Return to Transcripts main page

Connect the World

China Sets Goal of "Around 5 Percent" Economic Growth in 2023; Netanyahu: Killer of Israeli Settler Brothers Killed in Raid; Thousands Homeless after Fire at Refugee Camp in Bangladesh; Arrests made in Iran Schoolgirl Poisonings; Chairman: UAE Defense Contractor has not Invested in China or Russia; New Shinx Statue Discovered in Egypt. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired March 07, 2023 - 11:00   ET



BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST, CONNECT THE WORLD: China's new foreign minister says that the United States needs to hit the brakes, or else the two

countries are headed for conflict. This hour we bring you the view from Washington and Beijing. Up first, though, a local governor in Mexico says

two or four kidnapped Americans have been found dead.

All the victims have been located. The divide between Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu and Wagner Mercenary Boss Yevgeny Prigozhin sharpens

amid the fierce battle for Bakhmut, some 4000 civilians remain in that besieged town. Iran begins making arrests in relation to schoolchildren

being poisoned. There have been thousands of suspected cases since November.

And the opposition comes together in Turkey to name its challenger against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The elections there are set for May, the

14th. Right, you're with the second hour of "Connect the World", welcome back today. The National People's Congress, the new Chinese foreign

minister came out swinging.


QIN GANG, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER: If the United States does not hit the break, but continue to speed down the wrong path. No amount of guardrails

can prevent the railing and there will surely be conflict and confrontation.


ANDERSON: Well, that was Qin Gang speaking earlier, these sharp warnings, the latest sign of how low relations have sunk between the United States

and China. So tonight, we ask how close we are to all out conflict between the world's two largest superpowers. Marc Stewart back with us this hour.

And he's in Tokyo on assignment. And Kylie Atwood is that the U.S. State Department. Marc, let's start with you the key issues. What are they that

the foreign minister was speaking about?

MARC STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the foreign minister really has been touching about a lot of issues. First of all, he mentioned even the recent

balloon shoot down in the United States. He talked about the U.S. involvement with Taiwan and its support for Taiwan. He also accused the

U.S. of trying to orchestrate a NATO style alliance in Asia and made suggestions that Asia could be the backdrop of a conflict very similar to

that of Ukraine.

Certainly, a long list of grievances, if you will, but not necessarily unexpected - at one point was the China's diplomat to the United Nations

and to the U.S And has basically made this shift from someone who has been careful and thoughtful to taking on more aggressive tones like that of

Beijing, strong wording very stringent wording and a very tense tone.

He is trying to establish himself as now a key player, very Beijing centric. And at the same time, as you mentioned, we have the National

People's Congress beginning with Xi Jinping beginning a new term.

So, they too also want to have a very strong tone. Look, there is certainly tension in this area. We have seen militaries across the region really beef

up, including Japan where I am now. But for the moment, the war of words seems to be the dominant weapon, at least at this point, Becky.

ANDERSON: Fine, let you go. It's a war of words. And we've been hearing one side of that this very loudly from the U.S. who are bent on putting into

place stronger economic measures against Beijing. We are seeing that return by Beijing at this point. What did they put on the table?

STEWART: Well, it's interesting because as you know, the Chinese economy has really been suffering, especially because of zero COVID locked out. The

testing, the quarantines, all had a big financial toll, especially on local governments. So, in a way, Beijing needs help from the West, including

United States.

However, in just the last few hours, we heard Xi Jinping may comment saying that the West and the U.S. have really held back China's growth and

development. And has made overtures to heads of Chinese companies to be side by side, step by step with the Chinese Communist government. But at

the end of the day, China does need help from the outside and that's the United States and the West.


ANDERSON: Fascinating. All right, Marc, standby. Kiley, any response at this point from the U.S.'s side?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, not yet. We're still waiting. State Department has a briefing later today. But I do think that

the context is important here. Obviously, these comments made during the National People's Congress, as Marc was saying there. And so therefore, you

have a foreign minister who's new to the job, who is likely, you know, making comments that make him seem, you know, a really tough incoming

leader in this role.

And U.S. officials will have to just wait and see what that looks like in terms of his actual engagements with U.S. officials. It's worth noting that

he and the Secretary of State were both in India, for the foreign minister's meetings of the G20, just you know, in recent weeks, and they

didn't have a meeting.

