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1,300 Detained in Russian Crackdown on Anti-War Protesters; 90- Plus Migrants Bused to New York City This Morning, Including 30 Children; Blinken Addresses U.N. Security Council Amid Russian Escalations. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired September 22, 2022 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Ukraine's successful counteroffensive dividing Russia's own military leaders. Sources tell CNN Russians are split on how to respond to Ukraine's unexpected advances on the battlefield as Moscow finds itself on the defensive now in both the northeast, the east and the south.

The Kremlin is cracking down on public dissent, President Vladimir Putin's plan to mobilize some 300,000 new troops. More than 1,300 anti-war protesters have now been detained across Russia, some of them brought directly to be conscripted into the military.

Joining me now is Nadya Tolokonnikova. She is Russian activist, co- founder of feminist protest art collective known as Pussy Riot. She spent nearly two years herself in Russian detention, beginning in 2012, simply for performing in anti-Putin protest song. Nadya, it's good to have you on today.

NADYA TOLOKONNIKOVA, RUSSIAN ACTIVIST AND PUSSY RIOT CO-FOUNDER: Good to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

SCIUTTO: First, I want to ask you about the protests that we are seeing now. I think that we in the west, we often pay a great deal attention to these things even when they're relative limited because we're aware of the challenges and the dangers, and you faced this yourself, of standing up to the Russian government. Are these latest protests, in your view, different, and do they show that Putin's power, his grip, is perhaps less strong than we knew?

TOLOKONNIKOVA: Well, as someone who has spent two years in jail myself, had my family members being poisoned with nerve agents, I greatly know the price of protesting in Putin's Russia. And this price is growing day by day with Putin getting more and more uncomfortable about his position in -- on the geopolitical arena. But the latest shipments of Ukraine, he feels increasingly uncomfortable.

Another important thing happened just now. One of the biggest Russian artist pop star, Alla Pugacheva, who is loved by many generations, my grandmother, my mother and me, all of us were listening to Alla Pugacheva and still listen to her, she condemned the war in Ukraine and the regime that started this war. And she asked to proclaim her so-called foreign agent. This is the common name for people who criticize Vladimir Putin. I'm an official for an agent myself and it has consequences for you, legal consequences.

And that was Alla Pugacheva's statement was a symptom of something bigger of a growing discontent of Russian people with the war in Ukraine because it is not obvious for the Russian people what is this war about and how Russian people are benefitting from this war.

SCIUTTO: You had a meeting with the U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, recently, and I understand that you've already heard a reaction from Russia to that meeting, and there is the picture.

TOLOKONNIKOVA: It was pretty incredible to see Maria Zakharova, who is the press secretary of Sergey Lavrov, the minister of foreign affairs in Russia, who is in New York today. She wrote a statement about my meeting with Secretary Blinken. She said that the secretary of state of the United States made its decision and they made its decision with whom they're going to be discussing the future of Russia and that is it is going to be Pussy Riot.

And for her, it's funny but I believe it is the right choice because it is me and my colleagues who are going to be working on improving the image of Russia and reassuring the world and especially Ukraine that they can trust us.

SCIUTTO: I've been to Russia myself and I've often been impressed by the warm welcome, far different from how the government behaves.

I do want to ask you, do you have hope that Putin's grip on power can be broken, that the people who oppose him can have real power and effect real change in Russia?

TOLOKONNIKOVA: People who have opposed Putin, they have real power, and that is the reason of Putin's oppressions on us. We're building alternative Russia with values that are different values from Putin's values. We want to be part of the western civilization. We're standing for peace, for democracy, for freedom of speech, for creative freedom, and we are part of a different Russia.


We are grandkids of people who gave the world beautiful art, of the beginning of the 20th century, the Avant-Garde movement. And I believe that there is a different alternative Russia. And Putin tries to suppress us and he's pretty effective at that because he is a KGB agent and he has the police and army. But I believe that we're going to be able to breakthrough.

SCIUTTO: The -- Brittney Griner, of course, one of two Americans, continues to be held in Russia, and you've been very public about her case, standing with her as well. And, by the way, you have served, and you are wearing a T-shirt, Free Brittney Griner, you served time in a penal colony, that is where she is spending time right now. What do you think the present is like for her, what she's going through, and what do you think her future will be? Do you think she'll be released? TOLOKONNIKOVA: I really hope that America will stand for her and I really hope that she's going to be exchanged. She definitely needs to get out of Russian prison as soon as possible because Russian prison is a horrible place. It doesn't -- it lacks medication, it lacks basic conditions. Living conditions in Russian jail are really surprisingly close to those that are described in books about Gulag by Solzhenitsyn or Shalamov.

