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Connect the World

WNBA Star Griner, Russian Arms Dealer Bout Freed in Swap; Whelan has been in Custody in Russia for Four Years; Harry and Meghan take aim at Media in Netflix Documentary; Blinken Responds after Griner Released in Prisoner Swap; Answer the Call to Protect the Earth; U.S. Basketball Star Brittney Griner Freed in Prisoner Swap. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 08, 2022 - 11:00   ET



LYNDA KINKADE, CNN HOST, CONNECT THE WORLD: Hello, I'm Lynda Kinkade at the CNN Center. Welcome back to "Connect the World". And we are following the

breaking news on the release of Brittney Griner from Russian custody.

U.S. President Joe Biden says the American basketball star is safe on a plane and heading home after he agreed to release convicted Russian arms

dealer Viktor Bout to Russia. The pair was swapped earlier Thursday at the airport in Abu Dhabi, in exchange secured through joint mediation involving

the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

President Biden invited Griner's wife Cherelle to the White House Thursday morning, as that swap was announced. Both spoke about Griner's release with

a mixture of relief and resolve to get other Americans home, including Paul Whelan, who remains in Russian custody.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's my job as President of the United States to make the hard calls and protect American

citizens everywhere in the world, anywhere in the world. And I'm proud that today we had made one more family whole again. So welcome home Brittney.

CHERELLE GRINER, BRITTNEY GRINER'S WIFE: Today my family is whole. But as you all are aware, there are so many other families who are not whole and

so BG is not here to say this. But I will gladly speak on her behalf and say that BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every

American home including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today.


KINKADE: We are covering all angles to the story. CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh is back with us, along with former CNN

Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty. And our regular anchor of "Connect the World" Becky Anderson has been reporting on this story as well and joins us

from Abu Dhabi. Good to have you all with us.

I want to start with you first, Becky because you are learning more about negotiations to get the release of Brittney Griner. And I understand

several countries were involved the prisoner exchange happening at the airport in Abu Dhabi.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR, CONNECT THE WORLD: That's right, let's give you what we know of the details of events today first. After Russian officials

released Brittney Griner earlier today on Thursday, she was flown by private jet to Albertine private airport in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. Viktor

Bout was also flown to that airport at some point from Washington today.

U.S. officials were on the ground as were and I quote here, "specialists from the UAE and Saudi Arabia". As we understand it, Viktor Bout's plane

departed before Brittney Griner's flight left here a couple of hours ago now, it's around about six o'clock, local time, around six o'clock local

time, as we understand it bound for the U.S.

In a joint statement and this is important in a joint statement released by the foreign ministries of both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and I quote here

"they affirm the success of the mediation efforts". And these are a reflection of the mutual and solid friendship that connects both countries

with the United States of America and the Russian Federation.

So this is a joint statement released by both the Saudis and the UAE. What I understand from my sources is that when the President of the UAE Sheikh

Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited President Putin back in October, this prisoner release was discussed at the time.

And at the time that visit was described by sources to me here in the UAE as an effort on the part of the UAE president to really try and provide

some mediation efforts across what was described as global crises and particularly the war in Ukraine at the time.

At a time when Sheikh Mohamed believed that there were not enough open channels of communication between Russia on the one part and the U.S. and

other g7 and Western nations on the other. This is a country that retains good relations with the Kremlin and with President Putin. It's been

described to me today that the conversation was had back in October about this release.


ANDERSON: And again in a conversation between President Putin and Sheikh Mohamed just this week, some 48 hours ago, again described as a mediation

effort by the UAE in partnership with Saudi Arabia.

KINKADE: Really good to get that background Becky and amazing to see the efforts it took several countries to secure the release of Brittney Griner.

Thanks to you, Becky. I want to go to Nick Paton Walsh. Because this exchange happened, Brittney Griner exchange for a Russian arms dealer known

as the merchant of death, who was convicted on terrorism charges. You have interviewed him in the past, what more can you tell us about his case and

how much longer he had on his sentence?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, I mean, seven or eight years of a 25 year sentence remaining, and that may have played into

the calculations of the Biden Administration. He'd already served the majority of his time there after a conviction in a U.S. court in New York

after a lengthy extradition battle out of Bangkok.

It was in Bangkok where I interviewed him in jail as he fought that court fight to try and keep himself out of the U.S. justice system. What he was

essentially extradited for, though quite distant to the career history that he was often accused of, the one him The Merchant of Death title so to

speak, or even the Lord of War as the fictitious film starring Nicolas Cage was called.

