying some of these things are taken from buildings that have been bombed and brought here. A lot of people on the back of their head filmed,

possibly because they are concerned that in the days ahead, they may be under Russian control.

He tells me perhaps 20,000 people are still hiding out here, but there is no real way to know.

The choice Russia imposes on Ukrainians here is spending nights underground, and scurrying between shelter.

Days of hot words from Putin haven't cooled Ukraine's advance. The threat of nuclear annihilation carries slightly less horror here, on the road to

liberate Izyum, where it looks like the apocalypse has already come, far from radiation.

Ten days ago, Russia was kicked out of here after heavy fighting. Even the Russian Orthodox Church has collapsed. The devastation seems to almost spur

them on.

Announcements in Moscow about partial mobilization haven't really changed the dynamic here, of an army that feels it's moving forward.

They've heard about Russia's mobilization, and nuclear bombast here, too.


Announcements in Moscow about partial mobilization haven't really changed the dynamic here, of an army that feels it's moving forward.

They've heard about Russia's mobilization, and nuclear bombast here, too.

They have a role, he says. But you need to train and supply people so it won't make much difference as we destroyed most of their armor.

There is nothing worse than nuclear war, another says. But you must understand. These decisions aren't taken by one person. And we see in

Russia, not everyone supports his moves.

This liberated road is where Donetsk region begins. Ukraine, already taking back that places Putin made central to his goals, and where fake ballot

boxes and absurd claims of official Russians sovereignty cannot change who owns and who scarred the land.


WALSH (on camera): So all of this extraordinary display by Russia over the past days combined with the dissent, the protest, the ramshackled nature of

this partial mobilization, still begs the question exactly what will change on the ground here? Yes, entirely possible Russia will claim that the

occupied areas, although these areas change as the battlefield goes back and forth, are part of Russian sovereign territory. Does that then change

what Russia is willing to do to defend them? They've been rhetorical very fears about possibly, certainly, in the low levels of government, doing

something in modern terms, unthinkable. Or to Ukraine, we saw they're continuing to prosecute their war plan, and take back as much territory as

they can in the weeks and months ahead of winter.

Putin has to get these troops to the frontlines fast, to affect any change at all. But as you heard there, Ukraine has already known, they're going to

arrive, probably poorly equipped, poorly trained as poorly supplied, as the regular army that faulted in Ukraine over the past six, seven months, a

very stark series of discovery that Russia is going to make in the weeks and months ahead -- Paula.

NEWTON: Yeah, it was really interesting to get the perspective of those Ukrainian soldiers, as they wait to hear when those troops will arrive.

Nick Paton Walsh for us, as always, excellent reporting. Really appreciated.

Now, Russian men, as we were just talking about, are scrambling to leave the country, trying to avoid being drafted for that fight in Ukraine. And

you can see cars lined up, and now, they're at a standstill, at Russia's land border with Finland, where more than 6,400 crossed just on Thursday.

Now, this comes days after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists, those leaving say they were afraid they

were being brought, and even civilians with no military training or expertise will soon be conscripted. But for them, a future is murky.



NIKITA RUSSIAN SOFTWARE ENGINEER: I definitely don't want to be drafted or this kind of thing, that's for sure. But of course, I also have all my

family and lots of friends and Russia, and, I'm certain but they cannot leave like all of them cannot leave, that's why, of, course, I have a plan

to return at some point, in some way, maybe, I don't know. It's unknown at this point.


NEWTON: Yeah, he has no idea what's going to happen next.

And there has been yet another mysterious death of a senior Russian business figure. Aviation expert Anatoly Gerashchenko died Wednesday after

he, quote, fell from a great height of flying down several flights of stairs. That is a quote, and that's according to Moscow's Aviation

Institute when he was once in charge.

Now, his death comes amid a recent strength of mysterious deaths among Kremlin-linked businessmen. These are just some, just some of those who

have died in and outside of Russia's borders over the past six months. Now, prior to Gerashchenko's death, at least eight Russian businessman have died

in unexplained accidents or suicides.

