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Russia: 3 Soldiers Killed After Drone Shot Down In Russian Territory; House Committee: Trump Tax Return To Be Released Post- Christmas; Police: Retail Theft Getting More Violent Across The U.S. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 26, 2022 - 11:30   ET




AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Developing this hour. Three Russian soldiers are dead after a Ukrainian drone makes its way deep inside Russian territory. That is according to Russian state news agencies. Now, the incident happening 500 miles southeast of Moscow. CNN's Melissa Bell is in Paris and has more details. Melissa, tell us more about what we know and what we believe the intended target was here.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that airbase you just showed is also over 300 miles from northeast of that Ukrainian border. We really are well deep into Russian territories here. Now, it's not the first time, Amara, that that airbase has been targeted. In fact, it was hit back on December 5 when another airbase also deep inside Russia was hit.

Now, this is something that Ukraine neither confirms nor denies. But we have heard from Ukrainian officials today in the shape of the head of the Ukrainian Air Force saying that this is the consequence of Russian aggression. And that's about as close as you're going to get as a recognition of responsibility, but really a remarkable show of force of their ability and their determination to strike deep within Russia. And that, of course, an embarrassment on the Russian's side.

The fear now, Amara, is that after this happened on December 5, what followed were retaliatory strikes into Ukraine. Now, what we've seen -- been seeing over the course of this weekend before this overnight strike on Russian territory took place were a series of strikes at several dozens of course in Kherson, that important city in the South that was liberated only last month. We've also seen on Sunday more strikes, not just in the Donbass region but from Zaporizhzhia all the way up to Kharkiv.

The fear now is that in retaliation for this drone making it as far as that airbase, we could see what we saw just after December 5, and that could be more retaliatory strikes on Ukraine. That is certainly, Amara, what the country is bracing for. We heard on Sunday night in his nightly address, the Ukrainian president warned that the Ukrainian people needed to get ready, to prepare themselves mentally for what he expected to be dark and difficult days as we head towards New Year's Eve. That is the expectation. That is the fear, of course, as targets

including critical infrastructure, continue to come under attack. A difficult few days are expected in Ukraine as a result of that strike in Russia. Again, not quite recognized, but certainly alluded to by Ukrainian authorities, Amara.

WALKER: Yes, what will that continued retaliation from Russia look like? Melissa Bell, appreciate you. Thank you so much.

So, joining us now to help us understand the situation on the ground, CNN military analyst, and retired Air Force Intelligence Officer Colonel Cedric Leighton. Also, here former longtime CNN Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty. Welcome to you both. Hope you both had a happy holiday so far.

Colonel, let's start with you. I mean, what do you think of you know, what the intended target of this drone attack was? And the fact that it struck so deep inside, you know, Russia, what is the strategic significance of that?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: So, Amara, good morning. This is a very significant place because Engel's airbase is actually one of the major bases where the Soviet or excuse me, where the Russian bomber forces, it used to be the base for the major Soviet bomber regiments, and it's been around since the 1930s. So, this base is the place where Russia launches some of its attacks using cruise missiles against Ukraine.

Basically, what they do is they send up bombers, either Tu-95s or Tu- 160s, and they loiter in an area that is off of Ukrainian airspace, but it's close enough for them to lob cruise missiles against Ukrainian targets. So, when the Ukrainians did this, when they attacked this base, allegedly in the early part of December, and apparently today, what they're doing is they're sending a message that even from a strategic standpoint, the Russian forces are at risk.

So, what's significant from that standpoint is also going after the ability of the Russians to mount these kinds of attacks against the Ukrainian infrastructure.

WALKER: And, Jill, to you because, you know, air raid sirens blared across Ukraine this weekend, you know, even as Russia's President Putin again said, he is ready to negotiate and the conflict. And I was just reading his comments, and of course, you've got to parse it right, because he says we are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions. So, he obviously has put conditions on a potential negotiation. Is he serious about the offer or is this just lip service?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Amara, we've heard this before. That is the problem. I mean, President Putin has been saying that many times, but you know, the proof is in the pudding.


So, is there actually a move toward negotiations? And you'd have to say, no. At this point, both sides are kind of dug in. And it does not appear that there's any prospect, at least at this point, for negotiations.

And you know, Amara, getting back to this attack on the airbase, I think it's important psychologically too. You know, sometimes we forget that Putin, obviously is waging this war against Ukraine, but he needs to keep the Russian people on board. And so how do you do that? Well, you kind of -- as other countries might do, you make it as painless as possible for the folks back home.