Now, obviously, the Secretary of State did have a meeting with the other top diplomat, Wang Yi of China, just a few weeks ago. But that was a

contentious meeting, because that was around the time, of course that Chinese spy balloon it was after the U.S. shot that down, which is

obviously created a lot of tension between the two countries.

And then of course, accelerating those tensions are the warnings from the Biden Administration that China's considering lethal assistance to Russia,

to be used in the war in Ukraine. So, we've got a number of issues that are really challenging the two countries relationship right now.

And it looks a lot different than it did at the outlook at the beginning of this year, when, you know, it looks like U.S. officials and Beijing

officials were potentially going to try and kind of engage with one another. Well, now, that has been halted.

And I asked yesterday, the State Department spokesperson, if there was, you know, any plans for the Secretary of State to go ahead with his rescheduled

trip to Beijing that was cancelled because of that balloon. And they really had no good answer.

There's clearly not a date on the calendar for that trip right now. And one thing that Ned Price said was that the United States wishes that they had

more and, in some ways, deeper lines of communication with the Chinese right now.

ANDERSON: That's interesting. Let's just hear some more from what the new foreign minister had to say. This is on Sino-Russian relations.


GANG: When Russia and China work together, there is an impetus for the multi polarization of the world and the democratization of international

relations. Global strategic balance and stability will be more guaranteed. The more turbulent the world is, the more Sino-Russian relations must move

steadily forward.


ANDERSON: And Kylie, you alluded to the allegations, the frustration that Beijing has with these allegations from the U.S. about that there's no

evidence for this as of yet. But the sense that China may be getting set to send lethal weapons to Russia. How is the U.S. preparing for the potential

further alignment of two of its strongest adversaries at this point?

ATWOOD: Yes, it's a great question. And really what we've seen them try and do is get other countries on the side of the United States in opposition to

this possible move by China. We've seen the Secretary of State talked to a lot of European allies to make sure that they too, would oppose that lethal


We've actually heard, you know, in recent weeks from some of those European leaders, mirroring what the Biden Administration, German Chancellor Scholz

saying just last week, that they have warned the Chinese against going ahead with this a lethal assistance to Ukraine.

So, while the Biden Administration has repeatedly said that they don't think that we are entering a period that would, you know, mirror a new Cold

War, because the U.S. and Chinese economies are so integrated, which was not the case with the U.S. and, and Russia during the Cold War.

It is a moment where it seems that there is a bipolarization happening, which is just the result of you know, many forces at play. But the Ukraine

war appears to be accelerating, that bipolar nature of you know, U.S. and China competition.

ANDERSON: Thank you. Kylie Atwood is at the State Department for you. Well, the four Americans who were kidnapped at gunpoint in Mexico on Friday have

been located. The state's government says two of them are dead.

Two were found alive although one is said to be very badly injured. Family members say Latavia Washington McGee and three friends from South Carolina

were headed to Mexico. So, she could have a medical procedure. Let's bring in CNN's Josh Campbell who is following the investigation.


The video that we are looking at, Josh, is that of the abduction, as I understand it, lay out what we understand to have happened here.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And as we play that video, we'll warn our viewers this is graphic. This shows people

at gunpoint being loaded into the back of a pickup truck on Friday. Now U.S. official familiar with this investigation tells me they believe this

was the aftermath of that initial kidnapping.

And again, you see a woman there who is violently shoved into the back of the pickup, there are also people around that vehicle who don't appear to

be moving, who are then loaded up put in the back of the truck. Now CNN has not been able to confirm that those are the Americans that you were seeing.

But an official says that this was the aftermath of that incident.

But as you mentioned, the breaking news now we're learning and this actually tracks with what a source was telling me about their outlook on

the law enforcement side. They knew that this was a very grim situation after this violent attack. The news now that all four have been recovered;

however, two of them are deceased, two of those American citizens.

I'm told by a source that this recovery occurred at some type of medical clinic in metamorphose, which was just over the U.S. border. Of course, we

know this group of Americans had traveled from the U.S. state of South Carolina to Texas and then into Mexico in order to receive some type of

medical procedure.

Of course, it's not uncommon, for example, for Americans and Canadians to travel into Mexico seeking low-cost prescription drugs, lower price medical

services, were told that that is why this group of Americans went there. However, immediately after crossing into Mexico on Friday, they were met by

gunfire, a group opened fire on their vehicle.

