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Isa Soares Tonight

Moscow Looks To Extend On Ukraine Gains; Israel Accused Of Firing On Gaza-Aid Convoy As Military Pushes South; Indicted Biden Accuser Says He Was Given Info By Russians; Trump Compares Legal Woes To Navalny; Navalny's Widow Vows To Continue Leading Russian Opposition; Mother Of Navalny Initiates Lawsuit To Get Her Son's Remains; Blinken Meets Brazil's President; Russia Detains Dual U.S.-Russian National; Ruby Franke, Blogger, Now Facing Possibility Of Decades Behind Bars After Being Found Guilty Of Child Abuse; 737 MAX Airplane Program Head Fired By Boeing; Beyonce's Latest Single Debuts At #1 Country Slot On Billboard. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 14:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: A very warm welcome to the show, everyone, I'm Isa Soares. Tonight, Russian forces press on in Ukraine

looking to capitalize on recent gains. But NATO's top military chief downplays the quote, "rubble(ph)" they've managed to take. That interview

in just a moment.

Also ahead, a CNN exclusive investigation we have learned that despite traveling on an Israeli-agreed route, Israeli forces fired on a United

Nations convoy carrying vital food supplies in central Gaza.

And then later, Republican lawmakers are facing questions as one of the key informants that they were relying on for allegations of the Biden bribery

scheme was already charged with lying to the FBI, that also appears to be linked to Russian intelligence. Those details, that's coming up.

But first tonight, we start with desperate days in Ukraine where Russian forces are looking to roll on after capturing the key city of Avdiivka.

Kremlin forces are probing Ukrainian defenses across that long sprawling frontline hoping to capitalize on the foreign aid stalled by in-fighting in

the United States.

Now, Ukraine says it's holding the line in the south, but it's also facing severe troop shortages and has been doing for many months, pleading for

ammunition. All this as Russia is gloating. The Defense Ministry says a top general has been in Ukraine awarding soldiers near the frontlines as you

can see there.

And the Defense Minister has boasted Russia is producing thousands of drones a day. For the very latest, CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins me now, he's

recently left Ukraine, and he joins us now from Berlin. And Fred, following that win, of course, that we've been reporting -- you've been reporting on

Avdiivka, the Russian forces do seem to be on the offensive, both are on the -- on several fronts, the east and the south. What could be the

potential moves here? What concerns you?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that there's a lot of areas where the Russians currently are seen to be

probing the Ukrainian defenses, and you're absolutely right that, that is happening in the south and also in the southeast and in the east of the


Right now, there's really two areas that the Ukrainians are very concerned about. And we did have a very good map that you were just showing there

some of those really focal points that the Russians have been focusing on.

One of them is actually up in the northeast of the country, and if we look at that map again, you can see a town there called Kreminna, which is a

forested area, there's a pretty heavy fighting going on, and the Ukrainians say around that area and to the north of the area that the Russians have

assembled a huge force to try and gain ground there.

There's a river that they want to reach and also a border, and we can see that a little bit in white, that's a regional border. Other regions that

the Russians say that they have annexed, called the Luhansk region which they now want to take the rest of.

That's at least what the Ukrainians believe. And then if you look at a time that we've been speaking about so much over the past, really, one and a

half years here on your show, the town of Bakhmut that the Russians really wanting to advance from there, moving on to a town called Chazifia(ph),

which is a little bit west to that.

I know from the Ukrainians on the ground there that they're also having a lot of trouble holding those Russian assaults back. And it really is

exactly what you were saying that the Ukrainians also do say are their biggest problems. They say manpower --

SOARES: Yes --

PLEITGEN: Was a massive issue, also when they lost Avdiivka, but ammunition really is the biggest one, where they say that they need 155 millimeter

artillery ammunition, obviously with the fact that right now, there's no U.S. aid coming, they do face a lot of shortages.

And so far, European countries that are allied with Ukraine have not been able to fill that void, at least not to the extent that the Ukrainians

could put up a serious fight trying to hold up the Russians. Isa.

SOARES: Yes, and of course, Europe has been -- has been putting some aid, we've seen donations, well, from several countries in the last 24 hours,

but of course, U.S. in the meantime dithering on their -- on their aid. But look, you recently came out, Ukraine viewers would have seen you on the

ground there, you brought as many stories here, Fred, of the challenges for Ukrainian soldiers and what relates to ammunition.

