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Finland's Leaders Announce Support For Joining NATO; Ukraine Says, Russian Forces Advancing in Some Areas in the East; Today, Supreme Court Justices Meet For First Time Since Roe Leak. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired May 12, 2022 - 10:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, Vladimir Putin's goal to divide NATO is not going as planned. Just hours ago, the leaders of Finland officially announced their support for joining NATO without delay. It would be a major expansion of the alliance, extending the border between NATO and Russia by many hundreds of miles. Now, neighboring Sweden potentially following suit in the coming days. Finland's leaders put the blame squarely on Russia and Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin responded this morning, calling the potential move a threat to Russia, particularly if there are more NATO forces placed on that border.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Meantime, on the ground, Russia continues to escalate its attacks on Ukraine. The Ukrainian Armed Forces acknowledged Russian advances in some areas of the east. It's unclear though just how much.

Plus, for the first time, a Russian civilian has reportedly been killed on Russian by cross-border shelling from Ukraine. All of this as we are now continuing to see new video of atrocities, including this surveillance video obtained by CNN, which shows Russian soldiers shooting two unarmed civilians as they walked away from an encounter on the outskirts of Kyiv. Ukrainian prosecutors say they are investigating this as a war crime.

CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson is in Helsiniki, Finland, this morning. CNN Senior Correspondent Sara Sidner is in Kyiv.

Sara, I want to begin with you this hour. Tell us more about this incident that was caught on video, horrific video there, two people shot in the back as they're walking away by Russian soldiers.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica. This surveillance video is pretty hard to come by because as the Russians were advancing in trying to make their way into Kyiv, they would shoot out a lot of the surveillance cameras along the way, or the power outages, which shut them off. This one stayed on, showing this all the way through from beginning to end. It is incredibly disturbing to watch but what it reveals are Russian soldiers shooting two men as they walk away.


SIDNER (voice over): This is a stark example of a potential war crime perpetrated by Russian forces, an example the world has not yet seen, Russian soldiers shooting two civilians in the back.

CNN obtained the surveillance video taken from this vehicle dealership that sits along the main highway to Kyiv. The video is from the beginning of the wary as Russians tried and failed to shell their way to the capital. The fight along this road was clearly fierce.

But what happened outside this business was not a battle between soldiers or even soldiers and armed civilians. It was a cowardly, cold-blooded killing of unarmed men by Russian forces.

The soldiers show up and begin breaking in. Inside of a guard shack, two Ukrainian men prepare to meet them. We tracked down the men's identities. One is the owner of the business, whose family did not want him named, the other was hired to guard it.

YULI PLYATS, FATHER KILLED BY RUSSIANS: My father's name is Leonid Aleksyovich Klatz (ph).

SIDNER: His daughter, Yuli, wanted the world to know his names and what the Russians did to him, both civilians, both unarmed. We know this because the video shows them greeting and frisked by the Russian soldiers and then casually walking away. Neither seemed to suspect what was about to happen.

That is when a member of the civilian fighting force who talked to the men a couple of days before the attack told CNN. He did not want to be identified for security reasons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We came there earlier, warned people to leave that place. We also hoped for the humanity of Russian soldiers. But, unfortunately, they have no humanity.

You see the two men walking in the shadows toward the camera. Behind them, the soldiers they were just talking to emerge. A few more steps and their bodies drop to the ground, dust shoots up from the bullets hitting the pavement. The soldiers have opened fire.

Minutes later the guard, Leonid gets up, limping but alive. He manages to get inside the guard booth to make a call to local guys for help. This is one of those guys, a Ukrainian truck driver turned civilian soldier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First of all, we felt a big responsibility. We knew we should go there because the man needed our help. He was still alive.

SIDNER: He's the commander of a rag tag team of civilians who took up arms to fight for Ukraine and tried to save the men. When the guard called them, he explained what transpired with the soldiers. He said, the soldiers asked who they were and asked for cigarettes then let them go before shooting them in the back.

When his man finally got to Leonid, he had lost massive amounts of blood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One man from our group went there and the guy was still alive. He gave him bandages, tried to perform first aid but the Russians started shooting.

SIDNER: They tried to fight back but were unsuccessful.


They didn't have the firepower to save their countrymen.

Yuli, have you seen the video?

PLYATS: I can't watch it now. I will save it to the cloud and leave it for my grandchildren and children. They should know about this crime and always remember who our neighbors are.

