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NATO Expansion; Biden Administration Targets Baby Formula Shortage; Interview With Former U.S. Special Representative For Ukraine Kurt Volker; President Biden Heads Overseas. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 19, 2022 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Stepan and his owner, Hanna, fled Kharkiv for France in the early days of Russia's war on Ukraine. Now his activism has earned him an international blogger's award.


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Thanks for joining us today. Hope to see you back here tomorrow.

Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, and thanks for being here. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

A pivotal moment for the president's foreign policy agenda, strengthening alliances with some countries and sending a clear message to others. Right now, President Biden is on his way to Asia, his first trip there since taking office. And while he is set to hold meetings with South Korea and Japan, a key focus, North Korea and China.

We're expecting the president to send some tough signals to those countries, even as the threat of a North Korea missile test looms during this visit. And all of this is a balancing act, as Russia's war in Ukraine hangs over the White House.

Today, in another very public show of support, the president met with leaders of Finland and Sweden as they push to join NATO, a historic step, as more countries unite against Russia and condemn its invasion. The big question here is, can Turkey get on board?

We are following all the headlines out of Ukraine and the state of play there.

First, let's start at the White House.

And CNN's Arlette Saenz joins us now.

Arlette, tell us more about the president's message and his mind-set, as he is embarking on this trip to Asia. ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, President

Biden is on Air Force One flying to Asia for his first trip to the region as president.

Officials had said that he had hoped to get there earlier in his presidency, but was constrained due to COVID-19 and other crises, such as the war in Ukraine. But the president will be traveling to both South Korea and Japan to meet with the leaders of each of those countries, as well as the leaders of the Quad. That includes Japan, Australia and India.

This trip, the president will have the opportunity to address concerns about North Korea, but also to try to bolster relations in the region with South Korea and Japan, as China continues to exert their influence in the region.

But it was another alliance that was on display here at the White House before the president departed, President Biden meeting for a little over an hour with the leaders of Sweden and Finland, and then expressing his full-throated support for both of those countries joining NATO, those long-neutral countries deciding to join NATO after that Russian aggression in Ukraine.

But take a listen to the president speaking of why he believes that those two countries will be vital partners in the alliance.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They meet every NATO requirement, and then some. They have the full, total, complete backing of the United States of America.

The bottom line is simple, quite straightforward. Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger.


SAENZ: The president also said that these two countries -- other countries joining NATO would not pose a threat to other countries, that being a reference to Russia, as Russia has expressed opposition to these two countries joining NATO.

But there's also been another wrench thrown into the process, as Turkey's President Erdogan earlier today once again reiterated that he is against Sweden and Finland joining NATO. All 30 member countries will need to agree in order for the two countries to be accepted into NATO.

Today, the Finnish president standing here at the White House, saying that he is open to discussing Turkey's concerns as they are seeking to join the alliance.

CABRERA: Much more on that just ahead. Stand by for us.

I want to go to Melissa Bell in Kyiv, Ukraine, now. And, Melissa, a war crimes trial is taking place in the capital city there. And we are now hearing from the soldier who has pleaded guilty. What is he saying?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We have been hearing not just from him, Ana, but from another Russian soldier that was traveling with him on that day.

Now, it was the 28th of February, four days into the war. These young Russian soldiers had been part of a tank division moving towards, through Sumy region, from the Russian border when it hit a land mine. They then escaped in a car. And an unarmed civilian had been shot in a village nearby.

The soldier in question, Vadim Shishimarin, who is a soldier on trial, has pled guilty now to shooting that civilian. What emerged today and what was so fascinating and what we hadn't heard firsthand was what these young Russian soldiers were facing, the chaos, the fear amongst them, and, from both of them, each corroborating each other's statements.

And the second soldier, asked whether he was willing -- speaking willingly, and going beyond answering the questions and providing a statement of his own, because he wanted to clarify the pressure that Vadim Shishimarin had been under when he shot that civilian.

Have a listen to an incredibly poignant moment, when the widow of the man who was killed was given the opportunity to question Vadim Shishimarin, the man who killed her husband, herself.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Can you please tell me, what did you feel when you killed my husband?

VADIM SHISHIMARIN, DEFENDANT (through translator): Shame.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Do you repent?

SHISHIMARIN (through translator): Yes. I acknowledge my fault. I understand that you will not be able to forgive me. But I am sorry.


BELL: Now, that widow confirmed that she would not be able to forgive him.

She wants Vadim Shishimarin to spend the rest of his life in jail. The only alternative, she says, would be if he were exchanged for those evacuated Azovstal fighters, Ana.

CABRERA: And, Melissa, we have been reporting about that evacuation of the Azovstal steel plant there in Mariupol.

