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L.A. Police Investigating Deadly Attacks on Women; Omicron Surge Overwhelming Some Hospitals; Russian Invasion of Ukraine Imminent?; AT&T Delays 5G Rollout. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 18, 2022 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to NEWSROOM.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. It is good to be with you.

Listen, there are alarming new signs that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine. CNN is learning that the Biden administration is now weighing more military support for Ukraine to resist Russia's advances if it invades. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet face to face with his Russian counterpart later this week in Geneva.

And in just a few hours, Blinken will travel to Kiev to meet with the Ukrainian president. That's happening tomorrow, and then on to Germany to meet with European allies in search of a way to avoid war.

CAMEROTA: World leaders are on edge amid increased Russian military drills near the Ukraine border.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand is in Washington for us.

So, Natasha, we understand you have new reporting on the options that the U.S. is considering.


So, as the U.S. has gotten more and more pessimistic about Russia -- what Russia's plans actually are, the possibility of an invasion becoming more and more likely, they have begun to kind of shift their thinking from how to deter that invasion, which, of course, is still very much part of their deliberations, but also how to bolster the Ukrainian military in order to sustain an ongoing resistance to a Russian occupation, if it does come to that. Now, this is a recognition that, if Russia is going to invade there is

very little leverage that the United States has to stop that, even with the threat of very punishing sanctions that the administration has been threatening for the last several months.

And so what they're thinking now is that they will provide -- they're thinking about providing the Ukrainian military with additional arms and equipment, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, mortars, anti- aircraft air defense systems, in order to allow the Ukrainian forces to sustain this push against a potential Russian occupation that would cover large swathes of territory inside Ukraine.

Now, of course, this all comes ahead of Secretary Blinken's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, something that the State Department in a call with reporters earlier today said was an indication that diplomacy is perhaps not all dead.

But just in case that it is, the U.S. is making significant -- they're having significant conversations about what they could do to help make the cost of such an invasion extremely high for Vladimir Putin.

BLACKWELL: All right, so let's go now to Matthew Chance, who is joining us from Kiev.

Matthew, what's the view there from the Ukrainians?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, it's a very tense situation, Victor.

And, of course, there's been a lot of gratitude expressed by Ukrainian officials by the consistent display of diplomatic and material support that they have been getting from the United States. So we have had, over the course of the past few days, a bipartisan congressional delegation here expressing their solidarity with the Ukrainians, given the threat posed by Russia against them and vowing to go back to Washington and push for even stronger sanctions against Russia and more military aid for the country as well.

That's being followed up by a visit tomorrow by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, where he will be talking about the sort of strategic relationship, trying to give assurances that the United States will do what it can to guarantee the sovereignty of Ukraine and its territorial integrity.

There's also been assurances come from elsewhere as well. Britain has an extra military aid in the form of anti-tank weapons to Ukraine. NATO says that it will be deepening its technological relationship with Ukraine to try and help it fend off cyberattacks of the kind that it experienced, apparently, from a Russian source just a few days ago.

The big question, Victor, though, is whether these assurances that Ukraine is receiving from its partners and from its allies and from the West in general will be -- will deter Russia from carrying out any kind of invasion, or whether it will actually provoke Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, into some kind of action. It's not clear at this point whether diplomacy is dead. In fact, just

in the past couple of hours, it's been confirmed from D.C. that Antony Blinken, secretary of state, will be meeting Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, towards the end of this week for meetings in Geneva.

And so that means at least that the diplomatic option is not at this point off the table.

BLACKWELL: Matthew Chance, Natasha Bertrand, thank you both.

Ivo Daalder is a former U.S. ambassador to NATO.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome back.

Let's start there where Matthew left off, this announced meeting between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia. Listen, that announced is better than then movement of troops on the border.


But considering that there was just a meeting a few days ago that didn't offer much progress, what does the announcement of this new meeting suggest to you?

IVO DAALDER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, at the very least, it suggests that there's still some possibility of having a diplomatic opening. As Winston Churchill said, jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

But we're seeing a lot of efforts by the Russians to prepare for the possibility of more troops that are moving from one side of the country all the way to the Ukrainian border, more troops into Belarus, providing the capacity for a military attack from the south from the east, from the north of Ukraine.