The source tells me that officials believe that this cartel, the Gulf Cartel in Mexico mistook this group of Americans for Haitian drug

smugglers. So, these Americans simply in the wrong place at the wrong time as this battle between two violent factions were supposedly supposed to

occur there. And again, sadly, those Americans were taken captive, and now two of them have been announced as deceased.

Now we're waiting to see what happens. Next up, you know, finally, I'll tell you having worked kidnapping investigations of law enforcement and a

previous career, the FBI has been engaged in this case from the beginning. But now we expect FBI agents to actually go there to the scene into Mexico

working with our Mexican counterparts, in order to try to ensure the well- being of these two Americans that are still alive. Again, I'm told that one of them is severely wounded.

And then they'll try to interview them to gather as much information as they can. Because we know now that the recovery has happened, Becky. The

FBI continues to work with the Mexican authorities and hopes to try to eventually find and locate the cartel members responsible for now what

appears to be the murder of two Americans.

ANDERSON: Josh Campbell on the story, and we continue to dig for more detail. Thank you. Well, some news just into CNN, at least six Palestinians

has been killed in an Israeli military raid into the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. This is according to the Palestinian Ministry of

Health. I want to bring in Journalist Elliott Gotkine live from Tel Aviv. What are the sources telling us about what is going on in Jenin?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Becky, about 20 minutes ago, I spoke with an IDF official who gave me the Israeli side of what's been going on today,

there are actually two raids. We've been used to say that these are rare daytime raids, but they seem to be getting increasingly common. One was in

Nablus, where two people in the IDF words connected to the killing of two Israeli brothers in the Palestinian village of Huwara.

Just the other week they were arrested in Nablus. But the main action seems to be once again, in Jenin where these deaths occurred. The security forces

Israeli security forces were there to apprehend the man they believe that they say was responsible for killing these two Israeli brothers, these two

Israeli settlers, that they surrounded the house where this Palestinian man was, and that when he didn't come out, they fired shoulder fired rockets

into the house.

And he we believe is among those Palestinians killed. Now, unlike in previous daytime raids, we understand there are actually at least two

Israeli soldiers who have been injured one of them with potentially life- threatening injuries. And in a statement just put out a few minutes ago by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he wished them a speedy recovery.

He also hailed the operation, saying that today Israeli security forces killed in his words, the abominable terrorist who murdered in cold blood,

two lovely brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv. And then he added that whoever hurts us his blood is on his head, effectively saying that anyone who takes

out or kill Israelis will eventually be caught by the Israeli security forces one way or another, Becky.


ANDERSON: And it's Gotkine on the story working his sources and getting perspective from there, thank you. Well, still ahead hopes for a new

political era in Turkey as the opposition readies its candidate for this year's election plus schoolgirls getting sick by the thousands. It's been a

mystery in Iran for months now. And today, we might be just a little closer to getting some answers.


ANDERSON: With a crucial general election just weeks away now, Turkey's opposition is hoping that it has found the right man to take on President

Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kemal Kilicdaroglu is the leader of the center left Republican People's Party. And he's been nominated by an alliance of six

opposition parties to run in the elections in May.

Well, our next guest says glitter or glue is everything Erdogan is not. Gonul Tol is the author of Erdogan's war, a strong man's struggle at home

and in Syria. She is also Founding Director of the Middle East Institute's Turkish Studies Program; she joins us now from Washington. What do you make

of this appointment and what do we know about this man?

GONUL TOL, FOUNDING DIRECTOR, TURKEY PROGRAM, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: As you said Becky Kemal Kilicdaroglu is everything President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

is not. Erdogan is a right-wing populist's firebrand who has dismantled the country's institutions to establish his one-man rule. He has little regard

for expertise or liberal democratic values. Kilicdaroglu, on the other hand, is someone who is not as charismatic but he wants to rebuild the

country's institutions.

He wants to diffuse power and rule with consultations and compromise. He is an honest man, he has made a career out of fighting against corruption,

whereas President Erdogan presides over a state deeply entrenched in corruption. And I think that's why Kilicdaroglu is the right man for the


ANDERSON: I don't think it will be difficult for our viewers to work out that you're no fan of President Erdogan who is wildly popular among his

base. Let's be quite clear. So, does the now leader of the sort of unified opposition have a chance of defeating President Erdogan? And if so, what

would that mean for Turkish politics for Turkish people and for the economy?