But we have learned a commander is still inside the plant and has just vowed to fight. What is going on?

BELL: Just extraordinary.

What we have been hearing over the last -- course of the last couple of days was that these evacuations had started. These evacuees are now in the hands of Russian forces on the Russian side of the front line that now divides Ukraine. We knew that many hundreds had now been evacuated.

But we had heard from the Russian side that they didn't have the top military commanders amongst those evacuees. What's happened in the course of the last hour is that one Ukrainian military commander from the Azovstal regiment, one of those soldiers has posted to social media from inside the plant to say that he is refusing to give up.

He vows to fight on. It had been unclear how many were left in there. I think the fact that more than 1,700 have now been evacuated already a surprise. We have been talking these last few weeks about several hundred being holed up inside that steelworks and resisting against the fall of Mariupol. More than 1,700 now evacuated, that's a surprise in itself.

We don't know how many more are in there. We don't know how many have been killed. And one of the big questions until just now had been whether any were still resisting, Ana.

CABRERA: Wow. And now we know there are.

Thank you so much, Melissa Bell and Arlette Saenz. I appreciate both of you.

Joining us now, we have the former NATO supreme allied commander of Europe, retired General Philip Breedlove. We're also working to get Kurt Volker with us, the former NATO ambassador from the U.S.

Ambassador -- excuse me -- I should say, General Breedlove, thank you for being here with us.

I want to ask you about what we just heard regarding that Azovstal steel plant and this apparent courage on display there by some of the Ukrainian forces who are simply refusing to give up.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, this is a sign of what they have been doing now for almost a month, isn't it?

A pretty brave garrison held out there. They were surrounded before any of the Western aid could get to them, because Western aid was slow in starting up. And so they fought without the new weapons and things that we are now sending into Ukraine, and they have held out for a long time.

And, tactically, what that means is, they have tied up Russian forces, battalion task groups around Mariupol that are -- that were not able to go to the rest of the fight. Sadly, now, as Mariupol falls, those forces will be able to join the rest of the fight in the region. CABRERA: Now we have Ambassador Volker here with us.

And I want to ask you specifically about all these other moving parts that we have today. The leaders of Finland and Sweden just met with President Biden at the White House, of course, right before his Asia trip and on the heels of applying to join NATO.

And yet Turkey is doubling down today, saying no to those countries joining the alliance, accusing both of housing Kurdish terrorist organizations. How pivotal is this moment, Ambassador? And how do you see it playing out?

KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR UKRAINE: Well, first off, everyone needs to understand that NATO makes decisions only by consensus.

So Turkey's vote matters. They do have to agree. Second, Turkey is trying to get some statements and some actions by Finland and Sweden to address Turkish concerns. This is the PKK terrorist group in Turkey that has the ability to have people that are safely ensconced in Sweden, and they do some broadcasting from there.

And this is something that they have been concerned about a long time, and they want Sweden to address it. And, likewise, they're concerned about export bans on lethal defensive arms to Turkey from Finland and Sweden, saying that's not the action of future allies.

So they're looking for some movement by the Finns and Swedes on that. I think this is solvable. I do think that the Finns and Swedes, as a matter of principle, agree with Turkey about terrorism and they agree with Turkey about Turkey's legitimate security interests.

They sent teams there as of today, Swedish and Finnish senior level delegations, to talk with the Turks. So I think there's going to be some behind-the-scenes discussions that will result in getting this sorted out before the June NATO summit.

CABRERA: General, we're coming back to what's happening on the battlefield, the Pentagon says Russians are now attacking in smaller units, and this as the U.K. says Russia is purging some of its senior commanders.


What's the significance of this?

BREEDLOVE: Well, the smaller units, I think, is just a function of how many personnel the Russians have lost in the war.

Former battalion task groups that were at a level much higher when they entered the battle have lost a lot of manpower, and Russia is having problems replacing it. So, the smaller units is just a function of Russia has less manpower to get the job done. And so they're sending smaller formations to the battlefield.

CABRERA: Meantime, a retired colonel in Russia said this on Russian state TV:


MIKHAIL KHODARENOK, RETIRED RUSSIAN COLONEL (through translator): I must say, let's not drink information tranquilizers, because, sometimes, information is spread about hearing some moral or psychological breakdown of Ukraine's armed forces, as if they are nearing a crisis of morale or a fracture.

None of this is close to reality.


CABRERA: So he's calling out the disinformation there in Russia. And he went on to say that the situation is going to get worse for Russia on the battlefield.

He said also that the biggest flaw in the military and political situation is that Russia is in -- quote -- "total geopolitical solitude."

Ambassador, again, this was a former military leader, and this made air in Russia. How stunning is that?

