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Kremlin Outraged Over Accusations in Navalny Case; US Veto on Gaza Ceasefire Resolution Draws Criticism; World Food Programme Suspends Aid in Gaza Amid Risks; US to Impose Further Sanctions on Russia Over Navalny's Death; Navalny's Mother Appeals to Putin for Son's Release; Russian Helicopter Pilot Defects to Ukraine Found Dead; Ukrainian Troops Withdraw Amid Chaos in Avdiivka; Ukraine Marks Two Years of War with Russia; U.K. High Court to Decide if Assange Has Right to Appeal Extradition; North Korean Borders Reopen for First Time Since Pandemic; Starbucks Unveils Pork Flavored Latte to Mark Lunar New Year. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Ahead here on CNN. Foe outrage and feigned indignation from the Kremlin after being accused of killing opposition leader Alexey Navalny. At the UN Security Council, the US vetoes another Gaza ceasefire resolution arguing that calls for a ceasefire won't result in a ceasefire. And in Gaza, the World Food Programme suspends the distribution of food as starving Palestinians in Gaza and ignores the risk of Israeli fire and attack an aid convoy.

Right now, one of the most punitive sanctions regime ever imposed by the United States is currently in effect on Russia. More than 300 in all over the war with Ukraine. And with the second anniversary of the Russian invasion just days away, so too are more sanctions. Which a senior US official says, at the direction of the US president, will now include a response to the sudden death of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny in a Siberian gulag. An announcement from the White House expected Friday. Here's US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan with more.


JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER (voice-over): This is another turn of the crank, another turn of the wheel. And it is a range of targets, a significant range of targets that we have worked persistently and diligently to identify to continue to impose costs for what Russia has done, for what it's done to Navalny, for what it's done to Ukraine, and for the threat that it represents to international peace and security.


VAUSE: Despite multiple US and other international sanctions, Russia has pushed on with its war in Ukraine seemingly undeterred. And it seems sanctions will be of little immediate help to the family of Alexey Navalny and their demand for answers about his death. On Tuesday, his mother stood not far from the IK-3 Polar Wolf penal colony, where her son died and pleaded directly to the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin to release her son's body for burial. Russian state media reports that Navalny's younger brother Oleg is now on the Interior Ministry's wanted list for unspecified charges. CNN correspondent Matthew Chance reports now from Moscow.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Captured on camera in Russia's freezing north, what could be the prison motorcade carrying Alexey Navalny's body from the Arctic penal colony where he died. Independent investigative journalists, believe these traffic images show the late Russian opposition leader's remains have been removed. Although there's still no official confirmation of where they're being held. Even Navalny's elderly mother, who travelled nearly 2,000 miles from Moscow to see her dead son, has been denied. And is now asking the Russian president for mercy.

LYUDMILLA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEY NAVALNY'S MOTHER (through translator): They won't give me his body. They don't even tell me where he is. I'm addressing you, Vladimir Putin. The solution to the issue depends only on you. Let me finally see my son. I demand that Alexey's body be immediately handed over so that I can bury him humanely.

CHANCE (voice-over): It is an emotional appeal with Russian public support that's hard to ignore. But Navalny here is only the latest in a long line of Kremlin critics to be permanently silenced. At home and abroad, dissidents have been poisoned, killed, even fallen out of windows. The Kremlin has denied any involvement in political killings, but the message Russians are hearing is as clear as it is dark. Opposing the Kremlin right now is an extremely dangerous path to take.

Alexey Navalny knew it firsthand. The Kremlin critic barely survived this poisoning with a Russian nerve agent Novichok on a plane from Siberia in 2020. Now his bereaved widow is accusing the Kremlin of finishing the job and hiding the corpse to prevent the real cause of death from being revealed.

YULIA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEY NAVALNY'S WIFE (through translator): My husband could not be broken, and that's exactly why Putin killed him. And it is just as despicable and cowardly that they are now hiding his body. Lying pitifully and waiting for the traces of another Putin's Novichok to disappear.


