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Biden Announces New Actions Against Russia; WHO Recommends Ukraine Destroy High-Threat Pathogens. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 11, 2022 - 10:20   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: How long can we expect these people to be so generous, so welcoming?

TOM COTTER, DIRECTOR OF EMERGENCY RESPONSE AND PREPAREDNESS, PROJECT HOPE: Well, as you said, it's been incredible to watch the outpouring of support from the communities that have truly opened up their arms and welcomed these refugees. I don't know if I've ever seen anything like it at the scale and scope of what's happening now. And what is happening, you know, is that these are temporary measures.

As things get more organized, as governments and support and resources get more in line with the needs that are continuing to grow, in these host countries, it's going to get a bit more organized. That being said, you know, as we talked about the duration of this is truly an enormous question mark. And so the more systems that are getting set up right now, the better and the quicker people move into some sort of normalcy and can be integrated even temporarily, the better for them.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. It really is. I mean, it is key, and it is key to look at this as this long-term effort. Really quickly too, in terms of immediate needs, I think we think a lot about immediate injuries sustained from someone there on the ground in Ukraine, and maybe something happens as they were crossing into another country but people may need daily medicines. Are you able to meet some of those needs for, say, hypertension or diabetes?

COTTER: It's a great question. I think you're right. You know, when we think about war, we always think about the traumatic injuries but -- and we forget about insulin and antibiotics and right now, we're shipping into various areas in Ukraine and also positioning ourselves in the host countries to make sure that those are needed. A lot of the host countries are opening up their health care systems which is going to be a strain on them.

And we're prepared in positions and actively supporting those systems as they absorb the regular health needs of these people fleeing violence.

SCIUTTO: Well, Tom, thanks so much to you. We're going to go right to the White House now. President Biden. Let's listen in.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just spoken some time with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine. I told him as I have each and every time we spoke that the United States stands with the people of Ukraine and as they bravely fight to defend their country, and they are doing that. As Putin continues his merciless assault, the United States and our allies and partners continue to work in lockstep to ramp up the economic pressures on Putin and to further isolate Russia on the global stage.

Later today, together with other NATO allies and the G7, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom as well as European Union, we're going to jointly announce several new steps to squeeze Putin and hold him even more accountable for his aggression against Ukraine. I want to speak to a few of those points today.

First, each of our nation is going to take steps to deny most favored nation status to Russia. The most favored nation status designation means two countries have agreed to trade with each other under the best possible terms. Low tariffs, few barriers of trade, and the highest possible imports allowed. In the United States, we call this permanent normal trade relations, PNTR. But it's the same thing.

Revoking PNTR for Russia is going to make it harder for Russia to do business with the United States and doing it in unison with other nations to make up half of the global economy will be another crushing blow to the aggression. The economy that's suffering badly from our sanctions.

And I want to thank Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy, Leader Schumer and McConnell, and Senators Wyden and Crapo, Representatives Neal and Brady for their bipartisan leadership on this in the Congress. I would like to offer a special thanks to Speaker Pelosi who's been a strong advocate for revoking PNTR and who agreed to hold off on that in the House until I could line up all of our key allies to keep us in complete unison.

Unity among our allies is critically important, as you all know, from my perspective, at least. Many issues divide us in Washington, but standing for democracy in Ukraine, pushing Russia's aggression should not be one of those issues. The free world is coming together to confront Putin. Our two parties here at home are leading the way. And with that bipartisan cooperation, I'm looking forward to signing into law the bill revoking PNTR, which is, again, most people think of it as most-favored-nations status.

We're also taking a further step for banning imports of goods from several signature sectors of the Russian economy, including seafoods, vodka, and diamonds. And we're going to continue to squeeze Putin. The G7 will seek to deny Russia the ability to borrow from leading multinational institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Putin is an aggressor.


