Return to Transcripts main page

Connect the World

Azovstal Steel Plant Evacuation Efforts Continue; Russian Soldier Pleads "Fully" Guilty in War Crimes Trial; Ukraine's Front Line Counteroffensive; Stocks under Pressure after Major Selloff Yesterday; North Korea Sends Cargo Planes to China; Food Crisis Looms as Russia Blocks Ukrainian Grain; Biden Speaks alongside NATO Hopefuls Sweden and Finland. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired May 19, 2022 - 10:00   ET




ELENI GIOKOS, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A remarkable moment in a Kyiv court, the first war crimes trial of the conflict. The 21-

year-old defendant apologizing to the victim's widow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were not trained to do this. We were not armed to do this. That was basically the most scary moment for me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We survived.

GIOKOS (voice-over): On the front lines with Ukrainians, pushing Russian soldiers right back to the border.



ANDREW BAILEY, GOVERNOR, BANK OF ENGLAND: That is a major worry and it's not just, I have to tell you, not just a major worry for this country, it's

a major way for the developing world as well. I'm sorry to be apocalyptic but that is a major concern.

GIOKOS (voice-over): Central banks around the world are warning about rising inflation and the markets are listening.


GIOKOS: Hello and welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Eleni Giokos. I'm here for Becky Anderson.


GIOKOS: Welcome to the show and, this hour, the leaders of Sweden and Finland are at the White House meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden about

their formal applications to join NATO. The moves to join the alliance, a direct result of Russia's war on Ukraine.

The three leaders are scheduled to speak from the Rose Garden later this hour and we'll bring you that live.

First, we'll go to the ground in Ukraine. The first war crimes trial of the conflict ongoing in Kyiv. That has adjourned until Friday. Earlier, a

Russian soldier spoke a day after pleading fully guilty to killing a 62- year-old man in northeastern Ukraine in the early days of the war.

In a remarkable moment today, he apologized directly to the victim's widow.


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


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Do you repent?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I acknowledge my fault. I understand that you will not be able to forgive me but I am sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One more question.

Why did you come here?

Did you come to defend us?

From whom?

Did you defend me from my husband you killed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our command gave us in order to move in as a column. I didn't know what would follow.


GIOKOS (voice-over): Meantime, Russia says 1,730 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered from the steel plant since Monday. Ukraine won't confirm that

number or say how many are still inside Azovstal. Video shows wounded Ukrainians in the hospital.

International Red Cross is now registering hundreds of soldiers who left the steel plant in accordance with the Geneva Convention. We have got

Suzanne Malveaux following the developments from Lviv in Western Ukraine.

And Melissa Bell is watching that trial in Kyiv.

Welcome to both of you.

Suzanne, I want to start with you. So many developments are happening in terms of what we are seeing; importantly the Red Cross is registering

soldiers. The numbers the Russians are giving us right now have not been confirmed by the Ukrainians. But again the fate of where soldiers will go

next really lies in the hands of the Russians.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN U.S. CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's the concern of so many families and their loved ones in the hands of Russians now in

that Russian-controlled territory.

We are hearing from Ukrainian government officials today for the first time since Monday. They've been very tightlipped on the state of play out of the

steel plant in Mariupol. But they have confirmed now that the evacuation does continue.

It started on Monday and it does continue. This official is also saying that there's been a reduction in the intensity of hostilities in that

Mariupol region. It is believed to have been at least several hundred of those Ukrainian soldiers who are still left inside.


MALVEAUX: Although Ukrainian officials, as you mentioned, are not giving specific numbers at this time. But that official was asked whether or not

they were concerned about the risks in the state in which the soldiers are in the hands of the Russian officials.

This official says, quote, "We know that our enemy is insidious but we believe that the word given by them will be fulfilled."

What is he talking about?

He's talking about the fact that first the Russians have said they will take care of the wounded, the most severely wounded, they will tend to

them. They are in a medical facility in that Russian control territory. Most of the others are at a detention facility not far from the front line,

again, in that Russian-controlled territory.

They say that they will be treated in accordance with international law in a humanitarian way but at the same time they also say that yes, they will

undergo some questioning, some interrogations, to determine whether or not their investigative committee believes that they committed some kind of

crime, war crimes specifically.

So there is a great deal of concern, as you can imagine, because of Russia's track record in terms of how they treat prisoners of war.

