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Sweden, Finland Both Considering Joining NATO; Finland's Military Ramps Up Readiness to Possible Aggression; EU Preparing New Sanction, Including Ban on Russian Oil; Early Results Showing Major Losses or Conservative Party; U.S. Demand for Abortion Pills By Mail Expected to Soar; Hundreds of Storms in Recent Days, Some Spawning Tornadoes. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 06, 2022 - 04:30   ET



FOSTER: The huge factory believed to be in the last remaining stronghold in the strategic port city. And fighting there is said to be bloodied and intense. Dozens were reported wounded on Thursday by Russian shelling and airstrikes in the key city of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine. The city seen as a pivotal one in Russia's quest to seize control of Ukraine's Donbas region.

And the U.S. confirms it helped Ukraine locate Russia's flagship Moskva in the Black Sea, but denies it had any role in sinking the cruiser. The Kremlin saying it is well aware that Ukraine is getting intelligence from the U.S., Britain and NATO.

Now Russia's war in Ukraine is being felt far from Ukraine's borders. Several European countries, that are not part of NATO, are becoming much more vocal about possibly joining the alliance. One of them is Finland. And CNN's Nic Robertson joins us from there. And we are really seeing the defenses come up frankly there -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: We are. And the Prime Minister framed in a month or so ago, by saying look, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Europe's security architecture fundamentally changed. Finland has always sort of been leaning in towards Europe if you will. It's a member of the European Union. But it does feel because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, that NATO and its protection is a safer place to be. And we've been to see Finland's troops training with other NATO members.


ROBERTSON, CNN (voice-over): In Finland's forests, the nation's military is readying should Russia threaten war. Arrow 22, joint military exercises. Finnish troops alongside British, American, Latvian and Estonian forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really don't know what happens. It depends on the commanders of each side. Let's see. And if the main target is upwards, that means the tank is destroyed.

ROBERTSON (voiceover): These annual exercises now with added urgency, Russia's war in Ukraine, causing Finland to consider joining NATO.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to develop. And if you are in your own bubble, you don't develop.

ROBERTSON: Arrow 22 is all about preparing Finland for potentially joining NATO, in the words of the organizers, for the purposes of national defense to create and sustain international operability.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Finland's defense chief and his U.K. counterpart, visiting the battle training, success in the forests, speeding Finland's path to NATO membership.

ANTTI KAIKKONEN, FINNISH DEFENSE MINISTER: We have a very good interoperability with NATO, and I believe that Finland would fulfill the criteria needed to be a NATO member. I believe that possible negotiations with NATO wouldn't take so much time because of that.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Until then, the U.K. pledging military support and clearly signaling political backing to help hasten Finland's membership.

BEN WALLACE, BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY: Exercises like this today show that our forces are professionally matched or professionally able to interrupt or operate. And that's a really important sort of strength that fill-in would definitely add to NATO.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I like the rails, like, he can really hold up.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Meanwhile, at the back of one of the tanks, camaraderie, the talk not about NATO.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like your weapons better.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Troops of different nations trading tips about each other's weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys came up pretty heavy huh.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Joint battlefield exercise experiences bonding all.

CAPTAIN DENIS MAJEWSKI, U.S. ARMY: You get to hear the experiences of the Finns, the way they grew up so close to Russia. It's definitely an interesting experience, and I think it helps us all grow together.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): After a day of shooting tank shells at each other, some Finnish troops pumped about their prospects should Putin pick a fight with them.

JAAKKO INKINEN, FINNISH ARMY: It doesn't seem logical because if they have already troops in Ukraine, then they decide to attack us, they get their (BEEP) kicked.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Finland is just days away from deciding if it will join NATO.


ROBERTSON (on camera): So, that gives you the flavor of the sort of military preparations. Politically, the sort of groundwork being laid for a potential decision is really about -- is really well advanced at the moment. The discussions have been going on in Parliament and other places for the past couple of weeks. And by early next week, we will very likely hear from Finland's foreign ministry. Their assessment of the proposal that they should potentially join NATO. And that is at the moment seeming very likely to tip in the favor of joining NATO.