SIDNER: Her neighbors to the north, these Russian soldiers, show just how callous they are, drinking, toasting one another and looting the place minutes after slaying the two men.

What were the last words that you remember he said to you?

PLYATS: Bye-bye, kisses, say hello to your boys.

SIDNER: Her boys will be left with a terrible lasting memory, the death of their grandfather now being investigated as a war crime by prosecutors.


SIDNER (on camera): And Yuli knows there is nothing of course that can bring her father back and her children's grandfather back but she is hoping that some kind of justice will be meted out here. We know from prosecutors today that they are working as we speak to try and identify these men so that they can be charged with what they say are war crimes. Jim and Erica?

SCIUTTO: And just to note again, what was the target here? It wasn't a military base, it was a car rental company. The Russian soldiers came and shot people in the back at a car rental dealership. It's just the way this war is being waged.

SIDNER: Yes. They rented out campers. They rented bicycles. Yes, it is. And, look, when you look at this, what you sort of see, it appears, is the two gentlemen thinking that they had sort of talked their way out of any problem, they walk away very calmly, they're not running, there is no fighting. This was just out of the blue, shot from behind by these soldiers who have weapons of war.

But what you're also seeing here, I think, is not just callousness but trying to dehumanize Ukrainians. And we've heard that over and over and over in villages with Russian soldiers coming into homes and saying things to them that really make them seem not human, and that's one of the ways that they do this and justify in their own minds to be able to take a life like this.

SCIUTTO: Product of disinformation many years. Sara Sidner, thanks very much.

The other big development today, this morning, Finland's president and prime minister issued a joint statement saying they are in favor of applying for NATO membership. It would be a major expansion of the alliance and a step that Finland has resisted for many decades.

HILL: But now making that step.

CNN's Nic Robertson joining us from Helsinki, Finland. So, Nic, Russia not surprisingly responding this morning in response, calling this a threat, this potential move. What more do we know about this timeline and what could happen here?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. This is a monumental move. It came as sort of a two-paragraph statement, not on camera, which is, you know, for something that represents a massive geopolitical shift, the change -- part of the change of the post- Second World War stability and order that President Putin has precipitated on this region and the world, this was really a very understated move but momentous nevertheless by the prime minister and by the president.

The timeline is very straight forward. The prime minister's party on Saturday will decide, as we already know clearly, that they're going to support the move, the governing coalition of five partners will make the same step Sunday. And early next week, the parliament will vote on it. We already know from a member of the prime minister's own party, another parliamentarian, he told me yesterday he thinks over 180 people out of that 200-member parliament will vote. So, in effect, is a done deal. So, this was a very momentous day.

What the Russians are saying at the moment is that they consider it a threat, that they say this won't bring stability, that they will retaliate militarily if they feel that their national security is weakened by this. What the Finnish president had to say yesterday when he asked, well, what do you say to President Putin about what's happening, because it's obviously the opposite of what Putin has wanted, he said Putin should look in a mirror. These were his words.


SAULI NIINISTO, FINNISH PRESIDENT: Well, if that would be the case that we join, what my response would be that you caused this. Look at the mirror.


ROBERTSON: This is a massive change, decades of neutrality and the Finns and their political leaders very quickly watching Russia over the past few months and deciding they're no longer safe, they're on their way into NATO as of now. HILL: Nic Robertson with the latest there from Helsinki, Nic, thank you.

Joining me now, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia, and a retired Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, former Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs.


It's good to have both of you with us this morning.

Andrea, as we look at the response from the Kremlin, really somewhat predictable, right, saying that this now a threat to Russia, any chance of Ukraine joining NATO was realistically years and years away. It's a different story now when we look at Finland and we look at where we're at. Do you think there is a real chance that Russia acts here, that they sort of make good on some of these threats or could this, in some way, be tampering these potentially larger ambitions that Putin had?

ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think just a bit of context to kind of underscore how Russia sees this, Finland and Russia share an 810 mile border. It's Russia's longest border with any single European country. And Russia has long been fearful of encirclement by NATO. So, this is a significant development from their perspective.