GIOKOS: Suzanne, I want to talk more about the general landscape, because we're seeing counteroffensives launched by the Ukrainians that are becoming

exhaustive for the Russians.

As we are starting to see ground troops start to retreat, it seems the messaging is that it's aggravating the Russians and they're launching


Can you let us know about what the targets are right now?

MALVEAUX: Well, certainly the Russians are trying to move to the West. They are intensifying the fight in the east. But the strategy also seems to

be that cross border fighting the, skirmishes on the borders in several different villages, to distract the Ukrainian military, to have them tend

to what might be seen as putting out small fires so they don't concentrate and focus on what the Russians are doing in the east, which would be to

move across and to take that territory and to move into the sea, to open up those trade routes, to shut down the transportation of grain, to shut down

the economic means of the Ukrainian people.

Those are just some of the strategies. But I should mention that a NATO official with -- a military official with intelligence says they believe

that the Ukrainian military, at this point, really does have the upper hand, that it's significantly turning in their favor.

But at the same time this is going to be a long slog. This is going to be two sides essentially stalled for a while before they can make some kind of


But what's interesting is that, despite the escalation that we have seen, the increased shelling in the south, the increased artillery, in the air

attacks as well as the aircraft attacks as well and those cross border skirmishes, the Ukrainian military say, over the last 24 hours, Russia's

military has not been able to take new territory.

That is aligned with what the NATO officials are saying.

GIOKOS: Suzanne Malveaux, thank you so much for that update. We have Melissa Bell in Kyiv, watching the war crimes trial that is currently


Melissa, hearing that apology to the victim's family is really quite a turning point, one would say. I wanted to, you were in the courtroom

according to my understanding.

What did you hear?

I know the trial has been postponed until Friday.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, we will hear the rest of it. It has been adjourned for the time being. The prosecution is calling

for a life sentence for Vadim Shysimarin.

But really what we learned today, beyond that extraordinary exchange between the widow of the man he killed -- and bear in mind he's pleaded

guilty to that charge -- is a much clearer account of the first few days of the war.

You have heard the very latest of what we're seeing on the ground in Ukraine. What we've seen in this Kyiv courtroom was a much clearer,

firsthand account, from Russian soldiers themselves, not just one but two.

All the chaos within their ranks within the first few days of the war. Let's take you back to those first few days. You'll remember in the first

few days, from February 24th, when those Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, confidently imagining that they would make it to Kyiv fairly quickly,

several of them got bogged down.


BELL: You saw those great columns unable to move. But one of those columns that got stuck, was Vadim Shysimarin's, which was heading to Kyiv from

Belgrade. We understand this from sources and verification that we've been able to carry out, through Sumy province and on its way.

It was bogged down a close to a small village. The men from that division then had to flee. Among them was Vadim Shysimarin and several other of his

men. In a car, they got to a house, saw a civilian, Vadim Shysimarin was given the order to kill him.

What emerged in court today, because it wasn't just his testimony but another soldier traveling with him, was, the chaos that was going on

around them. The fact that Vadim Shysimarin, both men said, he shot because he was given the order to shoot.

It really painted a picture of these young men who found themselves in tank columns that they had to flee and in chaotic circumstances, having to make

split-second decisions and take orders in circumstances that they themselves had trouble understanding.

GIOKOS: Yes, Melissa, a really important point there.

Taking orders from whom?

Thank you so very much for that update.

I want to take you to the front lines of the more specific Ukrainian counteroffensive around the northern city of Kharkiv. Russian forces have

been driven back there, almost to Russia itself. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is on the scene with the Ukrainian fighters.


WALSH (voice-over): Every inch of respite from Russian shelling here comes at grotesque cost. What once rained down on the second city of Kharkiv now

lands here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give the distance, OK?

WALSH: Ukraine declared here Ruska Lozova liberated over two weeks ago but it's never simple.

WALSH: These tiny villages, which before the war, were places you wouldn't notice driving through have now become the key battlegrounds to defend

vital cities like Kharkiv.

WALSH (voice-over): While the fight to protect Kharkiv still rages with every step fast and cautious because of mines. Russia's border is now just

nine miles away.

WALSH: Did you ever think Russia only three months?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (text): To be honest, no. Quiet doesn't happen here. But that's good for the mood.

WALSH (voice-over): But Russian troops are even closer.

WALSH: That's in the forest across the field over this wall that they say frequently at night Russian reconnaissance groups try and move in on the


WALSH (voice-over): The next tiny hamlet is being fought over. And this is where Kharkiv's defense cannot fail.

