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U.S. Basketball Star Brittney Griner Testifies in Russia; U.S. offers Russian "Merchant of Death" for Griner, Whelan; Politicians Unable to form a Government for a Record 290 Days; Turkey: Removed Obstacles for Ukrainian, Russian Grain Exports; Liberian Animal Center helps Rescued Pangolins; Arakji: Politicians Should Focus on Fixing the Country. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired July 28, 2022 - 11:00   ET




BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST, CONNECT THE WORLD: This hour in a stunning move, the U.S. seems ready to swap the convicted prisoner known as the merchant

of death, for two Americans detained in Russia.

More on the potential deal and why it matters say risky move a lopsided deal. A win, win all being used today to describe the high proposed high

profile prisoner swap the United States is offering to Russia.

The U.S. ready to free convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout is in here on the right of your screen in exchange for Americans. Paul Whelan and WNBA

star Brittney Griner, Bout nicknamed the merchant of death by his accusers.

Here, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced what he called a substantial proposal on Wednesday. He says he expects to talk about it this

week with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Well, the U.S. awaiting a response from Moscow as we understand it that offer made in June. All we've heard today from the Kremlin is that there is

no agreement so far.

One reason maybe the main reason Moscow is delaying a response is that Griner is currently standing trial and drug charges. News of the prisoners

swap first reported on CNN surface just hours after Griner took to the stand for the first time she denied accusations of drug smuggling.

Kylie Atwood has more on this proposed swap and the Biden Administration's decision to go public.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is the man nicknamed the merchant of death convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout

currently serving a 25 year sentence in the United States.

THOMAS HARRINGTON, OPERATIONS CHIEF, U.S. DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMIN: When arrested he oversaw operations capable of delivering enough weapons to

launch rebellions, fuel revolutions and slaughter untold thousands of people. He was an accessory to violence on a scale that is beyond


ATWOOD (voice over): And now according to sources briefed on the matter, the Biden Administration has offered to return him as part of a proposed

deal for two Americans the United States as are wrongfully detained in Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying they've offered a deal to Russia but not confirming the details.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate the release. Our governments have

communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal.

ATWOOD (voice over): Though the administration has been loath to engage in prisoner swaps to free American citizens concerned that countries like

Russia could be incentivized to try and hold more Americans.

It's one of the few tools that actually work. And now Sources say President Biden supports the swap, especially after the last war between the United

States and Russia earlier this year, received bipartisan support.

Bout is a former Soviet military officer who has been accused of using front companies to funnel Soviet era weapons into conflict zones like

Afghanistan, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, even working with US government contractors in Iraq.

PREET BHARARA, PROSECUTED VIKTOR BOUT: He's a dangerous person. He was one of the most prolific arms dealers in the world. He was convicted in the

U.S. federal court in New York of Conspiracy to kill Americans.

ATWOOD (voice over): A far cry from Bout's global arms smuggling operation, Griner has pleaded guilty to bringing less than a gram of cannabis into


BRITTNEY GRINER, WNBA PAYER: I did not plan or have the intent to bring any cannabis or banned substance to Russia. I do you understand what my charges

are against me. And with them being accidentally in my bags, I take responsibility.

ATWOOD (voice over): Griner says she had medical cannabis to treat her pain from numerous sports injuries, and then she accidentally took it with her

while she was rushing to pack up for the trip having recently recovered from COVID. In a Russian courtroom today, she described her harrowing

arrest at the Moscow airport.

GRINER: My rights were never read to me. No one explained any of it to me. I definitely knew I was being detained. And I kept asking if I could leave

or what's next, we'll just wait, wait for results.

ATWOOD (voice over): But with Russia's invasion of Ukraine still raging and U.S. sanctions still pressuring Russia's economy, U.S. officials believe

the Kremlin is using Griner as a political pawn.

The family of Marc Fogel, who was similarly detained for bringing cannabis into Russia that he said, was for treating chronic pain beliefs he is also

being used as a pawn. Last month he was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian penal colony, though the State Department has not declared Fogel to be

wrongfully detained.


ANNE FOGEL, SISTER OF AMERICAN DETAINED IN RUSSIA: He made a terrible mistake by taking medical marijuana into Russia. But 14 years and a hard

labor camp is essentially a death sentence for him. He's 61 years old, and he has a very long history of spinal injury.


ATWOOD: Now, there are questions today about why the Biden Administration is publicly saying that they have put a substantial offer on the table for

the Russians when typically these negotiations are kept very closely held with very few details being described publicly.

