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U.S. State of the Union Hours Away; Children Face Starvation in Gaza; Houthi Attack on Commercial Ship Kills Three; Hope Is Fading for Gaza Cease-fire by Ramadan; Former Hamas Hostage Recounts Harrowing Ordeal; Father of Michigan School Shooter on Trial; Kremlin Propaganda Props Up Putin's Image; China Touts Great Relationship with Russia; South China Sea Tensions. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired March 07, 2024 - 10:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Abu Dhabi, this is CONNECT THE WORLD with Becky Anderson.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): Welcome to the second hour of the show. I am Becky Anderson here in Abu Dhabi. The time is 7 o'clock. It is

10:00 am on the East Coast of America.

And right now, President Biden is preparing one of the most crucial speeches of his 50-year career, his age, his popularity and his policies on

Israel and Ukraine all under intense scrutiny.

In Gaza, famine has started to take lives, including children's lives and still no ceasefire in sight, meaning no relief for desperate Palestinians

as Ramadan approaches.

And violence spirals out of control in Haiti, pressure growing on the country's political leaders to clear the way for new elections.


ANDERSON: Well, the annual State of the Union address gives the U.S. president a chance to highlight the past year's accomplishments and set the

next year's agenda. But in an election year, it becomes much more political.

And tonight, Joe Biden will be looking to convince a reluctant electorate to send him back to the White House for a second term. This is a high-

stakes, highly scripted moment for the president. Mr. Biden posting this photo of his preparations with the caption, "Get ready, folks."

Kevin Liptak joins me now, live from the White House.

Kevin, what can we expect to hear from the U.S. president later today?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly this is a very high-stakes moment and I don't think that's lost on any of President

Biden's aides.

They really do view this as a moment, as this general election rematch between President Biden and former president Trump gets underway, to leave

an imprint on voters who haven't necessarily been paying attention for the last three years.

And there are a couple of big buckets of themes that the president will address in his speech tonight. Probably the biggest one is this idea of

economic populism, calling for higher taxes on the wealthy and on corporations for lowering health care costs.

Going after issues like corporate greed, price gouging. This isn't really rewriting the playbook for a Democratic president running for reelection.

But certainly the imperative for President Biden is to take credit for an improving economy while still acknowledging many Americans really feel sour

about the state of their own lives.

He will also address this sort of broad issue of democracy, both in the United States and abroad. And certainly in that he will address the issue

of abortion rights, reproductive rights, vowing to restore the protections that were stripped away from Roe versus Wade but also addressing this issue

of IVF, which has been a big political issue here in the United States.

He will also have in as a guest tonight the prime minister of Sweden. Of course, that's the newest NATO member and he'll use that as a moment to

reinforce his support for the defense alliance but also to call for more funding for Ukraine as it continues its war against Russia.

And then of course, he will also address the crisis in the Middle East. He really cannot avoid it. There had been a moment when he had hoped for a

hostage deal and a temporary ceasefire this week, that he could be able to tout during the speech.

Of course, that hasn't happened. Hopes are dwindling for that to happen before the start of Ramadan. But what you'll hear the president say is this

need for a temporary ceasefire and also for more humanitarian aid to enter into Gaza.

So those are the things I think that the president will address. But just as important is how he will address them, how he looks while he's speaking,

his performance, his delivery.

Of course, as these questions mount over his age and fitness for office, that is the reason while he has been rehearsing and rehearsing over the

last several days and certainly will be an important thing to watch as he delivers this speech tonight, Becky.

ANDERSON: Good to have you, Kevin. Thank you.

Joining me now to discuss this more is CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein.


He is also a senior editor for "The Atlantic." And as Kevin rightly pointed out, if the president had hoped for a ceasefire deal, albeit a temporary

one, to tout in this speech tonight, he doesn't have that, Ron.

But what he does have is a laundry list of things that the president is absolutely determined are great successes but that the American public

somewhat underplays.

How's he going to pitch this?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, it's really a big question. I have a piece out in "The Atlantic" this morning.