So, in many ways, does Ukraine's retreat from Avdiivka here, does that surprise you, given that so many of them complained? You saw that for

yourself for those weeks that you were in Ukraine.

PLEITGEN: I don't think it was really surprising. I think one of the things that was surprising, however is that, in the past couple of days, how fast

things then went now, fast the Ukrainians had to move out there.


And I think that there are several reasons why things went so badly for the Ukrainians so quickly. Because the Russians really had been on the

offensive in Avdiivka since about -- I would say about October of the last year.

And the Russians certainly also, I myself saw this when near the frontlines did lose a lot of soldiers taking Avdiivka, and one of the things that the

Ukrainians say that they believe that up to 15,000 Russians were killed as they assaulted that place.

A lot of them were infantry assault with much -- without much in the way of protection. But one of the big game-changers really on the ground was also,

Isa, in the past couple of weeks, especially the Russians increasingly using aerial bombs, so-called glide bombs, that they've now developed and

they're using on a large-scale to bomb Ukrainian positions.

And then all of a sudden, the Ukrainians were getting hit, not by artillery, with maybe a couple of kilos of TNT inside those shells to --

where -- then all of a sudden getting hit by 250 kilogram bombs thrown off from aircraft on a large scale.

And that's definitely something that through the Ukrainians back, there's some stories that we've heard from soldiers who had to leave the frontlines

who said that positions were simply annihilated by those bombs and they simply had nowhere to take cover anymore because all the buildings were so

destroyed that they were essentially reduced to rubble.

So, the fact that the Russians have really tapped into their airpower now is also something that's a huge concern for the Ukrainians, and they tried

to mitigate that a little bit. They have managed to shoot down a couple of Russian jets in the last couple of days.

But one thing that we're hearing from Kyiv is they say is the only thing that can really fight back against that would be F16s coming from Western

nations, Isa.

SOARES: Indeed, and here we are, we're going round in circles. Again, important insight there from our Frederik Pleitgen. Fred, appreciate it,

thank you very much. Well, following on from Russia's recapturing of Avdiivka as Fred was mentioning, I spoke with the chair of NATO's Military

Committee, Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer.

He tells me the Russians have taken nothing, really downplaying their win in the region. Tonight, Admiral Bauer says the lack of Western aid and

ammunition to Ukraine is now NATO's combined problem. Have a listen.


ROB BAUER, CHAIR, NATO MILITARY COMMITTEE: It is difficult for Ukraine. That's without any doubt. But President Zelenskyy himself in Munich said

that the Russians in Avdiivka basically had taken nothing. The town is in rubbles, the town, there's no people left, and the reason why the Ukrainian

soldiers were withdrawn was for -- to save their lives.

Instead of what the Russians are doing, the Ukrainians are looking at the lives of their soldiers. Even if that means to give in some territory at

some point. But until this moment, enormous amounts of soldiers lost their lives on the Russian side and a lot of material was lost to basically win a

town that is a ghost town, that is a pile of rubbles.

SOARES: You say that, but of course, where they've been holding on to it for some time, so I'm sure that loss does not sit well, of course, with the

Ukrainians. And what we have been hearing Admiral over the last few weeks here on the show from our reporters on the ground, from the reports we've

been getting on the show.

We have been hearing from Ukrainian soldiers on that sprawling Ukrainian frontline that they are basically exhausted, but also running out of

ammunition. They're rationing ammunition. How much Admiral, have the delays in Western ammunition and the fact that the U.S. of course, has yet to

unlock the $60 billion in aid.

How much is this making the situation worse? How much is this contributing to this retreat that we saw in Avdiivka?

BAUER: Well, of course, it's not helpful, that is clear. And at the same time, the Europeans and the Americans have given a lot of ammunition and

capabilities so far. But it has slowed down for a number of reasons. One is the American package, as you talked about, and the other one is that it is

difficult to keep up the right level of production in our industrial base for the defense production for in this case, ammunition.

And so, that is -- that is part of our combined problem because it is something we need to improve on drastically.

SOARES: We have seen Europe -- I'm going to pick up on that. We have seen Europe already stepping up aid to Ukraine. You've seen that much. Denmark

has donated we heard its entire artillery to Ukraine, Sweden announced just yesterday, I believe $683 million in aid for Ukraine, but we're still short

in ammunition.

You talked about ammunition there. I want you to listen to what the Danish Prime Minister had to say. Have a listen to this.