But what I am hearing from Finnish diplomats is actually that the Finnish-Russian relations have been quite quiet lately and there is a little uncertainty about how they should interpret that. On the one hand, they have a sense that it may be the case that the Kremlin has internalized this and somehow accepted it as a (INAUDIBLE), that the train has left the station. They're also bogged down and distracted by what's happening in Ukraine, and that might prevent an immediate reaction. But they, of course, worry that this kind of calm might pre- say something more menacing.

We should note, however, the point of most vulnerability is the time between when they put in their official NATO application and the time it takes all 30 NATO member states to approve that application. But we're already seeing the U.K., for example, Boris Johnson was there giving the Finns and Swedes some security guarantees to try to bridge that period of vulnerability.

HILL: And just for people at home, how long could that period potentially be?

KENDALL-TAYLOR: Obviously, the Finns and Swedes are asking NATO member states to approve this and ratify it within their national parliaments as quickly as possible but some say it could take up to a year. So, there could be a significant period in which both countries would be most vulnerable.

HILL: General, when we look at that border, and I think we can put that map up again, that more than 800 miles of border that is shared by Russia and Finland, I wonder, as we look to it, all of these countries, right, NATO members and then what it could potentially grow to, how badly do you think or do you think Putin miscalculated this invasion of Ukraine?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, I think he certainly did. He has two key ways of getting into both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. One is the Black Sea fleet and one is the Baltic fleet. If you bring Finland in to NATO, you not only have a 600-mile border against candidly a country that was beat by Finland in the winter war in 1941, but you're also, in many ways, bottling up the Baltic's fleet, and one of the major concerns that Putin has was the fact that if Ukraine became a member of NATO, you'd be bottling up to some extent the Black Sea fleet. So, this is not just about land territory, it's about sea territory as well.

HILL: Which is important to point out. I do want to say let's move to Ukraine, if we could. In the last 24 hours, General, Ukrainians have blown up at least two pontoon bridges in the Luhansk region. We've heard from Ukrainian officials saying they're making some gains, they're taking back some territory. But we're seeing some gains in the east for Russia. There's a lot of back and forth here.

Is it your sense that this is sort of what we are settling into, more of this back and forth for months or potentially even years to come?

KIMMITT: I think it could very well turn into a frozen conflict, as you say, this back and forth. There is an opportunity for the Ukrainians right now, this counterattack that they're conducting around Kharkiv to the east, if they could get that as far east as to the Izium supply lines, which was supporting that Russian attack, that really could be a game-changer.

I know it's hard to visualize without a map. But there is an opportunity here for the Ukrainians but more than likely it's going to be, as you say, a frozen conflict with some fighting going back and forth for months, if not years.

HILL: And as we look at what could in that frozen conflict, we just had some video earlier our correspondent, Sara Sidner, brought us from Ukraine, from Kyiv, of those two civilians being shot in the back by soldiers. Ukraine's prosecutor general announced yesterday a 21-year- old Russian soldier is going to stand trial for war crimes for allegedly killing an unarmed civilian.

I spoke with the national prosecutor in Poland just a couple of weeks ago, when I was there, who told me, Andrea, that they will likely start with Russian soldiers who are currently being held as prisoners of war first, because they feel that there is so much evidence here that that is a good place for them to start, even if they can't get the so-called decision-makers.


How is all of this changing a war even at it's happening?

KENDALL-TAYLOR: I think it hard to say what the impact will be, but, certainly, the goal would be to make credible these makes that Russian soldiers will be tried for war crimes. And the goal there is to shape the calculus about what kind of atrocities or the actions that those Russian soldiers might be willing to take if they believe they might be held accountable. You imagine if you believe that you can operate with total impunity, you're bound to act very differently, then if you think there is a credible chance that you'll be held accountable.

So, the hope is, and I hope that this is true, that it does increase the credibility of the international calls to hold these people accountable for the war crimes, such that it might tamp down at least in some cases the willingness of these Russian soldiers to use these types of tactics.

HILL: Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, I appreciate you both joining us with your insight this morning. Thank you.

Still to come here, the Supreme Court meeting today privately for the first time since that leaked draft opinion, which could overturn Roe v. Wade, was leaked, sparking massive outrage and some pause as well across the country.

SCIUTTO: And holding Russia accountable, the U.K. transport secretary joins me live here in studio as the U.K. tries to clamp down on Russia's elites, including the seizure, like that plane right there, of some of their most prized possessions.



HILL: Louisiana lawmakers will vote today on a bill that would classify abortion as homicide, allowing prosecutors to criminally charge patients.

