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Covered In Ash, Cut Off From The World; Fourth Missile Test In A Month; France's Lower House Approves COVID Vaccine Pass Bill. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired January 18, 2022 - 02:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.
Just ahead. Covered in ash and cut off from the world. Rescue agencies are struggling to assess the damage in Tonga after the world's largest volcanic eruption in more than 30 years.
Boosting our way out of the pandemic. The first study of a fourth dose of a COVID vaccine. How it fared against Omicron. We'll take a look.
And North Korea's fourth missile test in a month raising tensions at a sensitive time in the region. So what's Kim Jong-un up to?
ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center. This is CNN NEWSROOM with Rosemary Church.
CHURCH: And thanks for joining us. Well, the death toll has risen in the volcanic disaster in Tonga. At least two people in the island country have been killed following Saturday's enormous eruption and the tsunami that followed. There's much we still don't know about the full impact of the disaster as Tonga remains largely cut off from much of the world. Now this was the scene on Friday after the first eruption before Saturday's more powerful blast.
The agencies Save the Children says the tsunami destroyed at least 50 homes in Tonga and damaged more than 100 others. Relief groups say the top priority is getting clean water and food to the people of Tonga. Over fears the volcanic ash likely contaminated supplies there.
Royal Navy ships from New Zealand are expected to deploy in the coming hours with much needed humanitarian aid. Underwater communication lines remain severely disrupted, and ash clouds have made it difficult to fully assess the impact of the disaster. CNN Meteorologist Tyler Mauldin joins me now live here in Atlanta. But let's start with our Blake Essig who's live in Tokyo. Good to see you.
So, Blake, what more are you learning about the situation in Tonga and when aid might arrive there?
BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Rosemary, we know that falling ash remains a huge problem. It's because of that ash that outside aid hasn't been able to arrive. According to Australia's Minister of Defense of planes carrying aid can't land because ash has rendered the runway unusable. Now to illustrate that point, check out these before and after images of looking down on Tonga's main island.
Everything is seemingly covered in ash. As a result, New Zealand has sent to Royal Navy ships to assist with the recovery, but it will likely take them about three days before they arrive. Now, for those not familiar with Tonga, it's made up of more than 170 islands and home to about 100,000 people. This remote island chain is located in the South Pacific about 800 kilometers east of Fiji and about 2400 kilometers away from New Zealand.
So at this point, so far, only surveillance flights have been able to be carried out and according to New Zealand's government a significant damage can be seen along the western coast of Tonga's main island. A New Zealand's High Commission in Tonga also says that the volcanic eruption damage communication capability. So for the time being, with communication extremely limited, the island nation is essentially cut off from the rest of the world.
As you said, leaving friends and family trying to check on loved ones, with little to no response and that includes aid workers. Earlier today CNN spoke with Katie Greenwood with the International Red Cross who says that she was able to briefly make contact with her colleagues in Tonga who told her that things are going relatively well. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE GREENWOOD, IFRC PACIFIC HEAD OF DELEGATION: We're very focused on the water emergency that might be emerging as a result of their ash fall into the main water sources for people. So that will be a focus of our efforts in the coming days, but also focused on making sure that people have the necessary items they require to shore up and remedy their houses that may have been affected by ash fall and inundation from the tsunami waves as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ESSIG: Well, Greenwood says that things seem stable on the main island. She says that there's a big concern for some of the lower lying areas and islands closer to the eruption site. Roads and properties were flooded in the mainland from roughly a meter tall tsunami wave which damaged about 100 homes. But for now the big concern is the ash fall.
ESSIG: Save the Children says that drinking water supplies could be contaminated. And there's immediate concern for Tonga's air and water safety. Rosemary?
CHURCH: All right. Many thanks to you, Blake. Appreciate that. Tyler, I want to go to you now. And of course, what more are you seeing in terms of conditions on the ground in the region?
TYLER MAULDIN, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Rosemary. Of course, we're going to continue to see at least some small issues with the Tonga eruption because the initial eruption on Saturday was just so huge. I mean, this is an eruption that would only occur once every 1000 years. The last time it did erupt, though, was back in 2014, 2015. What we are seeing is yet another volcanic eruption within the Ring of Fire which is where 90 percent of the world's earthquakes -- quakes actually occur.