CHANCE (voice-over): But the Kremlin has rejected those allegations as absolutely unfounded and boorish, saying investigators have yet to determine why this latest prominent critic died, immune to the criticism, it seems. And the grief so many Russians now feel. Matthew Chance, CNN Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VAUSE: Steve Hall joins me now. He's a CNN national security analyst and former CIA chief of Russia operations. Welcome back. It's good to see you.


VAUSE: Okay, so there was a time when international sanctions on Russia were thought to be causing a huge amount of economic pain, so much so that Moscow might actually be forced to reverse course in the war. But that didn't last very long. And, you know, so right now, you know, you've got a lot of people who are saying, right now, a new raft of sanctions coming on Friday. Are they likely to make any difference here?

HALL: You know, the problem with sanctions, John, is that they're, you know, they're very emotionally satisfying initially. I mean, sort of what you just described. People hear like, oh, now the big sanctions are coming. But the problem is, is that they take a lot of time to take effect. And then it's really difficult to measure how well they're doing. In my mind, the best measure is what does Vladimir Putin and others in the Kremlin say about them? If they weren't such a big deal you wouldn't hear so much about them.

I mean, you might hear a little bit of, you know, discussions about how it's, you know, against international law and other sorts of nonsense that the Kremlin puts out. But the fact of the matter is, is that Vladimir Putin says both publicly and privately, you know, he wants them to stop, as does the rest of the leadership in the Kremlin. So, for me, that's the best measure of efficacy, even though we can't always see it ourselves because it goes away and we kind of forget about it.

VAUSE: Okay, so maybe there will be something out of that over time. More immediately, though, Navalny's widow directly accused Vladimir Putin of killing her husband. And the response from the Kremlin sounded kind of dismissive and patronizing. Here's Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.


DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN PRESS SECRETARY: Of course, those are absolutely unsubstantiated, obnoxious accusations against the head of the Russian state. But given that Yulia Navalny was widowed just days earlier, I will leave it without comment.


VAUSE: So after commenting on it, he says he's not going to comment on it. Also, on Monday, a Putin decree rewarded Valery Boyarinev, the deputy director of the Federal Penitentiary Service. He got the special rank of colonel general. He's been described as a sadist and is accused of personally torturing Navalny while he was in jail. And Navalny's younger brother added to Russia's most or not most wanted list, but to a wanted list rather, on unspecified charges. You know, the Kremlin in the past is a gold medalist when it comes to acting with impunity, but in the past two days sort of been a new personal best here.

HALL: Yeah, I think we're really seeing some sort of unprecedented types of reactions, I think, from the Kremlin. I mean, certainly sending people to prison camps in the Gulag, that's not unprecedented. The Russians have a long history of that going back to Soviet days and even before and having people go to the prisons and essentially it's a death sentence. People are going to die there. They know that that stuff is all old and historical and very much part of the Russian tradition.

But this whole idea of, say, you know, other people are responsible and it's irresponsible for the international community to accuse the Kremlin and Putin himself of being behind this killing, despite the fact that they've already tried to kill him once with Novichok and he had to be flown to Germany, not to mention all the other assassinations that have happened inside and outside of Russia as recently as yesterday. So, you know, it's it just doesn't stand up to reason. But what it does, I think, show us, John, is that I think Putin is really feeling it. He's feeling that now is his opportunity to move forward.

And it's because he thinks his policies and his planning have worked. And he has been let's wait until the West loses focus. Let's wait until the United States loses track and becomes interested in other things. And it seems to be working for him, at least right now. And I think he's feeling it and moving forward briskly because he sees this as a window of opportunity.

VAUSE: Well, there's an opinion piece in The Guardian which argues that there would be no point in having Navalny killed just over the election, which was locked in already because of the sham results, goes on to argue this point. It makes more sense if Putin is preparing to take a new, more politically fraught course. In that case, he would want to leave nothing to chance. Whatever he has planned with Navalny dead, even the slim possibility of political resistance within Russia is likely now extinguished.