And National Security Council's John Kirby said that that decision wasn't made lightly. And it was made in the context of these ongoing efforts to

bring home both Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.

And there's also questions about why Secretary of State Tony Blinken is affording a phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia could be

viewed as a win for the Russians.

And he said he thinks it's there's utility in conveying clear messages to the Russians on top priorities for the United States Kylie Atwood, CNN, the

State Department.

ANDERSON: Let's get you White House reporting. Natasha Bertrand is connecting us from Washington. The U.S. it seems frustrated that there has

been no response to this offer to date, at least any further detail at this point?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Not really, Becky. We're learning that they thought the Russians really would jump at this

opportunity to get Viktor Bout back because they have been asking for many years to get Viktor Bout back into Russian custody.

This alleged international arms trafficker he was convicted in 2012. And he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. And of course, a far cry from the kind

of charges that Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan are facing in Russia, of course, Brittney Griner is accused of bringing a very small amount of

cannabis into Russia, which she says she did not do intentionally.

And Paul Whelan is accused of spying, which he of course, denies outright, and that the United States says is a politically motivated charge. So this

is obviously a very asymmetrical proposal that the United States has put forward.

And they believed that Russia would be very eager to take part in this prisoner exchange. But what they are learning is that the Russians really

have not responded in any substantive way.

And they are very frustrated by that lack of response because they feel that this is a very good deal for the Russians. And of course, they're kind

of swallowing this as a way to get the Americans home.

They do not feel at this point that there is any kind of other way that they could get Griner and Whelan back into the United States without

offering Russia this very, very large chip.

So they're hoping that a conversation between the Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in the coming days

could move the needle somewhat. He will be speaking to Lavrov about this prisoner exchange, among other things, hoping to change the Russians mind.

ANDERSON: Natasha Bertrand is on the story. Thank you. Well, this proposal then comes three months after American Trevor Reed was freed in a Cold War-

style prisoner - been held in Russia for more than two years.

And we told CNN he things Griner and Whelan have a really good chance of being released, have a listen.


TREVOR REED, U.S. CITIZEN RELEASED IN RUSSIAN PRISONER SWAP: I think that they're probably overjoyed that the United States has taken this step and

that President Biden in the White House have gone and gone ahead and put this offer on the table.

I think that's something that the White House should continue to do, not just for Paul and Brittney, but for, you know, all Americans who are

wrongfully detained. So there's over 65 Americans, at least who are wrongfully detained, and I hope that the administration continues to do


You know, I'm cautiously optimistic. I think that it's in there, in their interests and in the United States interest to get this done. So I am

optimistic that they are going to agree on that.


ANDERSON: Well, it is important to remember that Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner aren't the only Americans being held abroad. We've covered the

plight of dual nationals being held in Iran, for example, countless times on this show.

British U.S. Iranian citizen Morad Tahbaz has recently been released from an Iranian jail.

But there are still many others like Siamak and Baca, Namazi stopped there, separated from their families. And we will continue to cover this story as

it develops and we'll have more from the Middle East a little later in the show.

So back to this latest proposal then, just who is Viktor Bout, the prisoner; the U.S. is willing to trade for Griner and Whelan.

A little bit of detail for you as a former Soviet military officer and Russian businessman who's starting in the 1990s was accused of assembling a

fleet of cargo planes to traffic military grade weapons to conflict zones around the world.

He was accused of fueling bloody conflicts from Liberia to Sierra Leone to Afghanistan, earning the nickname merchant of death by his accusers.

In 2002, CNN's then Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty met with Bout in Moscow and asked about the allegations. Here's an excerpt of that




JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Viktor Bout is a wanted man subject of an international arrest warrant, the charge arms smuggling

around the world. That's a lie, he tells me, he's an honest businessman.

VIKTOR BOUT: I'm not afraid I don't need anything in my life, or what I should be afraid. And this whole story looks me like a witch hunt. Look,

I'm coming to your office. I have no problem. And I said, hey, who's looking for me, I'm here. I'm not hiding from nobody. I am having my normal

life. And I don't want this story going on.


ANDERSON: In 2008 Bout was arrested in a sting operation led by U.S. Drug Enforcement agents in Thailand who are posing as the Revolutionary Armed

Forces of Colombia known by the acronym FARC.

An extradition case lasted more than two years, but it was eventually extradited and taken to New York, where he was put on trial on charges of

supplying weapons to the FARC and intending to kill U.S. citizens.