And it is really scary place, and especially for a person who doesn't speak Russian language and she doesn't know how to stand up because she doesn't speak Russian language, she doesn't know how to read the law. So, it means that, basically, the guards can do whatever they want with her and she could not stand up for herself. And, unfortunately, no one in Russia prison speaks English. So, she has to get out as soon as possible.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Well, we do wish her the best and we appreciate the courageous work you have done as well. Thank you for joining us today, Nadya Tolokonnikova.

TOLOKONNIKOVA: Thank you so much for having me.

HARLOW: Wow, what a great interview.

Okay, ahead for us, as legal battles emerge over those migrant flights we've been reporting on, there are people still looking for a better life crossing border in really record numbers. CNN is on the ground with their stories, next.



HARLOW: This morning, two buses filled with more than 90 migrants, including 30 children, arrived in New York City, that comes from a spokesperson for the mayor's office of immigrant affairs, more buses with migrants are expected to arrive today.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Rosa Flores has been covering this. She reports that as legal battles build over the transporting of migrants to liberal- led cities, the growing flux of migrants has put some U.S. border cities in crisis mode.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): These are the struggles of migrants who recently arrived in El Paso. Franklin Delgado (ph) is from Venezuela. He and his four children settled in for a night at the airport to fly to Atlanta to begin a new life.

He said that his wife is partially paralyzed, that is why she didn't make the journey.

Yenzel Castro (ph) is fleeing Nicaragua. Her four-year-old daughter has wiped away her tears more than she can remember.

And Carlos Guzman from Venezuela waits at the bus station, holding a parting gift from his two-year-old daughter.

They're part of the unprecedented surge in migration that El Paso's deputy city manager, Mario D'Agostino, says is testing the infrastructure here.

Where are we?

MARIO D'AGOSTINO, EL PASO CITY DEPUTY MANAGER: So, this is the city of El Paso's welcoming center.

FLORES: He says a month ago Border Patrol was releasing up to 250 migrants daily into El Paso after being processed. Now, about a thousand, and it is creating a shelter issue.

D'AGOSTINO: All of the NGOs, all of our shelters are already at capacity. So, we're actually putting them in hotels.

FLORES: And a transportation bottleneck.

D'AGOSTINO: We have Greyhound station, we have the airport. It doesn't have that many flights in and out a day.

FLORES: Border Patrol has been apprehending on average about 1,500 migrants a day in the El Paso region, a spike from last month's 900.

What you see behind me is Mexico. This is one the routes that migrants use to cross into the United States. Once U.S. Customs and Border Protection realize that the spike in migration here in El Paso was not a one-day anomaly, they set up a mobile processing center here under the bridge. These buses are equipped with mobile processing technology.

This is where federal agents determine if migrants stay or go back, a process that CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus says is more complicated with the recent increase in migrants from three countries.

CHRIS MAGNUS, COMMISSIONER, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: The Cubans, the Nicaraguans, the Venezuelans are not subject to Title 42. So, they cannot be removed like migrants from some other countries.

FLORES: The migrants we talked to say they survived the dangerous journey to the U.S.


She said that she witnessed a rape during the journey.

And don't want to stay in El Paso.

Where are you going?

Delgado is going to Atlanta too. But while in El Paso, they need access to resources. That is why the city opened this migrant welcome center three weeks ago, where multiple buses, charted and paid for by the city of El Paso, depart daily to Chicago and New York. That is where we met Castro. Like so many migrants, she's hoping to reunite with family and has no money.

Inside the airport at midnight, an odd sense of normalcy the Delgado (ph) children haven't seen in a month, access to crayons and toys.

How difficult is it for you to know that your children don't have their mother?

He says it is really tough to grow up without a mother. His mother died when he was nine.

Despite the struggles for these three families, just being on U.S. soil is a dream come true.


FLORES (on camera): And, Jim and Poppy, one of the big questions now, of course, is, will these migrants be allowed to stay? This, of course, impacts them, it impacts the cities, like El Paso and other cities around the country, where they're ending up. And the answer is it depends. They're all going through immigration proceedings. They all have to check in with ICE. And as you know, here in the United States, asylum or other forms of relief are not guaranteed. It is all on case-by-case basis. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: That is absolutely true. And those cases are decided very differently in different parts of the country. So, very much matters where they end up. Thank you very, very much, Rosa, fascinating reporting.

It is a name that has changed the media and the political landscape, both in the United States and abroad. A look at the Murdoch family's influence, next.



SCIUTTO: Media titan Rupert Murdoch has built one of the largest media empires in history. Now, the new CNN original series, The Murdochs, Empire of Influence, reveals an exclusive reporting just how one family's ambitions is shaping business media and, of course, politics around the globe.