He is the aggressor. And Putin must pay the price. He cannot pursue a war that threatens the very foundations, which he's doing, the very foundations of international peace and stability and then ask for financial help from the international community. The G7 is also stepping up pressure on corrupt Russian billionaires.

We're adding new names to the list of oligarchs and their families that we're targeting. And we're increasing coordination among the G7 countries to target and capture their ill-begotten gains. They support Putin. They steal from the Russian people. And they seek to hide their money in our countries. They're part of that kleptocracy that exists in Moscow. And they must share in the pain of these sanctions.

And while we're going after these -- their superyachts and their vacation homes worth hundreds of millions of dollars, we're also going to make it harder for them to buy high-end products manufactured in our country. We're banning the export of luxury goods to Russia. They're also the latest steps we're taking, but they're not the last steps we're going to take.

And as I said at the beginning of all of these steps, we're going to hit Putin harder because the United States and our closest Allies and partners are acting in unison. The totality of our sanctions and export controls is crushing the Russian economy. The ruble has lost more than half its value. They tell me it takes about 200 rubles to equal 1 dollar these days. The Moscow Stock Exchange has been closed for two weeks because they know the moment it opens, it will probably collapse.

Credit rating agencies has downgraded Russia's government to junk status. Its economy to junk status. The list of businesses and international corporations leaving Russia is growing by the day. We're also continuing the close cooperation with allies and partners to make sure that the close cooperation we continue to have, the Ukrainian people are able to defend their own nation. The United States has sent more than $1 billion in security assistance to Ukraine over the last year, including anti-armor and anti-air capabilities, taking out tanks and planes and helicopters with new shipments arriving every day.

We, the United States, are also facilitating significant shipments of security assistance from our allies and partners to Ukraine. And on the humanitarian front, we're working closely with the U.N. and humanitarian organizations to support the people of Ukraine who have been displaced by the violence in Ukraine. We're providing tens of thousands of tons of human supplies -- excuse me, humanitarian supplies, food, water, medicines, coming via truck and train every single day.

Yesterday in Poland, Vice President Harris announced an additional $53 million in additional humanitarian support to Ukraine. That brings the total humanitarian assistance to $107 million in just two weeks. We've joined in this effort by more -- with more than 30 other countries who are providing hundreds of millions more. And last night, to their great credit, the Congress passed a bipartisan spending bill that included an additional $13.6 billion in new assistance to the Ukrainian people. And I look forward to signing that immediately.

And I also want to be clear, though. We will make sure Ukraine has weapons to defend against an invading Russian force. We will, we will send money and food and aid to save the Ukrainian people. And I will welcome Ukrainian refugees. We should welcome them here with open arms if they need access. And we're going to provide more support for Ukraine.

We're going to continue to stand together with our allies in Europe and send an unmistakable message. We'll defend every single inch of NATO territory with the full might of the united and galvanized NATO. We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine. Direct confrontation between NATO and Russia is World War III, something we must strive to prevent. But we already know Putin's war against Ukraine will never be a victory.

He hoped to dominate Ukraine without a fight. He failed. He hoped to fracture European resolve. He failed. He hoped to weaken the Transatlantic Alliance. He failed. He hoped to split apart American democracies in terms of our positions. He failed. The American people are united. The world is united. And we stand with the people of Ukraine. We will not let autocrats and would-be emperors dictate the direction of the world.

Democracies are rising to meet this moment, rallying the world to the side of peace and the side of security. We're showing our strength, and we will not falter.


May God bless all of you. God bless Ukraine. And God bless our troops.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Biden, your White House has said that Russia may use chemical weapons or create a false-flag operation to use them. What evidence have you seen showing that? And would the U.S. have a military response if Putin does launch a chemical weapons attack?

BIDEN: I'm not going to speak about the intelligence. But Russia would pay a severe price if they used chemical weapons.