Now to Iran where protests have now spread to more than 50 cities and towns right across the country, but the army says it's ready to, quote, confront

enemies to maintain security. Now, human rights groups say at least 50 people have died so far. These anti-government protests started a week ago,

after a young woman died while in police custody. And that would be the morality police. She was detained, apparently, to receive, quote, guidance

on her attire.

We want to bring in Jomana Karadsheh who's been following the arrest for us this entire weekend.

Jomana, I've just been so struck, not just by your reporting on what you've been able to bring to us from inside of Iran, but what I've seen online

from Iranians, especially women outside the country. And those expressions have been so powerful.

But then, they're saying, our family members are afraid that even, outside of Iran, because they're afraid of the repercussions of them and their

family inside of the country.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, Paula, we've seen those acts of defiance, as we mentioned, not just in Iran, and outside the

country. You've got so many Iranians who are watching what is going on in their homeland, trying to join in with active support, of whatever they're

able to post on to social media.

But also, Paula, you know, those that we've been speaking to say they're hoping this could be the beginning of something, some turning point for the

country. But at the same time, they really, really are worried about the crackdown. It did seem like the government initially was allowing these

protests to go on for the past few days, to an extent, allowing people to blow off steam, really, because of all the anger that has been building up,

a recognition of how this outrage has been over the death of Mahsa Amini.

But right now, as you've seen these protests turn into calls for change, calls for regime change, and freedoms, you're seeing the government

potentially drawing a line with the crackdown that's been going on intensifying right now. So, whatever may happen right now, Paula, we can't

overstate the significance of what has been going on in the country.


KARADSHEH (voice-over): A week like no other Iran has seen in years, protests ignited by the death of Mahsa Amini, have snow walled into much

more than that, women have been leading the calls for change and freedom, rising up for rights, as generation as never had.

But even those who've seen it all, this old woman waves her heads scar, softly chanting, death to the supreme leader.

The threat of punishment by jail or flooding hasn't stopped their remarkable acts of defiance. CNN can verify the circumstances of this video

or when it was filmed. It shows a woman standing up to the morality police, the woman in black, refusing to come down or to wear her head scarf, the


The motion breaks out, as they tried to grab her. She shouts that she's standing up for the sake of Mahsa Amini.

The government appears to be using all it's got to silence the voices of dissent. A female force deployed for the first time on the streets.

It's also been firing live rounds directly at protesters, according to Amnesty International. Several people have so far been killed and many

others injured.

President Ebrahim Raisi in New York on Thursday appeared to be dismissing the real grievances off the thousands who've taken to the streets.

EBRAHIM RAISI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Vis-a-vis what is occurring, having demonstrations be it unionized organizations, labor

organizations, or towards any specific issue or incident, of course, these are normal, and fully expected. But we must differentiate between

demonstrators and vandalism.

KARADSHEH: On Friday, more ominous warnings from authorities, the army, they say, is ready to deal with the threat of so-called enemies.

As the country descends into darkness with internet disruptions not seen since the 2019 protests, many are now bracing for what the coming hours and

days may bring.


KARADSHEH (on camera): And, Paula, despite the fact that the government is restricting the Internet, trying to stop these images that we are seeing

coming out of the country, tonight, we are seeing more video emerge, trickle out of the country, and some really remarkable scenes. You've got

people out on the streets in Mashhad, that is the birthplace of the supreme leader, setting fire to a statue, one of the founders of the Islamic

revolution, one of the leaders of the Islamic Revolution, really, unthinkable scenes in the past. But at the same time, we are also seeing

video showing security apparatus on the streets in force.

NEWTON: Yeah. And so, notable that some of them are exclusively women who've been there on the streets, facing those government enforcers to send

a very, very clear message.

Jomana, thanks so much for all your reporting to speak on this. We'll stay on top of it, appreciate it.