TOL: You're right; this will be a tight election and although the country faces a lot of problems, including economic crisis, institutional meltdown

and the large over 4 million Syrian refugees which have caused a nationalist backlash.


But despite all those things Erdogan still has a strong following. So, this will be a tight race. Erdogan his long been viewed as invincible by both by

his supporters and opponents. But I think the political context after the earthquake is ripe for an opposition victory.

The earthquake that hit the country a month ago, expose the country's deep- rooted problems, but also the vulnerability of Erdogan's one-man rule, so it has compounded Erdogan's rules. And I think a divided opposition was

Erdogan's best bet to win the upcoming vote. But as things stand today, I think that problem seems to have resolved itself and your position blog

stands a good chance of winning the upcoming elections.

ANDERSON: Well, that remains to be seen at present, we've got these weeks now between now and May the 14th. This is an early an election that is

scheduled earlier than it needs to be in some talk about whether it would actually be held mid-May after the catastrophic earthquake and the state of


We understand it, certainly from President Erdogan side that this is now an election that we should expect to happen on May the 13th, on May the 14th.

Earlier this week, the Alliance met and accepted their proposal that the popular Mayors of Istanbul and Ankara would later be appointed as vice

president, should the opposition win this election. Does their inclusion broaden the support of the opposition at this point, do you believe?

TOL: It certainly does. And there was one of the key members of the opposition bloc last week threatened to pull out of the opposition alliance

over disagreements over the joint candidate. The opposition bloc has been pushing for Kilicdaroglu's candidacy.

And the e-party which threatened to pull out said that he was not popular enough and instead proposed fielding the popular mayors from Istanbul and

Ankara as vice presidents. So now the issue has been settled. They have reached on an agreement.

Those mayors are now the vice, who will be considered as vice presidents after the elections and they are very popular. They are more popular than

Kilicdaroglu. But I think the three of them, according to the polls, the three most popular leaders, if they run as a team; this will certainly

broaden the appeal of the opposition coalition.

ANDERSON: Interesting. Your analysis and insight from your perspective certainly is very valuable. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. We

got a lot more on Turkeys' election inside out. "Meanwhile, in the Middle East" Newsletter, you can get that by going to and signing up.

One thing that will surely be a big factor in those elections, that massive earthquake that killed tens of thousands that has left millions homeless,

and that by all accounts now could cost up to $100 billion in damage and reconstruction. Our editor's analysis of that is at

newsletters. Sign out folks; it's a really good read.

Let's get you up to speed on some of the other stories that are on our radar right now. And workers across France are making good on their promise

to paralyze the country today. Hundreds of thousands of people in more than 200 cities are striking. They are protesting a plan to rise France's

retirement age, pensions rose in parts of Paris, with police stepping in.

Afghan women have been protesting a ban on female education this video shows women, students gathered outside Kabul University as their male

counterparts returned to classes. CNN can't independently verify when this was filmed. The UN says the Taliban restriction may amount to "A crime

against humanity".

Japan's Space Agency says it aborted the launch of its new rocket 15 minutes after lift-off. State broadcaster NHK reports the second engine had

failed to ignite. And scientists sent a self-destruct signal to the H3 rocket when they determined there was no possibility of achieving the


The UN Secretary General has tweeted that he is heartbroken after a fire ripped through a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. Some 12,000 people

are now homeless; many of them were already struggling to survive after fleeing their homes in Myanmar. CNN's Christina Macfarlane reports.


CHRISTINA MACFARLANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A massive fire ripped through a refugee camp in Bangladesh as residents flee escaping if lucky

with any belongings. Local firefighters and volunteers use what little they have to try and put it out. One mother says she couldn't save anything.


KULSUMA KHATUN, ROHINGYA WOMAN: Chickens, houses and clothes have been burned. I couldn't take anything out of the house. I just took shelter to

save my children.

MACFARLANE (voice over): Another man said he was saved by crossing barbed wire fences. After two hours the fire is brought under control. Through the

smoke, a man wipes his tears. This is Cox's Bazar, home to around a million Rohingya Muslims, most of whom fled neighboring Myanmar during the brutal

military crackdown, which the United Nations has called genocide, a claim which Myanmar denies.

It's one of the world's largest refugee camps where people live in overcrowded and squalid conditions. Now some 12,000 people are left

homeless and crucial facilities like health centers and water facilities have been destroyed. Many were already struggling to survive after the UN

slashed food aid from $12 to $10 per person this month due to a massive funding gap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earlier our rations were not enough. Now they have been reduced further.