So, if that's true, how much of a role is U.S. domestic politics playing in all of this? How much of a role is there played to Putin's calculations? You have a Republican front runner for president who won't say a bad word about him, and then a congressional Republicans who are blocking military aid for Ukraine and are very pro Putin, pro Russia at the moment.

HALL: Domestic politics in the United States and in some other countries as well is definitely playing a role. It's inexplicable to me why it why the U.S. Congress, specifically the House and more specifically the Speaker perhaps acting at the behest of Donald Trump, the supposed front runner for the for the Republican nomination. It's amazing to me that despite there being a great deal of popularity in the United States with the idea of hurting Russia in the worst way possible, which is helping Ukraine, that's the real weakness.

[00:10:29] That's the chink in Putin's armor. It is incredible that our political system here in the United States can't figure out a way to somehow get money to the Ukrainians, if for no other reason than to push back. I mean, look what's happened recently. We've had the Navalny killing. We've had Russia saying we're going to put nukes into space. We've had assassinations overseas. I mean, what's it going to take? Is it going to take, you know, the tanks driving down the mall in Washington, Russian tanks before American politicians say, wow, this is serious. We need to push back against Russia. The best way to do it is Ukraine.

VAUSE: It's a simple logic. It doesn't seem that difficult to understand. Steve, thank you for being with us. We appreciate it.

HALL: My pleasure.

VAUSE: According to Ukrainian intelligence, the Russian helicopter pilot who made headlines last year by defecting to Ukraine is dead. One source says the body of Maxim Kuzminov was found in Spain, shot to death a week ago. In August, Kuzminov flew his combat helicopter across the border and into Ukrainian territory. As an act of protest against Russia's war, Spanish officials are yet to officially identify Kuzminov's body. The Kremlin, though, denies any knowledge of his death. But the director of Russia's foreign intelligence said Kuzminov became a moral corpse the moment he planned to defect.

Well, for a third time, the U.S. has vetoed a draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.


UNKNOWN: Against. Abstentions.


VAUSE: At the U.N. Security Council, the final vote on the proposal introduced by Algeria. The vote was 13 to one. The U.K. abstained. Washington has instead put forward its own resolution. It was making that during the rounds. And for the first time, we'll call for a temporary ceasefire.

LINDA THOMAS GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Proceeding with a vote today was wishful and irresponsible. And so, while we cannot support a resolution that would put sensitive negotiations in jeopardy, we look forward to engaging on a text that we believe will address so many of the concerns we all share, a text that can and should be adopted by the council so that we can have a temporary ceasefire as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released.


VAUSE: From France, there was frustration at the Security Council for failing to adopt the ceasefire resolution. The U.K. urged an immediate halt in fighting and the delivery of humanitarian aid after abstaining from the vote. Hamas was also critical, naturally blaming the Biden administration for directly, blocking the resolution, which it did. It did directly block it. The U.N. vote comes as the U.S. Middle East coordinator, Brett McGurk, is traveling back to the region to try and help with ongoing negotiations. He'll be in Egypt in the coming hours. He'll then be in Israel after that.

Meantime, Qatar says it has confirmation from Hamas that it has received a shipment of medical assistance for Israeli hostages being held in Gaza right now. For more, let's go to CNN's Richard Roth, live in New York, our senior U.N. correspondent. Richard, good to see you.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, John, even though I'm not seeing you, I'm hearing you.

VAUSE: Well, hearing is just as good. We heard why the U.S. vetoed that draft resolution. Now let's listen to the U.K. ambassador to the U.N. explaining why the United Kingdom abstained.


BARBARA WOODWARD, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Simply calling for a ceasefire, as this resolution does, will not make it happen. Indeed, as it could endanger the hostage negotiations, it could actually make a ceasefire less likely.


VAUSE: It could also make it likely. Just to be clear, both the U.S. and the U.K. are opposed to this ceasefire resolution because demands for a ceasefire will not result in a ceasefire, and these ceasefire demands could interfere with other ceasefire negotiations.