BHARARA: In a series of recorded meetings and telephone calls, in South America, in Europe, and in Asia, Bout and his associate allegedly made

clear that they were ready, willing and able to provide a substantial arsenal to the FARC for use against the United States.

According to unseal documents, here is just some of the deadly arsenal that Viktor Bout allegedly offered up. More than 700 surfaces to air missiles

5000 AK 47 assault rifles, anti-personnel landmines, see for explosives and literally millions of rounds of ammunition.


ANDERSON: Well, Bout maintained that he was innocent; he was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in jail. My colleague Nick Paton Walsh

interviewed Viktor Bout. Back in 2009, it was Bout's first prison interview. And last one to date. And Nick joins me now. What's he


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Difficult to say this about someone who's obviously been accused of fueling some of the worst

conflicts, the 90s, but quite charming when he wants to be smart guy clearly knows the world back to front.

And he's sort of caught in this dance between wanting to say I've never done anything wrong. My hands are clean, but also not really wanting to be

a nobody. So he'll tell you that, you know, he was good friends with a Congolese dictator. And that guy would never do anything wrong himself.

But he was in and out of Afghanistan speaks multiple languages more and more now. It seems, the longer he's been in prison using that time to brush

up on Sanskrit, he told me once.

So the man is clearly gifted and has been of enormous use to the Russian government. I mean, it's a huge overlap often that the places where he's

shoveling weapons alive with Moscow's GOP interests.

And the interview he gave me he did, in fact, admits that at one point he had flown planes for the Russian government. Here's a snippet thought of

that jail interview.


WALSH (voice over): He's been called the world's biggest arms dealer, the merchant of death. But for two and a half years, Viktor Bout has sweated in

a Bangkok jail, protesting his innocence at claims he's armed the world's nastiest warlords and fighting an American request to extradite him to face

trial in New York.

We spoke to the former Russian soldier today, just before he heard the court's final verdict, that he will be extradited to America.

WALSH (on camera): What are the last two and a half years be like for you?

What the Americans want you so badly?

BOUT: Go and ask them, go and ask the Bush administration, the Obama administration, go and ask Mrs. Clinton why they need me. I don't know I

have no clue.


WALSH: So I mean, I think he does know, to be honest, why they want him. And you know if you are clearly talking to somebody who has seen a lot of

the world that some of his worst times, but the actual kind of concrete 100 percent evidence has often been not as abundant as his critics would like.

ANDERSON: Natasha describing him as a huge bargaining chip for Washington at this point. To put it mildly, is one of our colleagues suggested in his

meanwhile, in America newsletter today, this would be a stunning development, should this swap actually happen? Do you believe that the

Kremlin will buy this?

WALSH: It's weird, frankly, they haven't done so yet. Because there's been a lot of noise often, I think, from his lawyers from his wife, hoping for

some kind of swap. I messaged the wife earlier today.

She said she didn't have any extra information, but obviously they were hopeful. This might go ahead, that issue has already been why this man is

so important to Russia. Because alleged crimes of arms dealing in the eyes of the West are pretty well exposed.


WALSH: Everyone's you know, published that left, right and center. And they've been always theories that perhaps he'd been close to a Kremlin

insider in his past, and maybe this elaborate sting operation the Americans went through the nailing was not just about his past, but about possibly

some kind of influence over that information.

But still, this time in prison, he remains, it seems, as far as we know, not someone who's turned state's evidence against the Russians here and so

why hasn't it happened yet, maybe possibly. There's been a failure of communication.

I doubt that maybe also to the Russians are seeing the Americans so fast to offer this "big fish up". Maybe they want to get something more out of this


ANDERSON: Does it transform the way that governments around the world will perceive the taking of hostages and how the White House might respond going


WALSH: And there's no right answer to this. I mean, you either fundamentally have to let these Americans languish in jail for a long

period of time and swallow all the bad press that will give you.

And the consequences on their health that will bring there's no obvious way out for Whelan and Griner at this point, without some kind of deal, you

might say, particularly given how the justice system works in Russia.

99 percent conviction rate, it's just kind of crazy. And so they do, and theory has to do something. But as you open the gate to this notion of

hostage diplomacy, it's a kind of Pandora's Box that people have been reticent to go near in the past.

So either way, frankly, you're going to get a kicking. Is Viktor Bout getting out of prison a few years early from where he's serving and sort of

medium security as far as I can tell a huge blow for America?

Probably not, they've made their point they got him. They brought him over. They extradited him, they convicted him. It's clear there's a long arm of

American justice. But yes, is this the first of many, we'll have to wait and see.

