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U.S. Secretary of State Blinken Announces He Will Meet with Belarus Opposition Leader; The Countdown For Bezos to Blast Off to Space. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 19, 2021 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This just in to CNN, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced that he will meet with the leader of the opposition in Belarus. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is in Washington now for a series of meetings with high-ranking U.S. officials. She has been in exile, forced into excite from her home country for nearly a year despite winning her presidential election and office she ran for after her husband was imprisoned.

The long-time Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, a friend of Vladimir Putin's, refused to relinquish power, setting off massive protests. Well Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya joins me now live in the studio. Thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: First, I want to begin with your own safety because you have had to leave your own country because of the way this government treats dissidents like yourself. We know that Russia has done worse to others. If you think of Alexei Navalny they attempted to poison him. First question to you is do you feel that your safety is in danger?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: You know, I - since the day I gave documents to the election commission I didn't feel safe, and of course after the hijacking of Ryanair flight I don't feel safe as well, but of course I have to think about my safeness, but first of all we have to think about safeness of those people who are inside our country, inside Belarus fighting for the freedom and safeness.

And it's very dangerous to be in Belarus now. You can be kidnapped at any moment, so of course we have to take care about ourselves, about those who are in exile, but first of all to think about those who are imprisoned and in Belarus.

SCIUTTO: Yes. People at home might not known, but tens of thousands of Belarusians who participated in these protests have been taken into prison. I want to ask you because your husband is one of those people who has been detained there. Have you had any contact with him? Do you know about his safety and health? TSIKHANOUSKAYA: You know, people in Belarus who are in prisons don't have opportunity to communicate with their relatives, and we have communication on the (inaudible) couple times a week and through the letters. And people in prisons are really in awful conditions and they're suffering a lot at the moment, and my husband is having so- called trial - closed trial. No journalists, not relatives can see him there. Only lawyer has access to him.

But we understand that people are being sentenced to years of jail just for their civil position, and we have to stop this. Not one of these people has to - you know, has to be in prison for so long time. This is our task to release all of them and bring our country to new elections (ph).

SCIUTTO: Well listen, I respect your courage because you face a real threat and your family faces a real threat. Your children, you have a 5 and 11-year-old. They have had to flee the country to Lithuania as well for protection. You will meet later today with the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. What help do you plan to ask the U.S. for?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: You know, the U.S. is the oldest democracy in the world, and the USA is promoting the struggle between autocracy and democracy in the world and so is Belarus. In the front line of this struggle I think that the USA has a moral obligation to be with us, and I ask the USA on the one hand to help civil society to survive because it's rather difficult. It's extremely difficult to struggle inside the country, and people have to flee the country. You know, our mass media is destroy, and they also have to work somehow.


So this support to civil society is crucial at the moment, but on the other hand we understand that without pressure on the regime, without political and economical isolation (ph) it would be much, much harder to achieve our goal. So don't hesitate in putting sanctions on the kronos (ph) of the regime, of the wallets of the regime to stop this violence as soon as possible and bring our country to new elections and up to democracy.

SCIUTTO: Have you been satisfied with the support that the U.S. has offered so far to you and other members of the opposition in Belarus? Is the U.S. doing enough?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: You know, so what's got happened in Belarus it's my personal opinion it's painful. Nine million people in Belarus. I think that nothing is enough at the moment. I'm sure that all the actions that the USA and the European Union are doing could be greater (ph), could be faster, could be stronger because people in Belarus are suffering and they understand that prolonging this adequate answer from other countries only prolonging Lukashenko at the power and prolonging sufferings.

And people in Belarus want to stop this violence as soon as possible, and only joint position, only joint sanctions, joint pressure, and joint assistance to civil society will help our beloved, our relatives to be released and joined with their families. SCIUTTO: The - you believe you won the presidential election, not Lukashenko as he claims, and it is the U.S. - the view of the U.S. as well as its NATO allies that election was, in effect, stolen by Lukashenko. Do you have hope that a new, free, and fair election will be held in Belarus and when?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: You know, I don't hope. I'm sure that we will succeed in this because it's not - it's impossible to live in the country with a person who is illegitimate, inside the country who is illegitimate to the rest of the world where people hate this person and not people are not giving up in their struggling.