And as a result, you also get the seismic activity and also the volcanoes here as well. So we will continue to see some small issues there, maybe a little bit more in the way of seismic activity and whatnot. And then you can see here too the ash cloud that went so high up into the air about 45, 50, maybe even 60,000 feet up into the air. And it spread all of this over Australia and elsewhere, leading to the issues which we just mentioned a second ago.
And the shockwave too create a tsunami which did cause damage as we've seen and notice the ash covering the ground here. This is just phenomenal stuff from such a huge explosion and historic explosion too. Notice the before and after right here of the Caldera you can see that it's right there on December 8th but then after the eruption, it's gone. Rosemary?
CHURCH: Incredible, isn't it? Many thanks to Tyler Mauldin and Blake Essig. Appreciate it.
Well, there is an urgent push to boost COVID vaccinations across parts of Europe as the Omicron variant fuel surging case numbers. In France Parliament's Lower House has passed a bill transforming the country's health pass into a vaccine pass. As long as the new law isn't blocked by the Constitutional Council, people will need to be fully vaccinated to participate in a range of activities, including going out to a restaurant.
And France's Sports Ministry says all professional athletes who want to compete in the country will have to be vaccinated.
In Austria, the health ministry says starting next month, the country plans to implement a wide ranging vaccine mandate. It's part of an effort to protect Australia's health system and address a low vaccination rate. A vaccine mandate for adults over 60 is now in effect in Greece, and those who have yet to get a shot face hefty fines. According to Greek state media t will be $114 per month for those not meeting the requirement.
Brazil meantime has rolled out vaccines for children. Those five to 11 years old started receiving their shots on Monday. And data from Johns Hopkins University shows one in five Americans have now been infected with COVID since the start of the pandemic. That's more than 66 million cases in the U.S. alone. America's top infectious disease expert weighed in on whether we're approaching the endemic phase, meaning the virus is still around but isn't affecting that many people or disrupting society. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: There's an open question as to whether or not Omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for because you have such a great deal of variability with new variants emerging.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: In Israel, early data now suggests a fourth COVID vaccine dose can boost antibodies to even higher levels, but it may not be enough to protect against possible breakthrough infections caused by the Omicron variant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GILI REGEV-YOCHAY DIRECTOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE UNIT, SHEBA MEDICAL CENTER: What we see is that there a fighter vaccine after two weeks, you see an enhancement or increase in the number of antibodies and neutralizing antibodies are pretty nice increase. It's even a little bit higher than what we had after the third dose. Yet this is probably not enough for the Omicron.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: Joining me now from Israel is Dr. Hagai Levine with Hadassah Medical Center and Hebrew University. He is a professor of epidemiology and public health physician. Thank you, Doctor for talking with us.
DR. HAGAI LEVINE, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN AND RESEARCHER, HEBREW UNIVERSITY-HADASSAH SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Hello, Rosemary.
CHURCH: Good to see you. So Israeli data suggests this fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine boosts antibodies.
CHURCH: What more are you learning about the efficacy of a fourth dose against the Omicron variant?
LEVINE: Well, it depends what is our objective. The real objective is to prevent severe disease and mortality, to know whether or not the false dose is needed for that or when it is needed for that. We need epidemiological data. So this study is only one piece of the puzzle. We still don't know what would be and we need to study what would be the effectiveness of the fourth dose vaccine in Israel against severe disease and mortality.
But as the Red Queen told Alice sometimes you have to one, test twice (INAUDIBLE) to move ahead. And it seems that with this quick base of the Omicron, we must see not only what we do with the vaccine, but also the social vaccine. How we provide social support to help those in need.
CHURCH: And Doctor, Israel is giving this fourth shot to those 60 and older as well as other vulnerable individuals and to medical workers. But how likely is it that Israel will eventually broaden that group to include those younger than 60? Any benefits in doing that?
LEVINE: Well, I must say personally, that I also have this dilemma as I'm 43 years old physician in Israel, and I didn't get the fourth those yet, although I did receive the previous three dose as soon as possible, because the science was there. Now the decision was made without the science. And sometimes in a pandemic, you have to make decisions based on expert opinion, with the study.
And with the ideological data that we get informed as well, that even people who got the fourth dose still have breaks to infections of Omicron. It seems unlikely that the minister first will expand the vaccination campaign at the moment. It seems like Israel and other countries should focus in getting as high coverage as possible for the first, second, and third those. And also focus in other interventions such as drugs, such as prevention, and such as taking care of public health.
Other issues, other than COVID-19 because we see that other diseases are also like flu are also a problem and during this winter in Israel.