METTE FREDERIKSEN, PRIME MINISTER, DENMARK: You're German chancellor, and we have to do much more. But if you ask the Ukrainians, they are asking us

for ammunition now. Artillery now from the Danish side, we decided to donate our entire artillery.


And I'm sorry to say friends, there are still ammunition in stock in Europe, this is not only a question about production.



SOARES: So, this is not just a question about production. There are still ammunition. She went on to say. You know, we have -- Europe has weapons,

ammunition, air defense systems, there or not -- we're not using. This must be transferred to Ukraine. Does she have a point, Admiral?

BAUER: Well, I think it is important to say that every nation looks at what they have in stock, what they have in terms of capabilities, what they have

in stock or for -- when it comes to ammunition. And then they assess the risk that they take if they give away part of what they have for another

task, which is basically to defend part of the alliance, which -- or defend first their own country in accordance with Article 3 of the treaty.

So, nations have weapons systems and ammunition to defend themselves. We don't have capabilities and weapons systems and ammunition only to give

away to Ukraine. So, it is a little bit too simple I would say, to say that we should give away everything we have. That is a decision that were taken

by the sovereign nations that make up the alliance.

And it's up to every government to look at the risk they are willing to take in comparing it with the threat that every nation is facing.

SOARES: Let me ask you about some of the alarming comments, as well as rhetoric that we have heard from former President Trump, who said Russia

could do whatever they want to any NATO country that doesn't pay enough. How much does this undermine NATO? How dangerous is this -- are these sort

of comments?

BAUER: I think the Secretary-General's words were spot on. He reminded us all that unity is one of the most important things in our alliance and the

trust in each other. The fact that we all signed up to a treaty which says in Article 5, "an attack on one is an attack on all", and we have to

believe, we have to understand that, that promise is a sacred promise.


SOARES: And our thanks to Admiral for taking the time to speak to us. Now, a pro-Russian military blogger has died days after reporting the Russian

military suffered massive losses during its assault on Avdiivka. Andrey Morozov's death is being reported as a suicide.

He was a big supporter of Russia's full scale invasion. And he fought alongside Russian troops in the 2022 offensive. But he also said Tuesday,

he had been forced to delete the post from his Telegram channel without naming who gave the order.

We'll stay on top of that story for you. And a quick programming note on Friday, we'll have a special 30-minute program right here on the show to

mark the two-year anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. And we'll have the very latest from the ground high-level interviews with

European officials and the military experts to bring us up to speed, of course, on the battlefield developments.

All of that, plus a much closer look at how Ukrainians are coping two years into a grinding as well as desperate war. Don't want to miss that. Now to

U.S. politics. The U.S. Republicans impeachment inquiry into President Biden is potentially hanging on by a thread after one of their core

allegations of a Biden bribery scheme appear to have been made up.

The claims came from former FBI informant, Alexander Smirnov the GOP spent months touting his credibility. But Smirnov was just charged with lying to

the FBI, and prosecutors say he admitted some of the supposed dirt he had on the Bidens came from Russian Intelligence officers.

Meanwhile, U.S. House Republicans are trying to flip the script by blaming the FBI and asking why they relied on the informant in the first place.

CNN's Marshall Cohen joins us now live from Washington D.C. And Marshall, this is pretty explosive stuff. What do we know at this stage about this

informant and in particular ties to Russia Intel?

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Isa, these are some pretty startling allegations. We're talking about Alexander Smirnov; the former informant

who was charged last week with lying to the FBI about the Bidens. He falsely accused President Biden and his son, Hunter Biden of taking

millions of dollars in bribes from Ukraine.

After Smirnov was arrested, he told authorities about his long-standing contacts with foreign operatives. According to court filings, he claimed

that Russian officials tied to Russian Intelligence agencies had previously passed him information about Hunter, information that the DOJ says was

false and information that has had a major impact on American politics.


Congressional Republicans have peddled Smirnov's uncorroborated bribery allegations for the better part of the past year, Isa. Now, listen, Smirnov

is charged with lying, so it's hard to know what exactly to believe. But in this court filing, the prosecutors, David Weiss and his team really sent

up a flare, a warning about potential interference in our 2024 election.

Let me read for you something that they wrote in this filing. They said that quote, "Smirnov's efforts to spread misinformation about a candidate

of one of the two major parties in the United States continues. He is actively peddling new lies that could impact U.S. elections after meeting

with Russian Intelligence officials in November."