But here, the -- you know, the pain is coming to Russia. This is really significant going, as Colonel Leighton said, into the heartland of Russia, the ability to hit three soldiers dead. And then also remember, we had the mobilization that Putin announced not so long ago. And he wanted -- well, there are indications that they wanted to have a second one. But he was not able to do that, he -- because of you know, popular opposition to that. So, I think it's -- this is significant in many ways, even beyond the military.

WALKER: And when you talk about the psychological impact, I do want to bring up a point that you brought up to our producers regarding the holidays, right? We know, Ukraine, it's a religious country, in the sense that we know a majority of the people there identify as Orthodox Christian and many celebrate Christmas in January, but we're kind of seeing a shift when it comes to when they celebrate Christmas. Tell us more about that, and why that is so important to notice.

DOUGHERTY: Yes. I think it's very interesting and significant because, you know, as you said, Christmas in the West usually celebrated December 25. In the eastern world, the Orthodox world, usually January 7. And so, the fact that Orthodox Christians in Ukraine are beginning to celebrate Western Christmas, Western Christmas has religious but also kind of a symbolic, I'd say almost political significance of joining the West being part of Europe.

And so, as this war goes on, there are a lot of really important cultural changes that are going on that maybe we can't quite see at this point. But here's a -- here's a moment that I think we ought to note where things really are changing in the minds and the hearts of people.

WALKER: You know, and we don't want to forget that the people in Ukraine -- I mean, it's been 10 months since they've been enduring this invasion. They're dealing right now with frigid temperatures, many without heat, many without water. Colonel, tell us more about what you think lastly of, you know, what may come next when it comes to retaliation from Russia.

LEIGHTON: So, this is going to be really interesting, Amara, because one of the things that you have to look for is how frequently the Russians are doing these kinds of attacks. And one of the things I've looked at is the fact that the Russians seem to be mounting these attacks on kind of a weekly basis. What that might mean is that the Russians are running short of cruise missiles and armed drones and other weapons that they're using against the Ukrainians, especially against the Ukrainian infrastructure. And so, they're kind of husbanding their resources, if you will, but

trying to use as much maximum effect as they possibly can, hitting targets, likely infrastructure in order to wound the Ukrainian war effort, and ultimately Ukrainian society.

If they continue with this pattern, what I think they're doing is they're stalling for time. But we may very well see an acceleration of these attacks if they are able to ramp up their industrial production capability and if they're able to get other weapons from places like Iran. So, it is one of those areas where there's a lot going on, but the Russians are limited in their capacity to strike back.

WALKER: Colonel Cedric Leighton and Jill Dougherty, great to see you both. Thank you for the conversation.

A mad scramble today after what South Korea labels a clear provocation from North Korea. South Korea deploying fighter jets and attack helicopters and firing warning shots at five North Korean drones that broke the barrier between the two nations. South Korea says drones crossed into its airspace including near the capital of Seoul.

West Point now removing Confederate monuments and symbols from its campus. What's taking their place? Next.



WALKER: At this hour, we are still waiting for the release of former President Trump's tax returns. The House Ways and Means Committee has told CNN they will be released to the public post-Christmas. CNN's Melanie Zanona is following the story. She's live on Capitol Hill. Hi there, Melanie. What are you hearing?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't have an exact date yet. The committee was working to redact the tax documents. We do know it'll be this week, though, because this is the very last week that Democrats will be in power in the House before they flip things over to Republicans.

But we did learn some key information already last week from the committee. One of those big takeaways is that Donald Trump did not pay any income tax during his first year -- during his last year as president. And during his first year as president, he only paid $750 in income tax.

Another big takeaway is that the IRS did not audit Donald Trump during 2017 or 2018, which is mandatory. In fact, they did not start auditing Trump until April 2019, on the very same day that Chairman Richard Neal first asked for Trump's tax returns.


And finally, Democrats showed as is the same case with the New York Times report that Trump had a pattern of generating these huge net operating losses, he would then carry those forward for years, essentially, to try to zero out his tax liability.

But there's still a lot more we are set to learn about Trump's finances, including just how wealthy he really is, how much he gave to charity and just how he used his personal wealth and his business entities, and whether he had any sort of entanglements. So, this really will cap a four-year-long legal battle between Donald Trump and Democrats. Trump was trying to fight this in court. Ultimately, he did not succeed, Amara.

WALKER: Wow. All right, Melanie Zanona, thank you. I'm sure you'll be watching this closely. And let us know when we find out more.