ROTH: I'd like to call the ceasefire on that question. Look, the U.S. is continuing to protect Israel, just like other major powers on the Security Council with a veto, protect their allied countries in certain different regions. The wording is different on the Algeria draft that was vetoed today. That called for an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian ceasefire, while the U.S. draft that is laying in the weeds says a temporary ceasefire. The U.S. will buy more time if they can get their resolution approved.


Many council members are frustrated with what happened on Tuesday in New York that the U.S. vetoed another text. But as you've heard in the other ambassador comments, the U.S. believes that a resolution now calling for an immediate ceasefire would give Hamas more time, more support, take the pressure off.

VAUSE: Well, Egypt, though, which is party to hostage negotiations, and their U.N. representative argued that this ceasefire put forward by Algeria could actually be implemented without any impact on those ongoing hostage negotiations. Listen to this.


OSAMA ABDELKHALEK, EGYPTIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. (through translator): This will not impede the ongoing mediation efforts, but rather will create the conductive conditions for its success. Let us negotiate and mediate in an environment of smooth flow of humanitarian support. And restored calm and healing the wounds of the wounded.


VAUSE: That does seem to be the view held by most members of the U.N. Security Council and, in fact, the U.N. General Assembly. So how isolated is the U.S. right now?

ROTH: Well, the U.S. is very isolated. I don't think they care, just like Russia doesn't care that it's in the target zone on Ukraine. The trouble is there's no weight behind what the U.N. does, and they run into irrelevance when they don't do anything during a major crisis. It's a horrible moment for the U.N. The Secretary General, the speech has scripts that you would believe was in a Hollywood movie. I mean, the language is so fervent that it's broken, the world, Antonio Gutierrez has said, and it needs unity on the Security Council. That's not going to happen. The hostages are the big thing for the U.S., and anything that either delay, an effort to get a deal with Hamas, is going to be vetoed.

VAUSE: So, the U.S. draft resolution when it comes to the hostages, it's calling for this ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable. So, in diplomatic speak, what's the difference between as soon as possible and as soon as practicable? And even if this resolution gets to a vote, will Russia and China veto it anyway?

ROTH: I think there is a good chance Russia might veto or abstain. We haven't seen the final U.S. draft U.S. draft resolution. Ambassador Thomas Greenfield has said that she's been working one-on-one with the Arab group, with the Palestinian envoy. The timing you mentioned on practical and I forget the other version, you'd have to read that very carefully. I mean, one country's immediacy is another country's give me 10 months and I'll stall it until it's solved.

VAUSE: It does seem to be how long is a piece of string. Richard Roth has always said, it's very good to have you with us, Richard, we appreciate you staying up to be with us. Thank you.

ROTH: Thank you for having me.

VAUSE: Always a pleasure, sir. Gaza's health ministry says the death toll in Gaza has now surpassed 29,000. The mosque control ministry says almost 70,000 people have also been hurt and injured since October 7th. CNN cannot intimately verify or confirm the numbers from Gaza. But malnutrition is now a major concern as the region's humanitarian crisis worsens. UNICEF representative saying the situation has risen to emergency levels. CNN's Richard Roth has been with us for a while now. We'll be right back after the break. Nic Robinson has more details. And a warning, his report contains some very graphic video.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Gaza's food problem writ large. Hunger trumping fear of Israeli bullets. News of a coming aid convoy carrying flour into the north of Gaza, converging crowds to plunder it. We came here and the Israelis started opening fire on us and we hid between the buildings, Hamzana (ph) says. When the fire stops, we come out again and wait for the flour. The IDF say they will look into this incident, but say they can't rule out Hamas shooting. Desperation leading to looting, a growing problem in northern Gaza.

HAMISH YOUNG, SENIOR EMERGENCY COORDINATOR AT UNICEF: We're talking tens and tens of thousands for, you know, five, 10 trucks. It's the food that it is getting through is just a drop in the ocean. It's not nearly enough.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Theft so bad, the principal U.N. food supplier, the WFP, declaring Tuesday it will stop deliveries to the north, compounding the already dire conditions. Fifteen percent of children under two have malnutrition.