CHURCH: And Doctor, it is interesting you say that because some health experts here in the United States do say that there's no need to give a fourth shot at this juncture. Instead, they do want to see a greater effort being made to get shots into the arms of the unvaccinated even though there's some pushback in the United States. So, what is your response to that approach?
LEVINE: Well, there is no substitute than doing the right thing. And we know that the first, second to those do prevent severe disease and mortality and are needed, especially for the vulnerable. And we as public as professional shouldn't vaccinate the vaccinated, but we should focus how to convince those who are out to convince. We need to go everywhere, we need to go to the periphery to get to the people that are difficult to get.
And I think that what we need is to boost the public trust. That is what needed the moment. It seems like that for now the first dose is not the game changer. Maybe with the next variant I observe there will not be but if there is a next one, or maybe if there is a dedicated vaccine, maybe it would help but we must. Sometimes they take decisions without the science, but we should follow all the time with scientific evaluation and be able to be flexible in our decisions and change them according to the recent data.
CHURCH: Yes. Convincing the unvaccinated is the big challenge in some parts of the world. Dr. Hagai Levine, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.
LEVINE: Goodbye from Israel.
CHURCH: Thank you. Well, the Omicron outbreak in Australia has resulted in the country's deadliest day of the pandemic. At least 74 COVID-related deaths were reported Monday, breaking the previous daily record set last week. And as you can see on this graph, deaths from the virus have spiked dramatically since the end of last year. So let's turn to CNN's Phil Black. He joins me for Melbourne with more.
Phil, Australia suffering it's deadly as day of the pandemic as that Omicron variant drives up hospital cases. For a lot of people watching overseas they would look at those numbers and think, well, that's not very high.
CHURCH: And in many countries that would be very little but of course every death counts in every home, in every family. What is the latest on all of this?
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Of course, Rosemary. It is all relative to Australia's experience with this pandemic so far. And this is very different from that experience. Australia, through much of the pandemic has kept infections and deaths, hospitalizations, all way down through a combination of closing borders and long painful lockdowns. And it was only late last year that Australia started to open up once vaccination rates started to get around 80, 90 percent and above.
The complication is that's also when Omicron arrived. And so, ever since that moment, cases here have exploded from just a -- few of the 2000 a day in early December to more than 100,000 a day. In early January, there is growing pressure on health systems. And yes, deaths are creeping up as well to these sorts of record numbers. Again, of course, small or relatively small numbers compared to what other countries had experienced. But for the people here this is new traumatic stuff.
People have not simply not used to living with these sorts of numbers. And they've been following them very closely over the course of the pandemic because they have played such a role impacting their lives. The general point here, though, is the government has doubled down on a staying open. Both the federal and state governments to a significant extent have done this.
Insisting they believe that these things can be managed through vaccines, booster campaigns, general cautious behavior, the whole living with the virus concept. And again, Australia isn't alone, or it certainly is the first country to adopt that as a mantra. But the government is sticking with it. On the hope the theory that Omicron disease is often milder than the disease caused by previous variants. And that this will all pick and begin to subside soon, Mary -- Rosemary.
CHURCH: All right. Phil Black joining us live from Melbourne. Many thanks for that.
Of course the Australian Open is going on without world number one Novak Djokovic. He is back in his native Serbia after losing his bid to stay in Australia and defend his title. On Sunday and Australian Federal Court upheld the decision to cancel Djokovics' visa over concerns about his COVID vaccination status. And now it's unclear whether he'll be allowed to compete in the French Open this May because of new COVID rules there.
Requiring any athletes who wish to compete in France to be vaccinated. For more we're joined by CNN World Sports Don Riddell. Good to see you, Don. So Australia's tough stand on Djokovic has apparently influenced other host nations. So, now the world's top tennis player has a big decision to make, doesn't he? What's he likely to do and what all is at stake for him?
DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: Well, I think it's a bit too early to tell what he's going to do. It is interesting this new law in France is being referred to by some as the Djokovic rule. Of course, the French Open in May is a long way away, who knows if this law will remain in place by then. But I think given the experience that Novak Djokovic has just gone through in Melbourne, he will be thinking long and hard.
One would imagine about what he's going to do because we're seeing this in France, a similar thing is being discussed in Spain. Djokovic you would think would be there for the Madrid Open in April. There are also requirements to get into the United States where there is the U.S. Open later this year. But also he would expect to be here for some of the hardcore tournament's in just a couple of months time.