Now, this. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has started removing Confederate monuments and symbols from its campus in New York State. The changes were approved by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in October, and they're part of a larger set of recommendations. CNN's Oren Liebermann is live at the Pentagon with details on this. So, Oren, tell us more about why these monuments are being removed now. And, of course, this is not the only location where this is going to be happening.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Correct. This has been a long process to get to this point, a process that in fact dates all the way back to late 2020 when Congress in a bipartisan fashion overrode former President Donald Trump's veto and created this naming commission set to look across the military bases, names, facilities, ships even, and rename anything that commemorated or memorialize the Confederacy. And they did it in three different parts.

The name and commission first. They looked at base names, then they looked at the academies themselves, and that's where West Point comes in. Take a look at what they found when they looked at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. 13 different references to the academy.

And this is part of what will be changed according to a letter from the commander, a portrait of Confederate military General Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Hall, a bust of Robert E. Lee, a bronze triptych at the main entrance of Bartlett Hall, that's the science building there.

And that in fact shows a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan that made quite a bit of news when that came out, as well as renaming some of the bases, the facilities, and the streets there as well.

And this is again all part of a process. For example, that was also looked at base names across the military and recommended that Fort Bragg be changed to Fort Liberty, Fort Gordon to Fort Eisenhower, and there were other names as well. The West Point is that it will begin this process calling it "a multi-phased approach" so we can expect it to take a bit of time. But it's all part of this process to stop the military from in any way commemorating or memorializing the Confederacy, Amara.

WALKER: All right. Oren Liebermann, appreciate you. Thank you.

And still to come. Smash-and-grab break-ins are hitting retailers hard this holiday season, but experts warn these brazen acts are only a fraction of the bigger problem.



WALKER: Retail theft is getting more violent and dangerous across the country. Police say the culprits are involved in organized crime rings and they are making off with millions of dollars in stolen goods. CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich with more.


VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Caught on camera, smash and grab break-ins giving retailers across the country a run for their money during peak season. This man seen openly dragging $5,000 worth of merchandise, police say, out the front door of a Burlington Coat Factory in Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He laughed in her face. He laughed in the employee's face. And basically, they had no regard.

YURKEVICH: Break-ins at Walmart, jewelry stores, and a Toys for Tots warehouse just before the holidays.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are missing about two-thirds of toys.

YURKEVICH: This, as retail theft has become more violent this year, with 80 percent of retailers reporting more aggressive incidence. Is it becoming more dangerous now?

RICH ROSSMAN, PRESIDENT, COALITION OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND RETAIL: Yes, it's definitely. The suspects are becoming more violent. Whatever product it is that they're seeking, they're going to get it. And those who step in their way can be harmed and they have been harmed.

YURKEVICH: And for some small business owners, it's getting worse. 56 percent say they've been victims of shoplifting in the past year, forcing some to raise prices.

DANA GREEN, RESTOCKED SNEAKERS: November 17, this window was broken out.

YURKEVICH: Dana Green says her store restock sneakers in Virginia was broken into not once.

GREEN: But on November 27, they broke this window.

YURKEVICH: But twice in 10 days.

GREEN: The first time was shocking. The second time was even just more devastating to me.

YURKEVICH: She estimates the thieves, teenagers some horror caught, took and damaged $40,000 worth of sneakers during her busiest shopping season of the year.

GREEN: As far as the damage to the windows and to the store about $5,000 worth of damage, which is a huge setback for a small business.

YURKEVICH: But isolated smash-and-grab theft is just the tip of the iceberg. Organized retail crime rings are what law enforcement is after. These networks can make millions off stolen goods. How big of an operation is this really?

ROSSMAN: It's huge. Just like you know I get up every day, I go to work, these people get up every day with a mission to steal.

YURKEVICH: Organized retail theft is a large part of the industry's $100 billion in lost products. Major retail executives from Walmart and Target are sounding the alarm.


DOUG MCMILLON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, WALMART: That is an issue. It's higher than what has historically been. If that's not corrected over time, prices will be higher.

MICHAEL FIDDELKE, EVP & CEO, TARGET (voiceover): We expect it will reduce our gross margin by more than $600 million for the full year.

YURKEVICH: The irony industry experts say is that some of the very products stolen from store shelves eventually make their way back into customers' hands.

ROSSMAN: As it works its way through commerce, goes to wholesalers, goes to distributors, and then we end up buying it back.

YURKEVICH: Vanessa Yurkevich, CNN, New York.


WALKER: The deadly winter weather continues to wreak havoc across the U.S. The latest on the scramble to get roads cleared and the power back on, next.