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Defense Secretary: Potential War Crimes "Under Review"; U.S. To Send Ukraine New Weapons, Including Switchblade Drones; U.S. Couple Desperate To Complete Adoption Of Kids Trapped In Ukraine. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 17, 2022 - 11:30   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: The country. Russian authorities are holding the two-time Olympic gold medalist on allegations of drug Smuggling. And much more of our coverage of the war in Ukraine ahead, but we're also tracking the economy and the huge rise in inflation. The Federal Reserve moved to curb soaring inflation yesterday, and homebuyers are about to feel the impact as well. That's up next.



GOLODRYGA: And we continue to follow all the latest developments out of Ukraine and we'll bring you much more on that in just a moment but first, some breaking news into CNN. We are seeing the first results of the Feds fight against inflation as mortgage rates have climbed above 4 percent for the first time since 2019. CNN's Matt Egan joins me with more. Not exactly great news for people who want to go out and buy a home right now.

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Bianna. This really is the most tangible impact of the Fed's fight against inflation. Just yesterday, raising interest rates for the first time since 2018 penciling in six more interest rates hikes to come this year, more next year. And the practical impact for families is it's going to be more expensive to borrow. Not very expensive, but it's just not going to be dirt cheap anymore.

And so, we're already seeing that play out in the mortgage market, the mortgage rate above 4 percent for the first time in nearly three years, rose sharply in the last week to 4.16 percent. Now, this is still cheap historically, anyone who has bought a home in the 80s will tell you that they were paying 18 percent. This is not that, but it is more expensive. Just six months ago, mortgage rates were in the high 2 percent range, now they're above 4 percent and that is a big deal because it does make it more expensive to buy a home.

Now, we're going to see that continue because the Fed is probably going to have to keep raising rates to fight inflation. I think what's less clear is what is this going to do to home prices, which have just been on fire. I mean, last year, we saw home prices rise by the most on record, but we also know there's not a lot of supply out there and there's a lot of demand for homes. So it's not clear that 4 percent borrowing cost is going to be enough to slow down this housing market.

GOLODRYGA: And we may see at least another five rate hikes, right?

EGAN: Yes, exactly.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Matt Egan, thank you so much. Well, coming up. The Biden administration is sending hundreds of millions of dollars in new weapons to Ukraine, but it's not everything that the Ukrainian President is asking for. A breakdown of what the U.S. is and isn't providing to Ukraine up next.



GOLODRYGA: Breaking news. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin just wrapped up a news conference in Slovakia where he stopped short of calling Russia's actions in Ukraine war crimes that said Russia's actions targeting civilians are now under review. He also laid out more detail about the latest package of weapons that the U.S. is supplying Ukraine. CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon. And, Barbara, what else did we hear from the Secretary?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bianna, just to go back to what you said, I thought it was very interesting. The Secretary when asked did say that the Russian killing of civilians in Ukraine was a crime, to kill civilians is a crime, and noted that the State Department is the part of the government looking into all of this.

The Pentagon, perhaps, feeling a little easier, using some of that language now that President Biden has called Putin a potential war criminal. But the secretary really is in Slovakia to talk to that government about getting additional weapons assistance security systems into Ukraine to help them fight the Russians and he laid out in more detail how they're really trying to go about doing this with very specific efforts to help the Ukrainians succeed at what they're good at. And here's what he said.


LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: They've been able to really prevent Russia from establishing air supremacy and they've done that through effective use of air defense systems both medium-range and short-range air defense systems. And so our goal has been to continue to reinforce those things that have worked for the Ukrainian forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STARR: And so what they are talking about with Slovakia and the Slovakian say they are provisionally willing to do it is getting that country to put their S-300 air defense system into Ukraine that will help the Ukrainians defend their airspace against the Russians. But the Slovakians making it very clear they need something to backfill in their own country to defend their airspace, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, you made that very clear, Barbara Starr. Thank you so much. Joining me now to discuss is CNN Military Analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, always great to have you on, General. So explain to us what these weapons are and what they can do? Let's start with the Stingers and Javelins.

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the Stinger is a shoulder- fired man-portable Air Defense System, Bianna. It is very good, but it only has a maximum range up to about 3000 feet into the air. So it can knock down targets like jets, and specifically helicopters, it's very good against those targets but it has a limited range, most aircraft don't fly at those kinds of levels. So what the Secretary was talking about is perhaps some other systems what's called the medium air defense and perhaps even a higher defense system. He was talking about the S-300. That's high air defense that can go up to 30,000 feet, it's a missile system along with another system that he didn't talk about called the SA-8 which is a medium defense system.