The U.S. is most effective gifts in some of Ukraine's youngest hands. Anton says he did not expect to be at war age 19, haven't been scared I asked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (text): Yes but not a lot.

WALSH (voice-over): Shelling here is a constant, even though everywhere seems to already have been hit.

This is a homegrown defense volunteers, software engineers, economists, funded mostly by our guide, a farming millionaire. Russia's brief

occupation never planned to leave anything of value here (INAUDIBLE) on a van full of T.V.s for looting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They see that we live better and they do not even think then that something is wrong with them, not with us. You know, they think

that because America gives us everything for free. And they hate us for that. And they rob us and they kill us.

WALSH (voice-over): Men and women who have in three months learned courage only comes after knowing fear up close.

IVAN, UKRAINIAN MILITARY MEDIC: The most scare moment was on the field of the day of the war. I was at the medical center on -- at one of the posts

in Kyiv and now coming together us and he told us that Russian special forces are going to come and try to attack us from behind. We were not

trained to do this. We were not armed to do this.


IVAN: That was basically the most scary moment for me.

WALSH: You survived.

IVAN: Yes. We survived. Everybody made OK -- made it OK and I think that is the moment that that killed fear me.

WALSH (voice-over): Scared. They hold back an enemy that's slowly proving as inept as it is immoral by placing incredible value on the smallest

patches of their land -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Ruska Lozova, Ukraine.


GIOKOS: All right. And coming up, U.S. President Joe Biden will welcome Swedish and Finnish leaders to the White House. He is backing their bid to

join NATO. But a key major member is doubling down on NATO and saying no. Details just ahead.

And as the global markets come under more pressure, we will ask if the world is facing a grim slowdown and a food crisis.




GIOKOS: Surging inflation, a potential recession and the Treasury Secretary of the world's biggest economy say the environment is quote, full

with risks. All translating into rattled investors and volatile global markets.

You're seeing more pressure today on stocks. As you can see, a pretty much sea of red. That's off of Thursday's massive selloff, the worst day for

markets since the early part of the pandemic.

High prices we know are hitting the world's big economies, like the U.S. and the U.K. Now combine that with Russia's war in Ukraine, factor in the

global food system and you have the Bank of England warning that food prices could be apocalyptic for the poorest among us. Take a listen.


BAILEY: That is a major worry and it's not just, I have to tell you, not just a major worry for this country, it's a major way for the developing

world as well. I'm sorry to be apocalyptic but that is a major concern.


GIOKOS: Matt Egan in New York, when you have a central bank governor using the word "apocalyptic," that in itself creates absolute concern about where

the future is going.

Look, inflation is going to be an issue. You've got supply chain constraints. You've got high oil prices. You've got a war creating

uncertainty. There's just so many stories playing out at the same time. I want you to give me a sense of what you guys are experiencing in the U.S.

at the moment.

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS SENIOR WRITER: Eleni, inflation is rising at really the fastest pace that anyone has seen in a very long time. A lot of

people haven't actually seen this kind of inflation in their entire lives. It is a cost of living crisis.


EGAN: Gasoline, which is something that people pay so much attention to, because they see prices when they drive by, they feel it every time they

fill up, gasoline prices are at record highs. It seems like every day, they're going further into record territory.

Electricity costs, home heating costs are up; food prices, as you've mentioned, a big one milk. Milk prices are rising at the fastest pace since

2008. This is a big concern. Obviously, families rely on milk.

There was a study out of the U.K. that talked about that milk prices could be up 50 percent in the U.K. And this is because farmers are under so much

pressure right now. They are dealing with really high costs for energy, fuel costs are up, their feed costs are going through the roof.

Fertilizer is a huge problem as well. All of this is actually being made worse by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

I talked to David Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme at the U.N. And last week, he told me that he's worried that food prices are rising so

rapidly that it's going to cause social unrest in various countries around the world.

He said that, when parents can't feed their children, then all the politics get unsettled. He made a direct comparison with what we saw more than a

decade ago, with the Arab Spring, which he pointed out was partially driven by concerns about inflation and high food prices.

Today, at the U.N., he talked about how the ports in Ukraine that are being blocked by Russians have to get reopened as soon as possible. He said, if

that doesn't happen, it amounts to a declaration of war, because it's going to push millions of people to the brink of starvation, Eleni.