And there are a lot of Democratic strategists who really don't want him to look back and try to change voters' views about what he has accomplished

because, in the eyes -- as with many Democratic strategists, that kind of grates against the lived experience of so many voters who are frustrated at

the cumulative inflation since he took office.

And as well as the border, I think there is a broad consensus in the Democratic Party that if there is a path to reelection for Joe Biden, it's

not in a retrospective comparison of whether his four years were better than Donald Trump's four years.

It really is focusing toward the future. Not easy when you're 81 but centering voters on the question of what would each man do if they were

returned to power. And you saw in Kevin's excellent reporting there, you can see some of the tentpoles Biden is trying to build around -- personal

freedoms and economic populism, democracy as the central ones that I heard.

ANDERSON: Donald Trump has promised a play by play, as he describes it, of Mr. Biden's speech tonight.

What do you think we can expect from the former president and frontrunner for the Republican Party?

BROWNSTEIN: Right. I mean, you -- you'll expect a lot of vitriol, a lot of all capital letters and that kind of thing. But beyond that, I think he's

actually going to be revealing because, you know, as I said, I think that there's a consensus of the Democratic Party that Biden's best, maybe only

path to victory is focusing on what each of them would do in the future if returned to power.

I think what you're going to see from Trump is a steady litany of comparisons between conditions when he was president and when Biden is

president. I think that comparison is the core of his argument. Things were better and he messed it up.

Tuesday night in his victory speech after Super Tuesday, the former president said, we left everything in perfect condition. And if Biden would

have just gone to the beach and done nothing, it would've been fine.

I think you're going to hear versions of that argument from him tonight. Maybe hard to discern them beneath all the rhetorical excess and the

capital letters. And, you know, the epithets.

But I do think that is the core of the argument that Trump wants to persuade. It really is a different frame. One of them wants voters to look

back. I think one of them more wants voters look forward.

ANDERSON: As we described this, this is a high-stakes, highly scripted moment for the president, who has been preparing for this speech for some

days. He is or has a reputation for gaffes, 50 years' worth of gaffes through his political career.

How bad could this get tonight?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, it -- the State of the Union is pretty much of a stage safe zone, you know. I covered Joe Biden even in his 1988

presidential campaign, if you can believe that about either of us.

And, you know, on the stump on, you know, off the cuff?

Yes. His language often gets tangled. The State of the Union is pretty well scripted. It's not viewed by as many people as it used to be. It doesn't

influence the polls as immediately as it once did as we've become a more polarized nation.

I think Biden's task is really straightforward. I mean, it is to convince people that he has an agenda and the personal attributes, the vitality to

make their life better in a second term.

He is looking at numbers, not only the majority of Americans saying he's too old but a very small minority saying that his policies have helped

them. And he's got to, I think, convince people that, even at 81, he understands the strains on life today. And he has an agenda to help them

deal with it.

And that's what I think you're going to see a lot of the economic populism on things like the fact that Medicare is finally, after two decades,

negotiating lower prices on prescription drugs. He's going to propose an out of -- a cap on out-of-pocket spending on drugs and obviously in the

energy area and medical bills.


That, we know from 2018, 2020, 2022, there's an argument you can make against Donald Trump that a lot of people will respond to. I don't think

he's going to have a lot of trouble finding pressure points against Trump over the next eight months.

What's tougher and I think more urgent for him tonight is to start improving voters' perception of his own ability to make their life better

if they send him back to the Oval Office

ANDERSON: And his ability to deal with national security, that is an issue on the southern border. And the issue of immigration, which is such a hot-

button issue. I hate that cliche but it really is right up there, isn't it, in voters' mind. And then the issues of Ukraine and indeed, the conflict in


Good to have you Ron.

We'll, have you back always a pleasure. Thank you very much, indeed.

And you can watch President Biden's State of the Union address right here. On CNN, our special coverage begins 08:00 pm Eastern time.

Well, now, to the Middle East, where hopes are fading fast for a Gaza ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas before Ramadan, which begins just

days from now. A Hamas delegation left Cairo earlier today without a major breakthrough.

The stalled talks are raising fears for what could happen next in Gaza. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is in Tel Aviv and will join us later this hour with

more on what is this developing story.