So what is he going to do? Is he going to keep trying to fight it and run the risk of the same kind of fiasco that he experienced in Melbourne? Or will he get vaccinated? He hasn't said -- he has said he's not going to make any further comment until the Australian Open is over to avoid causing any further distraction. But here's something that we should perhaps consider. He is well-known for being not a big fan of surgeries and medications.
And he said as much. But a few years ago, he did need major surgery on his elbow because it was really impacting him. And it was really causing a strain on his potential success on the court and his status and legacy within the sport. So he kind of bit the bullet. And he had the surgery. He said afterwards that he cried for three days. He felt so guilty about what he had done because he believes and he's gone on record of saying this that the body is self healing.
So he did it because he was pragmatic. He did it because he wanted to continue his career and get back to winning tournaments and setting records. And so might he now come to the same conclusion with this. It's too early to say but you would have to think that this is something he is considering and discussing with his family at this moment.
CHURCH: Yes. We'll definitely watch to see what happens with that. Don Riddell joining us there. Many thanks.
Well, for a fourth time this month, Pyongyang launches its missiles. Coming up. A closer look at what North Korea may be trying to achieve with stepped-up testing.
Plus, getting tickets to the Beijing Olympics may no longer be possible unless you've got connections. Why China is limiting crowds.
CHURCH: Adopters group in Sudan says security forces shot and killed at least seven protesters Monday during anti-coup demonstrations. Videos on social media showed tear gas being fired at protesters who blocked roads leading to the presidential compound. Protest organizers announced two days of strikes and civil disobedience in response. There have been several mass demonstrations since the military coup in October.
We are less than three weeks into 2022 and North Korea has already launched four missile tests this year. Japan says two ballistic missiles were fired three minutes apart on Monday. Pyongyang claims they were tactical-guided missiles that hit their precise targets. There were two tests last week and one the week before that, in response, the U.S. announced more sanctions on North Korea but it's also sanctioning select Russians who are accused of backing North Korea's missile program.
Isaac Stone Fish is a visiting fellow at the Atlantic Council and the author of America's second he joins me now from San Francisco. Thank you so much for being with us.
ISAAC STONE FISH, VISITING FELLOW, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Thank you for having me.
CHURCH: So four missile tests in just two weeks. What is the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hoping to achieve by doing this and why now?
FISH: He's trying to get people to talk about these tests. And that is certainly succeeding. He's trying to communicate to the United States and to China that North Korea shouldn't be ignored. And at this important time, especially for China, which is less than three weeks away from the opening ceremony of its Olympics. Pyongyang is trying to say that, hey, we're problem, you have to deal with us.
CHURCH: So, how should the United States, China and the international community respond to these missile tests and this effort to get attention from the world? What is the best approach do you think?
FISH: The eternal question that so many U.S. administrations have been trying and failing to figure out what do you do with a problem like North Korea? And what the Obama administration did was something called strategic patience, which by basically meant waiting until someone could come up with a better strategy. Certainly President Donald Trump did not come up with a better strategy than that.
FISH: And President Biden is now in a situation where he has to decide how much attention, how much policy bandwidth do they give the North Korea an issue? For Beijing, it's probably even a lot more complicated. A Beijing doesn't want North Korea to collapse. But it also doesn't want North Korea to be spoiling on its Olympic party and causing also very important policy distractions. So, I don't think anyone has a good solution for this crisis.
CHURCH: So for China, then -- I mean, obviously North Korea needs supplies. Its -- people are very hungry. So could China perhaps to silence North Korea for this time, send supplies?
FISH: What we're seeing now is the gradual reopening of a border that's been shut for roughly two years between North Korea and China. And it's possible that this is linked to North Korea's missile test, and that Beijing either is slightly changing its COVID calculus or North Korea is changing its COVID calculus. That was the ostensible reason that the border is closed, or it could be Beijing trying to pay off the regime.
Or, you know, from a more positive perspective maybe they are providing humanitarian aid to a country that desperately needs it.
CHURCH: Right. And how advanced of these missiles and how far do you think North Korea will likely go with this until it gets what it wants?
FISH: Well, what North Korea really wants, I would say is less the ability to strike the United States with conventional nuclear weaponry and already has the ability to decimate Seoul, which is a major -- capital of a major U.S. ally, can do a lot of damage to Japan, but rather wants to bring the United States and China back to the negotiating table so that they can use those negotiations to get aid.