And under those circumstances, diplomacy is just very hard. It's very hard to negotiate with a gun at your head. That said, it's a good idea for Secretary Blinken to have this conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov and see what we can get.

CAMEROTA: What diplomatic solution could there be? I mean, I get the impression that -- from stuff I have read, that you have said, that it's your impression that Vladimir Putin is sort of hell-bent on invading Ukraine?

DAALDER: Well, I think what Putin is most interested in is to find a way for him to control what happens in Ukraine, either the government indirectly by destabilizing the current government that's there and finding someone who is more to his liking, or taking matters into his own hands.

And this idea that it's all about NATO and NATO coming too close to Russia's borders, or too many troops near Russia's borders, I find to be an excuse. So I don't see the negotiation to be about NATO or its future. What could be done is to have the kind of traditional long-term arms control negotiations that were undertaken in the 1990s to limit conventional forces, to limit the kinds of exercises that can be held, to find prior notification of those exercises, and to build transparency in what exists.

And there is scope for nuclear arms control negotiations and negotiations on missiles. But the real question is, what does Vladimir Putin want? And it doesn't seem to be that the focus is on arms control. It seems very much on his ability to control what's happening in Ukraine.

BLACKWELL: Mr. Ambassador, the world just watched a country's military that was propped up with billions of U.S. dollars and years of training collapse in a short period of time. I'm talking about, of course, the Afghan military under the Taliban.

There's discussion of sending more resources, sending more military resources and potential trainers to Ukraine. If you could tell us, do you believe that the Ukrainian military could hold up against a sustained front from Russia and the Belarusians who are training along the border too?

DAALDER: Well, in a conventional military sense, the answer, of course, is no. The Russians are just too large, too powerful militarily to be stopped by a Ukrainian military.

But once the Russians have moved into Ukraine, the question is, what then? If they don't withdraw, you then have the possibility of an insurgency, of the kinds of things that, in fact, we have seen in Afghanistan, in the Middle East, in Syria, where weaker opponents are able to exact a significant price for those who are relying on conventional military means.

And I think that's what the administration is holding for the Ukrainians and for the Russians up front and saying, listen, you may be able to invade all or part of Ukraine, but you probably can't stay there. Remember, by the way, what happened to you in Afghanistan back in the 1990s, when, of course, the Soviet Union lost that war against guerrillas and the mujahideen at that time.

This can happen in Ukraine as well. And I think that's the message that's being sent.

CAMEROTA: I mean, and, in fact, the U.S. is sending these special operations forces to train and assist the Ukraine military.

And so what message do you think Vladimir Putin takes from that?

DAALDER: Well, he will take the message that the United States is committed to upholding the independence and the sovereignty of Ukraine.

This idea that somehow a few Special Forces or even limited supplies of weapons are provoking Russia to act, it's Russia that has over 100,000 troops at Ukraine's border. None of this would be happening but for the fact that Russia is posed for a military invasion, a further military invasion of a country that it already has invaded and occupied in part.

Without that, we wouldn't be in this position. So the idea that somehow Western actions can provoke the Russians, when it is in fact the Russians who over the past eight years have been causing mischief and, in fact, annexed part of Ukraine, just doesn't hold water.



Ambassador Ivo Daalder, we always appreciate talking to you. Thank you.

DAALDER: My pleasure, Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Well, minutes ago, Verizon joined AT&T and delayed the actions -- activation, I should say, of 5G on some towers around certain airports.

Airline executives have voiced safety concerns and predicted catastrophic disruptions to travel and commerce with the launch.

CNN's aviation correspondent, Pete Muntean, is here with us.

Pete, explain the problem and how we got to this urgent state today.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, it seems like airlines are getting exactly what they wanted.

Just yesterday, airlines wrote the Biden administration urging immediate action on the rollout of the 5G network. Kind of hard to believe that the 5G radio network that is necessary for this rollout is on a similar radio spectrum to something in airplanes called a radar altimeter.

That is a critical piece of instrumentation that pilots use to get a hypersensitive reading of their exact height above the ground. Now, without that and with these possible errors, airlines say this could lead to thousands of flight delays and cancellations and diversions.

