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CNN International: Evan Gershkovich Works in the Wall Street Journal's Moscow Bureau; Britain's King Charles Addresses German Parliament; China: What the U.S. has Done Seriously Undermines China's Sovereignty; Russia Arrests U.S. Journalist on Suspicion of "Espionage". Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2023 - 08:00   ET



BIANCA NOBILO, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to CNN "Newsroom", I'm Bianca Nobilo in London in for Max Foster today, just ahead Moscow arrests and American journalists in Russia on suspicion of espionage, as the Wall Street Journal strongly rejects those allegations more on this developing story in a moment.

Also ahead Pope Francis spends the night in hospital more details on his health at this hour and site in when lands in New York defiantly proclaiming the Taiwan's relationship with the U.S. has never been closer, how China is responding to the visit coming up.

We begin with an event that hasn't happened in 37 years since the last years of the Cold War. An American journalist arrested in Russia and accused of spying. The Kremlin's Federal Security Service claims Evan Gershkovich for The Wall Street Journal was trying to collect secret information about the Russian Military industrial complex.

The Wall Street Journal denies the allegations and is urging Russia to release him. CNN Salma Abdelaziz joins me now. So what more are we learning about the arrest of this journalist?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So you have really a diplomatic scramble that's happening now to secure more details about what has happened to this journalist and what the next steps are? What we know so far, is that he was detained in an area near the Ural Mountains.

This is an area where if you remember that statement that you just read the accusation is that he was collecting information on the military industrial complex of Russia. The area he was detained in is an area where there are weapons manufacturers. So was he potentially researching a story there?

We don't know, but we do have a statement from his employer, of course, and they say the Wall Street Journal says that they stand with of course; they're very dedicated journalists, someone who has reported for the AP for The Wall Street Journal, for the New York Times.

A prominent journalist, a credited journalist, credited by the Russian Foreign Ministry to work there, and they see that they stand with his family and they vehemently The Wall Street Journal says vehemently deny these accusations against him. What are those accusations?

Well, in that statement, from the FSB that was published on Russian state media they are accusing him of espionage. And espionage charges are quite a serious matter, they could carry up to 20 years in a Russian prison. There's another thing to note here, just after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, of course, new legislation was put into place by the Kremlin to counter what they say is fake news.

But what many media organizations and activists say is simply a censorship law that limits journalists requires journalists, to use the same language that the Kremlin uses and experts will tell you this law is so wide and so vague, that really any criticism of President Putin any criticism of Russia's invasion in Ukraine could be interpreted as a violation of that law.

One other thing I want to note here is, you mentioned the last time under the Reagan administration that a U.S. journalist was detained, of course, a very different time. And in that specific case, it was a tit for tat. We've already had a response from Russian Officials saying I'm not going to comment on that.

We're not saying if this is tit for tat but it is important to note that a few days ago, just over a week ago, I believe it that there was someone detained in the United States on U.S. soil for spy related charges. So is this retaliation? We simply don't know at this stage.

But absolutely this has all the hallmarks of a diplomatic crisis, right? A prominent U.S. journalist doing his job detained on Russian soil despite being accredited for a prominent newspaper at a time when tensions really couldn't be any higher.

NOBILO: Salma Abdelaziz, thank you so much. And on that point about whether or not a diplomatic crisis will develop, let's get the view now from the White House and CNN's Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, are we hearing anything from the White House at this point?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't yet have any kind of official statement from the White House or the State Department on this matter. But we do know that White House Officials are closely tracking this matter and administration Officials have been gathering information about the situation since yesterday.


In fact, according to two U.S. Officials, the state Department began tracking Evan Gershkovich's arrest at yesterday before news of his arrest actually broke publicly. And of course, as Salma was just saying this could very well lead to yet another diplomatic crisis between the United States and Russia.

We know that the U.S. of course has already been working to secure the release of Paul Whelan, who was also arrested on spying charges and ultimately convicted in 2020 to 16 years in prison. The U.S. had been hoping to secure his release alongside the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner. But Russia only accepted a one for one swap of Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer who had been arrested and convicted in the United States on charges. He was released in exchange for Brittney Griner back in December, of course, but we will see how this situation develops.

We know that the White House has developed additional authorities to try and deter wrongful detentions and hostage taking situations President Biden signed an executive order back in July to give the U.S. additional authorities on the matter but of course that doesn't appear to have deterred.

