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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

Russian Eastern Offensive; Finland Seeks NATO Membership; North Korea's COVID-19 Outbreak. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired May 12, 2022 - 17:00   ET



BIANCA NOBILO, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome. I'm Bianca Nobilo in London. And this is THE GLOBAL BRIEF.

Ukraine's saying that Russians made some advances in the, east selling towns and villages along the way.

Then, Finland says it will apply to NATO as early as Sunday, a move that Kremlin threatens to retaliate against.

And North Korea has acknowledged for the first time that it's dealing with a coronavirus outbreak. We'll have more on all of that.

But first, the world has watched in horror as Russian artillery has devastated Ukrainian cities, and Ukrainian lives seemingly with impunity.

The U.S. and the international community has accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine. What is being difficult this tying specific generals to

specific crimes. The key to actually carrying out were crimes prosecution.

In Kharkiv, CNN is seeing the aftermath of attacks using indiscriminate cluster munitions, a war crime. In a two-month-long investigation, CNN can

reveal the commander responsible for these attacks, and a string of atrocities he's committed, not just in Russia's latest war in Ukraine, but

also in the 2014 war in Donbas and in Syria.

Chief international investigative correspondent Nima Elbagir has this exclusive report. You might find some of these images in her report



NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): A devastation of civilian homes and lives. Throughout the last few months, we have witnessed atrocities in Ukraine.

More mortar strikes very, very close. They want us to start moving.

While we know these Russian actions, it's been difficult to draw a direct line to a Russian commander from specific atrocities. Until now.

CNN can exclusively reveal that this man, Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov, commander of the Western Military District, is the commander

responsible for this. Munitions targeting civilians in the city of Kharkiv, east Ukraine, a war crime under international law.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I can see more artillery rockets apparently being fired from Russian territory towards the

territory I would say about Kharkiv -- I don't know if you could hear this right now.

ELBAGIR: This is the start of the war. CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen, witnessed artillery being fired from inside

Russia, within Zhuravlyov's district, towards the city of Kharkiv.

Sam Kiley was in Kharkiv and could hear the shelling moments later.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Could feel the concussion against the glass --

ELBAGIR: We soon learned from experts these were Smerch rockets. Built in the early `80s at the end of the Soviet era, this multiple rocket launch

system, scorching the earth as it fires, is the pride and joy of Russia's armaments, as seen here in this propaganda documentary.

This is what they are capable of delivering -- cluster bombs. One Smerch rocket released with many small explosives, scattering bombs, amplifying

the devastation.

These attacks, captured on social media both in Kharkiv and both from the same day, are a clear example of their indiscriminate nature. When used in

this fashion, against civilians, it's considered a war crime. The use of Smerch rockets are key in our findings of who is responsible because they

are unique to one unit here, one commander.

After months of forensic work, we can reveal the trail of evidence leading to Zhuravlyov. Using social media videos to guide us, we returned to some

of the scenes of the attacks, focusing on the February 27th attack, when three civilian targets were hit and eight more on February 28. We start in

the Pavlovapola (ph) neighborhood of Kharkiv.

This is shrapnel from those missiles that fell on our neighborhood, Lilia tells us. This shrapnel was found in one of the rooms.

Lilia takes us to see a Smerch rocket that fell 200 yards from her apartment block, in this once affluent area.

I remember the whistling sounds of the missiles. I know that the missiles were flying and that they were accompanied by fighter planes or drones.


You can see the hole that it came through. You can see the way that the rocket buckled when it hit to the car. You can also very clearly see that

this is a Smerch. It's not the only rocket coming from this direction on this day.

Less than half a half mile down the road, another hit.

Helping to situate us, this kiosk, that water cooler, they are key landmarks. The bodies landed here, down this road. Those blue doors you

see, that's where the cluster munitions shrapnel embedded.

This video, filmed moments after the attack, where four people, including a child, were killed. Another Smerch launching cluster bombs. We know this

because one of the unexploded bombs was found only 280 yards away.

Notice the date, 2019. Russia stopped selling arms to Ukraine in 2014. This confirms this is a Russian cluster bomb.

One and a half miles away, another strike, more suffering, and no sign of any legitimate military targets.

People were queuing for food and then something hit. People started running here, she says.

This is the exact moment of impact -- look at it again. Frame by frame, you can see the scale of the rocket and the proximity to innocent civilians.