VOLKER: It is stunning. And it shows a degree of access to information and access to the reality of what's going on inside Russia that is really what Putin is trying to prevent.

He's tried to create an information bubble, so that the Russian people think that things are totally different than the reality on the ground. And the fact that this colonel both knows what's going on and was willing to say so on national television is really quite striking.

Since then, they made him go back on TV a couple days later and say something different. And they took down the show from their online presence, so that this show is now no longer available in Russia. They put something up instead.

But I think this sort of thing lives on in social media and is making the rounds in Russia. And people do know the real state of what the war is.

CABRERA: General Breedlove, President Biden is now headed to Asia. And there's a lot of tension in that region. U.S. intelligence now assesses that North Korea may be getting ready to fuel an intercontinental ballistic missile, one of the key final stages in preparing for a test launch.

How concerning is this?

BREEDLOVE: Well, it's very concerning.

And it relates back to the subject we have been discussing before this. We, as the West, have not really addressed Ukraine in a way that gives pause to people like North Korea, China, Iran. They have seen Russia get rewarded for bad behavior in Ukraine. And I think they see it as opportunity to step out.

While America and the West is focused on a different problem, they will now push their boundaries and put more problems in front of us. And, frankly, as we said over two months ago, actors like North Korea are watching what nuclear weapons have done as far as deterring the West.

And I think they're actively now even harder seeking the ability to get the same deterrence from one of their nuclear weapons.

CABRERA: Real quickly, if you will, Ambassador, we heard Breedlove -- General Breedlove say that Russia has been rewarded to some degree for its behavior in Ukraine. Do you feel that same way?

VOLKER: Well, not quite yet.

I understand what he's talking about, though. We heard from, for instance, the French president on Friday, saying that we need to start looking for a face-saving solution for Russia, that Russia should not be humiliated. And this drives in the direction of a more immediate cease-fire, rather than Ukraine taking its territory back.

This would be completely wrong, if that is the way this goes. Russia has engaged in unprovoked aggression. It has committed atrocities inside Ukraine. And the Ukrainians are absolutely right to fight to take their territory back and push Russia back within its own borders.

CABRERA: Ambassador Volker and General Breedlove, thank you so much for being here with us. I appreciate you both.

BREEDLOVE: Thank you.

VOLKER: Thank you.

CABRERA: COVID infections are spiking across the country, and Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner. How safe is that big gathering?

Plus, you have heard of chicken pox, of course, but what about monkeypox? A case just confirmed in the U.S. More on that.

And the words "You're a coward" ring out in a packed courtroom, as the gunman accused of murdering 10 people at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store makes an appearance. The latest on that investigation.

Plus, Amber Heard's witnesses are now testifying in Johnny Depp's defamation trial. Depp's former business manager calling the actor's behavior unpredictable, less constrained, and less filtered.


We have the latest.


CABRERA: Welcome back. The CDC is investigating a confirmed case of a rare and sometimes deadly disease called monkeypox. The case, confirmed in Massachusetts, comes amid a cluster of reported cases in Europe and Canada. So just how serious is this virus?

Here's U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: This is a virus that is rare in humans, but, when it does come up, it's a serious one that we should investigate. And we got to make sure that we understand if and how it is spreading.


At this time, we don't want people to worry. At this point, again, these numbers are still small. We want them to be aware of these symptoms and, if they have any concerns, to reach out to their doctor.


CABRERA: Since those comments from the surgeon general, Canada has announced it has 17 suspected monkeypox cases.

Joining us now is Dr. William Schaffner. He's a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Dr. Schaffner, first, what exactly is monkeypox? And how serious could this be for somebody who's infected?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, DEPARTMENT OF PREVENTIVE MEDICINE CHAIRMAN, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Well, Ana, monkeypox is part of the family of viruses to which smallpox belongs.

Of course, we have eradicated smallpox from the world, but it's similar. This virus lives in Africa, we think principally in rodents. But, occasionally, it can get into primates, hence the name monkeypox. And it can also occasionally affect humans, mostly children in Africa.

How does it get to the United States? Well, in two ways. It can get to Europe and Canada and the United States if someone imports animals from Africa. You know there's an exotic pet trade that goes on around the world. And we have had an outbreak similar to that.

In this instance, it looks as though a person was infected, went to Europe, and now it is spreading further. And we have had now one case in the United States. It's not spread contagiously the way COVID is. It requires very close personal contact.

CABRERA: So, in that case, how exactly do you get it? Is it by touching somebody? Is it a respiratory-type virus, or some other way?

SCHAFFNER: Well, it's principally spread from person to person, through personal touch, sometimes a kiss, an embrace, or people actually interacting and touching with each other, usually in a prolonged fashion, over a period of time, relatively intimately.