He's always denied being this mythological figure of arms dealing despite the UN investigations. The analyst despite the home videos I've seen of him

in conflict zones around the world, saying essentially he was a pilot and a businessman who was in these places, yes, but not dealing arms. Like

everybody said.

He was extradited, though because of an elaborate sting by U.S. DEA agents who claimed to be Colombian terrorists and got him to agree on camera to

sell them sophisticated weapons that could potentially have been used to kill Americans. That's why he ended up serving those many years in the U.S.

facility, not because of the many things he's been accused of un-denied in the 90s and early 2000s in Africa and other areas too.

But an outsize character is certainly a polyglot speaking multiple languages, even Sanskrit. He told me an e-mail exchange in the past years.

And in fact, yoga was something he found solace in, in jail in the United States, a charming man, certainly a man who can talk about his personal

relationships with multiple historical figures in geopolitics in conflict zones around the world.

None of that should detract from the victims of what he's accused of, certainly and their suffering, but an outsize character who ultimately

Moscow appeared to be willing to expend all sorts of diplomatic capital to get back to Russia.

KINKADE: Nick Paton Walsh thanks to you. If you can stand by for us in London, I want to go to MJ Lee, who is outside the White House. I'm just

getting word into us MJ that we are hearing some more reaction from Paul Whelan speaking to CNN saying he's disappointed that the Biden

Administration has made more efforts to secure his release this after certainly some celebrations at the White House earlier today with news of

Brittney Griner's release.

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes and that certainly should not be surprising that that would be his reaction. To be clear this was in an

exclusive phone call with my colleague, Jennifer Hansler over at the State Department, who has, of course, been covering this for the past few months.

You know the issue of what now happens exactly with Paul Whelan that is the big story. You know, President Biden made very clear when we heard him

speak from the White House earlier today that yes, he is very much celebrating the news of the release of Brittney Griner that the hell and

the nightmare that she and her family have been going through are now over and she should be back on U.S. soil within the next 24 hours.

He was also very emphatic in telling folks that his mind is now very much on Paul Whelan. He said, you know, we've not forgotten about Paul Whelan.

He said, we're not going to give up and trying to get him out and that they're going to keep negotiating.

But what U.S. officials have made clear in the last few hours is that in the past few weeks, the Russian side made very clear that Paul Whelan was

simply not going to be a part of this deal that they did not see that as an acceptable part of these negotiations.

And that really, at the end of the day, what they made clear over and over again, was that Brittney Griner was the only American that the U.S. was

going to get. And that for President Biden personally who of course, gave the final green light in recent days to accept this deal, that this was a

very difficult choice for him that yes, he ultimately believed that this was the right thing to do.

And frankly, that the U.S. didn't have a choice but to accept this only deal that the Russians were willing to agree to that it wasn't easy for him

to know that one man was getting left behind. So you know, so much pressure that President Biden and White House officials have faced in recent months

to get both of these Americans out.


LEE: Obviously, there is a little bit of a relief of that pressure on the Brittney Griner front now that she is about to be home. But on the Paul

Whelan front really remains an open question now what the U.S. can actually do and what they can offer Russia to try to get him out now that Viktor

Bout is off the table.

KINKADE: Yes, exactly. MJ is just reading more of Paul Whelan statement, saying that his four year anniversary of his arrest is approaching. And I

do want to bring back Nick Paton Walsh for more on this because Nick, he was on the table initially months ago when the U.S. was discussing our

prisoner exchange.

It was Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner in exchange for Viktor Bout. I'm wondering right now whether Russia has the upper hand in what just played

out, given that you've got this major arms dealer being released in exchange for someone accused of smuggling a very minor amount of cannabis


WALSH: Yes, I mean, essentially, the level of which these two individuals were held, in terms of the justice systems was totally disparate. And it

is, of course, absurd to exchange a basketball player accused of sort of the wrongdoing of carrying a tiny amount of cannabis or for a man accused

of the kind of arms dealing and crimes that Viktor Bout is.

But you have to remember the different systems they're functioning in the different weight they carried within them and how frankly, the current

issue of Ms. Griner and her family and the popular calls for her to be released and the open statements made by the Biden Administration, they

would do all they can to achieve that.

Versus yes, what the Kremlin had said openly about Bout too, but really, it does appear the pressure possibly may have been more on the Biden

Administration in a democracy, for those kinds of results.