We are here in Kharkiv. Notice the five hits along this line from the 28. They are pretty much in a line. Apart from three here, they line up with

the hits from February 27th.

We can trace these lines 24 miles to a point of convergence here, across the border in Russia, well within the range of a Smerch rocket, where we

have a satellite image from the 27th showing the launching position.

Notice the plume of smoke and telltale burn marks of a Smerch launch here, here and here.

In collaboration with the Center for Information Resilience, we can also tell you who is firing from this position, the 79th Russian Artillery

Brigade, part of the Western Military District, which borders Ukraine, and is under the command of Zhuravlyov.

According to open source information reviewed by CNN, military experts and intelligence sources, they are the only unit in this district equipped to

launch Smerch rockets. And only the commander has the authority to order the 79th Artillery Brigade to launch the rockets.

And this was just in the two days that we analyzed. These stills shared exclusively with CNN by Kharkiv prosecutors, show Russian armaments

reigning death. Among them, many Smerch remnants. Experts say this is among the heaviest bombardments in recent history.

Zhuravlyov is no stranger to these brutal tactics, atrocities targeting civilians. They are very similar to what we saw in Syria in 2016. So, it

shouldn't come as a surprise that Zhuravlyov also led Russian troops during the siege of Aleppo. He is the architect of the devastation you see here.

For the leveling of Aleppo, he was awarded the highest honor granted to Russian officers, hero of the Russian federation. Yet, Syrians have

documented his war crimes.


Despite the direct line from the impunity the world afforded Russia in Syria, to the atrocities suffered by civilians here today, the question

remains, what will the world do to stop this cycle?

Nima Elbagir, CNN, Kharkiv.


NOBILO: We've asked the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment, as well as the Kremlin, but CNN is yet to receive a response. And CNN shared with

the U.S. State Department these findings, noting a lack of action taken against Colonel General Zhuravlyov and other Russian generals. They would

not comment on these specific acts or any other information reviewed, but said they continue to track and assess were crimes, and reports of ongoing

violence and human rights abuses.

Now, Ukrainian military officials say Russian forces are gaining ground in the east, calling the situation along the front lines so significantly

deteriorating. Ukraine is reporting intense Russian shelling in the region, destroying villages in it's consistent scorched-earth policy.

But Ukrainians are holding it as best they can. They've been stopping advances by blowing up pontoon bridges. Meanwhile, Russian shelling is

ripping apart villages further south, like this one, close to Zaporizhzhia. Residents there have described their shock.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I put on some coats, I locked up the house and started running to the shelter. I was thrown into a hole into

the ground. God have mercy on me. I hit the ground, something flew over me. When I came around I saw that there is nothing left. No house. It was



NOBILO: Ukrainian forces are clearing Russian troops out of the Kharkiv region, pushing them north to the Russian border. Russians are retaliating

with artillery fire, tragically many of the targets are Ukrainian civilians.

Nick Paton Walsh shows us what's happening on the front lines.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): The quiet pines around the east of Kharkiv are slowly revealing their trauma.

The Kremlin is being pushed back so fast, we are only nine miles from their border. Being closer to the motherland that Russia absurdly claims it is

offered no mercy to these civilians.

As they liberate village after village, pushing Russian forces back towards their own border, this is sort of the atrocity frankly that they keep

coming across.

This car hit by a tank shell as the convoy fled. The troops from the Kharkiv territorial defense tell us the intensity of the fire, no match for

the innocence of those on board.

A 13-year-old girl and three adults killed by Russian troops here in early May, said Ukrainian officials.

They're saying the concentration of bullets is on the driver's side and the passenger door behind, showing gunman who knew what they were doing.

Just up the road, two Russian corpses that lay here, now buried. But for days, they sat with their prayer books and sleeping bags, and grenades in

the spring sun.


WALSH: An RPG hit that? Yes.


WALSH: Their aging armor derailed by a single rocket-propelled grenade, we're told.

This fresh convoy fleeing the village of Rubizhne up the river, further evidence Ukraine is pushing toward Russia's fragile supply lines from

across the border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): We didn't understand what was going on. We just didn't wait to leave.

WALSH: Up on the hill, a rare sight -- a modern Russian T-90 tank.

These drone images show its destruction. One of Russia's newest tanks, kind of the pride really of this invading force -- what's left of it.