MACFARLANE (voice over): To make matters worse, the area is exceptionally vulnerable to climate change.

REGINA DE LA PORTILLA, COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, UNHCR BANGLADESH: They're living in an area that is very prone to natural disasters exacerbated by

the climate crisis. So, what we are seeing is a very dry season with a way hot weather that can lead to fires.

MACFARLANE (voice over): It was just two years ago that at least 15 refugees died and more than 10,000 families were displaced in another fire

at the camp. Aid agencies say they're working to provide food and temporary shelter to those who lost their homes as authorities evaluate the damage

and continue to investigate the cause of the fire, the fire yet another blow to community already so devastated Christina Macfarlane, CNN.


ANDERSON: Well next up, trading barbs and trading blows, while the Head of the Wagner group is hurling new insults at Russia's defense minister that

is after.


ANDERSON: Your headline is up. Two of the four Americans who were killed sorry kidnapped in Mexico on Friday have died. And Mexican state government

says two others survived and are getting medical attention. A U.S. official familiar with the investigation says that one of the survivors is severely

injured. Relative say the group of fourth friends from South Carolina drove to Mexico for a "Medical procedure".


Well, China's Foreign Minister has warned the United States that it will face conflict and confrontation if it does not, "Hit the brakes and changes

its views of his country". At a news conference in Beijing, the foreign minister also warned that the U.S. should not provoke a Ukraine style

prices in Asia.

Well, U.S. Secretary of State of defense Lloyd Austin made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Tuesday. Austin is the highest-ranking member of the Biden

Administration to visit Baghdad. He met with the Iraqi prime minister and pledged that U.S. troops are ready and willing to help Iraq fight



LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: These forces are operating in a non- combat, advice, assist and enable role to support the Iraqi led fight against terrorism. This is a critical mission. And we're proud to support

our Iraqi partners. But we must be able to operate safely and securely to continue this vital work.


ANDERSON: Well, in Iran thousands of school children mostly girls have fallen sick in a wave of suspected poisonings. It's been a mystery so far,

but now we may - just may be closer to some answers. Authorities say a number of people have been arrested. CNN's Nana Bashir is following

developments for us. She is tonight out of Istanbul for you. What do we know, Nada?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, Becky over the last few days, we've seen that the spate of suspected poisoning amongst mainly schoolgirls has

increased and that has really drawn major concern across Iran. Now, of course, we are learning from the Iranian interior ministry are cited by

state media that a number of people have been arrested, and identified in connection with this spate of suspected poisons.

Although at this stage are unclear how many people exactly were arrested and what exact role they played in these suspected poisonings. And look on

Monday, we heard from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He said this was simply an unforgivable act and so that those who were involved

would face severe punishment.

But also on Monday, we heard from the investigative fact-finding committee which has been set up by the Iranian regime in order to look into an

investigate this spate of suspected poisons. And they say that they are looking into some 5000 cases, the vast majority, as you mentioned, are

young schoolgirls.

But crucially, that fact finding committee has said that they believe around 90 percent of these cases were not in relation to poison, but rather

they've described this as being caused by anxiety. Now, we at CNN have heard cases of young girls experiencing heart palpitations, shortness of

breath, numbness in their limbs and nausea.

And of course, there is real concern that they, these young schoolgirls may have been exposed to some substances. And at this stage, while the

committee says that around 90 percent are believed to be in relation to anxiety, according to their claim. They are still looking into the question

of perhaps a suspicious substance in some of those cases.

Now, look, we have also heard reports from parents, from teachers and from medical staff on the ground across Iran dealing with these suspected cases

who have told us that they say they are being silenced by the authorities, they feel that they have been told not to speak on these cases.

One teacher even telling CNN that he feels that his phone is being monitored by the authority so, there is a real sense of concern here over

what the regime wants to get out and what exactly they are saying about these cases. And of course, we have seen protests as well, in response to

this and a real sense of panic amongst parents whose children have been impacted. And as expected, there has been a violent crackdown on those


As we have seen in the past, in most recent days, we've seen the security forces in Iran using tear gas and forcibly attempting to disperse those

taking part in these demonstrations. And of course, it is important to remember the context in which this is all unfolding.

