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North Korea Fires Two Ballistic Missiles; E.U. Proposes Tighter COVID-19 Vaccine Export Controls; Vaccine Rollouts Along The Irish Border; Massive Ship Stuck In Suez Canal; Poverty Grows In Lebanon As Political Stalemate Drags On. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired March 25, 2021 - 02:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church, just ahead in North Korea fires more projectiles, this time, they're ballistic missiles and raising concerns of the nation and beyond.

Plus, a wave of COVID cases, the E.U. could increase controls on COVID vaccine exports.

And, traffic gridlock in the Suez Canal. A major cargo ship still stuck in one of the world's largest waterways. How long it might take to clear. We will take a look.


CHURCH: Good to have you with us.

After going a year without any known weapons tests from North Korea, Pyongyang has now conducted its second missile launches in less than a week, two ballistic missiles were fired just hours ago into the sea near Japan drawing a stern response from the Japanese prime minister.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is following developments for us in Seoul, she joins us now live, good to see you Paula.

So two missile launches in just a matter of days, this time two ballistic missiles fired near Japan.

What's more are you learning about?

This and of course, reaction from Japan?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Rosemary, what we saw in the early hours of this morning just after 7 am local time which certainly be more of a concern to the U.S., to Japan and South Korea than what we saw over the weekend.

These were 2 short range ballistic missiles from the information that we have from the Japanese and from the South Korean side. At this point, we know that Japan's prime minister has said that this is a threat to the peace and security of Japan.

There has been an emergency National Security Council meeting here in South Korea. They called it of deep concern and both countries are saying that they have increased their surveillance on the area as well.

So what this really does is it increases the pressure that will be felt not just by those in the region but the Biden administration, we had that weapon test last weekend, which was not a ballistic missile test. Which means that it did not break any rules, it was not violating the United Nations Security Council resolution, which this morning appears it to have done.

At this point, the Biden administration says that it was low down on the spectrum of what North Korea could do. We have seen today that from the spectrum, we have gone up a couple of notches. Potentially it will be very difficult for the U.S. President, Joe Biden, especially his press conference Thursday, did not mention this.

It is clear that he will be asked about this. As experts are trying to analyze exactly what kind of weapon was tested and certainly any state media issued photos will help with that later on. They are also looking as to why this happened at this moment.

And clearly, North Korea, edging towards testing more as we have heard from Kim Jong-un. Recently, he has said that he is ready to test. He does not feel held back by any self-imposed moratorium.

And despite the fact that the U.S. has been trying to get back with North Korea and North Korea rebuffing them, Pyongyang at this point does not appear to be in the same frame of. Mind Rosemary?

CHURCH: All right, many thanks to Paula Hancocks, joining us live from Seoul.

We have more on this topic a little later this hour.


CHURCH: More than 300,000 people in Brazil have now lost their lives to the coronavirus, at least that is what we are looking at official. Data. But over the past few hours the health ministry has been changing the rules for reporting cases and deaths, making it harder to know the real number.

Meanwhile, the new health ministry is pledging to ramp up vaccinations and reach 1 million shots per day. A few hours ago AstraZeneca released new data on how well its COVID vaccine works. That is after a U.S. review board suggested the drug giant used information that was not up to date.

In its news release earlier this week, the latest figures show the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is 76 percent effective in preventing COVID symptoms. On Monday, the company said 79 percent which is not terribly different.


CHURCH: It still says that the vaccine is 100 percent effective at stopping severe disease. But none of that data has been peer reviewed. AstraZeneca says that that will happen in the coming weeks along with its application for emergency use authorization here in the United States.

Well, the E.U. and the U.K. have issued a joint statement saying that they are working together to expand access to coronavirus vaccines and create a win-win situation.

That is after the European Commission issued something of a veiled threat to cut back on vaccine exports to the United Kingdom, essentially saying, all future exports will depend on the vaccination rate of the destination country and how many doses it already has available.

The U.K. just happens to be in much better shape COVID wise than most of the Europe. Earlier and E.U. commission official basically said, they are not targeting any one country.


VALDIS DOMBROVSKIS, E.U. COMMISSION VICE PRESIDENT: Just since the introduction of export authorization, some 10 million doses have been exported from the U.K., from the E.U., to the U.K. And zero doses have been exported from the U.K. to the E.U.