GIOKOS: It's a dire prognosis, Matt. Absolutely. That is why you need to put that milk in the fridge, no wastage here. Good to see you, thank you so

very much.

EGAN: Thank, you Eleni.

GIOKOS: And over in China, officials in Shanghai have laid out a two stage reopening plan for businesses. Initially, companies will be required to

adopt a closed loop or half closed loop system. So many workers will have to sleep and live and work in isolation.

Some military athletes at the Olympics officials will then reassess in June. Shanghai's mayor says businesses have been slow to reopen because of

the city's strict COVID restrictions.

On Wednesday, the city saw 719 new cases and one death. Selina Wang is following the story from Beijing. She joins us live.

Seeing it firstly, I'm glad to see you out of Kunming, great to see you in your final destination. I know it's been a tough journey for you and this

is basically what so many people in China are experiencing as well.

But when we're seeing these open loop, close loop scenarios put down as possible policies, how are businesses responding right now?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's great to join you, finally, from Beijing out of quarantine. I was part of that closed loop system during the

Olympics. And they're now applying that to this reopening in Shanghai.

The key here is that it's going to be an exceptionally slow reopening. Officials themselves say they're only a very small percentage of companies

and factories are able to restart, because of just how hard it is to comply with these COVID restrictions.

Because employees, they've got to eat, live and sleep within the company grounds, the factory grounds. That's extremely hard for even big companies

like Tesla to pull off. So you can imagine that the situation in Shanghai is still dire for those small and medium businesses.

But this comes as Shanghai's reported less than 1,000 new daily COVID-19 cases and there are no new cases being reported outside of these quarantine

centers. So officials said they're going to do a phased reopening to return to normalcy by mid-June.

So some shops, some supermarkets, pharmacies, are starting to open. But no surprise here, that a lot of people in Shanghai are skeptical of the

government's plans, because, when in March, they announced the citywide Shanghai lockdown, authorities said it was only going to last for four


Well, now it's been nearly two months and there's still a flood of complaints on Chinese social media of people who've been saying, hey, I'm

still locked in my apartment, while state media is publishing photos of this return to normalcy in Shanghai.

In fact, I just interviewed a couple earlier today, who tell me that they've been locked in their homes for the entirety of these two months.

They haven't been able to go outside, except for COVID testing.

This is even though their building has reported zero COVID cases the entire time. So still a lot of frustration and the people who are allowed to go

out, they still face a lot of restrictions.

For example, sometimes it's just one household member who can go out and only just walk for a few streets away from their home. So not really a

reopening for the rest of Shanghai. Eleni.

GIOKOS: All right, Selina, good to see you and us always, stay safe.

Now as China appears to be getting its COVID outbreak under control, at least in some areas --


GIOKOS: -- cases in neighboring North Korea are skyrocketing. The country has recorded 2 million of what it calls fever cases. And that's just in the

last week.

Earlier, three North Korean cargo planes traveled to China and back. Now it's a significant move, as North Korea has kept its borders mostly closed

for the past two years. It comes as China has vowed to fully support its ally as it battles its first reported COVID-19 outbreak.

CNN's Will Ripley has been following the story from us from Taipei.

We have to say, when I look at these so-called fever cases, it kind of gives you a sense of the sense of urgency. This is despite the other

official numbers in terms of the official COVID-19 cases being reported.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And the difference for North Korea is the isolation of the country. Even more so these last few years during the

pandemic. And the real lack of basic medical necessities, like ventilators, like medicine, the kind of thing that's people in the United States and

other countries relied on.

They're frightened to contract this fever, this COVID-19, it's terrifying for people in North Korea. And especially for the people in North Korea, a

large percentage, who are malnourished, who are food insecure. They're not getting a nutritious diet every day. Their immune systems are compromised.

So when we think about all of that and then think about the lockdown that they are now in to try to protect the population, even though Omicron has

been known to defeat pretty much all lockdowns and other types of safeguards, there are people in their homes running out of food, if they're

not already out of it and not sure what they can do.

Scared to go outside.

How do you feed the family?

So you just think about these people and, of course, we can't be there to tell their stories, because North Korea has essentially forced out all

foreigners, because when they hermetically sealed the borders, all that the foreign embassies had was the cash that they could carry in. There's no

banking system, no wire transfers. So one by one, these embassies closed down.

And we might be getting a totally sanitized picture of what's actually happening inside North Korea. There's such little and limited intelligence.