And I'm sure that we will reach our goal in new elections that will help us to solve this crisis, economical, humanitarian crisis. When? I don't know when. I don't call the real date, but our goal is to have these elections this year. And with the help of democratic countries with their strong position, with their strong voice we will be able to reach this aim sooner -



TSIKHANOUSKAYA: -- and stop suffering of those people.

SCIUTTO: The sad fact is that not only Belarus but Russia, of course, and Lukashenko and Putin are very close. They have done this before. They have imprisoned the opposition. They have attempted worse against the opposition. For instance, I mentioned Navalny and others and there were allegations of torture in Belarus as well by the authorities, but the sad fact is that often these actions work, right? They work in holding back people like you.

I want to give you a moment here to speak to Mr. Lukashenko. You're both Belarusian. What would you ask of him? How do you encourage him to change the way he is leading the country and the way he's treating you and other members of the opposition?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: You know, first of all he is not leading the country. He is violating his people. It's not the same. And I don't think that I have any words to Lukashenko. The only words I have is to Belarusian people. I know that only faith keeps you to move forward, only responsibility for those who are in jail keeps you going on, and I ask people don't let fear to settle down in your mind.

I know that you have changed. I know that Belarusians woke up, so don't give up and together with democrat countries we will be able to win. So that's it.

SCIUTTO: Well listen, I just want to remind folks at home they may not know you're not a professional politician. Your husband was an opposition leader. You were a school teacher. You are a mother, and you are carrying out these acts of courage because you believe in them, and I salute you because I know you face real risks when you do. And I do wish you the best of luck.

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Thank you so much, and stand with Belarus.

SCIUTTO: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, we appreciate your courage and your time. And we'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: The countdown is on. Tomorrow Amazon Founder and billionaire, Jeff Bezos, set to blast off into space with his brother and two others, the roughly 11-minute journey on board his space tourism rocker, New Shepard, expected to take them to the edge of space as it's defined some 60 miles or so above Earth.


JEFF BEZOS, AMAZON FOUNDER: I don't know how it's going to change me, but I know it's going to, and I'm excited to find out how.



SCIUTTO: His flight just nine days after his competitor you might say, Richard Branson, took Virgin Galactic's Unity onto the edge of space. Joining me now to talk about all this, someone who knows a little bit about space, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. So great to have you on this morning.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, ASTROPHYSICIST: Yes. Good morning. Good morning.

SCIUTTO: I should mention you're author of the book "Cosmic Queries: StarTalk's Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We Are Going".

TYSON: It's all about the universe.


SCIUTTO: So where we're going. Let me ask you your view. Does space tourism like this and frankly high-priced space tourism - really high- priced, does that encourage or aid in space exploration?

TYSON: I first want to say this should have been happening decades ago. There's no reason why government should have had the monopoly that they did on people's access to space for like 50 years.


TYSON: So that's my just my first comment. Second, something not highly discussed is - or widely discussed is that these two billionaires are not the first billionaire to go into space. Charles Simonyi, who was one of the Microsoft billionaires, bought a seat on the Russian Soyuz capsule and visited the Space Station, so I just want to put that out there. I think that if you can open up a new business sector, go for it. I don't have any problem with that. Now of course it doesn't become really money making until it becomes more widely available, becomes sort of a commodity for everybody, so I'd look forward to that for sure.

SCIUTTO: A lot of folks have made the comparison to the early days of commercial flights down here closer to Earth when it was really the province of the super wealthy, and it was only over time and with competition and more volume that you had people like me - you and me being able to buy tickets. I mean, do you think that that's a fair comparison to how - granted, this is starting at a higher spot, but do you think that's a fair comparison about how this might go?