CABRERA: We just are looking at the symptoms there. Walk us through what specific symptoms, because some of these are symptoms, obviously, that could be attributed to other types of illnesses, right?

SCHAFFNER: Sure. Sure.

So, after you're exposed, it takes a week and sometimes two weeks for the first symptoms to develop. Fever is very prominent, and it can go up fairly high, 103, nausea, vomiting, aches and pains, really feeling poorly. And, at that time, or maybe in a day or two, a rash develops. And it's a rash that prominent -- is prominent in the face and in the extremities, the arms and the legs, and it can affect the palms, first a flat rash.

And then it develops into a blister, but not those thin blisters to which we're accustomed, but a rather thick one, that quickly becomes kind of yellowish. If you touch it, it feels rubbery. And, certainly, that distinctive rash, along with those other symptoms, please, quickly, get medical attention.

CABRERA: Yes. Yes, that gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about that.

You did say it's less contagious than a virus like COVID. I do want to ask a quick question on that right now, because new cases have tripled here in the U.S. in just the last month. And we have these new Omicron subvariants which appear to be more contagious.

And so, for people who are vaccinated and boosted, we know some of them are getting this again. What should they do?

SCHAFFNER: Well, for sure, we're talking about COVID now.

Cases, mostly mild cases, not so much hospitalized cases, are spreading rapidly in the United States. If you're older, if you have underlying illness, if you're immune-compromised, be cautious. Go back to wearing that mask through -- when you're going indoors to group activities. Do a little more social distancing, particularly if you're in one of those high-risk groups.

And, of course, if you haven't been vaccinated or you're incompletely vaccinated, please get up to date with your vaccination.

CABRERA: Thank you so much for all that great information.

And, yes, thank you for clarifying to make sure everyone knew we were talking about COVID there in that last question.

Dr. William Schaffner, so good to see you. Thank you again for being here.

Now to the formula shortage gripping the nation. CNN is learning some desperate parents are turning to hospitals after being unable to find the formula their child needs.

CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is joining us for this.

Elizabeth, first, the Biden administration has announced major interventions. What is being done?


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, the Biden administration says that they are taking action to alleviate this shortage.

Lots of questions on how quickly this will work. So let's take a look at the measures that they say they are taking. They say they're invoking the Defense Production Act. That allows them to -- to direct ingredients that could go a variety of places to go to formula manufacturers.

Also, the FDA says it's making it easier to import formula to the U.S. We don't usually import very much formula. So this is sort of a whole new thing. Operation Fly Formula is a Department of Defense initiative to expedite formula imports by plane. And FDA and Abbott have agreed on steps needed to take to open up that shuttered Michigan plant.

Now, Ana, you will notice that the wording in here, a lot of this is taking steps to, making plans to. This -- these steps are not going to make a difference today, tomorrow, the next day. It could be weeks before these make a difference. It could be many weeks before parents start seeing a plentiful supply of formula on the shelves -- Ana.

CABRERA: And, already, some families are facing these nightmare scenarios. We are learning of children ending up in the hospital because their parents can't find the formula that they can tolerate.

I know you have been talking to some of these families in that situation. What are they telling you?

COHEN: This really is just terrible.

So the families that we have talked -- that we have spoken to, these are children who have particular medical needs. And so they were really focused on sort of one formula, and then they couldn't find anything to replace it that the child would tolerate.

So I want to introduce you to a 3-month-old Clover Wheatley. She is right now in a PICU, in a pediatric intensive care unit, in South Carolina. So she's got a dairy allergy. She's got a soy allergy. Her parents found a formula that she tolerated. She really wouldn't take anything else.

She ended up with a diagnosis called failure to thrive. She just wasn't growing properly. They had to put her in the hospital. And she is getting a feeding tube. Also, the same -- a very similar situation to 3-year-old Alexis Tyler.

She -- Alexis has autism, and she has some eating issues. And, again, there was sort of one formula that worked for her. The parents had trouble replacing it. She is also in the hospital. She's in Massachusetts, also getting a feeding too.

So what we're hearing from is parents of children who had particular issues to begin with, but, unfortunately, there's a lot of children like that. And we're really expecting to see, unfortunately, these hospital ambitions go up and up as this shortage continues -- Ana.

CABRERA: Such a huge impact. Our hearts go out to those families who are impacted here.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you for staying on it.

Stocks rocked again today. This market turmoil is raising some serious recession fears.

And another threat that could impact all Americans, a diesel shortage. Vanessa Yurkevich is on it.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Ana, we are seeing record diesel prices. And that is making everyday items more expensive.

We will take you out on to the New York Harbor to explain why coming up after this break.