Now, as Jomana and I were just talking, people are gathering around the world to show solidarity with protesters in Iran, hundreds of people stood

in front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Friday, some of them cut their hair to challenge the Islamic Republic, and extend women's right.

The day before, demonstrators pushed against right police in Athens outside the Iranian embassy.

And in Toronto, protesters also took to the streets. Here's what one woman said about Iran's morality police.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were expecting Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, to show his support, and his government support of the women in

Iran who are getting killed and brutally murdered with a dictatorship and with a brutal regime, Islamic Republic in Iran.


NEWTON: Still to come for us, in your political era could be about to begin in Italy, as it appears set to take a swing to the far-right. We look

at what it means, that's next.

And streaming, that's been a lifesaver during the pandemic. But there are some movies that are meant to be in the big screen, right? We'll tell you

what director James Cameron has to say about that, and yes, the much anticipated sequel to "Avatar".


NEWTON: To Italy now, which could make political history this weekend. It is the last day of campaigning before the country's general election on

Sunday. The country's last general election was in 2018, and that was, of course, before the coronavirus pandemic and the beginning of that war in

Ukraine. And as is the case across Europe, the cost of living crisis is one of the main issues, with voters.

Now, you may recognize some of the contenders, including 85-year-old billionaire Silvio Berlusconi. But this ultra conservative Giorgia Meloni

who is tipped as the front runner. If Meloni wins, she could become Italy's first ever female prime minister at the helm of what would be the first

far-right government since the era of Mussolini.

Barbie Nadeau has our story now from Rome.


BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Italian elections are never dull, and Sunday's vote could be the most colorful in decades. Thanks to

the cast of characters, befitting the drama the country to where it is, after the sensational collapse of Mario Draghi's government in July.

Leading the race is hard-hitting Giorgia Meloni with her far-right brothers of Italy party. The woman native started her political career in any of

fascist party.

Meloni was raised by a single mother, in this working class Roman neighborhood. She campaigned on traditional family values, against

migration, often publishing videos purporting to show migrants committing crimes. Twitter even removed a video last month of a migrant allegedly

raping a woman on an Italian street.

Her closest consultants include Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for Donald Trump, who has headlined her conservative conferences in Italy.

In the 2018 election, she barely scratched the surface. But her social media campaign has vaulted her party into the lead in latest both, and

analysts say she is expected to win the highest numbers of votes. Her coalition partners include Matteo Salvini, the Trump loving Italy First

leader of the Labour party.

In 2019, during his stint as interior minister in the last government, he was charged with kidnapping for providing migrants to dock in an Italian

port. He's still fighting the case in court, and calls the charges and attacked by political rivals.

The king maker, real or imagine, is the legendary Silvio Berlusconi, who at 85, is returning to politics as the center party of the center right

coalition. He missed the last vote due to attacks conviction that prohibited him from running to public office.

His TikTok channel is that with young voters, and a favorite of his fiancee, more than 50 years his junior. The trio is every bookmakers'

favorite, and their opposition is fractured, which is common in Italian politics.

DARIO FABBRI, EDITOR, DOMINO POLITICAL MAGAZINE: I think that's because of our institutional regime, but also, because our society is very polarized

on many, many issues, and sometimes, it's very difficult to find a balance of compromise.

NADEAU: If this coalition crosses the finish line first, it's expected to make Meloni the first female prime minister in Italy, something many

Italian women might appreciate.

EMILIANA DE BLASIO, DIVERSITY ADVISER, LUISS UNIVERSITY: We need to reflect on the fact that Giorgia Meloni is not rising up at all, questions

on women's right, empowerment, in general.

NADEAU: But if history is a guide and the next government falls as fast as the previous administrations, it won't last long.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, CNN, Rome.


NEWTON: And now, a look at some of the other key stories making international headlines today. Hurricane Fiona remains a serious threat.