ANDERSON: Nick Paton Walsh on the story for us. Thank you, sir. Well, Russia making its presence felt around Ukraine's capital later attack the

Kyiv region for the first time in weeks, we'll have a live update from the ground for you just ahead. And Iraq's nine month political crisis spiraling

into the streets, I'll talk with a veteran journalist in the region about what is driving, what you are seeing in screens here and if there is any

end in sight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ANDERSON: Astonishing sight in Baghdad, hundreds of protesters breaking into rocks highly secured Green Zone on Wednesday, even breaching the empty

parliament building.

Followers of the powerful Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr were furious at the nomination of one of his rivals to be the next prime minister.


ANDERSON: Al-Sadr later ask these protesters to disperse saying, they've gotten their message across. Iraq has been without a government remembers

since last October's elections outside his block resigning on mass from Parliament last month after trying and failing to form a government without

Iran backed groups.

I want to dig deeper into Iraq's political crisis now with Mina Al-Oraibi. She's the Editor in Chief of The National daily English Newspaper, English

language newspaper based in Abu Dhabi, but with bureaus around the world.

You've probably forgotten more about Iraq than most people ever know. I want to read out what Muqtada al-Sadr said in response to the protests

Mina, "revolution of reform and rejection of injustice and corruption".

Your message has been received; you have terrified the corrupt pray and return home safely. What do you make of that?

MINA AL-ORAIBI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE NATIONAL: Well, Becky, there were a number of messages being delivered last night, as parliament was being

stormed. The first was looked at us other telling rivals telling people inside of Iraq and outside of Iraq that he can move the street when he

wishes to.

Secondly, there was another message, which was there are legitimate grievances. Some of the chants that were being chanted inside of parliament

were anti Iranian calling on Iran to leave the country, but also calling against corruption.

There were also some chants against America. So there is a sense of grievance against foreign interference. The other message also was that

this is a broken political system. This is not the first time we see Parliament being stormed.

There were similar scenes a few years ago, again, when there was deadlock. Now, as you said, there hasn't been a government. There's a caretaker

government at the moment, led by Muqtada --.There hasn't been a government since elections last October. And part of it is that every time Muqtada al-

Sadr came close to wanting to put a government together, Parliament would fail to bring in enough MPs to actually have quorum to get the political

process going.

So all the MPs were absent, you had regular young men largely storming the parliament building.

ANDERSON: Iraqis have for so long been frustrated, or many have anyway been, for so long, frustrated by Iran's influence in the country. Are these

protests, evidence Mina, that its influence is here to stay.

AL-ORAIBI: The protests are a sign of the gridlock in the country, but also the fact that there is a true tug of war inside of the country. There are

those who reject Iranian influence.

Muqtada al-Sadr is trying to be that nationalistic leader that people will coalesce around. And he does have popularity, in part because of that,

because he said, we don't want Iran to control whatever government is there.

Of course, Nouri Al-Maliki the previous Prime Minister is the one that's trying to pull together a government. And he is very closely tied to Iran,

and wants to impose his way of ruling the country, which we saw, of course, in 2010, a similar move happened where we had elections, and Ayad Allawi

got one extra seat in Parliament, he should have been able to form government.

And yet Nouri al-Maliki was able to manipulate the courts and form the government himself with large support from Iran. And the fear is that Iran

is going to try to do this, again, was of course support and backing of its proxies inside of Iraq, and the political parties that are aligned with

that. That's the real fear inside Iraq.

ANDERSON: Yes, which begs the question, what can we expect to happen next? What's the future at this point?

AL-ORAIBI: Well, question marks remain about the future. Immediately there was supposed to be a parliamentary session on Saturday. We've seen a lot of

noise on social media from Muqtada al-Sadr's backers and spokespeople saying that Saturday is not the right time for another parliamentary


And perhaps the message from Muqtada - parliament is that if there is an attempt to hold a parliamentary session, there could be a storming of

Parliament. So you have continued gridlock.

Some people say you could continue with the current President Barham Salih and the current Prime Minister Muqtada al-Sadr until you hold elections

again. But nothing will really change.

The problem is the political system is dysfunctional and then the last round of elections, just about 40 percent of voters turned up to the ballot

boxes. And I expect even less with turn off this time.

Because what's the point of having elections if it doesn't reflect and forming a government of those that got the majority of seats, or at least

the highest number of seats to form a block, so it's really hard to see what goes forward.

What would be hoped is that the coalition framework being led by Nouri al- Maliki and his allies don't try to force a government that could then lead to violence being sparked on the streets.