Iran has seen for the last few months a spate of protests taking place against the regime all in the wake of the killing the death of Mahsa Amini

in September, caused by Iran's notorious morality police. So, this is a time in which Iran is facing a huge amount of uncertainty, the regime is

coming up against a huge amount of discontent which is spread across the country.

And as we are continuing to see this, there is a huge crackdown by the regime on any sign of dissent. And this latest spate of poisonings is

really important to question the actions that the authorities are taking. There is some concern that this may be linked to that spate of protests

that we've seen across the country. But at this stage, the regime says they are still carrying on with that investigation. Becky?

ANDERSON: Thank you. Ukraine is lashing out after a video emerged on social media. It appears to show the execution of a Ukrainian soldier unarmed

allegedly in Russian captivity.


Ukrainian military is now named that soldier. It says he went missing a little more than a month ago after fighting near Bakhmut. President

Volodymyr Zelenskyy promises to find those responsible. Let me show you part of that video. I'm just going to take a moment because I have to warn

you that it is disturbing. So, if you want to look away now, please do.

President Zelenskyy now ordering the reinforcement of Bakhmut where Ukrainian troops are holding out against Moscow's forces now, this is one

of the bloodiest battles we've seen so far. And if you're a regular viewer of this show, you will know that we've been reporting on it for days now.

Rumors that the Ukrainian side was about to withdraw. Moscow has sent thousands of troops to try and capture the city in the eastern part of the

country and secure its first battlefield victory more than six months. Ukraine's Vice Prime Minister says 4000 civilians are still inside the


Well, the Head of the Wagner private military group is taking a new swipe at Russia's defense minister, saying that 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers were

killed in February by his forces and not by Moscow's. And this is the latest in a public war of words between the two men. Fred Pleitgen has more

from Moscow.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Russian troops allegedly advancing in close quarters combat. Moscow's

Defense Ministry released this video of what it says are airborne units assaulting Ukrainian positions. And Russia's defense minister is keen to

show he's taken the reins of what the Kremlin still calls its special military operation.

Sergei Shoigu chopper into the front lines his ministry says and handing out medals to soldiers there. Good luck, success and come home alive his

sparse words to the troops. But progress remains slow for the Russian army except in Bakhmut where the defense ministers arch nemesis Yevgeny

Prigozhin of the Wagner private military company is leading the charge Prigozhin advertising for new recruits.

YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, WAGNER PRIVATE MILITARY COMPANY: Fellows Bakhmut is behind me; join the strongest private army in the world take the side of


PLEITGEN (voice over): Despite what the U.S. and Ukraine say is a massive attrition rate among Wagner mercenaries. Prigozhin claims he is the one

handing Vladimir Putin victories and he warns Russia could lose the war if he doesn't get the ammo and the fighters he wants.

PRIGOZHIN: If Wagner group retreats from Bakhmut now, the whole firm will collapse. Today Wagner Group is the cement that holds it together. We're

pulling in the whole Ukrainian army, grinding them up and destroying them, not letting them focus on other parts of the frontlines.

PLEITGEN (voice over): And while Prigozhin was busy this weekend trolling Ukrainian women by sending them champagne from a defunct winery near

Bakhmut, he also made clear Wagner is here to stay whether the Russian Defense Ministry likes it or not.

PRIGOZHIN: After Wagner group takes Bakhmut, we will continue to defend our country and the Wagner group does not care what some other departments


PLEITGEN (voice over): While some believe the infighting could become a problem for Vladimir Putin, Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Endowment

tells me Russia's leader is fully in command of the situation.

ANDREI KOLESNIKOV, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: I'm sure is that he has controlled totally by Kremlin. It is a load for him to

criticize official bodies, official governors, official leadership of the Ministry of Defense, but put in lakhs this small fight of Clans. He simply

observes the situation.

PLEITGEN (voice over): And Yevgeny Prigozhin of Wagner says he does believe that the Ukrainian forces inside Bakhmut are going to hold out and continue

to offer stiff resistance. Meanwhile, an adviser to Ukraine's presidency says he actually believes that the Ukrainians holding out in Bakhmut was a

big success for Ukraine.

He believes that it bought the Ukrainians time to replenish their own forces and train them for a possible counter offensive, but that it also

strategically weakened Russia's forces as well. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Moscow.


ANDERSON: All right. You're watching "Connect the World". I'm Becky Anderson for you. Coming up, I'll be speaking with the Chairman of the UAE

defense contractor about its rise on the global stage, its plans for 2024 and where it will be investing next. The fascinating conversation, stay

with me.