I know for his part, Isa, Smirnov has not yet entered a plea. His attorney say that he is going to mount a rigorous defense.

SOARES: Marshall Cohen, always great to have you on the show. Thanks, Marshall. And still to come right here on the show as a threat of famine

looks -- looms in Gaza, a CNN exclusive report finds a U.N. food convoy came under Israeli fire despite a previous agreement on its route.

Plus, we'll sit down with a U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees to discuss the crisis in Gaza and in Sudan and in Ukraine. Multiple crisis going on.

That is next.


SOARES: Well, as Israel's chief military prosecutor says some troops in Gaza have engaged in criminal misconduct during the war on Hamas, including

unjustified use of force. Some of it against detainees, looting, as well as destruction of civilian property.

In a letter to IDF commanders, the prosecutor said, quote -- I'm going to read out, "these acts and statements on the part of individuals who do not

represent the whole are contrary to the IDF being a professional, moral and state army, and have no place in the IDF.

They also caused the state of Israel and the IDF strategic damage in the international arena, the seriousness of which is difficult to overstate."

Well, a famine doesn't have to happen. But if things don't change, it will. That warning from the World Food Program, as it announced, it's suspending

life-saving food deliveries to northern Gaza because of unsafe conditions.

The World Health Organization also sounding the alarm today, saying Gaza has become a death zone as the flow of aid dries up.


Food and water becoming increasingly difficult for civilians to find in some areas, if not virtually impossible. Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): As you can see, this is a war starvation. There is no water or food or anything. Every day, we will

suffer and so we're able to collect water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): There's no change of clothes, there's no water. There's no food, like the rest of the world has. As you

can see, the situation is dire. Water is the basis of life. Without water, there's no life. It's water or death.


SOARES: Dire indeed. Well, some aid trucks have been hit amid the fighting, underscoring the huge security challenges facing relief workers. CNN has

been investigating one incident involving a U.N. food convoy earlier this month. We found Israeli forces fired on one of those trucks. Our Katie

Polglase has this exclusive report.


KATIE POLGLASE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER (voice-over): This is how desperate the people in northern Gaza are. This aid truck filmed at the end

of January is one of the last to enter the region. And here's why aid so often caught in the fighting.

(on camera): Now, CNN can exclusively reveal that this truck carrying vital food headed for northern Gaza was hit on February 5th by an Israeli shell

despite an agreement to provide a safe route. CNN has seen the internal U.N. incident report and the correspondence between the U.N. and the

Israeli military that show the route of this convoy was agreed upon in advance.

(voice-over): And with starvation imminent for many across Gaza, experts say hitting a food truck is a potential war crime.

JANINA DILL, INSTITUTE FOR ETHICS, LAW & ARMED CONFLICT, OXFORD UNIVERSITY: It's really difficult to see how this could be illegal attack. And so at

minimum, it would look like a very serious violation of international humanitarian law, whether it's also criminal then, depends on questions of


POLGLASE: The trucks set off as part of a U.N. marked convoy of ten up Al Rashid Road in the early hours. It reached an IDF holding point at 4:15

a.m., stationary for over an hour. It was then hit at 5:35 a.m. Fortunately, no one on board was killed.

The U.N. says they were hit by Israeli Naval gunfire. And in satellite imagery taken just two hours after the attack, CNN identified ships that

could only be Israeli Naval boats, they have been deployed along the coast and are attacking Gaza from the west.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We share with the Israeli army the coordinates of the convoy. And only when the Israeli army gives us the OK, the green light,

that's Angara(ph) move. And the purpose of this de-confliction process is to make sure that aid convoys don't get hit.

POLGLASE: It's not the first time this has happened. Many other aid trucks have been hit since the beginning of this conflict. The U.N. says northern

Gaza is still home to reported 300,000 civilians. UNRWA says half of its mission requests to the north have been denied since January.

And since this latest attack, they have taken the painful decision to stop trying to deliver aid to the north at all. The IDF says it's helping to

coordinate humanitarian relief in Gaza. But aid agencies say they face repeated delays while some staff are detained and even tortured.

A U.N. mission in December described one aid worker who said he was stripped, beaten and blindfolded. Even when convoys are allowed through,

some routes are simply not possible. This large crater blocking Al Rashid road just weeks before it was designated by the IDF as the main route

permitted for humanitarian vehicles.

DILL: Such large percentages of the population are at such dire need, at such immediate risk of starvation. From that perspective, it's really hard

for me to understand what kind of potential military rationale could be advanced to justify actions like this.