JONATHAN MAHLER, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: New York City in the 1970s was about as unglamorous as a place could possibly be. And yet despite all of its problems, it still remains the media capital of the country, and maybe even the entire world, and that is exactly where Rupert Murdoch wants to be. Rupert lands in New York looking for opportunities to build his


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rupert Murdoch decided he was going to put his stamp on the city of New York. Here I am. You better pay some attention and I'm going to have one hell of an impact. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: David, please hold that thought, apologies. Antony Blinken, U.S. secretary of state, speaking at the U.N. General Assembly. Let's listen in.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you for your determination and the moral clarity that you brought to ending this brutal war and defending the U.N.'s core principles and also for your personal engagement in securing the vital Black Sea route for grain to flow once again from Ukraine.

Mr. Khan, we're grateful for the efforts of the office of the prosecutor to investigate objectively and professionally the atrocities being committed in Ukraine by Russian forces and for its support for and coordination with Ukraine investigators and prosecutors.

We hear a lot about the divisions among countries at the United Nations. But recently, what is striking is the remarkable unity among member states when it comes to Russia's war on Ukraine. Leaders from countries developing and developed, big and small, north and south, have spoken to the General Assembly about the consequences of this war and the need to end it. And they've called on all of us to reaffirm our commitment to the U.N. Charter and its core principles, including sovereignty, territorial integrity, human rights.

Even a number of nations that maintain close ties with Moscow have said publicly that they have serious questions and concerns about the President Putin's ongoing invasion. Rather than change course, however, President Putin has doubled down, choosing not to end the war but to expand it, not to pull troops back but to call 300,000 additional troops up, not to ease tensions but to escalate them through the threat of nuclear weapons, not to work toward a diplomatic solution but to render such a solution impossible by seeking to annex more Ukrainian territory through sham referendum.

But President Putin picked this week, as most of the world gathers at the United Nations to add fuel to the fire that he started shows his utter contempt for the U.N. Charter, for the General Assembly and for this council.


The very international order that we have gathered here to uphold is being shredded before our eyes. We cannot, we will not allow President Putin to get away with it.

Defending Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity is about much more than standing up for one nation's right to choose its only path, fundamental as that right is. It is also about protecting an international order where no nation can redraw the borders of another by force. If we fail to defend this principle when the Kremlin is so flagrantly violating it, we send a message to aggressors everywhere that they can ignore it too. We put every country at risk. We open the door to a less secure, a less peaceful world. We see what that world looks like in the parts of Ukraine controlled by Russian forces. Wherever the Russian tide recedes, we discover the horror that's left in its wake. I had a window into that when I traveled to Irpin just a few weeks ago to meet with the Ukrainian investigators who were compiling evidence of war crimes committed there. I saw up close the gaping holes left in residential buildings by Russian shelling, indiscriminate at best, intentional at worst.

As we assemble here, Ukrainian and international investigators continue to exhume bodies outside of Izium, a city Russian forces controlled for six months before they were driven out by Ukraine counteroffensive. One site contains some 440 unmarked graves. A number of the bodies unearthed there so far reportedly show signs of torture, including one victim with broken arms and a rope around his neck.

Survivors' accounts are also emerging, including a man who described being tortured by Russian forces for a dozen days, during which he's interrogated, has repeatedly electrocuted him and, in his words, and I quote, beat me to the point where I didn't feel anything, end quote.

These are not the acts of rogue units. They cut a clear pattern across the territory controlled by Russian forces. This is one of the many reasons that we support a range of national and international efforts to collect and examine the mounting evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. We must hold the perpetrators accountable for these crimes.

It is also one of the reasons why more than 40 nations have come together to help the Ukrainian people defend themselves, a right that is enshrined into Article 51 of the United Nation's Charter. The more setbacks Russian forces endure on the battlefield, the greater the pain they are in inflicting on Ukrainian civilians, Russian attacks on dams, on bridges, on power stations, on hospital, on other civilian infrastructure are increasing, constituting a brazen violation of international humanitarian law.

This week, President Putin said that Russia would not hesitate to use, and I quote, all weapon systems available, end quote, in response to a threat to its territorial integrity, a threat that is all the more menacing given Russia's intention to annex of large swaths of Ukraine in the days ahead. When that is complete, we can expect President Putin will claim any Ukrainian effort to liberate his land as an attack on so-called Russian territory.

This from a country that in January of this year, in this place, joined other permanent members of the Security Council in signing a statement affirming that, and I quote, nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought, yet another example of how Russia violates the commitments it's made before this body, and yet another reason why nobody should take Russia at its word today.

Every council member should send a clear message that these reckless nuclear threats must stop immediately. Russia's effort to annex more Ukrainian territory is another dangerous escalation as well as a repudiation of diplomacy. It is even more alarming when coupled with the filtration operation that Russian forces have been carrying out across parts of Ukraine that they control. Now, this is a diabolical strategy, violently uprooting thousands of Ukrainians, bus in Russians to replace them, call a vote, manipulate the results to show near unanimous support for joining the Russian Federation.


This is right out of the Crimea playbook.