ANDERSON: Before I let you go, I do just want to ask you about what are the stalled JCPOA Iran talks?


ANDERSON: Josep Borrell, the EU Representative for Foreign Affairs penned a piece in the FT recently about the status of that agreement, the JCPOA. And

I want to just read out an excerpt from it, "Every day with no agreement in Vienna postpones concrete economic benefits to the Iranian people through

substantial U.S. sanctions lifting, as well as the benefits of Non Proliferation for the world, concluding an agreement now will deliver

significant economic and financial dividends as well as strengthen regional and global security, rejecting and assures a loss on both accounts, who

knows, for how long.

Now, we know that Doha has recently been mediating talks between the Europeans and the Iranians still no direct talks, of course, between the

U.S. and Iranians. What do you think the Iranians are thinking at this point? What, how do they see it? Do they see it the way that Josep Borrell

has laid out?

AL-ORAIBI: Well, it seems the Iranians thought that the Americans were so desperate for a deal that they could really up the ante in negotiations,

and that they could be quite demanding.

Part of their demand was, for example, removing the listing of the revolutionary core from the terrorist designation. So he started to add

things that really had nothing to do with the nuclear deal part of the negotiations.

And the Americans said, no, we draw a line here. And so I think the Iranians worked themselves into a corner where the demands became quite

high thinking that Americans would do anything because it was an electoral pledge from Josep Biden, and Joe Biden was such a big thing for the


So we're at a point now where neither side really can backtrack more than this. And that was the point of Josep Borrell's append and the fact that he

went public. He said we know what the parameters are. And frankly, the parameters have been known from the beginning is to go back to what the

JCPOA said.

However, the Iranians have gone quite far in that even the IAEA has criticized them and said, you know, they've removed the cameras, we don't

really have oversight anymore.

And they're moving very quickly to try to impose realities in their nuclear program that might make it difficult to get to the levels that the JCPOA

could expect. So I think that the Iranians are thinking they upped the ante as much as they can, and continue to work on by time.

And that has always been a concern for people who have been critical of the negotiations, saying you can't lead these negotiations to go on forever,

because that means the Iranians by time and they continue to develop their program.

ANDERSON: Will stay on that story. It's always a pleasure to have you Mina, thank you very much indeed out of Abu Dhabi, Mina Al-Oraibi for you today.

And a reminder to check out our Middle East newsletter, we bring you the biggest stories and trends in the Middle East and Gulf region and what it

means for all of us around the world.

You can sign up at newsletter. Right, you're watching "Connect the World". I'm Becky Anderson, coming up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lebanon will never die. Well, there are always people that will fight for Lebanon.


ANDERSON: Lebanon's national basketball team and its hero coach providing a bright spot for the country, that's coming up. Plus a highly anticipated

phone call with plenty on the table to discuss U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping speak for the first time since March has ties

between the countries hit the lowest point in decades.



ANDERSON: Russia attacked the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. For the first time in weeks overnight, the local Police chief says a military facility was

targeted and 15 people were wounded.

This is Ukraine's military says Russian forces have inched towards the eastern city of Bakhmut on one front, while getting repelled by Ukrainians

elsewhere. Meantime, we are keeping watch on the Black Sea where ships loaded with grain and could start moving soon.

CNN's Nic Robertson is in the port city of Odesa. What are you learning about the implementation of what is this crucial deal to get grain moving

from Ukraine to the parts of the world that need it most, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes Becky, we're learning a lot about a lot of what we're learning is not a lot of use to

anyone, because what we're hearing here is that plans keep changing all those involved in trying to figure out how many ships will be in the

convoys? Will it be one long convoy?

Will it be three ships in each convoy? Will it be five ships in each convoy? Will the ships pass along the safe passage, you know, in a convoy

of five and will five international ships then come in to replace them?

All of this is up in the air. And at the moment, there are really no concrete answers. So I think the notion that Ukraine was going to be able

to begin to get some ships with grain moving out of harbor as early as tomorrow this week, which was the hope at the beginning of the week, a week

ago when the deal was signed in Istanbul.

That seems less than certain I'm not saying it's not happening, but there just really isn't clarity on it at the moment. And I think if it was going

to happen, we would have a better eye a better sense of it at the moment.

What is clear is that the grain on board the ships import here is from last year's harvest. But getting that out is only the start of the problem. We

went to a farm today to see how they're getting on with all of this uncertainty.