There was nobody willing to hold the Kremlin necessarily to account if they didn't come off in their side with the Bout deal, so certainly different

circumstances there. And it's not uncommon for the Russians to at the very last minute to completely change the terms of a deal.

That's often I think, why many are reluctant to deal with them diplomatically when it comes to the conflicts they're involved in,

specifically the Ukraine war there. Now they're not always the most trustable negotiators, they would say that's possibly one of their skills

to suddenly uproot the deal at the last minute and still see it go through.

But it is interesting at this point, though, to see how valuable someone like Viktor Bout still remains and that the Kremlin were willing to get

involved in high level diplomacy with the United States who are busy arming, very successfully Ukraine with whom Russia is at a war after

Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine and those arms supplied by the U.S. are killing Russian soldiers daily.

So it was a high stakes move certainly for Moscow, but one that they possibly felt was worth doing. And you have to wonder whether or not they

were in their own way sending signals to Russia's elite its intelligence community to those who might see Viktor Bout as a figure who they

desperately needed to get back to prove to paraphrase of Russian war slogan that's often disastrously used.

They don't leave their own behind and maybe the case on the Russian battlefield in Ukraine, multiple Russian bodies left behind there. Maybe in

this one instance, they wanted to show in a high profile prisoner case like Victor Bout. But all their years of diplomacy and pleading would actually

come to something, Lynda.

KINKADE: Yes, exactly. Nick Paton Walsh, you make a good point there. I want to go back to you MJ. And what this could mean for any future

negotiations for Paul Whelan? And this is a man who is approaching his four year anniversary in a Russian prison accused of espionage case and

accusation that he has always denied.

LEE: Yes, you know, that is the big question. And we just genuinely don't know. You know, it's been so striking, both listening to the president

speak publicly earlier today. And then in private calls and details of exactly how the last couple of days and last few weeks have gone down from

senior administration officials to reporters, you know, they have been so emphatic that these negotiations were difficult and complicated and


And administration officials are now getting plenty of questions about what does this all mean for the future of trying to get Paul Whelan out of

Russia? You know, are we sending a message to the world that the U.S. is willing to make this kind of deal?

Did the U.S. sort of get the wrong end of the bargain that, you know, there were concessions made from the U.S. side, but maybe not enough from Russia

side? So those are all questions that the U.S. now has to contend with. I will say just on the public facing front, the administration for now is

trying to emphasize and make clear just how committed they are to trying to bring him home.

We were told that one senior administration official actually visited Paul Whelan sister recently to walk her through the news that Brittney Griner

would be coming home but the Paul Whelan would not.


LEE: And that just today a senior administration official spoke directly with Paul Whelan to walk him through this challenging news, obviously

challenging for him to accept. And as he told my colleague, he was disappointed to learn of this news that he would not be a part of this


So this is incredibly complicated. I think, obviously, to point out the obvious has been all the more complicated by the fact that all of this has

taken place in the context of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And really just so many questions about how President Biden might or might not engage

Vladimir Putin.

So all of these questions, again, remain at the forefront for the administration and we really just have to see what exactly the U.S. thinks

they can do now to get him out. Now that again, Viktor Bout is off the table.

KINKADE: Yes. Well, Brittney Griner a huge victory for her, her family, the women's NBA, but certainly his thoughts with Paul Whelan and his family

right now. Thanks to MJ Lee outside the White House and Nick Paton Walsh in London thanks very much. Well, we are going to take a quick break; we have

much more news in just a moment stay with us.


KINKADE: Welcome back. Now to a chilling development in Iran linked to protests that have swept across the country. Iran state media is reporting

that a man was executed on disturbing and injuring a paramilitary officer during demonstrations in Tehran.

This is the first known execution connected to the protests that first erupted in September. The members reportedly convicted of waging war

against - and hanged Thursday morning. Several other Iranians have been sentenced to death.

Norway based Iran human rights say nearly 460 people have been killed in the unrest. And Iran human rights a non-profit rights organization with

members both inside and outside the country is calling for a strong international response. The group's director telling CNN that his execution

must be met with the strongest possible terms and international reactions.

Otherwise, we will be facing daily executions of protesters who are protesting for their fundamental human rights. That statement from the

group's Director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam and that was to CNN a short time ago.

CNN's Melissa Bell is following the developments for us and joins us now from Paris. Melissa, certainly, really sad news that Iran has carried out

its first public execution of a man accused of attacking a security officer during these protests.


MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. - was arrested on September 25 Lynda and accused of having blocked a main artery in Tehran

and wounded a member of the - paramilitary group. And of course, as you say, that is he was one of those facing a death sentence.

There are 10 other people that we know of that are currently facing death sentences. But of course, as the Head of that Iran human rights group was

warning earlier, many more that are facing charges that carry death sentences. And of course, this is the fear for Iranians continuing their

approaches, but also for the outside world looking on in horror that, just as we've seen that cyclical nature of the deaths during the protests, the

three and third and seventh and 40th day to mark that protesters death leading to more deaths.

Now the fear is a fear of a cycle of judicial killings that this could be just the very beginning of so calls for strong action from the outside

world have been a series of condemnations from European governments, for instance, over the course of the day, but very little sign at the moment

that the regime is in listening mode, Lynda.

KINKADE: And Melissa despite that, despite that execution, the protest movement continues. There are still signs of dissent, including a female

student at Tehran University, who made a point of questioning the city's mayor.

BELL: That's right, yesterday was Students Day, this is an important day that marks the 1953 killing of three students by where the China's security

forces of the last shot of Iran, it tends to mark calls by university students for democratic reform in normal days.

So this year, in normal years this year was particularly high stakes, which is why a series of high profile leading officials the Head of Parliament,

the Mayor of Tehran, the President himself, were fanning out to universities to speak to the students.

And in this particular exchange, a young woman without a veil, marched up to the mayor of Tehran and really spoke to him fairly forcefully about the

demands saying you are calling us, the enemies of Iran. We are not that and you need to be listening to us.

And it's a reminder; I think of that defiance that we've seen that you've blamed us for being separatists; you told him the same people came out and

shouted from Zahedan to Tehran, I sacrifice my life for Iran. We are not separatist going on to accuse the Iranian regime of being the ones that are

not there to look after Iran and its people.

And I think it's an important message of defiance. And that is what we've seen, day after day after day for nearly three months now, Lynda.

Protesters are coming out on the streets, students speaking up for themselves, women in particularly taking off their hijabs.

Now no sign for the moment yet no further sign of any concession on that front from the government. And I think the big test will be the next few

days as we hear about this dreadful first execution the extent to which that incites people further still to go out and make their voice is heard


KINKADE: Yes, exactly the protesters and no sign of slowing down in this movement in their fight for equal rights and human rights. Melissa Bell for

us in Paris, good to have you with us as always, thanks so much.

Well, candid and controversial we turn now to the release of Harry and Megan's Tele or new series on Netflix. In the first three episodes, which

drove just a few hours ago, the Duke of Sussex compared his wife to his late mother, Princess Diana.

He also accused the royal family of "unconscious bias" during the time leading up to the couple's decision to quit the institution early in 2020.

Netflix opens a Docu series with a disclaimer saying Buckingham Palace, "declined to comment and be involved in a series", CNN Royal Correspondent

Max Foster reports.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's been billed as the firsthand account of the relationship between Harry and Megan their

families in the media, and in their own words. The first three episodes of the Netflix Docu series on the couple dropped in the early hours of this

morning, and it returned to some familiar themes.

PRINCE HARRY, DUKE OF SUSSEX: And that sort of press pack of raw correspondence is essentially just an extended PR arm of the royal family.

FOSTER (voice over): Harry comparing Meghan's experience to that of his mother Diana's. He feared she would be driven away by the media harassment.

HARRY: As far as a lot of the family was concerned, everything that she was being put through; they had been put through as well. So it was almost like

a rite of passage, and some of the members of families, right, but my wife had to go through that so why your girlfriend should be treated any

differently? Why should you get special treatment? Why should she be protected? And I said the difference here is the race element.

FOSTER (voice over): Ultimately, Harry says he had to leave the UK to protect his family.

HARRY: I accept that there will be people around the world who fundamentally disagree with what I've done and how I've done it. But I knew

that I had to do everything I could to protect my family.


HARRY: Especially after what happened to my mom and I didn't want to history to repeat it.

FOSTER (voice over): We heard from Meghan's mother for the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I remember when I first met him, too, you know, he was like, six, one handsome man with red hair, really great patters.

FOSTER (voice over): Harry says when he introduced Megan to his family; they didn't think the relationship would last.