SCIUTTO: President there announcing new economic steps, notably, in conjunction with E.U. partners, namely removing Russia from what's known as most favored nation trading status, a further economic blow or further step to cut it off from the world economy, but also crucial question there at the end because there's been a lot of public comment from White House officials about Russia and its possible intent to use chemical weapons here based on Russia manufacturing this idea that somehow Ukraine was planning an attack, the kind of false flag or justification Russia has attempted to use repeatedly in this and other wars.

The president asked there, does he believe it's actually going to happen, he said he would not get to the intelligence, Erica, but he did say if Russia were to use it, they would face a severe response without specifying what that would be, but clearly, they're paying attention.

HILL: Yes. They certainly are, and part of that question is, as you pointed out, Jim, not just about what they were seeing, which is, as you point out, he said he couldn't get into the intelligence but asked specifically what the response would be, and no specifics there, for obvious reasons but that is a question that is lingering.

Back with us now, CNN White House correspondent, John Harwood, CNN global affairs analyst, Kim Dozier, Jill Dougherty, former CNN Moscow bureau chief here to discuss.

You know, Kim, let's pick up on that issue of chemical weapons. What the response would be. There's also this discussion of what is that real red line, what would it constitute? Do you think there's any more clarity this morning?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: No clarity whatsoever but the U.S. has stressed that it has been training the Ukrainians, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, has trained with Ukrainian defense forces on the ground on how to detect biological and chemical weapons and protect against them. Still, even if they have those skills, in a war situation where people are scrambling for cover, we could be looking at a situation where civilians get hit and that becomes another weapon in Russia's terror campaign to get civilians on the move, abandoning cities so that the fight to take more Ukrainian territory faces less resistance.

SCIUTTO: Jill Dougherty, this is the latest in a string of economic measures by the U.S. and its allies against Russia. It's really step by step, removing Russia from the world economy to a degree we haven't seen since really the Soviet days here. Can you explain what this latest step in particular means for the Russian economy, the loss of most favored nation trading status, really involves tariff, raising tariffs, I imagine, on a lot of products coming out of Russia?

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: You know, there's not that much trade between the United States and Russia per se. I think it's about $26 billion, but when you look at the allies, when you look at Europe, that really is going to hurt Russia. Because they have far more, about $700 billion in trade. So when you begin to, you know, cut that off, that is really going to hurt.

Some of these other things that were announced today, more oligarchs, that's kind of icing on the cake. Banning the export of luxury goods. That also is almost symbolic for those oligarchs, but I think what is happening now, you know, if you look at, I was trying to think, how would this affect Russians and that's one of the ideas in the calculus of the United States and the allies, how will it affect Russians and their relationship to their -- you know, to the government and to Putin, and you have to think that in the beginning, the people who support Putin were riding an emotional wave.

We have to protect our Russian speakers in Ukraine. Now these economic effects are going to come home to Russians. Some people will be affected more than others. But that is really now the rubber is hitting the road for Russians, and they are going to have to respond and the question is, who are they going to blame? Will they blame Putin? Will they blame the West? We don't know at this point but it is really going to hurt.

HILL: You know, it's interesting, in the beginning, we did hear, John Harwood, from President Biden, as all of this was starting in the last couple of weeks that these measures, right, are not about the Russian people. They are about Vladimir Putin but as Jill points out, slowly, slowly, it is the Russian people who are going to bear the brunt of it.


The other thing I found interesting that the president said is, you know, he thanked bipartisan leadership and specifically singled out Speaker Pelosi saying he appreciated her waiting until he was able to get all of the allies on board.

Was there some that we're aware of, was there some reluctance on the part of any countries to be a part of this next step, John?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, at all points of this process, Erica, European allies will face greater blowback than the United States does. Because they have higher volumes of trade. As Jill mentioned, not a whole lot of bilateral trade between the United States and Russia. The import bans announced today were on some high-profile goods, vodka, caviar, diamonds, things that everybody can understand.