But what we're hearing through state media continues to be very grim. The numbers shocking.

And it all started, Eleni, a lot of experts believe on April 25th, military parade, where they had tens of thousands of people gathering, no masks or

very few, just so confident because they claimed that they didn't have a single COVID case the whole pandemic.

A claim some experts really disputed. And yet just across the border in China, Omicron was raging. And at that parade, they flew people in from the

Chinese border region. It was a tremendous oversight.

And that is what some people say might have just really created this nightmare situation, this nightmare scenario for the North Korean people.

GIOKOS: Absolutely. Will, it's really good to see you, thank you so much.

All right, a big show of support. President Biden hosts the Finnish and Swedish leaders at the White House as they seek to join NATO. They're

expected to meet any moment now. As you can see, these images are live, coming through from the Rose Garden.

We'll be bringing you that commentary as it happens. Of course we also know that Turkey says that it will say no to expanding NATO. What this means

coming up. Stay with CNN.





GIOKOS: You are seeing live images coming through from the Rose Garden at the White House. We are expecting to hear from President Biden shortly. He

met with Finnish and Swedish leaders earlier today as they a make a historic move to join NATO.

They're making a formal application to join NATO. This is a really big show of force and importantly of the U.S.' support as well. It's a signal of

unity to Russia and the world.

Now President Biden, Sweden prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, and Finland's president, Sauli Niinisto, will be giving remarks any moment now.

The U.S. is backing Sweden and Finland in their bids to join NATO. This is in direct response to Russia's invasion and the war on its neighbor,


While many NATO countries have expressed support for Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, Turkey is telling its allies that it will say no.

We have Fabrice Pothier joining us now. He's the former director of policy and planning at NATO.

I have to say, I'm watching very closely what's happening at the Rose Garden, I think the leaders will speak imminently. Let's try and get a

couple questions in before we get to that conference. It's really good to see you. I want to understand how important this meeting is, Biden meeting

with the Swedish and Finnish leaders.

FABRICE POTHIER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF POLICY PLANNING, NATO: Well, obviously this is a big symbolic meeting. It's a form of full endorsement from the

U.S. (INAUDIBLE) with these Swedish and Finnish counterparts.

It says, basically, you are welcome in the family. And I think coming at a time when, as you mentioned earlier, Turkey is for the moment putting a

veto on their membership, it sends a very useful signal to not only Russia but also to some NATO members.

GIOKOS: I want to talk about Turkey and just how significant it is that President Erdogan is now saying, look, I have a list of things that I want

to address before we can even consider Turkey voting yes for membership.

POTHIER: Yes, exactly. This is not the unusual Turkish tactics for negotiating but I think beyond the general concerns about the PKK, which as

far as Ankara is concerned, is considered as a terrorist organization. So I think there's concern on that side.

There is concern on an arms embargo that would be posed by these two countries because of Turkey's actions in northeastern Syria. I think

there's also a way for everyone to signal that maybe he's worried that Turkey being fortan (ph), that (INAUDIBLE) alliances is moving now east and


And whilst Turkey is holding the southern plank. And I think it's a way for him to remind the other NATO leaders that there is also another part of

this alliance that is quite brittle and that needs commitments.

GIOKOS: I'm sure President Erdogan is watching on, as President Biden meets with these leaders.

What do you think he's going to be thinking, as the show of force comes, this backing of the United States with Finland and Sweden to join the


Is he going to be concerned in terms of where allegiance will go?

POTHIER: No, I don't think it's in term of allegiance. I think it's more those leaders meeting each other's concerns. However, (INAUDIBLE) has to

understand these countries have a fierce culture of free speech and freedom of association.

So he cannot apply the same criteria that he applies for his own political culture that he would expect Sweden and Finland to do so.


POTHIER: However, I think there are ways to engage and have a dialogue. Clearly this has already started between the various capitals. And the U.S.

is going to be key in that. There's a kind of signaling from the U.S. about what kind of maybe additional U.S. commitments to Turkey's security or to

some deference procurement (ph) will obviously happen in negotiations.

GIOKOS: It is absolutely historic what is going on now, where you have a country, Sweden, 200 years of neutrality; Finland for decades being neutral

and now a changing their stance.

There are concerns about possible retaliation by Putin. This is exactly what he was complaining about ahead of the war, saying that NATO's eastward

expansion, that was part of the provocation.

What's your response to that?