We know that of the 200 members in Parliament, more than 100, more than a majority are in favor of joining NATO, that's at the moment.


And towards the end of next week, Finland's President and Prime Minister will both put forward their views. So, the real expectation is right now, by the end of next week, it should be very clear that -- of what Finland's decision is. And it seems very, very, very likely that they will be deciding that they want to join NATO. And steps coming up soon as well, for Sweden potentially to take a similar decision -- Max.

FOSTER: Yes, fascinating, Nic, thank you so much. They've been talking about this for years in that region and suddenly it appears to be happening because of Ukraine.

Now wave after wave of punishing sanctions have been leveled at Moscow since the war began, but the issues always come down to Russian energy shipments to Europe, which brings Russia billions of dollars. A sixth round of sanctions is taking shape in the EU, the key proposal is to stop imports of Russian oil by the end of the year. But also proposing removing Russia's largest banks from a vital international banking network.

But not all EU members are on board to the proposed oil ban. The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria have all indicated that they would seek to be exempted. CNN's Clare Sebastian is covering the sanctions angle for us this morning.

And when you look at the European Commission's view on this, exemptions don't really work in terms of how they're trying to get through this. But they are dealing, these countries, with costs of living crisis and domestic issues.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Max, the EU confirmed to me this morning that discussions are still ongoing in the Council and that's now a third day. And that does signal that the sort of balance between, you know, inflicting harm on Russia and minimizing harm to Europe. That is up for debate, right.

So, yes, the EU didn't really want to dilute this with exemptions to begin with, but they also want to put on a display of unity, and there's a report this morning that suggests they are making tweaks -- or potentially making tweaks to that original text. Reuters is reporting -- according to one EU source -- that they are preparing to increase a transition period for the introduction of a ban on shipping services to transport Russian oil from one month to three months.

So that's not the embargo itself necessarily, but one of the measures they were going to use to cut off Russia. They may now -- according to this report -- be tweaking that.

So, look, you know, we do not know exactly what the outcome is going to be, but I think it was something very important for the EU to begin with, that they're trying to present a united front. Because of course, one of the fears is that Russia is using this to sort of, you know, reveal the fault lines in the bloc and try to divide Europe. They want to guard against that.

FOSTER: OK, Clare, thank you.

U.K.'s ruling Conservative Party has suffered losses in local council elections held on Thursday. Results for England have been trickling in overnight. According to the British Press Association, the opposition Labour Party has clinched victory in three key London authorities. This is the first big -- well, the first British election since the "Partygate" scandal erupted last year. And it comes amid an ongoing crisis over the rising cost of living.

CNN reporter Nada Bashir outside 10 Downing Street for us. I mean, there have been losses for the Conservative Party in London, major ones. But outside London, they've been doing OK. And the opposition Labour Party haven't made massive gains. So, not the most exciting night, but a warning really about what's to come with the general election.

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Yes, absolutely, Max, and it is still early in the day, as you mentioned results will be trickling in throughout the day even into tomorrow. And as you mentioned there, we have seen some significant losses for the Conservative Party, particularly centered around the south and in London. They've lost the significant city an important seat of Wandsworth in London. The first time since 1970, so historic lost there.

And also, in just the last few hours, the Labour Party has declared a victory in Westminster. That's the first time the Conservatives have lost that seat since its creation back in 1964. Conversely though, we have seen the Labour Party make some gains. Keir Starmer, the Labour Party leader, has described this as a tipping point for the party. But at this stage, it could probably be best described as modest gains for the Labour Party.

Now as you mentioned there, this is all important with regards to the future general election. It is important to -- this is a local election, constituents are voting on local issues. But for some, this has been seen as a referendum on Boris Johnson's own leadership. This is the first electoral test he and his party have faced since 2018. This comes amid the cost of living crisis soaring. Energy prices, inflation rising, really squeezing families. Charities warning that the government's welfare system is failing. Some of the most vulnerable families in the country.