ROBERTSON (voice over): Grain fresh from harvest, floods into the farm storage. What happens to it next, the question on everyone's minds. 250

people work here. Their jobs depend on the success of the new UN brokered grain deal.

We have a lot of grain here. We want to ship everything quickly, this grain trucker tells me, but we are stuck because the ports are closed. It's bad.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Any other year this is exactly what the farmer would want grain coming in more profits for him and his workers. This year all of

that, its lost money with store number five.

Farmer - owns the farm shows me his rapidly filling grain stores. He tells me until empty ships arrive, grain prices will stay low. He'll be forced to

cut staff and rain production for next year.

And this is the problem for the farmer the silo here, it's dark, but it's absolutely full. And he still doesn't have a buyer for all this grain.

Shota Khajishvili usually buys grain from Boris tells me for the UN deal to work, the outgoing ships already full with last year's harvest must be

replaced by more ships to bring out this year's harvest.

SHOTA KHAJISHVILI, CO-OWNER, RISOIL PORT TERMINAL: So far we don't see any ships coming our way to replace those expecting to leave. Because our

partners cannot find ships that want to come to Odesa. At Boris's farm, more grain trucks are on their way, each loaded with grain that in a normal

year would already have a buyer, even a slot aboard a cargo ship.


ROBERTSON (voice over): If the grain deal doesn't hold this truck driver tells me he doesn't know what he'll do. He hopes there'll be work. Boris

whereas if he plants less crops next year, that will be less food for Africans and all the others who he says he wants to help.

At this farm and far beyond are so much rides on getting this year's harvest to the world.


ROBERTSON: And the assessment here is the reason there isn't a sort of a lineup of international shipping ready to come into Odesa is because

international shipping companies and insurance don't really feel that it's safe enough.

Last night, there was a fire in Odesa port it started in the middle of the night in a wood store. There's been no apparent reason for it. Firemen put

it out after about 45 minutes.

Then of course, you had the Russian missile strike on the port on Saturday. And all of this sort of feeds into that sort of lack of confidence that

it's going to be OK for more ships to come in here Becky and that's a real problem.

ANDERSON: Yes, fascinating. Nic, thank you, Nic is on the story there in Odesa. Well, meantime on the ground block by block battle by battle, you

can read in depth online about the counter offensive as towns in southern Ukraine go from Russian control back into Ukraine's and find out why

certainly in some parts of the country, the tide is turning.

Now on your CNN app and for millennia, Sudan is produced some of the world's most sought after gold. But one country under sanctions by the

U.S. and other Western nations may have a troubling grip on the critical natural resource. CNN's --and her team investigate Russia's involvement in

Sudan's gold production and how it could be helping support Russia's war in Ukraine, take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): Deep in Sudan's Gold Country. Mine is toil in the searing heat, barely surviving in what should be one of

Africa's richest countries, providing gold for a war a continent away.

We investigate a force more powerful than Sudan's government controlling its gold, subverting Sudan's destiny, threatening me and our sources and

forcing democracy to evade sanctions in Russia's war on Ukraine. Russian managers on his way they say. We uncover the extent of Russia's grip on



ANDERSON: And that's - full report starting Friday 3 p.m. London 6 p.m. Abu Dhabi time only here on CNN. Well moments ago, U.S. President Joe Biden and

his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping wrapped up a high stakes phone call that as we understand it lasted more than two hours.

It's the first time the two leaders have spoken since March as tensions between the countries have hit their lowest point in decades. Now looming

over that conversation is a potential visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Beijing has warned about severe consequences if Pelosi

travels to the self-ruling island that China claims as its own territory.

We're covering the call from both continents. Arlette Saenz is at the White House. Selina Wang has the latest from Beijing. Let's start in Beijing.

What do we understand from Beijing's perspective was discussed in that tool, call them up with a key take outs?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, we're still waiting for the official readout. All we've got is this recent reporting from state media

saying that the two had "in depth communications" and that they discussed issues of mutual concern.

Now it's expected that Xi Jinping really hammered home Beijing's opposition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's potential trip to Taiwan, even though Biden

does not actually have the authority to prevent her from going.

Beijing is not going to relent on that point. Publicly, they've already threatened powerful and resolute action if Pelosi ends up traveling there.

Now, it's important though that Beijing has not made any elaboration on what that powerful action may actually be.

They've kept it very sparse on details, kept it too vague language. And that is why this call is so important, because this is a dangerous moment.

And this gives both sides an opportunity to lower the temperatures to provide more clarity on what the red lines are here.