Well, on both sides, so many lives hang on the outcome of these cease- fire/hostage talks. Right now the situation on the ground in Gaza is widespread starvation. New data illustrated here by the red bars shows that

all of Gaza's population is now unable to meet their food needs, at levels ranging from crisis to catastrophe.

The World Health Organization chief put it in stark terms on Wednesday, saying children in Gaza who survived bombardment may not survive famine.

All this almost incomprehensible when you remember that food is lined up, waiting for permission to cross into Gaza.

We know, of course, that Israel is controlling all aid coming into the enclave by road. It regularly insists there is no limit on the amount of

aid that it will allow in. On Tuesday though, the World Food Programme said a 14-truck convoy was turned away by Israeli authorities at a checkpoint as

it tried to deliver to the northern part of the Strip.

Today, Israel said that claim was false but acknowledged that some aid intended for the North had gone undelivered. My next guest has been

sounding the alarm, warning that hunger and disease will skyrocket in Gaza if essential systems are not protected.

And her team on the ground has seen firsthand the catastrophic impact this war will have had on children. UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell

joining us now live.

Catherine, I almost wish I wasn't having to do this. In fact, I absolutely wish I wasn't having to do this interview with you tonight but it is so

important. Starvation in Gaza, children dying of malnutrition.

What is going on?

CATHERINE RUSSELL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, UNICEF: Well, I mean, I think you're right to be almost speechless because it is such a horrifying

situation. And war is always terrible for children.

But in this case, what we're seeing is that there are choices being made that are having a terrible impact, choices not to release hostages, choices

not to make it easy and possible for us to deliver that aid that is so desperately needed.

And we -- we're seeing the consequences and I have to say that I've seen starvation in children in many places in the world. It is so horrific,

Becky, I can't -- it's almost hard to describe how painful it is to watch it, because it is a very slow and very painful death. The children really

deserve so much better from the international community.

ANDERSON: Let's talk about what's going on on the ground as far as the aid that is getting in is concerned. The World Food Programme saying that

Israel turned back an aid convoy. Israel denies that.


It says that aid has got undelivered (ph).

What is the situation on the ground?

Just tell us, what are you trying to get delivered and to where?

And what is going on to prevent that aid reaching the people who are starving?

RUSSELL: Well, first, we're trying to get aid, the U.N. system overall, World Food Programme and UNICEF in particular, trying to deliver food,

water, medical supplies, you know, nutritious meals for babies that can't eat regular food.

We're trying to move all of that in. It is incredibly difficult for a range of reasons. The basic problem is there's not security and there's not

access. So what you're seeing in these images are people who are so desperate.

You know, sometimes I hear it described as looting. It's not looting. These are people who have no food for themselves, for their families. And they're

trying so hard to get it. So what we need is better access to the north, where its even worse than in the south, right?

We are horrified by the limited amounts of food that we can get up there. But in the south as well. And people are desperately looking for food and

for clean water. And they're not getting it.

And I think there are recriminations every which way. In my mind, I almost don't care about that. I just want to be able to get the food to the

children who need it so that they're not needlessly suffering and starving to death.

ANDERSON: I do want to just concentrate for a moment on the north. Part of what we understand to be the stalemate in these negotiations for a

temporary ceasefire, which I know you will absolutely applaud, that is what is needed on the ground, is the fact that Hamas is not getting a guarantee

of aid into the North.

So I ask you again, Israel is saying that the aid that it is getting in -- and it says it is allowing aid into the enclave, that it is getting into

the north.

Can you be a bit more specific about the problems that you know your teams on the ground are facing in getting aid into the north, where many people,

I'm told, from those on the ground and those stakeholders involved in what is going on here.

It feels as if the people of the north of the country very specifically are being starved out of the -- out of that part of the country, forced to move

south through starvation at this point.

RUSSELL: Look, Becky, the north is very challenging for many reasons. In part, it was -- there was an effort to move people from the north to the

south. The people who were left in the north are pretty isolated and it's very hard for us to get up there because there's not security, right?