The category four storm is barreling toward Canada's East Coast at this hour, and expected to hit later Friday. Residents of Prince Edward Island

and Nova Scotia are on high alert. Officials meantime at the Canadian Hurricane Centre say it's been 50 years since the region was dealing with

the storm of this intensity.

Starting Monday, it will be easier to travel to Hong Kong rather than a three-day hotel quarantine, incoming travelers will only be expected to

self monitor for three days and won't be allowed to enter bars or restaurants during that time. Also, you will need a negative rapid test,

rather than a PCR test, before getting on the plane.

"Avatar", the film that made more money in theaters than any other, is back on the screen. The big screen, this weekend. And its sequel is set to

release in December.

CNN's Jason Carroll spoke with filmmaker James Cameron about all that's happened in the movie industry since the blockbuster first was released in



CHARACTER: I see you.

CHARACTER: I see you.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thirteen years after its initial release, moviegoers can once again see "Avatar" as its creator


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We should see your faces --

CARROLL: On the big screen.

JAMES CAMERON, FILMMAKER: There's a whole, I guess, generation of film fans that are coming up, that only ever had a chance to see it on streaming

or Blue Ray.

CARROLL: Director James Cameron is also hoping audiences will be so excited to not only visit or revisit his mythical world to Pandora, they

will flock to see "Avatar II: The Way of the Water", when it hits theaters this December.

CAMERON: Of course, we've got our fingers crossed that the market has rebounded enough, that the kind of numbers that we did on our first film,

or even just to break even on this one are still possible.

CARROLL: The first "Avatar" is still the highest grossing film of all- time. It's raked in more than $2.8 billion. "Titanic", another Cameron epic, also at the top of the box office list, but much changed in this

post-pandemic world.


Despite recent blockbusters like "Top Gun: Maverick", summer ticket sales were roughly 30 percent behind pre-pandemic levels.

Earlier this month, Cineworld, the world's second largest movie chain, filed for bankruptcy. Add to that, streaming, which has taken a huge chunk

out of the market with many opting to stay home and binge rather than go out.

Does that add extra pressure for you, now that "Avatar II" is soon to be released?

CAMERON: You know, I suppose it does and the sense that, you know, we've banked a lot on this idea of a franchise. So, while we may make a lot of

money, we may not be profitable. And you don't do something that's not profitable for very long.

CARROLL: Insiders say there is positive buzz surrounding "Way of the Water".

BRENT LANG, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, VARIETY: The interesting thing about James Cameron is that people always bet against him, and each time, he has proven

people wrong. He's proven the naysayers wrong.

CARROLL: Like its title suggests, Cameron's ambitious "Way of the Water" focuses on the oceans, the mythical world of Pandora.

CAMERON: I thought more like an explorer. I thought more --

CARROLL: His interests and this world's oceans has been a lifelong obsession, as CNN saw firsthand visiting him off the coast of Papua New

Guinea during Cameron's solo deep dive expedition to the Mariana Trench in 2012.

CAMERON: I think you know that, you know, I kind of got water on the brain. You know, I love the oceans. I've been passionate about the oceans,

before I even met an ocean.

CARROLL: He's confident audiences will see that passion in "Way of the Water". Behind the scenes, shots show how Cameron used three d cameras and

a new technology to bring his aquatic fantasy to life. He says actors like Kate Winslet and Sigourney Weaver got so good acting underwater, they could

hold their breath in a 6 to 7 minute range.

And like "Avatar", he says a way of the water audiences will not just be wowed by special effects, but also, by the film's message.

CAMERON: It's equal to the first film in terms of its environmental consciousness. But once again, very much like the first film, it's

entertainment first, it's character first. It's the journey of being in that world first.

CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.


NEWTON: Okay, and that was your GLOBAL BRIEF. I'm Paula Newton.

Coming up on "WORLD SPORT", Federer and Nadal together on court for the last time as pros. Patrick Snell will be here for the very latest on their

match, which is underway. We'll get you more on that, right after the break.