So if we discuss represent reciprocity, solidarity and some would say global responsibility, it is clear that we also need to look at those aspects of reciprocity.


CHURCH: Earlier, the British prime minister was asked if he would consider retaliatory measures to discourage the E.U. from withholding vaccines.


BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: I don't think that blockades of either vaccines or of medicines or grievances over vaccines are sensible. I think that the long term damage done by blockades can be very considerable.

I would just gently point out that anybody considering a blockade or interruption of supply chains, companies may look at such actions and draw conclusions whether it is sensible to make future investments in countries where arbitrary blockades are.


CHURCH: Meanwhile, France is warning the E.U. will not be the laughing stock of this vaccination campaign. A French government spokesperson suggested the company at the center of this disputes bears some blame. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We consider that AstraZeneca

is not keeping the commitments it has made in contracts that were signed, which were signed almost in the same terms with other countries.

I think that in the case the U.K., the contract with France was signed one day earlier. We can see that the commitments are being kept in almost their entirety with certain countries. Notably, Great Britain and not with the European Union, which is a totally unacceptable situation.


CHURCH: Anna Cavazzini is a German member of the European Parliament and joins us now live from Berlin.

Thank you so much for being with us.


CHURCH: Now in this pandemic world, everyone is being forced into a "Hunger Games" scenarios to get access to vaccines. But now, it looks like the U.K. and E.U. may have come up with some compromise or solution to avoid the European threat of a vaccine export ban.

Now you made it very clear that you are never in support of such a ban, so what is this compromised solution to their dispute the 2 parties have apparently come up with?

CAVAZZINI: I do not know the details of the compromise. I only know the statement that you quoted. But I think it's a very good. Sign this is exactly what I said, you have to cooperate, you cannot start a trade war on vaccines because this would cost everyone.

We have to say that the European Union has a cause to spread -- we have problems with deliver AstraZeneca. It's not fulfilling the contract of the E.U., while it is fulfilling the contract of the U.K. Of course, this is unfair. I expect the U.K. to put pressure on AstraZeneca and I hope that the commission and the government are supportive.

CHURCH: Now you previously suggested that the U.K. renegotiate the U.K. first clause in the contract that they have with AstraZeneca and find a way to equitably divide COVID vaccines to ensure European nations get their fair share.


CHURCH: You are confident that this new arrangement will do something like that?

CAVAZZINI: I hope we come to a situation where, when there is a shortage, for example, with AstraZeneca, if they cannot deliver their on their promise, at least it will be equalized a little bit between the U.K. and the E.U. If this is what is being negotiated in the, contract or if it's

something informal, it is not important but I think that was important it says that citizens get vaccine. Yes. The European Union would not just be basically left behind and the U.K. gets. Everything I think it's a very unfair perception. Nevertheless I think this has to be done in a cooperative way. This export ban would be a bad idea.

CHURCH: Yes, it is a worth pointing out that less than 12 percent of the E.U. bloc's population is reported to have received a COVID vaccine shot compared to 40 percent in the United Kingdom. A vaccine export ban would have delayed the U.K.'s vaccine program probably by now 2 months or so, analysts suggest.

Now sharing those vaccines with Europe will probably do the same on a two-month delay of some sort.

Can European nations guarantee and improved vaccine rollout when they do get these extra doses, given that we know that 29 million AstraZeneca vaccines are currently being held up in Italy.

And that country also blocked vaccine supplies to Australia, nearly 300,000 or so.

CAVAZZINI: Yes. I think there are different problems. One is the AstraZeneca doses -- yesterday, in Italy and I think no one knew about them. The other one is that a lot of European countries decided to hold back the second doses for the people being vaccinated or to ensure to have them.

Because you get a first dose, then you have 40 or so days to get the second dose. I think a lot of governments decided to play a safe card to keep the doses back for the second shot. And this is also why it is getting a little bit slower.

The third problem is that indeed, some European countries, including I believe Germany, is a little bit too slow in really getting the vaccine into people. We are asking them to speed up.

CHURCH: Right, while I have you here, I do want to ask you about your chancellor, Angela Merkel, reversing her initial decision to have an Easter lockdown. Let's just listen to what she is now saying.


ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): It is important to say here, a mistake needs to be called a mistake. And above all, it must be corrected. If possible, this needs to happen as soon as possible.