MEGHAN, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: The actress thing was the biggest problem, funny enough. There is a big idea of what that looks like from the UK standpoint,

Hollywood and it's just very easy for them to typecast that.

FOSTER (voice over): The couples so they felt unprotected by the palace against a barrage of media attacks. The palace is yet to comment.


KINKADE: Well, Max Foster joins us now from London, good to see you, Max. Interesting seeing there's a lot of video journaling. It makes me wonder

how far back they thought they might release something like this there. From what you've seen so far, the first three episodes, any major

revelations, anything that really surprised you?

FOSTER: That wasn't the big bombshell. But there's still three episodes to come next week, this part of it seems to be you know, a part of the history

really how they got together, what their relationship is, and how they struggled with coming out publicly as a couple.

And then looking ahead a bit too how they were going to deal with it. I think their next three parts will be about how they finally realized they

couldn't handle this anymore and eventually left, and the struggles were actually leaving the system and the reaction that they got to that.

But a lot of the narrative is, you know, they fell in love. She trusted Harry to look after her and he struggled to do that there are some insights

into the family. For example, they describe how William and Kate came around for dinner when they first met. Megan was very informal. They were

very formal.

She says they were formal on the outside, but they were also formal on the inside. So there is some vague criticism there. Certainly no compliments to

any members of the royal family apart from Diana, Harry sees massive links between Diana and Megan, personally, but also in what they experienced.

KINKADE: And Max I mean, Harry sort of said the press package, just a PR arm of the royal family. I'm wondering from your sources inside the palace,

what are they saying about this?

FOSTER: Well, I mean, there is, you know, he talks about the royal rotor. And this is a system where it's a pool effectively, you can't have, you

know, hundreds of cameras 100 journalists going to every engagement, so the British media pool resources and they'll said one camera and one reporter.

What Harry was describing in the documentary is a system where the tabloids are part of the rotor apart from the telegraph, which isn't entirely true,

because you've got all the broadcasters, including the BBC in there, as well, all the photographers are in there as well.

But he suggested that there's a complicity there that, you know, if the public pays taxes to keep the royal family going, then the royal family has

a duty to expose itself to the media and effectively perform for the media. And that includes the tabloid media and the difficulties with going out

performing in front of some journalists, you might have written horrible things about you that day.

So the challenges they found in that system and how they couldn't work in that system anymore. But they were told they had to live with it. Harry was

told by men in the family that their wives had suffered in the same way. So therefore, Megan wouldn't be special and would get a special treatment.

But he kept on coming back to the fact that she should receive special treatment, because of the race issue. She's being attacked on her race,

which other members of the family weren't.

KINKADE: And just quickly, there was a disclaimer at the start of the Docu series saying that the palace didn't want to be involved, didn't want to

comment in this series. Is that the case?

FOSTER: I've no idea. Initially, we heard from some sources in the palace that there had been no approach to any of the palaces or any members of the

royal family. Then we had another source from a different palace, saying there had been a vague approach but they couldn't verify it.

So therefore they didn't respond. So not really sure what happened there. But certainly the royal family wasn't involved in this in any way. And

they're not making any public comments today.


KINKADE: All right, Max Foster staying at present for us from London. Good to see you, thank you. Well still to come the news Brittney Griner's wife

has been waiting for the basketball star on her way home after a prisoner swap was confirmed between the U.S. and Russia. We'll have full details on

our breaking news next.


KINKADE: Welcome back. I'm Lynda Kinkade. I want to return now to our breaking news. And U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner on her way home

from Russia in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. U.S. President Joe Biden is making the announcement at the White House earlier alongside

Griner's wife.

He says he's spoken to Griner and she will be back in the arms of her loved ones soon.

Well the prisoner exchange did not include Paul Whelan, an American who has been in Russian custody for almost four years. The U.S. National Security

Council's John Kirby has been talking to CNN, this hour about Griner's release and the heartache for Wilson's family. Take a listen.



Whelan home. That was always the goal to get both of them home. And we just couldn't make it work. This was the deal we could get and now was the

moment we could get it. And we just felt the choice was either get one American home or get none. And it was important to us to at least get one

home and we're able to do that.