We need to -- it's hard for humanitarians to move around in the best of circumstances and when they're not secure, that is much more complicated.

The roads are a mess. I mean, it's just a very difficult situation and we need better access to the north and we don't have it. And its just the

reality of the situation.

There have been efforts. World Food Programme has made efforts to get up there. UNICEF has been part of those as well. Its just -- it's -- I'm not

saying its impossible but it has been virtually impossible.

And we know that these populations up there are in desperate need and we can't get to them. And the south is also very complicated. I was there a

few months ago. I was lucky enough to be able to get in.

And I was in Khan Yunis and I saw what was happening, which was so many people, it's almost hard to describe the teeming numbers of people who were

there, who had come from the north, who were displaced, now came south.

Those people, again, we're trying to access them. We can in some small degree but we're not getting the safety and the security we need and the

access we need to serve both populations.

And while the north is worse, the south is bad as well. And I think the international community has got to say, look, war is terrible. War, we

understand that. But we have an obligation as human beings to take care of the most vulnerable.

And those are children, for God's sake. I mean, we have to be able to access them and take care of them so that they are not suffering more than

they already have. And to be displaced, suffer the bombardments and then, on top of it, to not have clean water and to be starving to death, I mean,

that has to be unacceptable to everyone.


ANDERSON: What do you make of the aid drops?

How -- you saw not are there at this point. I mean ...

RUSSELL: Look, I would say it's not the airdrops. It's not the most efficient or cost-effective way to get aid in. I'll say that.

My view -- and I think this is the view of the U.N. -- is we are grateful for anything that can get in.

So there are discussions about maritime access, airdrops -- our view is there's no question that road access is the best. It is the most efficient

way to do it. It's the best way to get aid in.

But frankly, we will take anything at this point. I mean, these people are desperate. And if we can get anything in through airdrops, as long as it

doesn't take away from the focus of getting things in on the land, that -- I don't have any objection to that.

I think -- my view is, if we could flood Gaza with food, that would be the best possible option for everybody. And there's honestly no reason we can't

do that.

ANDERSON: Let's remind ourselves that 100 percent of people in Gaza -- and we've got a graphic on the screen here -- are facing at least a crisis

level of malnutrition. You wrote an opinion piece for CNN just a few days ago, where you said that any significant military escalation in Rafah would

be, quote, "a catastrophe."

What are you calling for tonight?

Do you want to see further border crossings open?

What is the answer here?

RUSSELL: Yes. We certainly need more access. That is the very simple answer. We need more road access. We need it every which way that we can

get it in. And we need the security so that we can provide the food that needs to get to these populations.

And I think if, God forbid, there's an incursion in Rafah, I just think you have to remember, as I said, all of these people who've been pushed to the

south, now, people are trying to move out of the south. And if they have a car, if they have some ability, they're able to try to move a little bit


But what does that mean?

That means that the most vulnerable people are left behind because they have no way to get out, right?

And we can't have a situation where they're just sitting ducks and they have nowhere to go. They have no food, they don't have clean water. And

then we have an incursion on top of it. That seems -- that seems inhumane.

And I think we have to do our best to take care of these people to provide the water and the security and the food they need so that they can survive

and have some dignity in their lives.

And ideally, what we're all working for is a better future for everyone, right?

That's what we want. That's why we work at UNICEF, right?

We work for children and want to make the world a better place for children. But first they have to survive. And that is really at risk right

here. And I think we have to all do better.

ANDERSON: Catherine, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

RUSSELL: Thanks, Becky.

ANDERSON: The perspective of UNICEF.

What is the deadly fighting between Israel and Hamas continues. So too does a dire humanitarian crisis. CNN has gathered a list of vetted organizations

that are responding. You could just hear from the head of UNICEF that -- sorry, the WFP, just how tough things are for UNICEF.

And I correct myself.

You can find details on how you can help at a special section of our website,

Still to come, hours after a deadly attack on a commercial ship by Houthi rebels, the U.S. launches its own strike. Details ahead in which -- what is

a live report.

And the U.S. pushing for more Haiti -- for Haiti to move more urgently toward a transition as violent gangs threaten a civil war if the prime

minister doesn't step down.





