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Finland's Leaders Announce Support for Joining NATO; First Images Seen of Supermassive Black Hole in Our Galaxy; Ukraine: Russian Forces Advancing in Some Areas in the East. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 12, 2022 - 15:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Today, Vladimir Putin is seeing his war on Ukraine backfire in a big way. Instead of weakening NATO, he's potentially strengthening it. The alliance has taken a step toward expanding Finland could soon be its newest member. It's President and Prime Minister they declared their support, they are pushing Finland to join without delay. And moments ago, its foreign minister said Finland is going to submit the documents Sunday so that its Parliament can begin debate on NATO on Monday.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: The Kremlin says if Finland joins NATO, Russia will be forced to take retaliating steps. CNN's Erin Burnett joins us now live from Ukraine's capital Kyiv. So, Erin, let's start there. Let's start with Finland. How did they so quickly get to this point?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Well, you know, look, it's really a matter of an incredible swing and public opinion.


When you had Vladimir Putin invade Ukraine, you saw a reaction across Europe, and Finland that's largest border with Russia of any country in the EU. 27 countries the longest border is Finland, 830 miles. So, Finland joins NATO, that's going to be a doubling in NATO's actual presence along the border with Russia. So, it's a significant move. As to why Finland has chosen to do this after of course, half a century of being, you know, technically nonaligned with relations with both sides, is because of what Putin did here. And that has caused a massive swing in public opinion.

Historically only 20 to 30 percent of Fins supported joining NATO. That's according to the Finnish public broadcaster. And now, that latest number is up to 76 percent. And you talk about an incredible change. Have you ever heard of a shift of public opinion that occurred in such a massive way in such a short period of time? But that's exactly what we've seen. And when you laid out the timetable here, NATO has said that it could only take a couple of weeks for Finland to actually formerly join NATO.

And you heard the Kremlin in terms of that response, Victor and Alisyn, it's very significant. Because this can mean -- you know, what does retaliation mean? Obviously, doubling the border. This is a very big move. But a lot of the troops -- Russian troops that are actually usually stationed in the region of Russia near Finland, they're down here in Ukraine and have sustained heavy losses and casualties. So, it really puts a lot of pressure on the Kremlin.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about the fight there in Ukraine. The Ukrainians are seeing some successes, some losses as well. What's the latest?

BURNETT: Well, so obviously it's a little bit of back and forth, but it boils down fundamentally to this, which is that Russia is trying to build a consistent front line in the Donbas and expand and move down further south of Ukraine. Those are their goals. They are being successful in some areas and not in others. In the Donbas, Ukraine admits tonight that Russian forces have made some progress, possibly fording a crucial river strategically that would possibly, if they are successful in holding that, enable them to encircle some Ukrainian troops. So, that's significant. That's up near Sloviansk.

There are other places though in Kharkiv where you see on your map, much more dispute. You have Ukrainian forces pushing back much more successfully. So, there's back and forth and of course, as we mentioned a ship in the Black Sea, a Russian naval support ship which is on fire. Unclear exactly why. But that continues as well as you have the Russians trying to push that front and fighting in places like Odessa under heavy shelling today -- Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Erin Burnett, thank you. So, listen. We are seeing something for the very first time.

CAMEROTA: You're looking, in a minute, at a massive, supermassive --

BLACKWELL: I just said we're going to see it for the first time, we got to see it. There it is.

CAMEROTA: There it is.


CAMEROTA: There it is. Look, guys. Can you believe it? Look at how incredible that is. OK. I'm sure you know exactly what that is, and we'll just talk more about it next.



BLACKWELL: You got to see this.

CAMEROTA: Oh, I'm looking.

BLACKWELL: It is Sagittarius A, huge hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Now this actually shows the shadow of the black hole in the center surrounded by a ring of light, gases, and dust.

CAMEROTA: OK, let me explain. It's 27,000 light years away, and the rays of light are being bent by the huge force of gravity coming from this black hole.


CAMEROTA: Now we understand perfectly. Jonathan McDowell is an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard and the Smithsonian. Jonathan, it's great to have you here. But seriously, when we look at this, it looks like a flaming donut to me. OK. What do you see when you look at that image?

JONATHAN MCDOWELL, ASTROPHYSICIST, CENTER FOR ASTROPHYSICS, HARVARD AND SMITHSONIAN: Well, I've been craving donuts all day for some reason. But yes, what I see is a magnificent confirmation of Einstein's general theory of relativity. It's because the size of this ring, right around the black hole is exactly what theory predicted. And that's, you know, OK, Uncle Al was right again. It's never a good idea to bet against Einstein.

And we know this because we can see stars orbiting this central object -- Sgr A* -- and whizzing around it really fast because of strong gravity. So, we have a good measure of its gravity, and then the size of the shadow around the black hole is exactly what that amount of gravity would lead you to expect if Einstein is right. So, this is just a stunning confirmation that says that all the theory we do -- you know, for 30 years, I've been using these theories to understand these objects in space based on, you know, confidence that it was right. But now we can actually see it. It's really there. And that's super exciting.