KINKADE: John Kirby there. Our Viktor Bout is a notorious arms dealer who was serving a 25 year sentence for conspiring to kill Americans among other

charges. His U.S. lawyer says Bout is now back with his wife and daughter in Russia. Nick Paton Walsh spoke to him in 2009 and had this remarkable

report featuring Bout in his own words.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the Lord of War, according to this fictional movie starring Nicolas Cage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So are you talking about warlords and dictators they always pay their bills on time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Merchant of Death per book about his alleged life. But despite much evidence, Viktor Bout has always denied being one of the

biggest arms dealers of the 90s fueling civil wars and bolstering Moscow's interests if he's still never really wanted to be a nobody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did the Americans want you so badly?

VIKTOR 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He gave me his last interview in a Thai jail 13 years ago when he denied for worse charges against him.

BUOUT: This is a lie and just bullshit, I never supplied arms is such at all and I especially didn't have any deal with Al-Qaeda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a noisy packed visiting area as he sat behind the glass the bits I remember the most--


KINKADE: And the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is speaking now in Washington DC about the release of Brittney Griner, let's listen in.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Their resilience has been nothing short of inspiring. Let me just express my own gratitude to the State

Department team and to our colleagues across the United States government, who worked tirelessly to secure Brittney Griner's release.

I especially want to commend our Special Presidential Envoy for hostage affairs. Roger Carstens and his entire team, Rogers actually accompany

Brittney home as we speak. I also extend our thanks to our Emirati friends who assisted in Brittney's transfer today.

Securing the release of Americans who have been wrongfully detained is a top priority for me as Secretary of State. And it's something that we work

on every single day. And so while we're elated, at Brittney returning home, we continue to work relentlessly to bring Paul Whelan home as well.

Despite our efforts, the Russian government has not yet been willing to end his wrongful detention. They continue to insist on sham charges of

espionage and are treating Paul's case differently. As a result, Paul and his loved ones continue to suffer needlessly and unjustly.

This was not a choice of which American to bring home. The choice was one or none. I wholeheartedly wish that we could have brought Paul home today

on the same plane as Brittney, just as at the time, I wish we could have brought Brittney and Paul home when we secure the release of Trevor Reed

back in April. But we will stay at it.

We continue to work with the willing family who've been extraordinarily gracious. And we hold them in our thoughts and prayers always but

especially today. And we will never relent until Paul and for that matter. Every other U.S. national held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad is

free and coming home and joining their families where they belong.

Now turning to our bilateral and trilateral meetings today, it's a particular pleasure to have my friends - to be us here. Foreign Minister


KINKADE: Now that was the U.S. Secretary of State speaking about the release of American WNBA star Brittney Griner finally free and on her way

home after being held in a Russian prison. Well, I want to bring in our International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson, who's following the story

and the developments from London.

Good to see you again, Nic. Is there Antony Blinken there thanking everyone involved in the release of Brittney Griner and certainly it did take many

countries and a lot of negotiations to secure her release?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: And very interesting that Secretary of state Antony Blinken again echoing the words of President

Biden saying this was a one or none. They weren't given a choice of could they bring Paul Whelan or Brittney Griner. They were clearly told Brittney

Griner or no one and it's now. So these conditions were very prescribed by Russia.

These conversations and contacts have gone on clearly with the help of the Emirati President Mohamed bin Zayed. He met with Putin back in October,

they discussed it then apparently he had a phone call with Putin just yesterday, they discuss it again, then, of course, the UAE the venue where

this, the two prisoners, former prisoners now were exchanged.

But I think it speaks to the subtext here speaks to, if you will, the manipulative nature of the way that Russia has handled this, it has decided

who it will release, obviously, it's their purview they hold, they hold them. But the very fact that Paul Whelan has been able to speak from jail

today spoken with CNN from jail today, again, speaks to the manipulative way that Russia controls the situation and maneuvers it to its own


We can always tell why specifically, they're doing things or what advantage they're trying to create. But Paul Whelan telling CNN that he was

disappointed, obviously that he hadn't been released. How often does Paul Whelan get the opportunity and the past four years has been held to call

from jail to journalist directly.

That doesn't happen often the fact that it happens today, hours after the announced release and the release of Brittney Griner again, speaks to how

much Russia controls the situation. And President Putin will move these pieces, if you will, to the best effect for him.

And at the moment it does seem now that he's giving voice to Paul Whelan because there's potentially something else that President Putin wants from

President Biden. And that the release of Paul Whelan could would come if Putin gets what he wants. You know when you sort of examine the way that

these pieces have come together undoubtedly hard work, careful deploy careful diplomacy, quiet diplomacy in the background, but Putin has been

directing this, and it's all for a reason.