YOUNG: It's now at an emergency level. According to international standards, once you're over 15 percent for acute malnutrition, that's a nutritional crisis and an emergency. And we are there.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The most common thing that comes into hospital is malnutrition, Dr. Abu Safia says. It creates complications, sometimes even death.


Even before the World Food Programme canceled food deliveries, children venting fears shared by adults, abandonment by the world.

UNKNOWN: No food, no water. No medicine. Our message to the world: shame on you. How dare you put (ph) your children while we eat animal food? Are you awaiting our death?

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The whole family is dead, Om Ibrahim (ph) wails. Is he the last one alive gesturing towards her grandson. As bad as hunger is, Israel's armaments remain more deadly. At Om Ibrahim's home in Nusrat, central Gaza, one granddaughter dug out of the rubble, killed. In the massive airstrike, another clings to life as rescuers give her CPR. In southern Gaza, where food supplies are slightly better, this plastic surgeon, just out of the besieged Al Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, close to tears.

DR. AHMAD MOGHRABI, HEAD OF PLASTIC AND RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGERY, NASSER HOSPITAL: I couldn't offer anything to my children. We used to eat only, you know, only bread. My children, they want some sweets. I couldn't provide some sweets, for my children. My little, my little girl, three years old, she used to ask me many things, but I couldn't provide my little girl.

ROBERTSON: And just to give an idea of how precarious the food deliveries to Gaza are and what gives UN agencies real concern about malnutrition, the main border crossing from Israel into Gaza, Kerem Shalom, was blocked by protesters saying that the food was going to Hamas, not to the innocent people inside. Gaza, just the day before, 131 trucks had passed through the crossing. Quite a difference. Nic Robertson, CNN, Tel Aviv, Israel.


VAUSE: Coming up here on CNN, three days from now, Ukraine marks two years of war with Russia. A story of remarkable resilience against almost impossible odds, but for how much longer?


VAUSE: Russia's president says the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Avdiivka is an unconditional success. But Vladimir Putin says his forces cannot stop there. He says they need to push further into Ukraine and come well-stocked with weapons and ammunition. According to Russia's defense minister, Ukraine's retreat from the eastern town was chaotic. Sergei Shoigu (ph) says Russian forces wounded and captured a lot of Ukrainian soldiers in the process. Ukraine's foreign minister tells CNN that Sergei Shuguev would not have fallen if Ukrainian forces had received the ammunition which they needed.


And the fall of Avdiivka highlights the dire problems facing Ukraine after almost two long years of war. Crumbling Western support means weapon and ammunition are in short supply. Recruitment of new troops for the front lines is slow and everywhere across the country there are more and more graves of fallen men and women. CNN's Christiane Amanpour is in Lviv and shows us the toll the war is now taking and Ukraine's remarkable resilience so far.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): At first it looks beautiful, all the colors, the sheer density flying in the wind, so much Ukrainian yellow and blue. But when you realize that each flies above the body of a beloved, the pain is palpable. A mother cries, for her son. He came from Poland, from abroad, says Lyubov. He went to liberate our Ukraine. He said, Mom, I'm going to defend you. A woman seems to be talking to her fallen loved one. And this widow, Natalia, moves in for a kiss. Her husband, who had volunteered for the Eastern Front, was killed just shy of his 30th birthday five months ago, when shrapnel hit his head, leaving her and her small children alone.

I'm proud of my husband because his sacrifice is worth a lot, says Natalia. I believe that it's the duty of every man to defend his homeland. Having three children, he could have not gone, but understood that he was going to defend us. Lychakiv (ph) Cemetery in the western city of Lviv is like cemeteries all over Ukraine today. Two years ago, this was a grass field.

AMANPOUR: Today, it's a field of flags and the graves of those who've fallen defending this country. And on this two-year anniversary, families are asking whether Ukraine can continue leaving it up to their volunteers, or whether there needs to be a call-up to mobilize for the Front.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Natalia agrees. Yes, definitely, she says, because if we don't defend ourselves, what kind of fate awaits us next? next. And if we don't defend our lands, Russia will be here soon. In the center of Lviv, there is a small recruitment office for the army's 3rd Assault Brigade. Just through this courtyard Sergeant Pavlo Dokin (ph) is in charge, and he shows us in. So, Pavlo, this is the recruitment office, the recruitment center?