Now we know that AT&T and now Verizon have said they will delay the rollout of 5G because of these airline industry concerns near certain airports. We don't know exactly what airports. We don't know for exactly how long.

AT&T in its statement threw a lot of shade at the FAA and the airline industry here, saying -- quote -- "We are frustrated by the FAA's inability to do what 40 other countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services. And we urge it to do so in a timely manner."

Now, airlines said this was a really huge issue for them. I have been covering this for weeks. And in this letter from the airline executives of 10 different airlines, mind you, to the DOT and the Biden administration, they said -- quote -- "The ripple effects across both passenger and cargo operations, our work force and the broader economy are simply incalculable. To be blunt, the nation's commerce will grind to a halt."

So right now, we are seeing that the telecom industry has backed off a bit on this, even though they have asserted over and over again that there is really not all that much of an issue, they say. They say this has worked in 40 other countries. There's been mitigation techniques, no accidents or incidents attributable to this 5G rollout in other countries.

So, right now, we also know that the Biden administration and the FAA and the FCC and aviation groups and telecom groups have all been meeting about this. It seems like this buffer zone idea that they have come up with will be the thing that sticks, at least in the short term.

Now we're just waiting to see what the long term solution is for all of this.

BLACKWELL: It's an interesting point. If it's happened in 40 other countries, why is it taking so long or why there are difficulties to do it here?

But have there been, are there now any consequences or ramifications with the airlines?

MUNTEAN: Well, it's so interesting.

We have just seen a tweet from Air India, which operates some flights into the United States. And it says that it will have to change certain types of airplanes, that it will have to change certain types of routes because of this. The FAA has proposed a NOTAM, a notice to airmen, in which it says pilots should be especially concerned because of errors in their right altimeters, possible errors in radar altimeters, that they should be especially attuned to this.

I have seen what has happened in the cockpits, what can happen in cockpits, at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I'm a pilot myself, flew simulator for a Canada regional jet. It can throw really concerning instrumentation errors. Really hard to discern exactly what is happening in the airplane if your radar altimeter goes out.

We also know that American Airlines has said that it could delay or cancel flights to a magnitude in which it can't really understand just yet in a new memo it just sent to its employees. So this is a huge problem, Victor and Alisyn, according to the airline industry, although two sides of this argument, and right now it's playing out at the 11th hour.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I don't like this, Pete. I don't like thinking that pilots don't know what the altitude of the plane we're flying in is. Don't like that.

And that's really helpful to hear your experience. And we will be talking to more experts in the program about how to fix this. Pete Muntean, thank you very much.

MUNTEAN: Any time.

CAMEROTA: The Omicron surge is still straining health care systems. So we will tell you which hospitals are at a breaking point.

BLACKWELL: And police are looking for a suspect behind the death of a UCLA grad student. We have got new details on that search next.



CAMEROTA: Los Angeles police are investigating the murders of two women in separate incidences last Thursday.

The suspects in both incidents are believed to be homeless men.

BLACKWELL: One of the victims was a nurse. She was attacked as she stood at a bus stop. The other was a grad student who was killed at a furniture store where she was working.

CNN's Stephanie Elam joins us now with the latest on the investigations.

Stephanie, start by just talking us through the timeline of these incidents.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, very different times, different parts of L.A. as well, Victor and Alisyn.

Let's start off with the nurse, 70-year-old nurse who was standing at the bus stop at just about 5:00 in the morning. This would be Sandra Shells. She was standing there, as she normally did, to take the bus to work, when LAPD saying that she was struck in the face by a man without provocation, they say.

She was -- after she was hit, she fell to the ground, and that is when she fractured her skull. We know that the fire department responded and actually ended up taking her to the hospital, the Los Angeles County USC Medical Center, where she had been a nurse for 38 years, a dedicated woman who has been an essential worker throughout the pandemic.


The hospital putting out a statement, saying she was a kind, compassionate and giving nurse. We also know that they're looking into more about this person. They said they found him about an hour or so after the incident happened, and he was not very far away. He was sleeping, a 48-year-old man who they say was homeless, has been arrested and has been charged on attempted murder -- for attempted murder.