There is a risk and there is a fear that Xi Jinping could make a rash move that could include some sort of military force, because Xi Jinping cannot

look weak at this particularly sensitive political time.


WANG: We are just a few months away from a key political meeting when Xi Jinping is expected to seek an unprecedented third term in power. Now,

also, what's dangerous here is that both sides are driven somewhat by domestic politics.

Neither side can appear weak here. Xi Jinping may also find this trip humiliating, and so needs to show that strength at home. Now, on the flip

side, Becky, I've spoken to many experts, including here in Beijing who say, look, all of this language from Beijing, this is just rhetoric that

China does not want military conflict, it is not ready to risk that.

And if and when Beijing does make a move on Taiwan, they would take action on their own timeline on their own terms, not on someone else's. And Becky,

it's impossible to overstate just how critical Taiwan is to the Communist Party and to its legitimacy.

They are strongly opposed to anything that they see as making formal the U.S. Taiwan relationship or giving legitimacy to Taiwan as an independent

country. Beijing sees this Pelosi visit as doing both of that the potential visit.

So the critical question is what Beijing can do that shows force at home and abroad, while also not leading to an escalating conflict, Becky.

ANDERSON: Understood, and Arlette let me bring you in at this point. What do we understand the White House to have wanted to take into this

conversation and what were they likely wanting to take out?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House has said that this is about maintaining an open dialogue with China, one of America's

greatest competitors. But U.S. officials also acknowledge that there would be major points of tension that would likely arise during this phone call.

We know that so far that the call lasted for two hours and 17 minutes; we are still awaiting the full White House readout. But as Selina summarized

there, it is, Taiwan is expected to be a major point of discussion during this call.

While the call had been planned for several weeks and the planning into it had been taking place for some time. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's possible

trip to Taiwan has really become a very real flashpoint.

Officials had also said that they would likely be talking about Russia's war in Ukraine, as well as the economic competition between the U.S. and

China. But over just last week, President Biden said that the U.S. military did not think it was a good idea for Pelosi to be traveling to Taiwan at

this time.

And we know that behind the scenes, U.S. officials have been working to try to convince Speaker Pelosi of the risks of a possible trip. Defense

Secretary Lloyd Austin is being one of those people who spoken to Pelosi, he said about the security assessment of the region.

But right now the White House is trying to maintain this type of open dialogue with China, especially as you have that incredibly politically

sensitive situation regarding Taiwan.

You know, we've heard President Biden in the past come out and say that the U.S. is prepared to help Taiwan defend them against any possible action by


But then you have administration officials once again, reiterating that they are committed to that one China policy. So all of this is expected to

be on the table during this call between the two leaders is we're still awaiting to hear exactly from the White House about the exact topics that

were discussed and how it went.

ANDERSON: No, it lasted just shy of two hours and 20 minutes, so enough time for a substantive conversation, thank you both. Coming up, why this

animal caregiver in Liberia who's taking pangolins for a war that coming up after this.



ANDERSON: Well, they are sometimes called the scaly anteater pangolins hunted for their meat and scales. And it's estimated that more than a

million have been trafficked over the past decade putting the entire species under threat. Well today in the latest of our series "Call to

Earth", these are creatures given a lifeline in Liberia where an animal rescue center is rehabilitating and releasing them back into the wild, have

a look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): Wildlife caregiver Mercy Doe is taking two young pangolins for a walk into the forest. She's helping them learn

how to find food in the wild.

MERCY DOE, ANIMAL CAREGIVER, LIBASSA WILDLIFE SANCTUARY: I bring the pangolin for a walk because for them, we cannot get their food from the

market and put it into the fridge for them to eat. For them they have to hunt for their own self.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): Found in Africa, in Asia, pangolins are the most trafficked mammals on earth with all eight species at risk of

extinction. These two were orphaned by the illegal wildlife trade and rescued while still babies.

DOE: So when I bring them, I have to look for branches to break them open all the branches and we'll see the termites in them, we put them down and

they'll be able to eat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): Mercy works for Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary in De Bono town Liberia, a haven were rescued and orphaned

animals are given a second chance. In 2016, the Liberian government introduced a groundbreaking law banning hunting, trading and eating

protected species like the Pangolin.

A year later Libassa opened its doors providing care for animals in need. But in a country where bush meat is traditionally consumed, keeping

wildlife safe can be a challenge. According to the sanctuary director in the past four years, they have taken in almost 600 animals from pangolins

and - monkeys to birds of prey and dwarf crocodiles. And caregivers like Juty Deh Jr. are crucial to their survival.