At the same time, I am aware that this business has created uncertainty, I deeply regret, this and ask forgiveness.


CHURCH: We certainly don't see this come from politicians very. Often chancellor Merkel apologizing for the confusion and admitting that this was a mistake. How confident are you in Merkel's leadership?

CAVAZZINI: I think it is very good that, if politicians make a mistake, that they admit it. And you say that we don't see very often. But I think that this increases trust in politicians.

Of course, I expect that this should create a bit more leadership but also they need foresight. The German government is only doing its politics from one day to the other. They are not really planning.

We don't have a concept for schools, we have corruption cases in her own party -- so there's a lot of mess being created at the moment in the German government. Not just the gesture -- I think the gesture of apologizing is a good one. We also have to admit mistakes.

CHURCH: All right, Anna Cavazzini, thank you so much for talking with, us we really appreciate. It

The fallout from Brexit is leading to vaccine inequality among those living on the same exact island, more than a third of those living in Northern Ireland have had at least one dose. Compare that to just 12 percent on the other side of the border in the Republic of Ireland. CNN's Nic Robertson has that report


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): At 101 years old, she gets her second vaccine shot.

ROBERTSON: How do you feel that you had your second shot?


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Her doctor is on a roll --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to give you a vaccine.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Putting shots in arms at a Northern Ireland clinic, just as fast as she can, all her over 60s done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's fantastic, at every clinic there's a real feel good atmosphere.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): At a nearby sports center the same dose, dozens of health officials are delivering 1,200 shots a day.

ROBERTSON: So far across Northern Ireland, more than one third of the population have had their first shot of vaccine. Rollout according to the government is going well. South of the border in the Republic of Ireland it's an entirely different story.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Just across the Irish border, government vaccine supplies are stalling. A local doctor has no shots for the next few days. The real issue is that we are a large practice, we have over 1,500

patients over the age of 70. And to date, we've only been able to vaccinate about 210 of those patients.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): People on the other side of the border with vaccine envy. Unlike the U.K., Ireland relied on the E.U. for vaccines and are way behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a bit frustrating for people, you know what I mean?

ROBERTSON (voice-over): In his bar, Raymond is counting the cost of being shuttered through COVID restrictions for almost a year. A slow vaccine rollout in the south is adding to his woes, business lost to Northern Ireland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They will probably be open so much faster, when they open in the U.K., the young people are just going to flock across to the border.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): On the border roads, Irish police run occasional COVID checkpoints, preventing nonessential joiners. They began when rocketing infections in the north spilled over, spiking outbreaks in Ireland.

ROBERTSON: In the first month of all cross border operation, police here have handed out more than 140 fines to drivers coming from Northern Ireland. However, there is no reciprocal system. On the other side of the border, both sides of the border, the uneven COVID response is wearing politicians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pandemics don't recognize borders, we are a very small community a small island of the northwestern periphery of Europe. We need to work together to deal with health issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we do the cross border movements we actually see a higher degree of people who aren't vaccinated actually starting to come into Northern Ireland, that's a concern.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Paradoxically, Northern Ireland's vaccine success offers hope south of the border.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now that the rates in the north are so low, so now that we know that that would probably continue because it will be less community transmission, because so many people are vaccinated, I think we are going to find that our rates will reflect that.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Both sides of the border, hoping for leveling up fast -- Nic Robertson, CNN, along the Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland border.


CHURCH: Just ahead, stuck in the Suez Canal. We will see how long it takes to refloat a massive container ship blocking traffic and one of the world's busiest waterways. And Lebanon's economic crisis, more people are facing poverty in this

political stalemate.





CHURCH: One expert says it could take up to a week to refloat a massive container ship stuck in the Suez Canal. The Ever Given is still blocking passage in both directions and one of the world's biggest waterways. CNN's John Defterios is tracking developments for us, he joins us now live from Abu Dhabi.

Good to see you John. So if it takes a week to refloat this container ship, what will that -- what impact, in terms of financial losses, will that have?

Given that it is one of the world's busiest waterways.

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Yes, indeed Rosemary, 30 percent of seaborne traffic internationally. We are now officially at 48 hours into the clogging of this major artery itself.