POLGLASE: As the humanitarian crisis deepens, the question is whether Israel will be held accountable in a court of law for depriving so many in

Gaza of aid.


SOARES: And our thanks to Katie Polglase for that report. For more on the humanitarian situation in Gaza and beyond, we're joined now by the U.N.

High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. Mr. Grandi, welcome back to the show. I think it's important to point out to our viewers right from the

get-go that UNHCR, of course, is not operational from what I understand in Gaza, you don't have teams on the ground.

Having said that, I have seen some of the comments that you've made, and you are like so many alarmed by the devastating humanitarian situation on

the ground, and the forced displacement of Gazans. What is your reaction to what we have been seeing here? What you have been seeing day-in-day-out,



FILIPPO GRANDI, UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES: Naturally, I, like all my U.N. colleagues were extremely worried, this concentration

of people at the border with Egypt with less -- with less and less space available for them to survive is extremely dramatic.

A spill-out of population. Another refugee crisis. Let's not forget that most people in Gaza are already refugees. Another refugee crisis would be

catastrophic, would be not only catastrophic from the humanitarian point of view, it would be politically unsolvable.

It would be, as I have already said, enabling the coffin of any future peace process. So, must be avoided at all costs, to aid into Gaza, to

humanitarian ceasefires, liberation of hostages, all the things that have been repeated now in vain, unfortunately, for weeks.

SOARES: Yes, and context for our viewers, we know that almost 1.9 million people, that's what more than 80 percent of Gaza's total population has

been displaced. The Israelis, as we understand, are drawing up plans, as you would have seen, Mr. Grandi as well for a ground offensive in Rafah.

Well, I suppose the obvious question that I keep asking my guests are, where are -- where are Gazans supposed to go? Are you having any

conversations with Egypt or other nations about what the political options, the options are for the Palestinian refugees.

GRANDI: I think Egypt has been very clear from the very beginning of this tragedy that they would not wish Palestinians to massively flow into Egypt,

and I think the insistence has to be on what I said, like we repeated again, aid has to go into Gaza. People have to be assisted inside, but

without a ceasefire, this is very difficult as we just heard from your program.

SOARES: Yes, it is very difficult. We're seeing the -- really, the repercussions of this, that aid not getting in and the lack of any sort of

political solution to this crisis. But this is of course, one of several crisis playing out that we have been covering.

You were recently in Ukraine, and I believe in Sudan. And I read that you called this moment -- and correct me if I'm wrong here, Mr. Grandi, a

jigsaw of crisis. With so many pieces, I wonder, is there a global -- is there unity? Is there a global vision to tackle these crisis and take on

this moment?

GRANDI: You know, if you sit where I sit, in a humanitarian -- from a humanitarian perspective, you see this very clearly. Look at Ukraine, the

caucuses, then you have the Middle East in flames. Egypt is between Gaza and Sudan, you have Yemen farther south.

And then basically from Sudan, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, you have countries either in conflict or in very fragile situations. Europe is

surrounded by a belt of crisis. When European states get so worried about flows of refugees into Europe, they should really pay more attention to the

urgent need of solving this conflict.

Sudan is very much neglected by the international community, and unfortunately, it's not just in the political domain, even the humanitarian

consequences of this crisis are not paid enough attention to.

SOARES: I sense frustration on your end. Am I wrong to sense that?

GRANDI: Yes, I was in Sudan a couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days there. I went as far as I could near the frontline between those two

military factions. Those two military groups that are fighting each other. The army, the Sudanese army, and the Rapid -- the Rapid Force.

And this war is destroying a country. A huge country, not far from the Mediterranean, in a very strategic part of Africa and the indifference of

the international community. Eight million people displaced since the beginning of this conflict in April, of whom a quarter of them, 25 percent

in neighboring countries, which are themselves very fragile.

What more needs to happen to attract the attention of the world for aid and political pressures to find the solution? I don't know.

SOARES: And as we heard, we heard what one child dying every two hours, according to MSF, this is in the Zam-Zam Camp in -- Zam-Zam Camp in Sudan.

Mr. Grandi, appreciate you taking the time to speak to us. Thank you, sir.

GRANDI: Thank you.

SOARES: And still to come tonight, U.S. President Donald Trump responds to the death of Alexei Navalny by comparing himself to the late Russian


Plus, Navalny's widow vows to continue his life's work. We'll profile Yulia Navalnaya. That's next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN. More people get their news from CNN than any other news source.