And of course, as you mentioned, there is "Partygate." Prime Minister Boris Johnson directly implicated. He was issued a fine by the Metropolitan Police for taking part in a social gathering when the country was under strict COVID regulations -- as were members of his own government.

And we do know that he is facing three separate investigations. One by the Metropolitan Police, one by the Cabinet Office. And now he's also facing a parliamentary inquiry, into whether or not he knowingly misled Parliament when he told them that no parties took place.


Now we do know that the Metropolitan Police have been waiting for the end of this local election in order to release more information regarding the investigation into "Partygate." So, there could suddenly still be more fines to come. But it's certainly a worry for the Conservative Party as they see these results. How this will translate in terms of support for the Conservative Party and for the Prime Minister. We do know the MPs from its own party have previously said that if the Conservatives perform poorly in this local election, the Prime Minister ought to consider calling a vote of confidence with their leadership -- Max.

FOSTER: As you say, more votes to come in. So, we'll wait to see how it plays out. The small parties appear to be doing really well. We should mention Northern Ireland but haven't not gotten any numbers in from Northern Ireland. But there's a separate story there, right. It's about how well Sinn Fein can potentially do.

BASHIR: Yes, absolutely Max. We do have a Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have begun voting today. So, we'll wait to see how those results come in. But analysts and observers have said that they are expecting Sinn Fein to do well in this election, and that will be crucial. And really significant because, of course, this could be the first time in decades that we've seen the party come to power. And that is hugely significant and of course, this will mean that we've got in Northern Ireland, politicians calling for a separatist movement, as with in Scotland. We know Nicola Sturgeon of course supporting that. So that will be crucial to keep an eye on over the next day when those results come in -- Max.

OK, Nada, thank you. We'll wait to see what happens.

With the U.S. Supreme Court seemingly on the verge of ending national abortion rights, demands for abortion pills is expected to soar. But will providers be able to get the drug passed strict state laws?



FOSTER: The fury over the U.S. Supreme Court likely plans to end federal abortion rights isn't dying down. New rules were held -- sorry, new rallies were held around the country on Thursday, days after the leak of a draft opinion indicating that the court intends to strike down Roe v. Wade. The landmark case legalizing abortion nationwide. But authorities are warning of potential violence. They had tall metal

fences put up around the perimeter of the court on Wednesday, and concrete barriers were added just hours ago.

During an interview with CBS, Hillary Clinton warned that the Supreme Court's far right majority could go far beyond targeting abortion rights.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: This opinion is dark. It is incredibly dangerous, and it is not just about a woman's right to choose. It is about much more than that. And any American says, look, I'm not a woman, this doesn't affect me. I'm not black, it doesn't affect me. I'm not gay, that doesn't affect me. Once you allow this kind of extreme power to take hold, you have no idea who they will come for next.


FOSTER: Well meanwhile, there's been a surge of interest in abortion pills that could be used to circumvent state laws outlawing the procedure. CNN's Tom Foreman has details.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): For those intent on ending abortions in parts of the United States, the biggest barrier may now not be politics, but pills, which researchers say are effective, available, and now used for more than half of all abortions.

SUE SWAYZE LIEBEL, STATE POLICY DIRECTOR, SUSAN B. ANTHONY LIST: Abortion activists have been quietly building a whole new business model to target young women on their phones. To click, get information, and receive abortion drug by mail.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The Food and Drug Administration approved mail order supplies of the so-called abortion pills with a prescription this past December for women in the first ten weeks of pregnancy. Advocates insists it is less invasive, more discreet, and just as safe as surgical abortion.

DR. JENNIFER VILLAVICENCIO, AMERICAN COLLEGE OF OBSTETRICIANS AND GYNECOLOGISTS: And oftentimes people choose this for various reasons. They want to be able to manage their abortion in their own home with their family, and you know, around -- in a surrounding that they are comfortable with.

DR. REBECCA GOMPERTS, WOMEN ON WAVES: We've seen an incredible increase of requests help. People are really, really scared of what's going to happen.