So the headline grabbing things from the other side, exports of luxury goods that hit those oligarchs but in terms of European allies, people within the E.U., there's a lot higher volume of trade and, you know, when the president talked about a severe response to a chemical weapons attack, again, the United States and NATO have continued to hold the line saying we're not going to engage directly with Russia.

But if a chemical weapons attack were to be implemented, the president said a severe response, you have to wonder whether they would go the next step on economic sanctions to broad sanctions on the export of Russian energy. That's something that would hit American consumers but more than that, European consumers. That's why they have to go slowly, bring them along so that they can keep everybody on the same page. Much bigger impacts in Europe than here.

SCIUTTO: That of course the question whether there would be a military strike on any chemical weapons, as a response, the president left that unanswered.

Jill, Kim, John, thanks so much. Stay with us. We'll be right back.



HILL: This morning, the World Health Organization is strongly recommending that Ukraine's Ministry of Health safely destroy any high threat pathogens in public health labs in an effort to prevent any potential spills during Russian attacks.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now, CNN international correspondent Scott McLean, and Scott, it should be noted that public health facilities in countries around the world, they conduct research involving such pathogens. It's not unique to Ukraine. What is unique is that there's a live war going on around here, and we saw the danger of that when they were shelling around a nuclear plant, so what more do we know about the WHO's recommendation here?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly, Jim, there are certain things that you don't want to get caught in the cross fire, especially in a war zone. Obviously, there's been plenty of concern raised about these nuclear power plants. Two of them now under the control of Russian forces and now the WHO also expressing concern about labs in this country.

So the WHO said an e-mail to CNN that it promotes biosecurity at laboratories. As part of this work, the WHO has strongly recommended to the Ministry of Health in Ukraine and other responsible bodies to destroy high threat pathogens to prevent any potential spills.

Now as you mentioned, Jim, there's nothing unique about Ukraine having these labs. Plenty of places are doing research into different pathogens to find out more about them, how they spread and how they make people ill or what about them makes people ill. Obviously in war, there is heightened risk of these types of pathogens escaping, were those facilities to be hit. So the WHO is saying that it has offered Ukraine its help in destroying those pathogens.

It's not clear whether Ukraine has taken it up or whether it plans to actually do that. We have reached out to the Ukrainian authorities or we're trying to get in touch with them right now. Just so you know, this first came up actually at a WHO press conference on Wednesday when the head of Health Emergency was asked whether people should be stocking up on iodine tablets given the potential risk around these nuclear facilities and the answer, for the record, was no but of course governments should be worried.

All of this comes amidst the backdrop as well of the Ukrainians, specifically, President Zelenskyy saying that he's worried about a Russian biological attack or the Russians using chemical weapons in this war.

SCIUTTO: Just alarming prospects. Scott McLean, thanks so much.

Tomorrow, I'm leaving Ukraine after a month here. This country is now more than two weeks into a bloody devastating war. The biggest and perhaps most dangerous in Europe since World War II. These are the sad facts. Russia has invaded an independent democratic country which was at peace, except for the parts of country Russia had already invaded some eight years ago. Thousands have died already. Many more likely will.

We witnessed ruthless attacks on civilians and the admirable resolve of people standing up to defend their home. We've seen acts of enormous generosity by Ukrainians and people from all around the world. We've met refugees, mostly women and children, fleeing this country now for their lives.


We've met Ukrainian soldiers, young and old, men and women, as well as volunteer fighters from around the world. Ukraine may seem far away but the people here share our dreams and our hopes and fears and they are being tested now in the most horrible ways. We are being tested as well. This is a 1939 moment for Europe and the world.

We at CNN will continue to cover this war as only CNN can and I will be back here with my team soon as well.

And thanks so much to all of you for joining us this hour. I'm Jim Sciutto signing off from Lviv, Ukraine.

HILL: And Jim, thank you for everything that you and your team have done over this past month.

I'm Erica Hill in New York. Stay tune. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts after a quick break.