SOARES: Welcome back everyone.

Alexei Navalny's mother is filing a lawsuit to try and retrieve her son's body. The late Russian opposition leader died last week while imprisoned in

Siberia. And Navalny's mother is now accusing investigators of inaction to return his body to his family. A closed hearing is said -- is scheduled for

about two weeks from now, that is according to Russian state media.

Navalny's widow, Yulia Navalnaya, is vowing to continue her late husband's work and oppose Vladimir Putin's role in Russia -- ruling, I should say.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen has his profile of a burgeoning political leader faced with, really, a truly daunting task.


YULIA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEI NAVALNY'S WIDOW: (Speaking in a foreign language).

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Using her late husband's catchphrase, a grieving Yulia Navalnaya has picked

up the mantle of Alexei Navalny.

NAVALNAYA (through translator): I should not have recorded this video. There should be another person in my place.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): These, the last images, showing Navalny alive, smiling, the day before his sudden death in an Arctic penal colony, which

Russia says it's still investigating.


NAVALNAYA (through translator): Putin killed half of me, half of my heart and half of my soul. But the other half of me remains, and it tells me that

I don't have the right to surrender.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Navalnaya, for years, avoided the political limelight. But a glimpse of her strong character shown through as Alexei

was poisoned in Russia in August 2020. As she stared down the men keeping her away from her ailing husband in a hospital.

NAVALNAYA (through translator): We demand the immediate release of Alexei Navalny because right now, in this hospital, there are more police and

government agents than doctors.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Odessa Rae spent months working on a CNN documentary about that poisoning and grew close to the family.

ODESSA RAE, PRODUCER, "NAVALNY" DOCUMENTARY: She was very strong from the minute I met her. And she had the capacity to handle different situations

with a lot of poise and strength. She just holds herself and holds that same belief for the future of Russia.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Yulia remained an anchor of support for Alexei, never leaving his side as he recovered in a hospital in Germany. Even

returning to Russia with him despite the dangers. A final kiss as he was taken into custody at the airport.

RAE: She's just one of the strongest women I have ever known. You know, to watch what she's gone through and to see her strength, it's an inspiration

to everyone. I mean, I don't know many people like Yulia and Alexei.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): But since Alexei's death, it's only Yulia and she's made clear, she will continue his work challenging Vladimir Putin's iron

fist rule over Russia.

NAVALNAYA (through translator): I thought long and hard if I should come up here or go and be with my children. I thought, what would Alexei have done

in my place? And I'm sure that he would have been standing here on this stage.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.


SOARES: While in the wake of Navalny's death, Former U.S. President Donald Trump has taken to comparing his own legal troubles with Russia's

persecution of Navalny, where here he is at a "Fox News" town hall on Tuesday night. This is what he said, have a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's happening in our country, too. We are turning into a

communist country in many ways, and if you look at it, I'm the leading candidate. I got indicted -- I never heard of being indicted before. I was

-- I got indicted four times. I have eight or nine trials. It is a form of Navalny. It is a form of communism or fascism.


SOARES: Well, it's a parallel Mr. Trump has drawn before, though it lands differently now, following, of course, Navalny's passing. President Joe

Biden was quick to point out Trump's refusal to hold Putin responsible for Navalny's death, turning this into a campaign issue for this year's


Let's get more on all this. Stephen Collinson wrote about this for He joins me now from Washington. And Stephen, I mean, I had to listen to

this several times. I mean, calling his $354 million civil fraud verdict a former Navalny. Those words will sit -- I mean, they're shocking, to many

people, grotesque. Why is he doing this? Why this comparison?

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN POLITICS SENIOR REPORTER: I think Trump only sees the world through a prism of his own interests. So, even something as

sacred as somebody who has died a political martyr for their beliefs, for Trump, it's just a transactional thing he can use to advance his own

political interests and legal argument. The idea that he is being persecuted is the core argument that he's making to Republicans in this

presidential campaign, to try and get around the fact that he's facing 91 criminal charges, has been indicted four times, and is also facing multiple

civil suits, like that fraud case, in which he was judged by a judge to have broken the law.

You know, it's obviously a ridiculous argument that America is becoming like a communist country. But it's a very powerful one for a certain sector

of the Republican Party. And that is how Trump believes that he can win the election. So, like I said, he just cares about what matters for him. It's

not just in this case, it's in pretty much every case.