SCIUTTO: And its mothers. Experts suggest the bill may also restrict in vitro fertilization and some forms of contraception because it would grant constitutional rights to a person from the moment of fertilization. If the bill passes, it will head to Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, who has supported anti-abortion legislation in the past.

HILL: A lot of focus on that one.

Also just yesterday, as expected, a Democrat-led bill aimed at preserving access to abortion nationwide failed in the Senate. Today, the Supreme Court's nine justices set to meet in private for the first time since the leak of that draft opinion that would overturn Roe versus Wade.

SCIUTTO: CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider is at the Supreme Court. So, jessica, what happens now, in effect? I mean, are justices debating this issue? Is there substance to the idea that John Roberts, for instance, is looking for one conservative member to join an opinion that falls short of overturning Roe v. Wade? What do we know? JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's anybody's guess, really, Jim, and it's all a work in progress. They still have to issue a final decision, a final opinion, on this abortion case. That's potentially one of the things that they could discuss in this conference happening this morning. It's a completely private conference, just the nine justices who will be attending.

A lot of tension to be sure, but not only that, they have a lot to confront here, not just that serious breach of secrecy last week but also the fact that they still have 40 cases where opinions still have not been released.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): The justices will gather for the first time since that unprecedented leak at what has become a completely transformed court. An eight-foot tall non-scalable fence now surrounds their regal marble building with concrete barriers blocking the street.

Protesters on both sides of the abortion debate have been amplifying their voices outside the court and even at the homes of several of the conservative justices.

KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: The motion is not agreed to.

SCHNEIDER: Across the street at the Capitol, senators voted down a bill Wednesday that would have codified the right to abortion in federal law. And inside the court itself, suspicion as an internal investigation has just begun in an effort to uncover the source of that leak. Tensions are sky high just as the justices are moving into the most cumbersome point of the term, one of the most consequential in decades. They will issue opinions on nearly 40 cases by the end of June.

JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT (voice over): Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don't see how it is possible.

SCHNEIDER: Justice Sotomayor's foreboding commentary December 1st as the court heard arguments on Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban has gained new significance since that leaked draft indicated five justices are prepared to not only uphold the Mississippi law but strike down Roe v. Wade completely, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion and leaving it to states to legislate the issue. A final decision on that is expected before July 1st.

FMR. REP. GABBY GIFFORDS (D-AZ): We are at a crossroads. We can or they shouldn't continue or we can act.

SCHNEIDER: Former Congresswoman and gun violence survivor Gabby Giffords spoke in front of the court in November, urging the justices to uphold a New York gun law restricting who can carry concealed weapons in public.


It is the first major gun case the court will decide in more than a decade and it could be a way for conservatives to significantly expand the scope of the Second Amendment.

Religious liberty cases are also before this court that has increasingly favored church over state.

JOSEPH KENNEDY, FORMER BREMERTON HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL COACH: It was a private prayer between God and myself and I don't think anybody in America should have to worry about their faith and their job.

SCHNEIDER: Former high school football coach Joseph Kennedy was suspended after he refused to stop praying on the 50-yard line after games. The justices will decide if the school was justified in forbidding Coach Kennedy's postgame religious ritual.

And the justices will determine if a main tuition assistance program for public school children in the state properly excluded religious schools.

STEVE VLADECK, PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW: I think there's no question that this was already shaping up to be as important, as significant, as momentous a Supreme Court term, as we've seen in a long time. And now we're just adding into that soup all of this clearly inside internal turmoil among the justices that's spilling out into the public domain to a degree we've never seen before.


SCHNEIDER: And it's really unlikely that anything from this internal investigation will ever spill out into public view and it's quite possible we'll never know the identity of this leaker.

Now, in the meantime, the attorney general, Merrick Garland, he has directed the U.S. Marshal Service to provide additional support for ensuring the justices' safety and the Republican governors of Virginia and Maryland. They are now urging the Justice Department to enforce a federal law that would ban protesting outside justice's home if the intent is to influence judicial decision-making. So, a lot swirling both out here at the court, guys, and even in the neighboring states here.

SCIUTTO: This court facing so many consequential decisions this term and the next. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Well, the U.K. is now intensifying its crackdown on Russia and its supporters. A British official who has been taking the step of seizing Russian assets, yachts, like that one, he's going to join me next on the impact of global sanctions so far.