But the big concern here is they're hearing a drone above us, and while we don't know if that's Ukrainian or Russian, we're going to keep moving.

You could not be much closer to Russia here. Yet still, these tiny pines still brutalized, trapped in an endless fight.

Some of those who remain seem unaware of the details of their occupation and their liberation. That does not mean they're unshaken.

VIKTOR, LOCAL RESIDENT (translated): What calm? My heart is about to jump out of my chest. Everything around is exploding. There's a hole in my

garden from shelling. The roof was punctured by a shell.

The fence is gone. It's amazing I'm alive. It's really difficult. We sleep in our clothes. Because it lands all around us.

WALSH: disbelief here that Russian savagery from across the border now eclipsed by how fast it's retreated back towards it.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Stadisaltiv (ph), Ukraine.


NOBILO: Russia attacked Ukraine partly to stop NATO expansion. But it's war is having the opposite effect. The Finnish government is going to

formally join NATO on Sunday. Sweden is expected to follow suit, triggering one of the biggest shifts in European security in decades.

Finland foreign minister says that Vladimir Putin changed the calculation.


PEKKA HAAVISTO, FINNISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Russians invasion of Ukraine has altered the European and finish security environment. However, Finland is

not facing an immediate military threat. Maintaining feeding of choice, remain central parts of our foreign policy.


NOBILO: Russia, though, who is threatening Finland and Sweden with consequences if they decide to join NATO. A top Russian security official

says his country will seriously beef up grand forces and air defenses on its western flank.


So, let's bring in Nic Robertson for more. He's live for us in Helsinki.

Nic, are these Russian threats likely to have any deterrent effect on the Finns?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: They're not going to stop the Finns making a decision to join NATO. They are going to keep Finns

concerned that Russian might try some destabilizing effort before they become fully seated into NATO, that's a concern.

I think the greater concern is wet Russia does going forward -- and the indications are from Russia I think they mitigate against the worst fears

of Finland at the moment. One is that the Russian forces are very much distracted by what's happening in Ukraine.

And other is, that Russian government puts a greater focus on NATO's threat in Ukraine than it does along the border with Finland. Admittedly, it's a

long border with Finland, there's plenty of opportunity there for Russia to exploit and test the border, and to test Finland's nerve, but also for

cyber activity, as well. That's a concern of the Finnish government.

But it doesn't seem likely, in the near term, the Russians going to do anything despite the bellicose language. But they are going to watch the

Finns. And if the Finns beef up on their side, absolutely, for sure you can expect the Russians to reciprocate, on their side, as well.

NOBILO: And, Nic, the old adage goes that Putin and Russia only responds to strength. But do you think it's more likely, that Finland and

potentially Sweden joining NATO would essentially put Russia back in its box. Or is it likely to make the conflicts spill beyond the borders of


ROBERTSON: It makes it harder for Putin to find a easy narrative to get out. At the moment, he's defining his narrative publicly as securing the

Donbas and Ukraine. He might have greater ambitions than that. He probably does, at least the Black Sea, and Kyiv, if he can manage it.

But, he did say, going into this, that this was to push back the threat of NATO. So the opposite has happened. So for Putin to have a convincing

narrative of success, this mitigates against that. This makes it harder for him to have a narrative that's easily sellable to the Russian people.

But I think, greater than that, it doesn't perhaps put Russia in its box, but it tells the next leader of Russia, because Putin won't be around

forever, it tells the next leader, there are bounds and you can push up against those bounds, but this is what the reaction is going to be.

What we've seen so far is that all President Putin's calculations, it really is pretty much him alone, very isolated. That's why some of the

decision making appears to be so poor. But a new leader might have a different calculus on what's happening, now, will be involved in the

decision making of the calculus of the new leader. That's part of the bigger calculation, and bigger ground reality here.

NOBILO: Nic Robertson for us in Helsinki, always great to talk to you. Thank you.

Gas prices surged on Thursday after Moscow impose new sanctions that are affecting supplies to the EU. Europe buys more than a third of its gas to

Russia, and it's under huge pressure to find an alternative. Germany's economy minister is accusing Russia of using energy as a weapon.


ROBERT HABECK, GERMAN ECONOMY MINISTER (through translator): Overall, it must be said that the situation is worsening, to the extent that

announcements of the use of gas and oil, as a weapon, are now coming true, in various places.