POTHIER: That's part of Vladimir Putin's twisted narrative, that he somehow does something in reaction to some action, that actually it is his

own action that (INAUDIBLE) NATO's expansion and (INAUDIBLE).

And in terms of response, I think so far it's more the usual (INAUDIBLE) type of threatening rhetoric, so some military technical measures. But the

reality is more sober.

First, he is striking in Eastern Ukraine and I'm not sure he can afford right now to have another crisis and another flaw. And so he's threatening

with nuclear weapons or using some nuclear language, about things the Russians have already known for years, which is that having nuclear capable

system second, short and medium range, (INAUDIBLE).

So there is nothing left for them to do. And I think they have already accepted their fait accompli.

GIOKOS: You are the former director of policy and planning at NATO. I think this sense of urgency to try and expedite these applications, that's

been the messaging in fact for many weeks now. But this process needs to take place.

Can you give me an idea of how quickly this can be expedited?

POTHIER: I think the technical assessment, because once there's an application to NATO, the NAC, the North Atlantic Council, has to agree on

receiving that application. Once this is done, you have some kind of technical dialogue between the NATO headquarters and the applicant


This can be done in one day. Both potential members are actually already qualified and can become members tomorrow. So the part that is a longer

part is that you have to have agreement to become a coming member registered or voted by the 30 different NATO parliaments or NATO

governments, depending on each country.

Once this is done, the status of the two new members will need to be deposited in Washington. So that full parliament ratification is what could

take the most time. But that is the thing about the meeting today.

The U.S., the United Kingdom and a few other Northern European countries have amended their security commitments to both Finland and Sweden in the

interim period. Meaning, if anything were to happen, the U.S. and United Kingdom, they will have these countries' back. So it's not a period of

(INAUDIBLE); on the contrary, it's to reassure a commitment and solidarity.

GIOKOS: Fabrice Pothier, you are going to be staying with us as we await to hear from leaders in the Rose Garden at the White House. That is

imminent. you're seeing live pictures coming through.

We're going to a short break, we'll be right back. Stay with us.





GIOKOS: You're seeing live pictures coming through from the Rose Garden at the White House. We are expecting to hear from President Biden, as well as

the Swedish and Finnish leaders. They have met with the U.S. President to discuss their latest application to join NATO.

This is a huge, historic move to expand the NATO alliance. Of course, Turkey is creating a bit of a challenge in the application. But this is a

really big show of force. We will bring you this as soon as it happens. We're waiting for the leaders to arrive.

Moving on, one of the most gutwrenching consequences of Russia's war on Ukraine is the threat of a severe food crisis across the globe. Ukraine is

one of the world's major grain producers but Russian warships have blockaded its ports and cut off vital shipments to some of the ship's most


On Wednesday, the U.N.'s top food official pleaded with Russia's leader to end the blockade, calling it a declaration of war on global food security.


DAVID BEASLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WFP: It is absolutely essential that we allow these ports to open because this is not just about Ukraine, this is

about the poorest of the poor around the world, who are on the brink of starvation as we speak. So I ask President Putin, if you have any heart at

all, please open these ports.


GIOKOS: "If you have any heart at all."

The Russian actions to weaponize food go well beyond the blockade. In agricultural areas, they currently control, the Russians, are accused of

stealing farm equipment and tons of grain from the Ukrainian farmers. We get more from CNN's Isa Soares.


ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before the war, most of the food produced by Ukraine was exported through ports like this.

Now these key trading docks have ground to a halt blockaded by Russia, who according to Ukraine's defense ministry, has also pilfered an estimated

400,000 tons of grain from Ukrainian farmers in Russian occupied territory.

Footage obtained by CNN from Zaporizhzhya shows trucks wearing the white zed symbol of the Russian military, transporting grain to Russian held

Crimea, an act that President Zelenskyy's administration is calling food terrorism.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is not just a strike at Ukraine. With our agrarian export, dozens of countries in

various regions of the world have found themselves on the brink of food deficit.

SOARES (voice-over): Through satellite images, we were able to identify the Russian merchant ship, Matros Pozynich, one of three involved in the

trade of stolen grain, seen here at the port in Sevastopol, Crimea, on April 29.

From there, the vessel, carrying an estimated 27,000 tons of grain, according to maritime tracking site, FleetMon, traveled through the

Bosphorus to Alexandria in Egypt but was denied port.