It is exhausting, not only physically, but also for morale. Soldiers need to have normal rotations, Pavlo tells me, so that they can rest from all of that and start working with renewed vigor. The office is open all week. Sometimes a few show up, sometimes none. While we were there, just one. Why do you want to be in the military?

Someone needs to defend our Ukraine, says Volodymyr, a 43-year-old builder. And that's the point. Starting a third year of full-scale war against the Russian invasion, they are heavily outmanned, and vital weapons and ammunition for their fight are tangled up in Washington's political gridlock under former President Donald Trump's direction. Speaking to world leaders in Munich this past weekend, President Zelenskyy said he'd invite him to see the war with his own eyes.

If Trump, Mr. Trump, if he will come, I'm ready even to go with him to the front. back at the third assault brigade this poster says rush to the decisive battle and they did that this weekend just as the small town of Avdiivka in the east was falling to help withdraw forces before they could be encircled by the Russians at least then they could live to fight another day President Zelenskyy told me for every Ukrainian killed in that battle there were seven Russian deaths.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: I'm telling you frankly we don't have long-range weapons. Russia has it and we have too little of that. That's true. That's why our main weapon today is our soldiers, our people.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): back at the cemetery in Lviv the people the bereaved say the nation needs a new call-up if it can properly arm them. I would say they should says Lyubov (ph) but only if they had weapons. The guys have no weapons, they have nothing to fight with believe me my child used to buy his own uniform with his own money.


And here, more ground is already being prepared. The fight for freedom and democracy will be bloody, hard, and long.

Christiana Amanpour, CNN, Lviv, Western Ukraine.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Ahead here on CNN, the end of the road for Julian Assange and his legal efforts to avoid extradition to the yes -- U.S., where his lawyer argues the WikiLeaks founder will not be safe.

Also ahead, North Korea rolls out the welcome mat for tourists, but the writing is in Russian.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

The second day of a two-day hearing will take place in London Wednesday on whether Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has the right to appeal his extradition to the United States.

CNN's Max Foster has details.


MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. has been fighting for years to have Julian Assange extradited from the U.K. to the United States. It's gone from the high court to the supreme court, right up to the British government that signed off on this extradition.

What these two days' worth of hearings are discussing is whether or not the government was right to sign off. Did it breach Julian Assange's human rights?

He argues that he's in an unfit mental state. It could take his own life if he's sent to the United States. He says he's just a journalist, and the move is politically motivated, the British government is politically motivated to sign off on this extradition warrant.

Another extraordinary allegation come from Julian Assange's lawyer, is that they have compelling evidence of a CIA plot to kidnap or assassinate the WikiLeaks founder during his time when he was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy, which is from 2012 to 2019, where he was effectively hiding from the British judicial process.

These claims haven't been verified.

If the judges think there is something in them, then they could have further hearings. If they don't think there's anything in them, then the extradition process does begin.

And Julian Assange could be sent to the U.S. in a matter of days, probably weeks. There is a chance he could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights but were not sure how that process would work at this point.

At the moment, it's just hearing about those human rights and whether or not they were breached by the British government by allowing Julian Assange to be extradited to the U.S.

Max Foster, CNN, London.


[00:35:04] VAUSE: The widow of Haiti's former president is among dozens who have been indicted in his assassination. Jovenel Moise was killed in the presidential residence in 2021, where more than two dozen armed men swarmed the compound. He was shot 12 times.

His wife, Martine Moise, was also shot, but survived. The indictment accuses the former first lady and the former Haitian prime minister of conspiring with 49 other people to replace the president.

The law firm representing the former first lady insists she is innocent and had no motive for the attack.

Earlier this month, the first group of tourists were allowed into North Korea for the first time since the pandemic shut down all borders, and the country was sealed off from the outside world.