Russia from arresting this Wall Street Journal reporter on these alleged espionage charges but certainly this is something that we are waiting to hear directly from the White House on we will let you know as soon as we get a statement from them, Bianca.

NOBILO: Jeremy Diamond Thank you. The Vatican says Pope Francis is improving after his first night in the hospital. The Pope is fighting respiratory infection and will receive treatment in a room hospital for the next few days. We're learning that the 86-year-old pontiff does not have COVID but has been having difficulty breathing.

Vatican Officials add that he's been working from his route. CNN's Vatican Correspondent Delia Gallagher joins us now live from outside the hospital in Rome. Delia, positive news that the Pope is continuing to work from inside the hospital are we learning any more details about his condition?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bianca, what the Vatican has told us this morning certainly is reassuring compared to yesterday's uncertainty about these respiratory difficulties. They say he slept well overnight, that his clinical picture is progressively improving. So there's the improving part of it, and that he will continue with his medical therapies.

Of course, they already told us yesterday to expect that he would stay a few days here in the hospital. Just to give you an idea his rooms are those five shuttered windows at the top floor here at the Gemelli hospital. We have a tweet from the Pope's Pontifex Twitter account, which I'll just read to you.

And he says I'm touched by the many messages received in these hours and I express my gratitude for the closeness and prayers. The Vatican also in their statement and their medical update, saying that the Pope, as you mentioned, is working. He was able to read some newspapers they said.

So very much giving the impression that the situation is under control, of course, concerning because he's 86 years old he already has a vulnerability for respiratory issues having had part of a lung taken out when he was 21 so obviously a situation that we're monitoring closely. We'll expect hopefully some more updates throughout the day, Bianca.

NOBILO: Delia Gallagher, thank you. The battle for Bakhmut has turned into a slaughter fest for Russian troops as they failed to advance on the town. That's according to the top U.S. General. Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told U.S. lawmakers Wednesday that Ukraine is staging a very effective defense.

Not the Russians haven't made any progress at all in and around Bakhmut in the past 20 or 21 days his words come just a day after the Chief of the Wagner private military group admitted that his mercenaries have been pretty battered. A deadly fire engulfs a ferry boat in the Philippines killing at least 28 passengers.

The ferry was carrying 250 people when it caught fire near Baluk-Baluk of the Basilan province. Witnesses say that they saw people jumping from the ship into dark waters after they heard an explosion late on Wednesday night. Residents from the island rushed to their aid trying to rescue those from the wreckage.

The Philippine coast guard tells us that search and rescue efforts are ongoing. King Charles has become the first British monarch to address the German parliament while in session. In his speech delivered in fluent German. He paid tribute to the deep and longstanding ties between the U.K. and Germany and address the war in Ukraine.


KING CHARLES III, UNITED KINGDOM: The security of Europe, as well as our democratic values is under threat.



NOBILO: On Thursday morning, King Charles met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin as part of his first state visit with his wife Queen Consort Camilla. And CNN's Max Foster the namesake of the show is traveling with King Charles and he joins me now from Berlin. Max, I didn't realize that King Charles speaks fluent German. How did that speech go down and where are you off to next?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: It went down incredibly well. There were lots of moments when he was speaking German where there was some laughter, a crack some jokes, some British jokes in German language, which went down really well. And there was actually a nearly two minutes standing ovation at the end.

So it certainly went down incredibly well. He talked about how he had family links to Germany, and there were members of his distant family at the State Banquet last night. So he was building on all of those connections, referencing the two World Wars, but also the current war, where obviously, Britain and Germany are very much on the same side against Ukraine.

So you play the sound bite there. He also talks about it being an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, inflicting the most unimaginable suffering on so many innocent people. He's going to go and meet some Ukrainians who have been taken in by Germany as well, about a million refugees living here. So leaning on the history, and the cultural links between the two countries, and how they used to be adversaries, but now very much together. Also Brexit he didn't refer to it specifically. But I know that the British government very keen that the King came here helps rebuild those bonds, which were perhaps frayed somewhat after the Brexit vote.

Now that Boris Johnson is out of position, there's a new Prime Minister. They were able to rebuild and they've thrown everything out this visit is going incredibly well. It's going quite smoothly as well. So I think the government and the royal household would be pretty pleased with this, but also the German government that wants to have a continued close relationship with one of its biggest trading partners.