SOARES: Yes, pretty much me, me, me, and in many ways propaganda. What he didn't say, I should add or fail to mention, was Putin. Why haven't we seen

any sort of condemnation of Putin for Navalny's death from him? And -- I mean, and could this, more importantly, here's even be a preview of how he

would approach relations with Moscow if he wins a second term.

COLLINSON: There's long been this odd deference of President Trump to Putin. There was the whole issue of the Russia investigation and the fact

that it appears, according to assessments by U.S. intelligence agencies, that the Russians intervened in the 2016 election because they wanted Trump

to get elected because they saw it in their interests.

And Trump almost never argues with Putin, whether that's because he sees it in his interests. I think there's an extent to which he admires Putin. He

sees him as a strong man. He's often said that he's a genius. And of course, when everybody is trying to tell the former president to do

something, i.e. condemn Putin, he's not going to do it. I think there's also a synergy between Putinism, white nationalism, also represented by

Victor Orban in Hungary, and the Make America Great Again movement.

There's -- there are a lot of similar, sort of, philosophical beliefs in common with those movements. But it still is a mystery, and I think it,

yes, it is a vision of how Trump would act in a second term. And his first term, he often appeared to be doing things that were as much in Russia's

foreign policy interest as America's, and I don't think that would change. And of course, it's in Russia's interest for Trump, for example, to take

aim at the western alliance and to attack U.S. allies as he's also been doing recently.

SOARES: I mean, speaking of foreign policy, our viewers will know this. Donald Trump is advocating for no further Ukraine aid. I wonder whether

Republicans have condemned him for these comments. Before you answer that, though, just play -- I want you to listen to what Joe Walsh said last

night. Have a listen to this.


JOE WALSH, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: This is anti-American. This isn't the first time he's said this. He -- he's always saying crap like this,

like, this happens here, and we kill people here, and we're bad here, and we've got bad guys here. This is ugly. Blame America, anti-American B.S.

And I wish Biden and the -- look, my former colleagues aren't going to call this out, but I hope the Democrats jump on this, because this is anti-

American crap that needs to be called out.


SOARES: Are any Republicans calling this out?

COLLINSON: Very few. The only Republicans that are prepared to call Trump out have mostly been driven out of positions of power in the Republican

Party by Trump. People like Former Congresswoman Liz Cheney or someone like Utah Senator and Former Republican Nominee Mitt Romney, who's retiring at

the next election.

Trump has so transformed and co-opted the Republican Party and is reflecting what people think in the grassroots of the party. For example,

on the issue of no more aid to Ukraine, that anyone that wants a career in the GOP, at least for the foreseeable future is either going to have to get

in line or accept that their criticism will drive them out of the Trump Republican Party because of the Make America Great Again movement.

The question is, is there a majority of Americans that want to vote for that in November's election, and that's what we're going to find out.

SOARES: Stephen Collinson, as always, fascinating. Thank you, Stephen. Good to see you.


SOARES: And still to come tonight, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with the President of Brazil, President Lula. We'll have a live

report on their meeting, that is coming up next.



SOARES: Well, we are tracking developments out of Russia where a dual U.S.- Russian national has been jailed on treason charges. Ksenia Karelina is a 33-year-old who lives in Los Angeles. The White House says it's aware of

reports of her arrest and it's urging Americans to leave Russia immediately.

Pictures have emerged of Karelina practicing ballet in what looks like New York, as you can see there. Her employer says she was visiting family in

Russia when she was arrested. The employer says, she's accused of donating a little more than $50 to a Ukrainian charity in the U.S.

In addition to Karelina, Americans, Evan Gershowitz, as you know as well, U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan, are also being held in Russia. Of course,

we will stay across that story for you.

Well, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Brazil where he met with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ahead of G20 meetings. President Lula

da Silva says they discussed the G20, energy transition, as well as peace efforts both in Ukraine and in Gaza/ The G20 foreign ministers are meeting

in Rio de Janeiro. And among those who will be attending is Russian -- Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov.

Joining us now with more is Journalist Stefano Pozzebon. And Stefano, let's start then with what that meeting between, as you saw video of it, between

President Lula and Secretary Blinken. I wonder what came out of it. I mean, I ask this because we -- Lula, I think it's fair to say, has been in the

middle of a diplomatic spat over some comments he has made. The -- was this addressed? Was this discussed?

STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Isa. Lula, Brazil and Latin America at large finds himself at the center of the diplomatic world this

week with the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Brazil. We don't know in detail what Blinken and Lula discussed. Like you said, on the agenda, there

was the G20, which is organized in Brazil later this year, transition corporation, but of course, it's likely that the most pressing issue was


And the role that Lula insists on playing in trying to bring peace or bring about peace negotiations, both in Gaza and Israel. Over the weekend, he

compared the attacks of the military action from Israel to the Holocaust. And of course, Blinken, we know from a State Department spokesperson,

Blinken said that the U.S. do not share those remarks, that they took criticism of that, but at the same time that they hope to work together to

find new solutions. And to bring Brazil and Lula himself to the table of other negotiations.

Of course, these happens as the Russian foreign minister is also in town. Blinken and Lavrov took part in a photo together with all the other foreign

ministers of the G20. So, there is a lot of going on and a lot of chess play behind the scenes between these three countries. Brazil on one side

wants to play a mediating role between the United States one side and Russia on the other.

It's interesting here because, of course, there is a lot of cooperation between all of these countries and Latin America --

SOARES: Indeed.

POZZEBON: -- is right at the center of it.

SOARES: Let's talk about these chess moves because like you said, Stefano, and quite rightly, Lula has pitching -- has been pitching himself -- has

been pitching, I think I should say, a peace coalition, right, for Ukraine? Trying to position himself as a mediating force. I wonder, from your

position there in Bogota, is there appetite in Latin America to support Ukraine given, given the financial support that Russia has been placing in

Latin America?


POZZEBON: Yes. So, it's -- it goes straight to what happened, also over the weekend which is a different story from another Latin American country.

Ecuador had to seemingly stop the envoy of weapons from Ecuador to Ukraine due to a trade barrier imposed by Russia on the Ecuadorian banana trade.

It's a fascinating story. But the bigger picture means that most Latin American countries, both here where I am in Colombia, Brazil of course,

Argentina, and Ecuador, and Peru, want to stay out of the conflict and try to do good business with both the West, the United States, and the European

Union, and with both China and Russia.

Brazil, for example, exports to all of these countries, both the U.S. and China are major international economic partners for Brazil. And of course,

it's why this is -- this is why Latin America is trying to portray themselves as an equally distanced region that can perhaps help bring


At least more on Ukraine, the Gaza and Israel situation is a little bit more problematic here. For example, Gustavo Petro of Colombia is a vocal

supporter of the South African action at the ICJ against Israel. But at least on Ukraine, the entire region is trying to portray themselves as

neutral and advocating for a peaceful solution. Isa.

SOARES: Important context there from our Stefano Pozzebon. Stefano, it was great to see you. Thank you.

Now, popular parent personality Ruby Franke is now facing the possibility of decades behind bars after being found guilty of child abuse. Franke

blogged the abuse of her children on her now deleted YouTube channel "8 Passengers". She posted videos of some of the ways she punished her

children, such as withholding food from them and banning his son from his room for months.

Thus, Franke was arrested in August after her 12-year-old son run away and asked a neighbor to call police. At the sentencing, Franke said her charges

are just. She went on to say, they offer safety to my family, accountability to the public, and did they -- and they did show mercy to


We're going to be taking a break. Back after this.



SOARES: And we have news just coming in to CNN. Boeing has removed the head of a troubled jet program. The company let go of Ed Clark, the head of its

737 MAX passenger jet division. The program has come under scrutiny after a series of safety, as well as, quality related incidents.

Last month, if you remember, a door plug blew out mid-flight on an Alaska Airlines MAX jet. It follows a 20-month grounding in 2019 and 202 of MAX

jets following two crashes that killed a total of 346 people. Of course, we'll stay on top of this story just coming in to CNN.

And finally, tonight, Beyonce is breaking records once again. This time with a number one debut on Billboard's Hot Country songs chart. I have yet

to hear it. Let's listen to this.


BEYONCE, SINGER: This ain't Texas. Woo. Ain't no hold them. Hey. So, lay your cards down, down, down, down.


SOARES: Very catchy. That's her song, "Texas Hold 'Em", which was released on February 11th, right after the Super Bowl. This marks Beyonce's entrance

on the country chart. She's now the first woman to top both the Hot Country charts and Hot R&B or Hip-Hop Songs since the list began. My team can't

stop singing it.

"Quest Means Business" up next, I'll see you tomorrow. Bye-Bye.