HERTLING: Both of those come in vehicles about the size of a dump truck, but they also have a huge radar dome on them. So while the Stinger is sort of a neat system for an individual to fire and it only takes a line of sight from the individual seeing the targets and knocking it down. The picture you're showing now is an SA-8, you'll see the radar, that big circular disc on the front, the missiles that come out, those can knock down the kind of aircraft that are launching some of the cruise missiles that the big cities, that are hitting targets, hitting both military and civilian targets.

And then you've got the S-300 that they're talking about from Slovakia, another Soviet-era weapon, they can reach much farther up in the sky. So all of those are systems together that can keep the skies clear and are a much better way of ensuring Russian missiles don't hit the cities than any kind of no-fly zone, which is very manpower and aircraft intensive, and could create a huge escalation in the force. The other advantage of this is the Ukrainians know how to use these systems. While they were part of the Soviet Union, they were part of their army so a lot of experience in the use of this kind of previous Russian weapons.

GOLODRYGA: And then that means that they could, in theory, start to use them as soon as they get them as opposed to having to be trained, right, to use any new weapons that they're not familiar with.

HERTLING: Correct.

GOLODRYGA: And we also learned that today that the U.S. will be supplying Switchblade drones. How do they differ from the drones that Ukraine has currently been using, namely, the ones from Turkey?

HERTLING: Yes, the Backer Car (PH) drain -- drone is a drone that actually fires a system and then returns to base. It's like most U.S. drones, like the Reaper. So it is one that is flown around the battlefield, you pick out a target through the television camera, and then you launch a weapon at them. The switchblade drone is very different.

First of all, it's much smaller. It's called the Switchblade because it comes out of something that looks like a mortar tube, and the wings open up, and then the operator flies it to a target and instead of shooting a missile from the drone, and having the drone return to a base, it literally dives in because it has the warhead in the drone itself, and hits the target.

The operator can watch it go all the way to the target. In fact, if something happens, where they see a child nearby or something, a few seconds before it hits the target, they can actually stop the drone from hitting. These were used by special operators -- U.S. special operators in Afghanistan and were proved to be very effective. But the problem with the Switchblade drone is nothing returns the base. So it's a --

GOLODRYGA: To one and done.

HERTLING: A, fire -- and it's one of a kind. And it knocks the target out very effectively, but you don't get anything back.

GOLODRYGA: So clearly, they would need a lot more of them. OK, now finally on to this ongoing debate, you heard my interview with Ned Price as to whether NATO should supply Ukraine with old Soviet fighter jets.


GOLODRYGA: You know it's one of President Zelenskyy's top asks it has been throughout this war. I just want you to listen to his latest appeal to Congress just yesterday.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know how much depends on the battlefield on the ability to use aircraft, powerful, strong air of aviation to protect our people, our freedom, our land, aircraft that can help Ukraine help Europe. And you know that they exist and you have them, but they are on earth, not in Ukraine -- in the Ukrainian sky. They do not defend our people.


GOLODRYGA: OK, so, I just want to know why we haven't received a definitive response from the administration or NATO as to why they are not supplying them with their planes. If they don't want to, why not at least tell us why?

HERTLING: Yes, well, truthfully, they don't want to. So I'll give you that response. The administration does not want to give it because they don't see the bang for the buck with aircraft. 28 MiGs will certainly help, but what's striking the cities are artillery and missiles, and you can't shoot those out of the sky with an aircraft. The other thing is problematic, Brianna, and I think some are -- Bianna, I'm sorry, some of the individuals who are talking about the no-fly zone, don't consider the amount of aircraft that have to be in the sky. 28 would not do it.

On an average day in Iraq when there was a no-fly zone with no Air Defense Artillery, there were about 60 or 70 aircraft in the sky. You add to that the fact that the Russians have some very active air defense systems. Now, the planes that are flying for Ukraine are finding ways to jam those systems so they can get in and out of the area that they're looking to operate. It's called Suppression of Enemy Air Defense, SEAD. That takes a lot of effort and it takes an unbelievable amount of resources to do the kind of things to counter Russian air defense over the area.