TYSON: Yes, so the difference is that governments didn't lead that advance in the aviation frontier. That was - well, except from when we entered warfare, but over - between wars it was just people in their garage basically making incremental improvements on their aero plane as this emerged onto the marketplace.

And then as they could carrier heavier loads for longer distances, you say hey, I'm don't need to carry your cargo. I can carry people. And then, so there's this transition that takes place.

So right now at a quarter million dollars, whatever Jeff Bezos is charging, that's not - it won't really become a marketplace until that comes down in price.


TYSON: And if he has rapid reuse of the vehicle, your amortize over your annual costs, I don't see that being that far away from where we are today.

SCIUTTO: Let's hope so. I know you've been asked this question before but I still think it's important to ask. Is this really space, right, because it's suborbital.


They're not going high enough or fast enough to orbit, but they are going high. By the way, I would take a ride in a second if anybody was listening from these companies, but explain to our viewers is this space travel, sort of space travel?

TYSON: You really want - you just asked me that question. I just want -


-- you really want me to go there.

SCIUTTO: I know.

TYSON: So just for context, OK, if you take a school room globe and ask - (CROSSTALK)


TYSON: -- where's Mars to Earth on a school globe it's a mile away.


TYSON: Where's the moon? 30 feet away. Where's the International Space Station? It's three-eights of an inch above the surface. Where's Jeff Bezos going to be? He's going to be half of one-eighth of an inch above the surface, about the thickness of two dimes.

And so, their official definitions of space, fine, but I'm an astrophysicist and if you're two dimes' thickness above a schoolroom globe it's harder for me to embrace that as a space journey. Sorry. That's just - that's just me.

So just - but to keep in mind, no, they're not going into orbit. Orbit's a whole other kind of space craft you're going to have to design because you're going - you have to take it to 17,000 - 18,000 miles an hour, five miles per second -



TYSON: -- and then come out of orbit with heat shields. That's a different designed craft. And for me just going up and back, I'm going to wait until they have the orbital craft. And then better yet, I'm going to wait until they actually take me somewhere -



TYSON: -- instead of boldly going where hundreds have gone before.

SCIUTTO: OK. Well I'm going to go with you whether you invite me or not when you do, or at least I dream of it. Neil deGrasse Tyson, thanks so much as always.

TYSON: You got it. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Well this is just in to CNN now. There is new guidance on wearing masks in school. The American Academy of Pediatrics is out with a recommendation that every child older than two should be wearing a mask when they go back to school in the fall. The group says one of the reasons is that a significant proportion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccination.


And cities (ph) - and it also cites the potential difficulty in enforcing mask policies for those who have not gotten the shot. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: A frightening flash flooding in Western Europe has now killed at least 200 people with many, many still missing both in Germany and Belgium. CNN's Sam Kiley is live in the hard-hit town of Schuld in Germany. Sam, I'm curious at this point how many more are still missing because some of those estimates are just alarmingly high.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think exactly you put your finger on an important issue here, Jim, in that the original estimate was for some 1,300 people in Germany alone who were, quote, unquote, "missing." I think the way to see that really is to see them unaccounted for. Those numbers are now down into the low hundreds, but there is an expectation that some of these missing individuals sadly and catastrophically may emerge from this disaster deceased because the numbers of people dying, of course, are going up as the number of people unaccounted for are going down.

If you look at the scenes behind me here in Schuld, look at the level of devastation there. This was a wall of water that came down the Ahr River, as you said in your intro there very importantly, as a result of flash flooding.


I've been in some of the surrounding hills here, and it's two, three, four feet deep on almost perpendicular slopes as this gigantic amount of rain in some areas eight inches inside 12 hours was delivered on Western Germany. Jim -

SCIUTTO: Goodness, let's hope more and more of those people are found alive. Sam Kiley, good you have - good to have you there for us.

And thanks so much to all of you for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto. AT THIS HOUR with Kate Bolduan will start right after a short break.