NOBILO: Next, a major national emergency is declared in North Korea, after it openly reports a COVID case for the very first time. We look at the

ramifications of that news, next.



NOBILO: Two major developments of global significant in North Korea. Pyongyang has fired three ballistic missiles according to Seoul. The launch

will be the first since South Korea's new president took office this week. And it comes on the same day that North Korea has declared a national

emergency after it publicly reported its first COVID case.

Paula Hancocks has the details.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is likely the first time we've seen North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wear a mask in public since

the pandemic began, ordering all cities to lock down after admitting the first COVID-19 case in Pyongyang.

MASON RICHEY, HANKUK UNIVERSITY: There have probably been cases before but they haven't admitted them. And the fact that they've admitted now would

indicate that there's really no hiding it.

HANCOCKS: The number of cases of Omicron variant are unknown but North Korea is only one of two countries in the world believed to have delivered

zero COVID-19 vaccinations.

BRIAN WAHL, JOHNS HOPKINS BLOOMBERG SCHOOL: Even in other settings where there's very low immunization coverage, presumably, there would be higher

levels of prior exposure. So this is really unique situation that we have in North Korea right now.

HANCOCKS: COVAX, the global vaccine sharing hub, has moved to a needs- based vaccine allocation, saying it's currently not committed any to North Korea. Pyongyang last year has believed to have rejected vaccines from

China, according to the U.N. China now says it's ready to provide full support.

The level of testing is low. Up until March 31st, just 64,000 people have been tested out of a population out of over 25 million since the pandemic

began. And health infrastructure in the country is fragile, at best. Even developed health systems around the world have struggled under omicron


WAHL: I would imagine that in North Korea at the high levels of malnutrition maybe an additional risk factor for severe disease, and that

associated with COVID-19 right now.

HANCOCKS: It is a population under lockdown in a country not set up for delivery of food and survival items. Extended isolation could have a

serious impact on future food supply already at a crisis in the country.

RICHEY: It can affect agriculture and harvest. It can affect, obviously, interior commerce within the country, the ability of the public food

distribution system which is already not working very well, to function.

HANCOCKS (on camera): As many experts wondered whether an omicron outbreak could halt its recent run on missile and weapons tests, Pyongyang answered

Thursday evening with another launch.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


NOBILO: U.S. President Joe Biden says 1 million Americans have died from COVID-19. The White House marked the moment during a virtual global COVID

summit, aimed at fighting future variants.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This pandemic isn't over. Today, we marked a tragic milestone, here in the United States, 1 million

COVID deaths, 1 million empty chairs around the family dinner table.


Each, we replaceable, irreplaceable losses.


NOBILO: President Biden has also urged the U.S. Congress to provide more funding for testing, treatment, and vaccines.

Now let's take a look at the other key stories making international impact today.

Thousands of people turned out in the West Bank for a memorial to honor Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a day after she was shot dead in the

city of Jenin. After the ceremony, her body was taken to Jerusalem where funeral be held on Friday. The Palestinian Authority says it will run an

investigation alone before sharing findings.

Sri Lanka's president appointed a new prime minister on Thursday. Ranil Wickremesinghe who's already served in the position five times before. The

country is facing a devastating crisis, and thousands of protesters have taken to the streets since March.

British police say they are now making more than 100 referrals of fines over the so-called partygate scandal. They're investigating gatherings that

were held at Downing Street and government offices when strict COVID-19 rules were still in place. Police say there could still be more fines to


Media reports suggests that Spain is considering giving women medical leave when they severe menstrual pain. A draft bill says they could have at least

three days at leave, a month. And up to five in some cases. Spain would be the first European country to have this kind of law, if the bill passes.

Finally, shedding light on ancient history blighted by modern day war. This is the work of a Dutch artist and archeologist Theo de Feyter, whose

chronicling the restoration of Syrian monuments destroyed by fighting there. His paintings are on display in Damascus and feature historic sites

like the great mosque of Aleppo and the Temple of Bel in Palmyra. De Feyter visits Syria frequently as part of this project and says that he wants to

showcase the country's rich and unique heritage both in Syria, and beyond.


THEO DE FEYTER, ARTIST & ARCHEOLOGIST: This project is aimed at -- to give Syrians and other people abroad hopefully a conscience about what is there

in Syria to restore.


NOBILO: Thanks for watching. See you Monday.