That gives us more time to evaluate the ripple effects. first and foremost we know that there are dozens of tankers sitting either north or south of the canal and that some are trapped within the canal themselves.

The canal authority suggesting compensation for shippers that have their vessels inside the canal right now, also, there is a Japanese owner of the vessel and the Evergreen Marine, that is the charter company.

They have insurance, of course, but you could have millions of in claims against them because of lost income. And because supplies are not going to be delivered on time for those that are shipping on these vessels.

And then you raise a very good point, Rosemary, is it 2 days, 3 days?

Some sources are saying up to a week. You have to make a decision to reroute around Africa to get into Europe. That has a cost associated with it. And then you have the other vessels that are at sea right now.

Do they still head to the Suez Canal or do they redirect?

This will all going to unfold overtime. We did hear from BSM, the company that is the technical manager. We have had so many different consulting firms and everybody weighing in. They say they've gone to stage 2. This includes dredging. They have tugboats and dredgers taking sand from out from underneath the Ever Given, to see if they can back it up and then upright it against the canal.

There are reports earlier that said that progress has been made. They said no. That it was due to the sandstorm. They did confirm, Rosemary, that there were no engine failures or technical failures which got in the way.

This is that transition between winter and spring and the sandstorms particularly, in those areas and caught up in airplanes, they're pretty radical. That seems to be the source here.

CHURCH: All right, John Defterios, thanks very much for picking a close eye on this, we appreciate it.

Lebanon's economic political crisis is taking a crushing toll on its people. The collapse of the currency in 2019 lead to skyrocketing prices and unemployment, talks between the prime minister designate and the president on forming a new cabinet broke down Monday. As CNN's Ben Wedeman reports, the result is clear in Tripoli.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The faded pictures of politicians from Lebanon's last election three years ago grace the walls of Tabbaneh, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Tripoli, Lebanon's second largest city and its poorest.

Business below the market for secondhand goods is slow. Poverty here, a constant.

"The richest people in Lebanon are here in Tripoli," says 62-year-old Ahmed Mousawa (ph). "The leaders, the dogs, don't care about anyone."

He lives with 11 members of his extended family in two cramped rooms. Years of winter rains have left stains where the water drips into the sitting room, which doubles as a bedroom at night. A picture on the wall speaks of better days, now long gone.

He has been ill for years. He can't afford basic medicines or much else.

"I don't eat meat," he says, "I just smell it from the market. It's two, three years, we don't know what meat is in my house."

Activist Linda Burhul (ph) brought leftover food from restaurants to his house to share with the poor in Tabbaneh. She, too, has lost faith in Lebanon's politicians.

"Must we cry and bleed and all of you remain leaders," she asks?

"It's not logical. We're done, we're fed up."

Tripoli has been the scene of violent protests against the political elite.

[02:25:00] WEDEMAN (voice-over): In the last two years, the local currency has lost more than 80 percent of its value against the dollar. Annual inflation last year was more than 80 percent. Unemployment is rising. Lebanon teeters on the brink of collapse.

And all the while, the politicians squabble over the shrinking spoils, unable to form a government since the last one resigned nearly eight months ago after the Beirut port blast.

"They're running away from the disaster," says Nadal (ph), a shopkeeper. "They're running away from the collapse. They're running away from their theft. There's no government and we're heading toward the abyss."

Old bullet holes on the walls of this city, a reminder of what that abyss could bring -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Tripoli, northern Lebanon.


CHURCH: Nike is facing a major backlash on Chinese social media after raising concern about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang. A popular Chinese actor has reportedly ended his contract to represent Nike in response to the criticism and Swedish retailer H&M is also under fire for raising similar concerns.

Steven Jiang is in Beijing with more, he joins us now.

So, Steven bring us the very latest on. This

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER, BEIJING BUREAU: Rosemary, this latest wave of huge backlash against major Western brands is really showing no signs of abating. You mentioned celebrities calling off ties with Nike, we've seen other celebrities calling off ties with H&M, the first target in this campaign.

And we've already seen state media and social media reports of at least one store announcing closure because of this. E-commerce platforms in China including Alibaba removing all H&M products from its online stores.

And more brand names may be involved. This latest statement from Nike saying that we have been conducting ongoing diligence with our suppliers in China to identify and assess potential forced labor risks related to unemployment of Uyghurs. Based on evolving information, we strengthen our protocols to identify emerging risks related to potential labor transfer programs.