NOBILO: CNN's Max Foster in Berlin, thank you. Security is on high alert in Brazil's capital as its ousted President Jair Bolsonaro makes his return to the country. The far right politician returned from Florida where he's been saying for the last three months in a self- imposed exile after he failed to win re-election last year.

A group of Bolsonaro supporters wearing the country's colors gathered at the Brasilia International Airport to welcome him home. Security forces say they're ready to take action to make sure that isn't a repeat of the January 8th riots.

Still to come, Taiwan's President arrives in New York on a sensitive stop over while en route to Central America. And China warns that it could have "severe impacts" on its relations with the U.S. We'll have the latest.


NOBILO: A developing story out of the U.S. State of Kentucky where a pair of helicopters is crashed resulting in several casualties.


It happened late Wednesday night not far from the Kentucky-Tennessee border. The U.S. Army says the two Blackhawks are part of the 101st Airborne Division and were involved in a routine training mission at the time. CNN's U.S. National Security Reporter Natasha Bertrand has the latest for us from the Pentagon. Natasha, what are you learning?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Bianca, well the information that we're getting is pretty limited at this point. We are told that these were two Blackhawk helicopters with the 101st Airborne Division that crashed around 10 pm Eastern time last night in Southwestern Kentucky.

Now the army is not saying whether anyone was killed in the crash saying only that there were several casualties. But the Governor of Kentucky did tweet this morning that he is expecting that there will be several fatalities coming out of this crash. And we should note that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents the State of Kentucky, is also weighing in on this saying that he has been in touch with the army and with personnel on the ground there in Kentucky.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. There was a Blackhawk crash as part of a training mission just last month as part of the Tennessee National Guard. A Blackhawk helicopter that was engaged in a training mission crashed in Alabama and killed everyone on board there.

So we are expecting an update from the army at 10 am Eastern time about this accident. But for now, what we're learning really is that there are several casualties including service members, of course that were injured, and we are waiting to hear whether anyone was killed in this accident, Bianca.

NOBILO: Thank you Natasha, we know that you'll continue to keep us posted. Now why is China so concerned about a potential meeting between Taiwan's President and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy? Tsai Ing-wen has arrived in New York on a sensitive stop over ahead of visit to Central America.

But on her way back home next week, President Tsai expected to meet with McCarthy in California, although that hasn't been officially confirmed. At a banquet she praised the relationship between Washington and Taipei.


TSAI ING-WEN, PRESIDENT OF TAIWAN: Taiwan has made tremendous progress in diplomacy, and its relationship with the U.S. has never been closer.


NOBILO: Under the One China policy, the U.S. acknowledges China's position that Taiwan is part of China but has never officially recognized Beijing's claimed the island. Let's bring in CNN Correspondent Marc Stewart for more on this. He joins me now live from Tokyo.

Marc, we've heard some fairly bellicose rhetoric from China so far in response to the potential of this visit that could have very real ramifications. What more can you tell us?

MARC STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's very important to recognize this relationship that the United States has with China and with Taiwan, as you mentioned, this One China policy. The United States recognizes China's position that Taiwan is part of China.

Yet, as we have seen over the last few days, there are some events; some itinerary stops by the President of Taiwan that can be seen in contrast to all of that. We have seen a lot of care being used to describe these visits, these stops as non-diplomatic as informal and that includes a potential meeting with the Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.

Although neither side has recognized if and when that would occur China is not taking any of this favorably they see this as a big swipe, if you will, toward this concept of one China. We have heard discussions we've heard comments from Beijing throughout the week. Today is no exception. Take a listen to some remarks that were made just late today here in Asia.


MAO NING, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON: The United States and Taiwan colluded with each other, an arrangement saying when to engage in political activities in the United States under the guise of transit in an attempt to enhance official exchanges and substantive relations between the United States and Taiwan.

This seriously violated the One China principle and the provisions of the three China-U.S. Joint Communique and seriously damaged China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.


STEWART: We should point out that this is not the first time China's, I'm sorry, Taiwan's President has transited through the United States. It's something that she has done six times before. But as far as ramifications of all of this, it's at a very fragile time in U.S.- China relations.