ANDERSON: Throughout this hour, we have been talking about the tough talk coming out of Beijing and the impact that might have on geopolitics in the

coming months and the years. In this region, well, I'm here of course in the Gulf and wider Middle East.

The relationship with the West, particularly the U.S. has in the past been oil for security paradigm. But here in the UAE that position is shifting

dramatically. In 2019 the Gulf nation set up edge and Advanced Technology Group consolidated more than 20 entities into one in an attempt to create a

defense contractor that could rival the worlds biggest.

Four years later, the company has signed in 2023 more than $5 billion worth of contracts. That includes autonomous vehicles, ships, cybersecurity. The

country the UAE predicted to spend nearly $130 billion on defense over the next five years and a lot of that will go to edge contracts.

The question is this, how much, for example, will go to Russia and China technology competitors, of course of the United States, United Kingdom and

Europe, the traditional partners of the UAE in this area. I sat down with Faisal Al Bannai, the Chairman of EDGE and I asked him just that.

FAISAL AL BANNAI, CHAIRMAN, EDGE GROUP: As EDGE, we have not invested in Russian or a Chinese company. 80 percent of our strategy is really to

accelerate building our organic growth. Where we fully on the technology, we fully on the building blocks, our international acquisition has been

very selective.

So, we've not done a lot of international acquisitions. But we're trying to target smaller to medium companies that can accelerate certain areas. So,

Miriam, a company out of Estonia, they focus on autonomous platforms, unmanned ground vehicles, we do unmanned ground vehicles by acquiring them.

We're suddenly in 15 clients; we're accelerating our growth over there.

ANDERSON: What is the UAE defense sector need most have at present? Where's the focus?

BANNAI: Although we as a group cater for everything from basic weapons to shipbuilding to multiple products, our key focus has been we are building

autonomous platform. And we are doubling down and tripling down on autonomous platform whether air, land or sea. So that's one area of focus.

The second area of focus, electronic warfare, everything's digital, which means electronic warfare plays a major role in future war fares. And last

are smart weapons. As you can see today and different war fares that are happening globally, the need for more precise weapons or less collateral

damage is more and more important.

ANDERSON: How do you compete with the established defense markets? I'm talking about the U.S. UK, France for example which would have been the

traditional suppliers of defense equipment here.


BANNAI: In one way, there are large companies with a long heritage with a lot of capabilities. So, I mean, you definitely can't undermine that

capability. But the other side, there have been many incumbents that are dinosaurs really slow. They are bureaucratic, they're not efficient. So,

our car to fame, or our growth that we're having is we are developing at a much more efficient scale.

We are developing it at much faster scale; we are being very pragmatic in what building blocks go into our technologies. And that's what's allowing

us to launch products much faster than others at a much more economical price to the market, which means if I use a good example, we just launched

in IDEXX, a UAV, a tactical UAV.

ANDERSON: An armed drone.

BANNAI: An armed drone. We announced this drone airshow a year, three months ago, in Dubai Airshow, and it was purely a mock up plastic dummy

that was OnStar. Then we said we're developing this drone we just started a few months ago. And we will be in the market soon. And everyone said, yes,

OK, five years, six years, it takes time.

The plane is going in production next year. And where are the shocking factories, it will compete with the best products in its category Spec

wise; it was developed and probably quarter of the time. And currently, although this is not a commercial discussion, the market today sells such

products between 3.5 to $5 million. We announced selling it for $1.1 million.

ANDERSON: This competes with a Turkish drone or Chinese drone?

BANNAI: This competes with every drone in the market. Every player was willing to go head-to-head, spec, price and performance.

ANDERSON: How would you describe the defense sector worldwide at present? China just announcing that 7 percent of its GDP will be will be going

towards defense. So that's a significant number. I mean, it's significantly more than the U.S. at present.

BANNAI: There's definitely more spending happening in the defense sector, their weapons need to be more cost effective because wars are expensive.

Defending your country is an expensive exercise at the end of the day, which means getting solutions rapidly getting solutions that are cost


Getting to the target market to reduce collateral damage that can really pinpoint the target that you need is a big area of focus for many countries

in this regard.