ROBERTSON: And we do know that he wants to carry good favor with President Biden because that ultimately, he wants to get peace in Ukraine, on his

terms he is losing on the battlefield. And he tries to maneuver the other international diplomatic pieces to his best advantage.

KINKADE: So if Putin wants to carry good favor with Biden, but he didn't want to go to the deal that the U.S. put on the table initially, which was

Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner exchange for Viktor Bout. In the end, it was Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer, major arms dealer in exchange for a

basketball player who was accused of smuggling a minor amount of cannabis oil.

How do you think this is playing out for Putin? Like, obviously, he seems like he had the upper hand to some extent he knew that the U.S. wanted both

Griner and Whelan back. But he wasn't willing to consider a two for one deal here.

ROBERTSON: President Biden has been under huge pressure to bring Brittney Griner home, it's been in the headlines. We've followed it every step of

the way. Many U.S. organizations have people of the United States have followed it. And it's clearly, you know, a political win for President

Biden when this happens.

President Putin has not been in this position the people of Russia; do they ever demand anything of Putin? Because they don't because it doesn't, it

doesn't do them any good. This is an autocracy. But there has been no demand on the streets of Russia or anywhere else for Viktor Bout is


So, Putin has not been under pressure for that. So, you know, in that context, I think we can judge how this plays for Putin when Viktor Bout

arrived home. How is it played on state media? How do are the sort of the principal Russian propagandists who beat the drum for the Kremlin and the

Kremlin's views?

How do they play this? Do they play it as a big victory? Do they move on very quickly? So you know we can better judge that question, I think when

he arrives back in Russia. But we do know that the Russians initially wanted a second person released a convicted Russian murderer who's sitting

in a German jail beyond the jurisdiction of the United States.

They initially wanted him released as a two-for-two deal. Obviously, he wasn't the murderer wasn't in U.S. jurisdiction, so not under President

Biden's purview to move forward on the deal on those terms.

KINKADE: Yes, you can only wonder if the U.S. is in conversations right now with Germany to try and make that happen to secure Paul Whelan's release.

Good to have you as always, Nic Robertson for us in London. Thanks so much.

Well, we are going to take a quick break. We have much more on the breaking news story of Brittney Griner's released from a Russian prison, stay with




KINKADE: Welcome back. Well, few sports have a closer link to the seethe and surfing. Three years ago the governing body for professional surfers

joined in a fight to help protect our oceans partnering with an organization dedicated to preserving and regenerating coral. Well, today on

Call to Earth, we traveled to French Polynesia home to some of the wildest waves in the world to learn more about the work happening there.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): Welcome to Tahiti, an island formed from volcanoes in the middle of the South Pacific, covered with lush mountains

and surrounded by crystalline waters. Its home to a diverse ecosystem, it's also a Surfers Paradise and the site of the World Surf leaks a lustrous out

unknown Tahiti pro. With a - polar wave considered one of the most dangerous in the world provides a steep challenge to the Sports Elite.

VAHINE FIERRO, TAHITIAN PRO SURFER: Yes, it can be so scary, but when you overcome that fear, you can get the best wave of your life out there.

JACK ROBINSON, AUSTRALIAN PRO SURFER: I think - is one of the heaviest waves in the world just because the amount of volume of water that comes


LAKEY PETERSON, AMERICA PRO SURFER: It's a very, very powerful force of nature. It's the wave it's like nothing else you've ever seen before.

STEPHANIE GILMORE, 2022 WORLD SURF LEAGUE CHAMPION: I think it should be what the eighth wonder of the world. When you get to watch the surfers, you

know their lives for these barrels. It's one of the most amazing things you could ever see in your life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): The below the crashing waves of this epic surf spot, a different kind of life is at risk.

TITOUAN BERNICOT, FOUNDER & CEO, CORAL GARDENERS: At the moment on our planet, the coral reef conditions are not good. They are here on planet

Earth since 400 million years. But in just three decades, we already lost 30 percent of our world's coral reef. And the scientists estimate that by

2050 90 percent of the remaining one could become dent. So it's an emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): To help raise awareness about the issue in 2019 World Surf League teamed up with coral gardeners and organization

led by Titouan Bernicot whose from Arabia, the sister Islands of Tahiti.

BERNICOT: The main reason why coral reefs are dying around the world is global warming. Then there is also ocean acidification, human pressures

like the run-off of the water chemicals in farming. There are many reasons why the coral reefs are stressed and the corals are bleaching and then

dying and it's happening so fast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): Titouan and his crew have dedicated their lives to saving the reef.