HERTLING: You are not going to get the bang for the buck in closing the skies to things like cruise missiles, aircraft, and other kinds of artillery just because you launched 28 MiGs. So that's my answer and the escalatory factor of putting those aircraft across the border along with their maintainers, the people that attached bonds to their wings and they end up -- actually the threat to the pilots that are flying those, you know, it's a couple of million-dollar airplanes when you can do the same thing with the air defense systems on the ground and do it in a much better way.

GOLODRYGA: Listen, a very helpful and succinct answer thereto that pressing question. General Mark Hertling, thank you as always, we appreciate it.

HETLING: Pleasure.

GOLODRYGA: And coming up. An American couple had been trying for three years to adopt two children from Ukraine when Russia invaded. Well, now the children are stuck in a war zone unable to escape. Their parents -- their future parents fight to bring them home. We'll tell it to you up next.



GOLODRYGA: Moments ago, President Biden spoke at the White House where he just had a virtual meeting with Ireland's Taoiseach. He discussed the war in Ukraine and its wars.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we're meeting in a moment when demands on unity in the world are really accelerating. We have to be united and we certainly are. And what Putin is brutality and what he's doing in his troops were doing Ukraine is just inhumane.


GOLODRYGA: Just inhumane. And now to this, one number that helps capture the staggering costs of this conflict and its inhumanity. 1.5 million, that's according to UNICEF, how many children have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began. But as some children escaped the violence, others are left behind. Among them, two Ukrainian children, Wendy and Leo Van Asten are in the process of adopting. The Van Astens were in the middle of adopting 14 and 15-year-old siblings when the war broke out.

Well, now the kids are trapped in the country as war closes in, and their future parents are desperately searching for a way to get them out. And joining me now are Wendy and Leo Van Asten. And thank you so much for joining us. I can't even imagine what this process must be like for you. Wendy, these siblings were evacuated along with their orphanage to Western Ukraine, I believe near Lviv. When was the last time you were able to speak with them, and what did they tell you?

WENDY VAN ASTEN, ADOPTING CHILDREN FROM UKRAINE: Yes, thank you for having us, Bianna. The last time we spoke to the children was with our prospective adoptive son about three nights ago when they were heading to the bomb shelter in their building yet again. And he said, Mama, I can hear tanks firing. We're going to the bunker.

GOLODRYGA: Oh, my goodness. Well, I mean, Leo, clearly they're 14 and 15 years old, so they fully understand what is happening. They hear and know that these tanks are firing. What have they shared with you as far as what this experience has been like for them?

LEO VAN ASTEN, ADOPTING CHILDREN FROM UKRAINE: You know, honestly, they have been very sheltered. They have been closing in on themselves, honestly, as this is not the first time that they've had to evacuate from war, they were brought out of their original hometown of Donetsk in 2014, when all of that action took place over there. So, unfortunately, this was not -- this is not new for them, so they have been very quiet.

GOLODRYGA: So experiencing now two war zones, right in their -- in their short lives. What are you most worried about right now, Wendy?

WENDY VAN ASTEN: The compounding of trauma on these young children, it is so concerning. I mean, as Leo said, they already had trauma. I mean, they've already been -- having the separation from their birth family is trauma enough. A war zone -- first -- a first war zone is trauma enough and now, a second one that's much worse. This isn't much different, obviously, so widespread throughout Ukraine. And we are so concerned for what this is doing to them. And of course, we're concerned for their safety because although they haven't received direct shelling, they have received enough that they've gone to the bunker every day. So we're scared that one of those times it could be them.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. Is there anything that can be done to speed up the process to get them out of the country, Leo?

LEO VAN ASTEN: Unfortunately, right now they're -- getting them out of the country is stalled. And ultimately what we would love is for them to be able to find some refuge here in the United States. We would love to have our two prospective adoptive children in our home with us so that we can care for every need that they have. But the downside is that yes, it stalled on their side. The Ukrainian government is not allowing children to come to the United States. And honestly, right now, the United States doesn't have emergency visas in place to cover these children.

GOLODRYGA: Wendy, are you -- are you prepared that this war could go on for months if not longer?

WENDY VAN ASTEN: Well, that is a -- that is a concern of ours, how long will this last, how long will they be stuck in Ukraine, how long will they stay safe, so I don't know. Prepared --