ANDERSON: Well, the U.S. has conducted strikes against two drones in what is Houthi-controlled area of Yemen.

Saying that the drones presented an imminent threat to ships in the region. Now the strikes came just hours after Houthi missiles killed three crew

members on a commercial ship in the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday.

U.S. officials say these are the first deaths since the Iran-backed Houthis began their missile attacks. In response, they say to Israel's war in Gaza.

CNN's correspondent Paula Hancocks joins me here in Abu Dhabi.

U.S. Central Command says a strike on the vessel near Yemen Wednesday was the fifth anti-ballistic missile fired by Houthi rebels in the past two


Are we watching here an escalation in this once again?

There has been a real concern, hasn't there about the slippage of what is going on in Gaza into a wider regional conflict.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm not sure if its an escalation because what we've been seeing from the Houthis in recent months is this

constant attempt to try and hit commercial shipping, claiming they are going for ships that are either U.S. or U.K. or Israel linked.

But this particular one that they hit wasn't. What we are seeing is the first fatality. We've heard from U.S. officials that serve in the State

Department that it was sadly inevitable. The fact that they've done more than 45 attempts at hitting commercial ships with drones, with missiles as


And this particular time, they did manage to cause the loss of life. And unfortunately, this is something that was -- had been feared for some time.

What we're hearing from the U.S. side -- and this was interesting, I thought -- was despite the fact they're continuing these strikes against

the weapons caches that they have, against drones, against missiles they know are just about to be launched, they still don't know how much they've

degraded the abilities of the Houthis.

We heard from U.S. officials saying they don't know how much they have left because they know they're constantly being resupplied by Iran. So each time

they try and take out their capabilities, it is just restocked.

So they're finding it very difficult to figure out how else they can try and degrade their abilities.

ANDERSON: This is a U.S. led coalition in the Red Sea, there to protect shipping. I mean, this is the rise of international shipping to actually

have the freedom of the waterways. And this is something the Americans have been and the U.K. had been massively involved in, not something this region

is involved in, apart from Bahrain.

This region quite concerned about the coalition fighting the Houthis in the seas around this area, concerned about the potential for escalation. They

just don't want to see it but it's difficult times. Thank you for joining us.

Still to come on, CNN talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire deal in Gaza are stalled while the humanitarian crisis there just gets worse. A live report

is up next.

A little later, CNN's report on Russian propaganda, how it is working to boost Vladimir Putin's image ahead of this month's presidential election

that's widely seen as a formality.





ANDERSON: Welcome. Back you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD with me, Becky Anderson. Negotiations for a ceasefire deal in Gaza have stalled once

again. A Hamas delegation left Cairo earlier today with no obvious breakthrough aimed at reaching a temporary ceasefire agreement with Israel

in exchange for hostage releases.

Sources familiar with the talks tell CNN a deal is now unlikely to happen before Ramadan and that is raising fears for what could happen next in

Gaza. CNN's Jeremy Diamond joins us from Tel Aviv.

Jeremy let's start with these talks.

Why are they at a standstill?

What are we learning?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that there have been a number of stumbling blocks and which one of them are actually

real depends on who you are talking to.

I mean, the Israelis have been very clear that their standing demand is for Hamas to provide a list of the hostages who would be released under an

initial phase of this agreement.

Hamas for its part has indicated that it will need a ceasefire to be in place first before it can actually assess where and all of those hostages

are and which one of those are alive. An Israeli official today telling us that they simply don't believe that Hamas doesn't have a sense of where all

of these hostages are.

Hamas, for its part, has been pushing for a permanent ceasefire or at least a pathway to a permanent ceasefire as part of these talks, something that

Israel has repeatedly rejected.

And they are also still negotiating over issues like the withdrawal of Israeli forces as well as displaced Palestinians from northern Gaza being

able to return to their homes.

But there's no question that hope is fading. As one American can official put it to us earlier today, for a deal to start by -- to be in place by the

start of Ramadan, which comes in just a few days.

And so the question then is, what will happen on the ground?