And then you have later in the day before 2:00 in the afternoon Brianna Kupfer, who was inside of a furniture store on North La Brea. She was in there by herself when a man walked in and attacked her. She believed -- they believe that she was stabbed to death. And it was after a customer enters the store and found her and called for someone to come and help .

They said that the assailant went out through the back door and out through the alleyway. They also believe that that person is -- was also a homeless man. They do not have that person arrested yet and they're still looking for it. In fact, they're expected to announce a $50,000 reward today, the police are, in finding him.

But just take a listen to what her father, Todd, had to say about 24- year-old Brianna Kupfer, who was enrolled in some extension classes at UCLA. But take a listen to her dad on FOX News.


TODD KUPFER, FATHER OF STABBING VICTIM: She's a dedicated person. She was at work that day. I don't know why she was there alone. She was just a great role model.

She was very, very caring. She was reserved and quiet and shy at times. But some other times, she'd be the life of the party. And she just -- she really is the role model. I mean, I'm so proud of what she had accomplished and where she was going.


ELAM: And what struck me about both of these women is that the people describing them describe them both as being dedicated women who were really loyal to the people that they loved in their lives and their careers.

And I should also note that Sandi (ph) Shells, the nurse, she passed away on Sunday from her injuries, so just tragic news here in L.A.

BLACKWELL: So, so sad.

Stephanie Elam, thank you.

A new study is highlighting the negative impacts of school closures on children, what parents and administrators need to know.

CAMEROTA: And the FBI is warning faith-based communities about the potential for more violence after the hostage standoff at that Texas synagogue.

So, we have new details ahead.



CAMEROTA: One in every five Americans has now been infected with COVID-19. This is according to a new data out today from Johns Hopkins University. Cases are up in 20 states, but down in parts of the Northeast,

Southeast, and some parts of the West.

BLACKWELL: Hospitalizations are up in 40 states, like Oklahoma. Leaders of four Oklahoma City hospitals tell CNN that they are now at a breaking point, with zero ICU beds available.

CNN's Nick Valencia is live at a COVID testing site in Atlanta.

So, Nick, what are you seeing there?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, really sobering data coming out from Johns Hopkins University.

I wanted to start there that data, though, coming from confirmed lab tests. You have to imagine, Victor and Alisyn, that there were even more Americans who were infected by COVID-19 that didn't get a test. Here though, in Metro Atlanta, testing sites like Saint Philip's AME, testing has considerably slow downed, especially compared to what they saw over the course of the last three to four weeks, as Omicron was surging across the country.

The demand here was so significant, they had about 600 cars per day, that they brought in and partnered with Lab Link to bring in a mobile testing unit on site here. At the worst of it, lab results were taking up to five days, leadership here at the church tells me, five days to turn around those tests.

Today, that is eight hours, they say. We are seeing these positive news and positive tidbits across the country, cases going down, particularly in early hot spots, in portions of the South, where I am at here, as well as in the West, and in the North.

But hospitalizations continue to be a significant major disruption here across the country, really at a breaking point. And perhaps nowhere is worse than Oklahoma, where the situation is just really scary, zero ICU beds as a result of all the COVID cases they're seeing there. It's led to a group of hospitals to write an open letter to residents, essentially saying that they may not be able to help if people need help here.

Part of that letter saying: "Soon, you or a loved one may need us for lifesaving care, whether for a stroke, emergency appendectomy, or trauma from a car accident, and we might not be able to help. We need your help. Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear your mask. Socially distance. Stay home if you're sick" -- those words from hospital systems in Oklahoma really underscoring just how dire of a situation that they're still dealing with here, a third year into the pandemic -- Victor, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes, absolutely. What a scary scenario that they're laying out there.

So also, Nick, tell us about the latest showdown over masks in Virginia. VALENCIA: Yes, we have seen these issues really play out in schools

across the country. We saw issues with unions in Chicago, New York students not showing up for the start of the school year.

Now, in Virginia, a standoff with the governor, who, even though science has shown that masks work, he signed an executive order saying parents still have a choice as to whether or not they want to send their kids masked to schools.