Namely, bribe, money that will go to keep propping up the regime that the Kim family and Kim Jong-un can hand out as large as to North Korean elite.
CHURCH: And how big a threat is the possibility of a miscalculation that could perhaps trigger war?
FISH: So, the threat that North Korea poses is similar to a robber walking up to you pointing a gun to his own head and saying stop or I'll shoot. The worst thing that North Korea could likely do is to fall apart to collapse. And that would be an externality, much more heavily felt by China to have to deal with millions of North Korean refugees, but huge stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons possibly making their way into China.
And the possibility of the Korea unified under a Democratic and Western leaning soul, which would be a potential military threat for China. So, Beijing doesn't want North Korea to collapse. The United States doesn't want to have to deal with that major crisis either. So North Korea is able to say, you know, we have leverage over you, U.S., China. We're going to keep reminding you of the leverage that we have.
And eventually we really want you to start ponying up and oh, by the way, we do have millions of people who are starving.
CHURCH: Isaac Stone Fish, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it. And still to come. China changes course on selling tickets for the Olympics, but will that drastic move keep COVID cases low?
Plus, the other steps Beijing is taking to stop the spread of the Omicron variant. We're back in just a moment.
CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, Beijing is racing to contain its first confirmed case of the Omicron variant and keep the Olympics on track. With less than three weeks until the Winter Games, China is taking no chances, imposing targeted lockdowns across the country in areas with confirmed COVID infections.
CNN's David Culver walks us through the precautions being taken to prevent the variant from spreading.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Omicron breaching Beijing's borders. A single case putting the Winter Olympics host city on high alert. China's zero-COVID policy making no exceptions in the capital city. Targeted lockdowns immediately activated along with strict contact tracing. Chinese health officials publicized the infected person's recent travel history, starting with their home.
We drove by the Beijing community where the woman diagnosed with Omicron lives. Remember, health authorities say, all of this sparked by just one case. At least for now.
CULVER (on camera): Here we go. You can see here this is one of the entrances and exits. It's gated off. They put these big blue barriers to keep folks from going in and out.
CULVER (voiceover): The woman's neighbors allowed some fresh air but confined to the complex. Their trash, piling up, waiting for specially designated disposal teams to truck it out. Many nearby businesses, closed. The woman lives a 15-minute drive from the Olympic Park.
CULVER (on camera): Not only where she lives that health authorities haven't lockdown, but also where the woman works which happens to be in a bank inside this building. So, out front, you can see, they got these blue tents set up where a lot of times they'll do testing and processing before they can finally declare it safe enough to reopen.
CULVER (voiceover): But if you think it's just a bunch of empty offices, look closer. COVID control staff carting in big boxes. Inside them, can you read that, pillows, bedding. People have actually been locked down at work and these supplies might make their stay a bit more comfortable for what could be days of testing.
Omicron not only in Beijing, cases also surfacing in several other Chinese cities including Shanghai. Social media showing snap lockdowns trapping shoppers at one store. Outside the small, a person posting that this woman was emotional, wanting to hold the child who was staring back at her from behind the glass. Although it is unclear when the woman and child were reunited. Officials kept them all closed for two days as they tested those inside performing a deep claim before reopening. Sounds extreme, but most online voicing their support for the strict containment efforts.
Less than three weeks until the Olympics and recent outbreaks had 20 million people sealed in their homes. Others bust essentialized quarantine. State media showing these makeshift encampments built within days. Mass testing is a constant. Back in Beijing, I hopped in line for my regularly scheduled COVID test.
CULVER (on camera): Test number 97. Done.
CULVER (voiceover): But if you think the heavy measures have brought life here to a halt, most who are not traveling might say otherwise. On Sunday crowds flocking to this popular Beijing lake, frozen just in time for the Winter Games. Families enjoying the chill and seemingly confident officials will keep COVID in check.
David Culver, CNN, Beijing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: And let's go now to CNN's Kristie Lu Stout, she joins us live from Hong Kong. Great to see you, Kristie. So, tickets to the games will not be sold to the public, how did Olympic organizers explain that decision?
KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they sided a, "Severe and complex COVID-19 situation." And that's why tickets for the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics games will not be sold to the general public but instead distributed by authorities.
So, Olympic organizers didn't quite specify how and this comes just days after the Olympic host city, Beijing, announced its very first locally transmitted case of the highly infectious Omicron variant. And in zero-COVID China, we saw just then in David's story, that meant an entire office building with the people inside had to be sealed off and go into lockdown over just a single case.