TITOUAN: I like to say no reef, no ocean, no air, because the core reef, they are the ocean lungs, we call them also the rainforest of the seas,

then that's what regulates the temperature of the atmosphere, the air we all breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): The centerpiece to the coral gardener's efforts is a rehabilitation and restoration program that grows and replants


KAIPO GUERREO, COMMENTATOR & ANALYST, WORLD SURF LEAGUE: We're taking basically super coral, so coral that have not succumb to bleaching and the

warming of ocean waters. Now those super coral what we can are able to do is take a piece of that coral and then graft it, put it on a line and let

that piece of coral grow. So they keep on procreating. And they keep on growing; they keep on building a bigger, bigger house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): It's a model designed to be scalable and implemented anywhere in the world. And one that now has the support of an

international collective of individuals, scientists, engineers and surfers alike who all share a singular mission of helping the oceans catch a break.

GUERREO: There's still time to save the reef it's not too late. We can change our ways we can bring back the reef and that's what you know the

good work your coral gardeners is doing. We're not too far gone. Like we can make a change right now and we can turn the corner and turn it around

so it's not too late.


KINKADE: Certainly not too late wonderful work there. Well, let us know what you're doing to answer the call with a #calltoearth. You're watching

"Connect the World", we'll be right back after a short break.



KINKADE: Well, this just into CNN the wife of a U.S. diplomat will not serve any jail time for the death of a British teenager Harry Dunn and

Sacoolas pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving. Her car hit Dunn while he was riding a motorcycle in 2019.

A London Court handed her an eight month suspended sentence, but the U.S. is refusing to extradite her. On a plane and headed home, American

basketball player Brittney Griner is on her way back to the United States after 10 months in detention in Russia.

Griner was released in a prisoner exchange for a convicted arms dealer after months of what the White House Calls difficult negotiations. CNN's

Andy Scholes is covering the reaction from the sporting world. Good to see you, Andy. Certainly a lot of people chiming in offering support for the

last nine or 10 months and certainly I'm seeing a lot of tweets out there talking about how excited they are that she's free.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Lynda you know, so many people use their platform to advocate for Brittney Griner's release. You know,

Steph Curry spoke about it during the Warriors ring ceremony on opening night out there on the court. And of course, the WNBA and all the players

have just been relentless pushing the Biden Administration to do what they could to bring her home.

Griner is of course one of the best players to ever play in the WNBA. She's an eight time All Star won a title in 2014. And fellow Star Chiney Ogwumike

said this morning on CNN that getting Griner back it's just incredible.



joyful, because our sister is finally free. This is a huge moment for everyone who has shown compassion that have shown empathy for our WNBA

sister over the last 294 days since Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained.

And this morning we woke up to a powerful visual of President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris. And Brittney Griner's wife Cherelle is announcing

the news in which Cherelle honestly has just moved me so much. He had powerful words, and she said that her family is breathing a huge sigh of

relief that her wife is coming home.

But she also mentioned something very, very important that the work is not done yet. She explained that she and he will continue to advocate helping

bring others wrongfully detained home, including Paul Whelan.


SCHOLES: Adam Silver, he is also issuing a statement this hour saying Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we're thrilled

that she is on her way home, to her family and friends. We thank the members of the WNBA and NBA community who never wavered in their efforts to

raise awareness of Brittney's unjust circumstances.

And you know Brittney played her college ball at Baylor University and their coach Nicki Collen said after nearly 10 months, we are thrilled and

relieved to hear the long awaited news of BG's return. Today is the day we've been praying for and we will continue to pray as she reunites with

her family and begins recovering from her experience.

Baylor family, she's coming home. And Lynda, I can't even imagine what that moment is going to be like when Brittney Griner touches down in the United

States and gets off that plane. It's a moment a lot of people have been waiting for.


KINKADE: Yes, especially her family her wife was saying the last few months, some of the darkest moments in their lives so wonderful. We will be

bringing that reunion and reaction throughout the day. Thanks to you, Andy Scholes and world sport.

And thanks so much to all of you for watching this edition of "Connect the World", I'm Lynda Kinkade. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook. CNN

continues after a short break, stay with us.


JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Julia Chatterley live in New York. And this is "One World". Today my family is whole, those words of

joy from the wife of WNBA Star Brittney Griner just hours after her release from Russian custody.