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's war cabinet, had previously indicated that if there wasn't a deal in place by Ramadan then an Israeli military

offensive into Rafah would then follow. But right now its unclear if that would actually happen at the very start of Ramadan.

If negotiators will be allowed to have a little bit more time to try and find a deal, a lot of questions, a lot of uncertainties in the air right

now, Becky.

ANDERSON: Jeremy Diamond is reporting from Tel Aviv in Israel.

Jeremy, thank you.


Five months, of course, since the October 7th attacks in Israel, a former Hamas hostage, talking to my colleague Christiane Amanpour about the

harrowing 51 days, she and her children spent as they were held captive. She told Christiane how scared they were and how they were not allowed to

cry. Have a listen.


CHERI ALMOG GOLDSTEIN, FORMER HAMAS HOSTAGE (through translator): There's incredible bombardment of the Israeli air force and artillery. Serious

fear. We understand that they're mere cogs in the system that the captors. And we're hoping that they're not going to have instructions to kill us and

that they would do it.

We would ask them and they told us that they were guarding us, that they hoped that we were going to be OK and that we were not going to die, that

they were going to die ahead of us or we were going to die together. This was supposed to calm us down.

We were not allowed to cry. They wanted us happy and told us to be OK. If we cried, we had to snap out of it or hide it. It's a kind of emotional

abuse, that they didn't let us cry


ANDERSON: We invite you to watch to see the rest of Christiane's interview at 01:00 pm Eastern time on CNN, 10:00 pm if you're watching here in Abu


There are still more than 100 hostages being held in Gaza by Hamas and other groups. Part of the reason these ceasefire talks continue to be held,

the latest have now finished without a breakthrough. We are told that the hope is that these talks, these mediators will get these talks going again

next week.

Well the U.S. insists it is not pushing for Haiti's prime minister to resign but it is calling on Ariel Henry to urgently establish a

presidential transitional council, which will clear the way for elections.

One gang leader is wanting Haiti will, and I quote, "suffer a genocide" if the prime minister remains in power. Gangs have carried out a wave of

attacks on government institutions over the past week.

And one official says only one public hospital is still operating in Port- au-Prince.

Well, I want to get you to CNN's Patrick Oppmann, who is monitoring what is going on in Haiti, live from Cuba this evening, Havana, Cuba.

Patrick, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, calling on the international community. And I quote him here, "to act to prevent

Haiti's further descent into chaos."

What is the plan that we are expecting to get or that we have from the United Nations at this point?

What is the international community doing to try to stop this?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is really still taking shape minute by minute here, Becky, you know, obviously a lot of pressure both

from within Haiti and from outside, increasingly, on prime minister Ariel Henry to either step down or, as the U.S. says, to make way for this

transitionary counsel that would lead to elections.

And it's unclear though whether that is enough to quell the gang violence. This all kicked off when, over the weekend, the gangs are, Ariel Henry in

Haiti, striking a deal in -- excuse me -- in Kenya, striking a deal with the Kenyan government to bring in 1,000 Kenyan troops, who, at least it's

expected, would be able to help control the out-of-control gang violence.

And that really served to briefly unite some of these gangs who fight each other and the government for control of territory. And they went to war

with the failing Haitian state. And that's why you saw police stations being burned and the airport shut down.

It's still shut down in Port-au-Prince. And really chaos, reigning up until this moment, Ariel Henry not able to return. So far he has resisted calls

for him to either move out of the way or in fact resign.

But its not clear how much longer he can because, of course, he needs U.S. support. He needs international support. And while there was a U.N.

Security Council meeting and while the U.S. State Department remains furiously engaged here, for the Haitians on the ground who are being held

hostage by the gangs.

Gangs now control most of the capital, most of the country, you know, time is really running out for them.

ANDERSON: Patrick Oppmann is on the story.

Thank you, Patrick.


We are following a high profile trial in the United States, the U.S. state of Michigan. This hour and we've got live pictures for you, the father of a

teenage school shooter is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter for his son's deadly rampage.

This is the first witness on the stand. Prosecutors say James Crumbley should have done more to stop his son, Ethan, from opening fire at his high

school in 2021. Four students were killed. Some of the victims' relatives are in court today.