FOREMAN (voice-over): That's why some abortion rights supporters, such as Women On Waves, based in the Netherlands say they are already facilitating shipments of the drugs to women in far-flung corners of the U.S. and they're promising to step up the effort no matter where those women are or what the state laws say.

GOMPERTS: What I am doing is legal, under the laws where I work from. And actually, I have a medical oath to do this. I am a doctor. My oath is that I help people that are in need and that is what I am doing.

FOREMAN: In many states, where lawmakers are trying to stamp out abortion rights, the simple truth is they have written a lot of special lines in their laws, to keep outside providers of these pills from accessing their population. But abortion rights defenders say it's only five little pills. And they believe there is a way to get them to the women they see in need.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


FOSTER: Coming up, a series of storms have been wreaking havoc in parts of the U.S. bringing dangerous flooding and tornadoes. Where the severe weather is heading, after the break.



FOSTER: The U.S. is being pummeled by what forecasters say is the worst spring storm season in years. Including this storm system brought an EF-3 tornado to Andover, Kansas last Friday. City officials say around 100 structures were damaged and more severe weather is on the horizon. CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam has the details.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that's right, Max. It has been a banner year for severe weather and one way to contextualize that is just how many tornadoes we've actually experienced so far this season. To date we've had actually over 600 reports of tornadoes and on average we'd have about 524. So, we're sitting at about 119 percent of average in terms of confirmed tornados from the National Weather Service.

And yesterday was a prime example. We had two tornadoes in eastern Texas. You can't forget about the wind damage associated with these severe storms that are marching eastward across the southeastern U.S. It is all associated with this cold front. That's the triggering mechanism for the thunderstorms to develop. Of course, a lot of hot humid air in place across that region. And this is going to provide the recipe, the ingredients necessary for the recipe for severe storms to develop once again.

In fact, we've just got the latest update from the Storm Prediction Center. Look at that shading of orange. Raleigh to Atlanta to Montgomery, those are the areas that we need to pay particular attention to the weather today. Damaging winds, large hail and a few tornadoes are possible. In fact, the Storm Prediction Center has identified two particular locations across the Carolinas and into Georgia and portions of eastern Alabama that have a 10 percent probability of tornadoes. That means that anywhere from about a 25 mile radius of a particular point, there is a 10 percent probability of a tornado occurring within that region. So, that's what that that probability actually means.

Here's the severe storms around the 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. time frame for Atlanta and then across the Carolinas by the afternoon and evening hours with a heavy rain threat ongoing across the mid-Atlantic. Weather Prediction Center has a slight risk of flash flooding across portions Pennsylvania into Maryland, Max. So very, very busy across much of the Eastern Seaboard. Back to you.

FOSTER: Unbelievable scenes. Thank you so much Derek.

Now David Chappelle's alleged attacker will not face felony charges. The comedian was on stage at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday when a man from the audience tackled him. Police say the suspect was carrying a replica hand gun that also included a knife blade. He is now facing four misdemeanor charges.



MIKE FEUER, LOS ANGELES CITY ATTORNEY: This alleged attack has got to have consequences and this afternoon my office has filed charges alleging battery, possession of a weapon with the intent to assault, and charges relating to interfering with a performance. My office takes protecting public safety extremely seriously and we are going to vigorously prosecute this case.


FOSTER: Hollywood Bowl is now adding additional security measures and reviewing his existing procedures following the attack.

Now before we go, history was made on Thursday at the White House with the appointment of its first black Press Secretary. Karine Jean-Pierre will replace Jen Psaki -- who will step down next week. Jean-Pierre currently serves as her principal deputy and has been on President Biden's senior communications team since he took office. She described what this promotion means.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a historic moment and it's not lost on me. I understand how important it's for so many people out there, so many different communities that I stand on their shoulders and I have been throughout my career.


FOSTER: Jean-Pierre will also become the first openly LBGTQ person to hold the position. Her family includes her partner, CNN national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, and their daughter. CNN reported last month that Psaki is planning to join MSNBC.

Thanks for joining us here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Max Foster in London. Our Coverage Continues on "EARLY START" with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett. You're watching CNN. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)