JUTY DEH JR., MONKEY MANAGER, LIBASSA WILDLIFE SANCTUARY: Some of them we confiscate at a very young age, and we have to bottle feed them because

they still need milk. Since I've started working with Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, I feel like animal is part of me. So whenever I see someone

hurting animal, I feel like they're personally hurting me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): Liberia is home to three of the world's eight pangolin species. And although commercial trade of them has been

banned internationally, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that over a million pangolins have been trafficked in the past decade.

While their meat is considered a delicacy, it's their scales used in traditional medicine in China and Vietnam that really drive the demand.

DEH: Pangolins are harmless, they cannot harm anybody. They don't have natural enemies, except with humans, so if they get afraid, they roll into

a ball, and no other animal can bite through the scales.

But also that make it easy for we the human to just pick it up and do whatever we want to do with it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): Juty has personally cared for every pangolin that has arrived at Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, which by his count

is over 70. The goal is to rehabilitate and ultimately release as many rescued animals as possible, back to the forests where they belong.

DEH: I'm very happy and also proud I can say, after caring for an animal for sometimes one year and then putting it back in a while you actually

feel proud because you're already like saving another wild animal for sometimes one year, and then putting it back in a while you actually feel

proud - you're already like saving another wild animal?



ANDERSON: Let us know what you are doing to "Answer the call" with the #calltoearth. You're watching CNN. We'll be right back after this short



ANDERSON: Regular viewers of this show "Connect the World" will know that Lebanon is in the middle of devastating economic collapse. Huge swathes of

the population have been forced below the poverty line living with widespread shortages of food, water and medicine.

Well, this week the people of Lebanon got a brief moment of respite. So before we go, we wanted to share that glimmer of hope for the country with



ANDERSON (voice over): Lebanon's National Basketball Team fought its way to the finals of the International Basketball Federation Asia Cup this week.

WAEL ARAKJI, CAPTAIN, LEBANESE NATIONAL BASKETBALL TEAM: We feel so happy after writing history for our country. You know, I've said it so many times

we come from a broken country, so we just want to make our people happy. Seeing all these Lebanese fans, supporting us watching all these videos on

social media, watching the kids jumping from their seats their parents enjoying the games together - enjoying the games with their family is such

an honor to all of us.

ANDERSON (voice over): FIBA Asia Cup takes place every four years, consisting of teams across Asia and Oceania. And to make it to the finals

Lebanon knocked out China for the first time ever in the tournament.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Better player the FIBA Asia Cup that Wael Arakji right now.

ANDERSON (voice over): Wael Arakji the Lebanon's Cedars Team Captain star point guard winning the MVP Award at the tournament.

ARAKJI: It's a dream ever since I was a kid, to be called MVP of Asia to participate with the national team most importantly, watching all these -

voting for me supporting me backing me up after every game is as a blessing.

ANDERSON (voice over): Arakji and his team's triumph provide a glimmer of hope in otherwise desperate times. Lebanon's economy has been in a tailspin

since 2019. The World Bank has called it a deliberate depression orchestrated by the country's ruling elite.

So when the country's Prime Minister Najib Mikati, offered his congratulations to the team. Arakji quickly shot him down.

Tell him we don't need his congratulations. And we're trying to clean the - tea and his fellow politicians put us in. So if he can keep his mouth shut,

it'll be better. He wrote in a Facebook message to the Prime Minister.

ARAKJI: We don't need you guys to ride the wave and we're happy. We can be happy without you. So stay away. There are a lot of things you guys should

take care about - other than just congratulating us and congratulating over a basketball game.

ANDERSON (voice over): In the end, Lebanon lost the championship by just two points against Australia but for a struggling country going up against

powerhouses across two continents the team's streak to the final is a point of national pride.


ARAKJI: Being able to reach second in Asia right now shows that Lebanon will never die. There are always people that will fight for Lebanon fight

for the Lebanese flag no matter what happens. So we want it to be the hope for these people to tell these people that do not give up.


ANDERSON: Yes, that is an inspirational story, isn't it? And if you are a regular viewer of this show "Connect the World" with me Becky Anderson,

you'll know how extensive our coverage is of Lebanon and how dedicated we are to staying on top of the crisis that particularly by pressing the

country's leaders for accountability?

And believe me, we will continue to do so a short, wonderful moment though for the people of Lebanon, what an absolute result by that basketball team?

Thank you for joining us, that was "Connect the World" this Thursday from London. I'm Becky Anderson. It is a very good evening for the team working

with me here and around the world. CNN of course continues after this short break.