The trial comes just weeks after Crumbley's wife, Jennifer, was convicted on the same charges.

Well just add bolstering Vladimir Putin's image, what the Kremlin is doing to ensure he gets a fifth term as Russia's president. More on that after





ANDERSON: Well, the U.S. president preparing to deliver what could be the most consequential speech of his presidency. Thursday night, millions of

people across America will watch as Joe Biden addresses Congress.

It'll be an opportunity to tell voters effectively what he believes he can accomplish if he is reelected in November. Now some of the themes he is

expected to hit include immigration, the wars in Gaza and Ukraine, women's reproductive rights and the threat he says, Donald Trump poses to American


Well, this is a big election year across the world and just days after Russian mourners took their safety in their hands to pay tribute to the

late opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, Moscow's propaganda machine appears to be shifting into high gear to boost Vladimir Putin.

And that is because the Russian presidential election kicks off a week from tomorrow. With her reporting on this, Clare Sebastian joins me now from

London -- Clare.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Becky, look, I think this is not an election the way we would normally expect when we're not seeing debates,

we're not seeing rallies, nothing like that. None of the normal trappings.

But what we are seeing is more Kremlin led image-making, the likes of which you just showed, President Putin today, visiting a military flight school

in southern Russia, a lot of this with a military theme. He's trying to capitalize on recent advances that Russia has made in the war in Ukraine.

And that combined with the work of its state TV propagandists makes for a pretty powerful tool against dissent. And I think goes some way to explain

why, despite the crowds that we did see turning out for Navalny, we're not seeing more people turning out and expressing opposition to Putin.

Take a look.


SEBASTIAN (voice-over): Flying into a fifth term, the war, Putin's nuclear capable strategic bomber, almost as loud as the propaganda machine

propelling him forward.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vladimir Putin on board the most powerful, the biggest, the fastest strategic bomber.

SEBASTIAN: This is Putin's desired pre-election image -- strong, vigorous, calling the shots in his so-called special military operation and letting

his chief propagandist campaign on his behalf on state TV.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He works until late, late at night. Starts again in the morning. I just want to say thank you to him, to our president.

SEBASTIAN: As we get closer to elections in Russia in March, we're seeing more and more of this more obvious propaganda.

There are also slightly more subtle tactics at play. And the most prominent of those is the constant scapegoating or even outright trolling of the U.S.

one popular talk show played this split-screen or loop -- Putin boarding his bomber; Biden, tripping up the steps of Air Force One.

SEBASTIAN: News reports on the war in Ukraine regularly showing off the wreckage of western weapons. There's even a discarded Starlink antenna.

Boris Akunin, one of Russia's most popular modern authors, says the West needs to take note of this.

BORIS AKUNIN, RUSSIAN AUTHOR: Putin benefits from this picture of the outside world as something hostile so the people would unite around him.

When the war started a lot of Russians start emigrated. Then they met with hostility. A lot of them had to return. And every single case has been used

by Putin's propaganda to strengthen this idea that we are together. We are besieged camp.

SEBASTIAN: Alexei Navalny knew how to get around Putin's propaganda machine and its longstanding policy of ignoring him.

From this cramped Moscow headquarters, which I visited in 2017, he and his colleagues beamed their message to millions of Russians via YouTube. And

yet his death was something state media temporarily found itself unable to ignore.

First, discrediting his legacy, then blaming the West --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For them, this is excellent timing, we have elections coming up. Support for the president is off the charts.

SEBASTIAN: Finally turning on his widow, Yulia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We looked at the life of the queen of the opposition, during the time he was in prison.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two hours after the news of the death of her husband, the wife emerges all made up. Listen the girls will understand me, even her

mascara didn't run. How do you manage that.

SEBASTIAN: For Akunin, Navalny's death is more than just a propaganda challenge. It signals propaganda may now be taking a backseat to a much

blunter instruments of control, outright repression.

AKUNIN: By killing Alexei Navalny they lost the last chance of trying to pretend that they were legal, decent, law- abiding. Intimidation is now is

now going to be the main instrument.