But you know, this kind of statement is certainly not going to placate or satisfy Chinese officials or state media or many Chinese consumers because it is exactly remarks like this that got H&M into getting into trouble to begin with.

Timing of all of this is far from coincidental. Because one of the first online posts, quote unquote, exposing H&M, was from the Communist Youth League. That is the youth organization in the ruling Communist Party. Remember, this is happening with this backdrop of the U.S., E.U.,

Canada relay imposing sanctions against Chinese officials because of the alleged role in human rights violations in Xinjiang. And they've been frustrated and enraged by these moves, so this is another example of them getting aggressive in pushing back these allegations.

Of course, they have flatly denied any forced labor happening in Xinjiang. Saying that these programs are part of their poverty alleviation efforts and all of these Uyghur workers left their towns voluntarily to seek better jobs elsewhere in this country -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Steven Jiang, joining us from Beijing, explaining all of that for, us many. Thanks

North Korea's launch of two ballistic missiles has South Korea and Japan worried for their safety, how the weapons tests are affecting nearby. Countries when we return.





CHURCH: More now on our top story, South Korea says that it is deeply concerned of Pyongyang's launch of 2 short range ballistic missiles early Thursday. Seoul's National Security Council held an emergency meeting earlier to discuss the security situation on the peninsula.

For more on this I'm joined by John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies.

Thank you, professor for talking with. Us


CHURCH: So a year without any weapons tests and now 2 in the space of just a few. Days this time, ballistic missiles, fired into the scene in Japan. That country's prime minister says that the test threatens the peace and security of Japan and is a violation of U.N. resolutions.

So how should the international community respond to this?

DELURY: I don't know that we have any good options at least in the short term and, of course, as always with North Korea, we have to debate and figure out whether intentions are. There's really 2 different ways to read this. As terms of experts looking at it. North Korea's are looking for there are strategic weapons program and deterrent in good shape.

In fact, this is not necessarily a message to Joe Biden or anyone else. There is no negotiation. They will keep moving ahead. But the other view is a sort of a reminder of what is it stake, that you cannot ignore North Korea and that, in a strange way, it also shows the value of getting diplomacy that would perhaps get them to agree to a freeze on precisely this kind of testing.

But in any case, it certainly raises the stakes, draws a lot of attention to an issue that, to some extent, we have not been paying the same amount of attention to in the last 6 months or. Year

CHURCH: Of course, the timing of this is significant because the short-range missile test came just days after North Korea accused U.S. and South Korea of raising a stink on the Korean Peninsula with their annual joint military drills. We have seen that before, of course.

But President Biden just laughed it off. Then came these ballistic missile tests.

How likely is it that they were launched because Biden was not taking North Korea seriously?

And where do you see this?

Going what is the goal here?

DELURY: You know, it's very difficult -- I am sympathetic, empathetic with the Biden administration. I think the first cruise missile tests on Sunday, the message from Washington was to try to calm everyone down and not overreact, including President Biden and that is not a bad idea.

But the problem is, it was not a one-off. Now we have ballistic missiles. When they use ballistic missile technology, as it appears to be the case, then that is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

So when you ask, where does this go?

In fact, the U.N. Security Council, might consider taking up the issue not, you know, starting a new round of sanctions, that is not going to get us anywhere. But to bring us some international community attention to it.

Meanwhile, for my understanding in Washington, the national security adviser, under Joe Biden, that will be hosting soon the South Korean in Japanese national security advisers in a week. That gives him time to think to respond to this in a thoughtful way.


DELURY: You need to get negotiations resumed with the North Koreans, because frankly we can't answer your question, what is there end game. And what is Kim Jong-un interested in if there is not some kind of dialogue directly with Pyongyang. So that really is the next step. Whether you like it or. Not

CHURCH: All right and of course, Japan's military says, that the missiles flew more than 450 kilometers, reaching a height of nearly 100 kilometers.

What does that indicate to you in terms of how North Korea's weapons program is advancing?

DELURY: You know, I am not one of the serious missile experts. I follow them. And it seems that they are still working out and that authorities here were not as forthcoming. I think that analysis is still ongoing in terms of the exact capability that was tested.