Then it went on to Beirut in Lebanon but was also turned away. Finally, on May 8, it reached Latakia, the principal port in Syria, according to

shipping sources and Ukrainian officials.

OLEG NIVIEVSKYI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, KYIV INSTITUTE OF ECONOMICS: So in this situation, the countries in the Middle East and in EMV and in northern

Africa, they will be -- they don't have choice, OK.

And they will import wheat from anywhere, from where it's possible. So I think that this is really state-supported theft. It's not Ukrainian assets

but Ukrainian grain.


SOARES: For Russia, stealing wheat and other grains during the war could prove lucrative. The price of wheat has skyrocketed so far this year, more

than 60 percent or so, spiking after the war started on February 24.

And how much of a valuable commodity is it while the price of wheat is now trading about $400 a ton on the world market?

SOARES (voice-over): As supplies run low and as prices continue to rise, there are fears the war was pushing the world to the brink of a food


With the German foreign minister calling Russia's actions, a deliberate war of grains.


GIOKOS: All right, we're interrupting that story. We are now taking you live to the Rose Garden, where we're seeing President Biden, as well as the

Finnish and Swedish leaders, about to address the audience.

Importantly, to talk about their application to join NATO. This is a historic move by the two countries. Sweden has been neutral for 200 years;

Finland since World War II. This is a big move.

Both have said this is a provocation of Russia's war in Ukraine that has forced their hand. Both of them are saying this is based on rational fear.

And by their meeting President Biden, this is a show of force by the U.S., backing these two countries to join the alliance. Here is President Joe


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please, please be seated. Thank you.

It's not only a beautiful day, this is, in my view and the view of my team, a momentous day. It's a very, very good day.

Today, I am proud to welcome and offer the strong support of the United States for the applications of two great democracies and two close, highly

capable partners to join the strongest, most powerful defensive alliance in the history of the world.

Two proud, independent countries exercising their sovereign right all states possess to decide their own security.

President Niinisto, you are -- and Prime Minister Andersson, you're -- it's a great honor to have both of you here at the White House as Finland and

Sweden begin the process of joining NATO.

It was out of the wreckage of World War Two that NATO was formed. And in the seven decades that followed, NATO has proved itself an indispensable

alliance committed to a Europe whole, free and at peace.

But in recent years, doubts began to arise. Was NATO still relevant?

Was it still effective?

Is it still needed in the 21st century world?

Today, there is no question: NATO is relevant, it is effective and it is more needed now than ever.

The indispensable alliance of decades past is still the indispensable alliance for the world we face today and, I would argue, tomorrow as well.

And the decision of Sweden and Finland, the one they have made, is testament to that commitment.

This is about the future. It's about a revived NATO that has the tools and resources, the clarity and conviction to defend our shared values and lead

the world.

Sweden and Finland are already among our closest partners on a range of issues, from strengthening peace and stability to advancing human rights,

to taking on the climate crisis and addressing food insecurity, from strengthening the global health to promoting development.

Finnish and Swedish troops -- Finnish and Swedish troops have already served shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. and NATO forces in Kosovo, in

Afghanistan and in Iraq.

And both Finland and Sweden are already working in coordination with the United States and our other allies and partners to support the brave people

of Ukraine as they defend their freedom against Russia's invasion.

Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries and strong and transparent economies and a strong moral sense of what is


They meet every NATO requirement and then some. And having two new NATO members in the High North will enhance the security of our alliance and

deepen our security cooperation across the board.


BIDEN: Today, the President, the Prime Minister and I had a very good discussion about NATO accession, about the war in Ukraine and strengthening

transatlantic security. But our conversations began well before today.

President Niinisto and I spoke last December and again in January in the weeks leading up to Russia's unjust and unprovoked assault on Ukraine.

In March, the President came to the White House -- came to the White House to see me, to discuss this brutal conflict and the rupture it's causing in


While we were in the Oval Office together, we picked up the phone and we called the Prime Minister. And the three of us all spoke -- and we spoke

again last week when I invited them to come to the White House today.

We have consulted closely at every stage as Sweden and Finland made their determinations.

And today, I'm proud to assure them that they have the full, total, complete backing of the United States of America.

Today, my administration is submitting to the United States Congress reports on NATO accession for both countries so the Senate can efficiently

and quickly move on advising and consenting to the treaty.