ANDERSON: Traditionally, the relationship with the West particularly with that the U.S. has been an all for security paradigm, that paradigm has

shifted significantly. We can see that happening. Is the sense from here, that this is a business that's been established for all of the reasons that

you have just described? But that this domestic defense industry will get to the point at which it doesn't need to look elsewhere or to its

traditional partners.

BANNAI: I think there are very few countries around the world that can become fully independent in defense. These are probably two countries or

three countries - around the world that really have that type of an ecosystem. I think the objective here is with the creation of a company

like EDGE and maybe other companies down the line are at least in core solutions that are there to defend the country.

We need to have made sure a large percentage of that is coming from a sovereign capability. It doesn't mean we won't buy solutions from outside

of course, we will buy, and we can't build everything in that regard.

But these core technologies, core capabilities that are important to defend this country is important to have it here and important to maintain control

on these solutions in this regard so that you can ride the tide up or down.

ANDERSON: Well, a fascinating discussion. All right, taking a short break, we're back after this.



ANDERSON: Well, I want to get you more on the developing news here in the region. At least six Palestinians have been killed in an Israeli military

rage into the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. This is information we are getting from the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been commenting on the raid saying that Israeli forces have killed what he calls an abominable

terrorist who killed two Israeli brothers, settler brothers after almost a decade of a war that has decimated the country, killed hundreds of

thousands of people in force countless young children to go hungry.

There is new hope, a new glimmer of hope at least in Yemen. The arrival of the first cargo shipping years, but while it is a positive development

hopes of any lasting peace still remain elusive. Laila Harrak has more for you.


LAILA HARRAK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A commercial cargo ship Doxon Yemen's who data ports. The first time in several years, a vessel carrying

more than just humanitarian essentials has been allowed to unload there. It's the sign the fragile piece brokered by the UN last year between Houthi

rebels and the Yemeni government is still largely holding neither side renewed the agreement when it expired in October.

The Yemeni government says the move is meant to build trust and strengthen negotiations between the two sides. We have been fighting a civil war since

late 2014. Hodeidah and much of the Northwest including the capital Sanaa is controlled by the Houthis, who are backed by Iran.

But the government controls most of the rest of the country, and is supported by Saudi led forces that enforce a naval blockade off Yemen's

waters. Under a U.N. vetting program to ensure weapons don't enter the port. Only ships containing food, fuel and cooking oil have previously been


The hope is the additional goods flowing into Yemen will help to ease the humanitarian and economic crisis gripping the country. The U.N. says two

thirds of the population needs help and protection and is appealing for nearly four and a half billion dollars of aid. Despite some of the recent

gains made.

ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: Civilian flights resumed from Sanaa vital supplies arrived through the port of Hodeidah. But the economy

is in enormous difficulties. Basic services risk to collapse, and the military needs to continue to soar. While access is constrained and funding

perennially falls short.

HARRAK (voice over): It's a shortfall on so many levels, food and fuel prices have surged. Inflation is high. There are dual currency notes and

exchange rates, all of which makes it harder for Yemenis to buy anything at an affordable price. These Yemenis cut trees to earn a little money.

ABDULSALAM DABWAN, YEMENI BAKER: Citizens are forced to cut down trees in order to provide a living for their children. Trees are cut down and sold

to bakeries.

HARRAK (voice over): UNICEF estimates that more than 2 million children have dropped out of school, an increase of nearly half a million since the

war began. Some for safety reasons, others because they're needed to help make ends meet. Like this boy interviewed after school began last year.

MIDIAN ADNAN AOUD, FORMER STUDENT: I feel sad because I dropped out of school. My friends go to school and I don't, I have to drop out to help my

parents and support my family.

HARRAK (voice over): A desperate future for a country at a crossroads. A lasting peace can be the only hope for Yemen civilians weary of fighting

their own battles, just to survive. Laila Harrak, CNN.


ANDERSON: To an incredible find in Egypt now, an expedition out of Ain Shams University has on Earth, a small statue resembling the iconic Sphinx

of Giza with some differences. This one has the dimples, yep, it has dimples. Archaeologists found the statue to bear royal features and a

slight smile and it is likely to look like the Roman Emperor Claudius.


Now it was found about 500 kilometers east of Cairo. Work continues at the site to recover historic remnants like this one. Isn't that absolutely

remarkable? Thank you for watching "Connect the World". Wherever you are watching in the world from the snowy slopes from Switzerland, for example,

to the beaches of the Maldives, you're more than welcome. "One World" with Christina Macfarlane is up next.