A postponed trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing still has not occurred. Could that be in jeopardy? That's just a question that many people are asking. Could we see China perhaps show a use of force in the water surrounding Taiwan? These are all potentials that could happen based off of the events that we are seeing over these days ahead, Bianca.


NOBILO: And Marc, let's shift focus to the official line of this trip. What our President Tsai's objectives for her trip to Central America and has China raised any objections to that?

STEWART: Well, President Tsai is trying to find some allies around the world as Taiwan finds itself in this even more tenuous position with China these days. Among her stocks will be to Guatemala and to Belize to try to shore up diplomatic relations there because as we just saw last weekend, Honduras cut off diplomatic ties in favor of being with China.

Obviously, a much larger superpower you could argue. So it is very much a mission of diplomacy of relationship building. We'll have to see how successful President Tsai truly is?

NOBILO: CNN's Marc Stewart for us in Tokyo, thank you so much. An American journalist arrested in Russia and accused of spying, coming up. What the Kremlin is saying about it live from Russia?


NOBILO: Welcome back taking another look at our top story now. Russian authorities have arrested an American journalist and accused him of spying for the U.S. government. Evan Gershkovich works for the Wall Street Journal's Moscow Bureau. His boss is denying Russia's claim and urging the Kremlin to release him. CNN's Matthew Chance joins us now live in Moscow. Matthew, what is the Kremlin saying about this?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually the Kremlin itself is sort of distancing itself from this arrest saying that it's their understanding that Evan Gershkovich was caught red handed, engaged in espionage but the real sort of charges is being leveled by the FSB, the successor organization to the KGB here in Russia at the Federal Security Service.

And they've issued a full statement saying that basically they terminated in their words, the illegal activity of this American journalist who they've named as Evan Gershkovich. They said he was on a mission from the American side to accumulate classified evidence of one of the enterprises of Russia's Military industrial complex and that he was in the process of receiving secret evidence.

The FSB says when he was apprehended in the Russian City of Yekaterinburg, which is about 1100 miles 1800 kilometers or so from the Russian capital. The Wall Street Journal, the organization who Evan works with have said they vehemently denied the charges of espionage has been brought against their employee, and they've asked for his immediate release.

But we've just learned from state media that already Evan has been brought to Moscow will afford to vote prison complex the court there were prosecutor has been asking for him to be remanded in custody. We're not clear yet. Just looking for information on that we look clear yet on what that court decision has been.

But given the seriousness of these charges espionage which carries a maximum sentence this country of up to 20 years, it's unlikely that they're going to let go of him at this point. Certainly, Russian officials that have given any given any comment so far are taking this very seriously.

For example, the Russian Foreign Ministry saying that the activities and I'm paraphrasing them here, the activities of this Wall Street Journal employee had nothing whatsoever to do with journalism.


So they are standing by it seems at this point his arrest.

NOBILO: And Matthew just to state the obvious you're in Moscow right now. Talk to us about the difficulties of reporting from the country. I mean, there is an obvious overlap, ostensibly between the activities of a journalist investigating a story and somebody that can be investigating something for espionage purposes.

And it's concerning that one could potentially be used as a pretext to crack down on the other. Are there others that are being affected by these sorts of approach in Russia?

CHANCE: I mean right, Bianca, that's a big concern. I mean, particularly in an environment where there's been a concerted crackdown on the independent media in this country the Russian governments making it very difficult to conduct ordinary journalistic activities that we'd normally do.

For instance, they've criminalized any kind of, you know, independent journalism, criticizing the Russian Military now can carry a huge prison sentence of up to 10 years. So against that backdrop, it's already a very hostile environment when it comes to doing the kind of journalism that we would normally do.

And I think everybody has taken some precautions, if not actually left the country and stopped practicing journalism here at least taken some sort of editorial precautions to protect employees from that kind of sort of legal action. But I mean, I think it's also important to remember that espionage is in a different category.

You know, Evan Gershkovich is not accused of discrediting the Russian Military is accused of attempting to get state secrets from Russia. And you know, obviously that adds another layer of risk attached to trying to do journalism out of here.

NOBILO: Well, Matthew, we really appreciate your reporting and your journalism from there. CNN's Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you. And thank you for joining me here on CNN "Newsroom"; I am Bianca Nobilo in London. And "World Sport" with Amanda Davies is up next for you.