SEBASTIAN: Well, Becky, the Kremlin has said that any accusations the Russian authorities are behind Navalny's death are unfounded. His spokesman

says, the official cause of death as listed on his medical certificate, seen by his mother, was natural causes.

But what's interesting now is we do see his wife out there, regular video appearances now calling on Russians to turn out at noon on the final day of

voting, really trying to break through that propaganda bubble to try to spread his message and build on the momentum of his death and his funeral.

ANDERSON: Clare Sebastian on the story.

Clare, thank you.

And we will have more news for you folks after this.





ANDERSON: China is touting its close ties to President Putin and Russia. At the National People's Congress in Beijing on Foreign Affairs Day, during

reporters questions about the China, Russia relationship, foreign minister Wang Yi glowingly talked about the comprehensive strategic partnership of

coordination, as its known.

He said Russian -- Russia and China have a mutual trust that is deepened because they beneficial cooperation. While the foreign minister added that

the two countries forged a new example of how countries should relate.

CNN's Ivan Watson has an up-close look at the friction that is growing between China and its neighbor at the Philippines in the South China Sea.

He spent two days aboard a Philippines Coast Guard ship and explains how the particular dispute began and why ongoing confrontations could spiral

into a far wider conflict.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Water cannons and the collision of heavy ships.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Philippine vessel, this is China Coast Guard.

WATSON: CNN getting a rare chance to witness the David and Goliath confrontation between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to curtail your behavior.

WATSON: The Chinese ships make their move at dawn, outnumbering and swarming a small convoy from the Philippines. We have a very good view of a

large Chinese coast guard ship. You can

see it written on the side of the vessel and it is currently steaming I would say maybe two stone throws away from this Philippines coast guard


And that's not all. Look over to the starboard side here. There is another Chinese coast guard ship right here. Not far away, another Chinese ship

collides with another Philippine ship. Fortunately, no one's hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are sailing within the Philippine Exclusive economic zone. What is your intention, over?

WATSON: I'm aboard. The BRP Cabra, a Philippine coast guard ship. Its mission, escort two, resupply boats to the Second Thomas Shoal a teardrop-

shaped reef claimed by both the Philippines and China even though it's clearly much closer to Philippines territory.

WATSON: For more than 20 years, China ignore were competing claims from smaller countries, occupying and eventually building man-made islands on

top of several contested reefs and shoals.

In 1999 an unusual step from the Philippines. It grounded the Sierra Madre, a rusting World War II era ship on Second Thomas Shoal. Filipino marines

have been guarding it ever since.

Our convoy is supposed to resupply those marines. But a much larger ship swerved dangerously close to the BRP Cabra and eventually pulls in front

stopping it in its tracks.

Meanwhile, this resupply boat doesn't stand a chance.

That little vote in front is the Philippines resupply boat and it is currently being pursued by 1, 2, 3 -- at least 4 Chinese ships.

They blast the boat with water cannons shattering windows and likely injuring four service members on board forcing the crew to abort their

mission. The Chinese fleet includes what looked like civilian vessels.

We're currently blocked and surrounded by what looked like ordinary fishing boats that are flying Chinese flags. And they're working in tandem with the

Chinese coast guard.

They appear to be members of China's maritime militia a way for Beijing to project power here in the South China Sea.

Beijing now accuses the Philippines of being dishonest and deliberately stirring up trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Philippines rights infringing and provocative attempts will not succeed.

WATSON: but the Philippines remains defiant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the hope of China is to weaken the Philippine resolve, they were will be sorely disappointed.


WATSON: The night before the confrontation, we steamed past a U.S. Navy ship, the USS Mobile apparently being shadowed from a distance by this

Chinese navy ship and helicopter.

A looming question. Would the U.S. come to the help of its mutual defense treaty ally, the Philippines if tensions escalate further with China --

owner of the world's largest navy -- Ivan Watson, CNN -- on the South China Sea.


ANDERSON: Well that is it for CONNECT THE WORLD. Stay with CNN NEWSROOM is up next from Abu Dhabi. Wherever you are watching in the world, it is a

very good evening.