CNN's Will Ripley spoke to some of the travelers who were from Russia about what they're allowed to see and what they weren't allowed to see.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After years of near total isolation, North Korea is rolling out the red carpet for Russian visitors.

This group of 100 believed to be the first post-pandemic tourists visiting Kim Jong-un's hermetically sealed nation, amid its deepening ties with Russia.

They flew from Vladivostok to Pyongyang on a vintage Russian plane operated by Air Koryo, North Korea's only airline. I've flown it more than a dozen times when Westerners were still allowed in.

Diplomacy with the U.S. collapsed in Hanoi in 2019, when observers say Kim made a strategic pivot, bolstering his nuclear arsenal, prioritizing ties with Moscow and Beijing, both protecting Kim from fallout at the United Nations for his unprecedented missile-testing binge.

Russia is reportedly releasing millions of dollars in frozen North Korean assets, facilitating access to international banking networks, "The New York Times" reports, setting the stage for a new chapter of Kim's nuclear ambitions, possibly with the help of Russian rocket scientists.

This Russian tour, and perhaps more to come, is about more than sightseeing. It's about the bigger picture of international relations. Russia and North Korea strengthening ties, icing out the West.

Ilya Voskresensky is a travel vlogger from St. Petersburg, a tough job these days. Many European nations ban Russian tourists, the result of Putin's war on Ukraine.

ILYA VOSKRESENSKY, TRAVEL VLOGGER (through translator): I signed up for this tour at the moment I heard about it. It's like stepping back in time, reminiscent of the stories my grandparents told me about life in the Soviet Union: the empty streets, the lack of advertisements. It's surreal.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Elena Bychkova is a marketing professional from Moscow.

ELENA BYCHKOVA, MARKETING PROFESSIONAL (through translator): The meticulous preparations for our visit felt like being in a theater production. But amidst the choreographed scenes, I couldn't shake the feeling that there's another side to North Korea, one that remains hidden.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Beneath the carefully controlled facade, encounters with North Korean children revealing curiosity, genuine interest in the outside world.

RIPLEY: Tourism is one thing, but what the United States and its allies are truly concerned about is this deepening military cooperation between North Korea and Russia.

At least 24 North Korean ballistic missiles fired on Ukraine, responsible for at least 14 deaths, according to the prosecutor general of Ukraine.

And an investigative organization out of the U.K. says that a North Korean ballistic missile launched just last month by the Russian military onto Ukraine contain hundreds of components from the U.S. and Europe, all of them made reportedly within the last three years.

Will Ripley, CNN, Taipei.


VAUSE: Well, a unique addition to Starbucks offerings in China. CNN's Marc Stewart will have a taste test of the latest latte flavor. We'll tell you what it is, and what the results are, in a moment.



VAUSE: To explain Starbucks' latest latte offering in China, here's a fun fact. This is a country which has a strategic pork reserve, much like the strategic oil reserve in the United States, but for pigs. So pigs in the bank.

So now to the braised pork latte flavor. Starbucks is hoping coffee drinkers in China will like this interesting flavor. It's marking the lunar new year, because they say eating meat means prosperity in the year ahead.

CNN's Marc Stewart is out on the streets of Beijing, doing a little taste test.


We're here to try this new pork-inspired latte, unique to Starbucks Reserve here in China. Let's go.

OK, all right, let's give this to try. All right, so let's take a closer look.

You've got coffee. You've got milk, and you've got got some barbecue style sauce on top. We don't have the garnish of the piece of pork, which you see in the promotional materials. But all right, let's give this a try.

One more. One more sip. All right.

So it pretty much tastes like a latte with a little bit of like a sweet, savory topping. I can see why people may like, and it's kind of that sweet, savory -- savory mix.

This costs about $9.50 U.S. I think for me personally, I'm going to stick to an almond latte.

Marc Stewart, CNN, Beijing.


VAUSE: Just for the record, pigs have the emotional intelligence of a six-year-old child. Drink up.

Thank you for watching. I'm John Vause, back at the top of the hour with more news. In the meantime, please stay with us. WORLD SPORT is next.