As for the number of Omicron cases across the country that is unclear. But if we have the map on standby, we could show to it our viewers now. Confirmed locally transmitted cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in at least nine cities across China. From Dalian in the Northeast to Anyang, that is a city in central Henan province, all the way South Shenzhen in Southern China just across the border from Hong Kong.
Now, the Winter Olympic games will be held in a bubble or more formally speaking, a closed loop system that will cover all stadiums, accommodations, and venues as well. All participants, volunteers, and athletes must stay inside this system and undergo a daily COVID-19 test. Fully vaccinated participants and athletes, they can go straight into the closed loop system. For those individuals who are not vaccinated, they will have to undergo 21 days of quarantine. And of course, the Beijing Olympic games kicking off just weeks away, February the 4th, a Friday, less than 21 days from now. Back to you.
CHURCH: Yes. Very strict conditions there. Kristie Lu Stout joining us live from Hong Kong, many thanks.
STOUT: Thank you.
CHURCH: OK. Russian allies preparing for military drills that could spell trouble for Ukraine. We'll have the latest on diplomatic efforts to ease the standoff in Kyiv.
CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, a Saudi-led coalition on star strikes against the Yemeni capital on Monday after Houthis militants claimed responsibility for drone attacks in Abu Dhabi. Yemen's Houthis say, they hit the UAE with missiles and a large number of drones, striking targets like this industrial area, Emirati State media reports at least three people were killed. The Houthis are vowing to hit more targets if the UAE doesn't end its involvement in the war in Yemen. They also say, Monday's coalition air strikes on Sanaa killed at least 12 people.
Well, as the standoff between Russia and the West deepens, Britain says it's supplying anti-tank weapons to Ukraine to help it defend itself from any possible invasion. This comes amid a series of meetings in Kyiv meant to underscore the West commitment to Ukraine security and sovereignty. Germany's foreign minister met with Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky. And now she's onto Moscow to talk with her Russian counterpart.
Meanwhile a bipartisan group of U.S. senators was in Kyiv vowing to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons to defend itself should Russia decide to invade.
So, let's go live now to Moscow and CNN's Fred Pleitgen-- good to see you, Fred. So, where do things stand right now and how inevitable is Russian invasion of Ukraine?
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, things certainly stand in a very difficult position, Rosemary, and you really feel how the Russians are continuing to pile on the pressure the U.S. and its allies here in Eastern Europe. One of the things that the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said is that he wants answers. And the Russians want answers very soon on some of those security demands that the Russians have put forward.
Of course, at the core of those security demands that were talked about last week at those security talks in Geneva, between the U.S. and Russia, is the fact that Russia wants significant commitments that there will be no more NATO expansion. They want some NATO forces to be removed from Eastern European and NATO allies. And of course, the core of all of that is that the Russians say, they want written guarantees that Ukraine will never become a NATO member.
The U.S., of course, had said that a lot of those demands are going to be nonstarters. But the Russians are now saying now, they want written answers and they want those written answers quickly. And to sort of underscore all of that, of course the U.S. said that some of those troop deployments from the Russians near Ukraine are ongoing.
And yesterday then, the Belarusians announced that they would be conducting large-scale military drills together with the Russian military starting and February. So, that sort of another area where we're going to see increased military activity. And then also, on top of that, we are seeing is that there are military drills that are ongoing that were announced yesterday by the Russian military sniper drills that are taking place in a military district that is very close to Ukraine as well.
So, we can see those tensions still very, very high. Certainly, it doesn't seem to be decreasing as the German Foreign Minister now comes here into Moscow. Also, of course, in an attempt to try and de- escalate the situation, Rosemary.
CHURCH: Yes. We'll watch to see what happens with those efforts. Fred Pleitgen joining us live from Moscow. Many thanks.
Well, for Catholics around the world, marking the feast of St. Anthony the Abbot, known as the protector of animals. People in Mexico City brought their treasured pets and livestock to church for a sprinkling of holy water to protect them from danger and misfortune.
St. Anthony the Abbot is said have lost his wealthy parents at an early age. He rejected a life of luxury and devoted himself to spiritual enlightenment in the company of animals.
Thank you so much for joining us. I'm Rosemary Church. World sport is coming up next. Then I'll be back with more news from around the world in about 15 minutes. You are watching CNN. Do stick around.