So I think we have to reserve judgment, as far as what it means as a sort of technical and tactical level. But what we can say, is that we now have 2 tests, one towards the west, the west towards China, the other into the East Sea towards Japan. South Korea, of course, is concerned by all of this.

So does feel as if we have moved into a new phase, here, where North Korea's, as you mentioned, Rosemary, are releasing statements and they are also firing off weaponry and we are kind of moving into a new phase of diplomacy in their -- they want to be heard.

CHURCH: All right, clearly you are. Right John Delury, thank you so much for talking with, us we appreciate.

DELURY: Good to be with you.

CHURCH: You, too.

Japan's Olympic torch relay is under way more than 7 months after the games were supposed to close. Some 10,000 torchbearers travel through Japan with the flame before reaches its destination at the Olympic opening ceremony on July 23rd.

The first runners took off after a lighting ceremony in Fukushima, The site of a massive earthquake and tsunami 10 years ago. No spectators were allowed at the beginning, but onlookers can watch the race if they follow COVID-19 restrictions that are in place.

After a tragic loss one Olympic torchbearer is using his race to show his love ones they're not forgotten. Catch him on CNN "WORLD SPORT" just a few minutes away.

And allegations of espionage in Bulgaria, coming up, secretly recorded video that prosecutors say is at the center of a Russian spy ring.




CHURCH: Welcome back everyone.

The U.S. secretary of state says that the West must engage with Russia but remain clear eyed.

[02:40:00] CHURCH: Antony Blinken is the first top U.S. official to visit NATO since President Biden took office. His remarks likely struck a chord with officials in Bulgaria. Prosecutors there say that a suspected spy ring them engaged in espionage that was, quote, "unparalleled," since 1944. Nina dos Santos reports.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR (voice-over): This is what's aspiring allegedly looks like. A woman leaves the Russian embassy in Bulgaria capital of Sofia, with what prosecutors claim is a bag full of cash.

Later, an operative appears to swap it for different currencies. While another allegedly snaps classified documents on a specialty phone. Last week, Bulgaria arrested 6 of its own citizens in a sting the country is branding its most significant since the Second World War.

The incident has led to the expulsion of 2 Russian diplomats and this warning from the Bulgarian prime minister.

BOYKO BORSSOV, BULGARIAN PM (through translator): I again addressed the superiors to stop spying in Bulgaria. Friendship is friendship, we have also always demonstrated. It but Euro Atlantic cannot be jeopardized.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): The woman filmed by undercover cops is both Russian and Bulgarian.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): She was trusted by the Russian diplomats and credited in Bulgaria. She was playing the role of a mediator between the resident and employee of the embassy of the Russian federation as she was passing information and money.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Authorities say that she is married to the group's ringleader, a former head of military intelligence, code named the Resident. Prosecutors say that this is him, discussing cash for intelligence in this wiretap.

Some of the evidence put forward, this man was supposedly soliciting details of E.U. policy towards Russia, Belarus and Ukraine as well as U.S. activities in Bulgaria and a new NATO coordination center on the Black Sea coast.

The alleged agents also took screenshots of sensitive files, including this one mentioning American F16 fighter jets that Bulgaria recently began using.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We do not hate any foreign country but we must protect Bulgaria. We were protecting our national interest. We should not sell it for money.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Russia responded, saying it is being demonized. While the U.K., the U.S. and neighboring North Macedonia all lent their support to the criminal investigation. In 2019, through 2020, 5 Russian diplomats were expelled by Sofia for

espionage, giving Bulgaria, now a NATO member with historical ties to Russia, a reputation as a soft target, says this author, who has penned several books on spying.

DOS SANTOS: Why Bulgaria?

EDWARD LUCAS, AUTHOR: Espionage is like globalization, it doesn't really matter what national borders are, the question is, what can you buy, what can you sell?

I think Bulgaria, may have realized it was object of a mixture of mistrust and mockery from some of the other NATO countries because of the close ties to Russia based in terms of organized crime, espionage, business, energy, other things. I think they're trying to turn from that.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Either way, Bulgaria's actions come at a sensitive time, just as the Biden administration attends its first NATO summit and, weeks before, the country's general elections. Nina, dos Santos, CNN, London.


CHURCH: And thanks for joining us, I'm Rosemary Church. "WORLD SPORT" is up next, I'll be back at the top of the hour. Do stay with us.