I greatly appreciate Senator Schumer and McConnell's support, as well as Senator Menendez and Risch, to move this through the Senate as quickly as

possible once the perspective of all allies are addressed and NATO adopts the accession protocols.

The bottom line is simple, quite straightforward: Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger, not just because of their capacity but because they're

strong, strong democracies. And a strong, united NATO is the foundation of America's security.

By joining NATO, allies make a sacred commitment to one another that an attack on one is an attack against all. It's Article 5 of the Washington

Treaty and the core building block of our alliance.

And the only time in history Article 5 has been invoked was after 9/11, when the United States was attacked and all our allies rallied to our side.

The United States will never forget that. And we will never fail in our pledge to defend every single inch of NATO territory. I welcome Sweden and

Finland choosing that responsibility as well. This is going to benefit all of our people.

And today, the President, Prime Minister and I committed that we're going to work together to remain vigilant against the threats to our shared

security and to deter and confront any aggression while Finland and Sweden are in this accession process.

"There's nothing going to be missed," as my mother would say, "between the cup and lip." We're in, once it is moving forward. I really mean it. I

really mean it.

So let me be clear: New members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation. It never has been. NATO's purpose is to defend against

aggression. That's its purpose: to defend. And let make -- let me make - - let no one make a mistake the meaning of this historic day.

In the face of aggression, NATO has not grown weaker or more divided; it has grown stronger, more united.

With Finland and Sweden's decision to request membership in NATO, it'll be enhanced for all time.

Standing together today, we reject the bloody creed that "might makes right," and we declare a more -- a more powerful creed, "All for one and

one for all," because what makes NATO strong isn't just our enormous military capacity but our commitment to each other, to its values.

NATO is an alliance of choice, not coercion. This is a victory for democracy in action.

Finland and Sweden are seeking to join NATO because their citizens demanded it and their elected leaders heard them. That's how it works when leaders

derive their power from the consent of the government -- from consent of the governed.

And that's why NATO's open door has always been so important.


BIDEN: It allows nations to choose for themselves to ask to be part of a group of nations that value freedom, democracy and human dignity above all


Countries must demonstrate that they meet NATO's high standards for military interoperability, economic transparency and democratic


That's what Sweden and Finland have done. And so today, it's an affirmation of those countries in Europe that share our values that we're

willing and able to do what it takes to be part of the alliance. NATO's door remains open.

In just a few minutes, I'll be leaving to spend time with two of our Indo- Pacific allies. In a half hour or so, I'll be flying to the Republic of Korea and Japan.

I thank -- I thank the President and the Prime Minister for traveling here on this -- for this meeting before I take off because it is so important.

America's alliances in Europe and in Asia keep us -- and, I would argue, the world -- strong and secure. They're how we confront the challenges of

our time and deliver for our people today and harness opportunities for a better tomorrow.

And I look forward soon calling Sweden and Finland our friends, partners and NATO allies.

I want to thank you both for being here and I'm going to invite each of you to say a few words. And we'll start -- Mr. President, the podium is yours.

SAULI NIINISTO, PRESIDENT OF FINLAND: Mr. President, thank you so very much.

BIDEN: Thank you.

NIINISTO: Thank you.

Mr. President, it is with great pleasure and honor to be standing here today with you, together with the Swedish Prime Minister, Magdalena


We are here for a very good reason. Together, we are taking a historic step by seeking to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Finland has made its decision after a rapid but a very thorough process. The process has once again revealed the strength of Finnish democracy.

Starting from the strong public support, the decision was made with an overwhelming parliamentary majority. And it also enjoys huge, strong

popular support.

I want to thank you, Mr. President, for your steadfast support throughout this process.

In early March, I visited White House and you encouraged us to go further. That was of vital importance to our process.

Your statement yesterday and our trilateral meeting today are a testimony of enduring commitment the United States has made to European and

transatlantic security.

I want to assure that Finland will become a strong NATO ally. We take our security very seriously. The Finnish armed forces are one of the strongest

in Europe. We have also consistently invested in developing our capabilities.

The Finns' willingness to defend their country is one of the highest in the whole world.

We are ready to contribute to the security of the whole alliance, making the commitment to mutual security guarantees that being a NATO ally


Now that we have taken this first decisive step, it is time for NATO allies to weigh in. We hope for strong support from all allies and for a swift

ratification of our membership once it's agreed.

I believe that the United States can set a crucially important example to others.

The Turkish leadership has recently expressed concerns about our membership application. I want to address these concerns today.