BLACKWELL: So, what's the next step? Now that it can be photographed and we have the image, what can you learn from it?

MCDOWELL: Right. Well, what we want to understand is the flow of material into the black hole. And so, we want to make a movie. Because there was a black hole image a few years ago of a different galaxy, but that's one that's much bigger and things happen much more slowly. With Sgr A* the materials orbiting the black hole in just a few minutes, so it's a very dynamic place. And so, with more data, we can actually see how that flow changes with time and we can understand how the black hole is affecting the matter around it and test out the effects of strong gravity. And so, I'm really looking forward to seeing Sgr A* the movie in a couple of years.

BLACKWELL: What I love here is that I'm calling it by its former name, Sagittarius A and its friends apparently known by Sgr A*.

CAMEROTA: It's a cooler name.

BLACKWELL: Yes, sure it's cooler.


MCDOWELL: Yes, Sgr A* is the big supernova remnant nearby and then once telescopes got better, they could see the little point in the middle, that's the black hole of Sgr A*-- for a star like object. So yes, we say sag rather than Sagittarius because we're scientists. We're lazy. CAMEROTA: I know, it's cool. Jonathan McDowell thank you for helping

us understand this in appreciate what we're seeing on our screen there. Great to talk to you.

MCDOWELL: You're welcome, thank you.

All right, turning now to what's happening in Ukraine. The contrasting fronts evolving as Russia makes advances in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine is retaking territory in the north. We'll discuss the latest next.


BLACKWELL: Russian forces are advancing in some parts of eastern Ukraine in the Donetsk military -- that's according to the Ukrainian military. But northeast near Kharkiv, the Ukrainians are keeping up their counterattack. And while heavy shelling continues in the southern part of the country, no changes in frontline positions have been reported.


Joining me now to discuss is retired Army Major Mike Lyons. Major, welcome back. Let me start with this war on infrastructure. The Russians are going after the railway lines because that's how the weapons come in. The Ukrainians blew up this pontoon bridge. Tell us why it's important.

MAJ. MIKE LYONS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): So, pontoon bridges really are infrastructure used in the offense as Russia is trying to cross over to get to Kramatorsk. So, they built two pontoon bridges, temporary bridges, took a couple of hours to do. Normally when you do that, you fire artillery over here, you create fog. It's difficult. It took them two hours to do that.

So, the Ukraine government is watching this happen on satellites. Let's them build the bridge and lets them bring equipment across. They bring may be two to three battalion tactical groups across. The Ukrainian military watches it all the way. The units down here, they bunch up, they don't spread out, they do the right thing. They're not covered. As soon as they bring the last vehicle over, the Ukraine's decide to drop both these bridges, trap all the Russian forces at this side and they destroy them. Wow.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about the attack on Kramatorsk. The Ukrainians say that the Russians hit this area, including some fuel refineries as well. When you're discussing supplying the forces and civilians, as well, where does this fit in?

LYONS: This is important. And that's because four cruise missiles destroyed a refinery there. They need that fuel to bring the vehicles coming from Poland and Romania in the places as that equipment is coming from the west. So, it's going to have to come from someplace. But the Ukrainian government has been doing a very good job trying to rebuild. They'll do what they can. That's a strategic hit by the Russians and it's a big one. BLACKWELL: The big news of the day potentially that Finland will soon

be a member of NATO. They're going to move internally -- domestically to talk about it next week. Here is the border. The border that it shares with Russia -- 800 miles here, that's kind of a sloppy outline of the border. The significance of this now being added to what we've seen along the Russian border.

LYONS: Yes, very significant. I was never one to add these countries into NATO, frankly. I was very conservative about it. And as we've added some of these countries over the years, they've not really stepped up in some ways. But this one's different. Finland is a true democracy. There's no border conflict there, a member of the EU, tremendous military, already working with NATO partners on the ground. Very additive, so this is time. The events of February 24th have changed the world. It's time now to bring this country and Sweden into NATO I think Moldova potentially goes in. There's a little border conflict there. But the world is going to change and this is all because of Russia's fault.

BLACKWELL: So, what you expect will happen next? I mean, if Finland joins, will there where the flood-in of military personnel and hardware like we saw in Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania?

LYONS: I don't think so. Too far away from where the war is. It's more symbolic. It'll just start the start of aligning military exercises, make sure that we have liaisons set up and all those things. There's no -- there will be no military action. Because we're not going to move missiles in there and point them at Russia or anything like that. It's really more symbolic. And it might take a few months. It might even take a year before it happens.

BLACKWELL: OK, Major Lyons, thanks so much.

All right, it was once unimaginable as a milestone. But today, the White House is marking 1 million U.S. COVID deaths. How President Biden is honoring those that we've lost. That's ahead.



CAMEROTA: It's been almost one year since 98 people were killed in that horrible high rise condo collapse in Surfside, Florida. And now survivors and victim's families have reached a tentative settlement, close to a billion dollars.

BLACKWELL: The part of the 12 story Champlain Towers building collapsed last June 24th, just after 1:00 a.m. The judge calls the 997 million dollar settlement incredible news and says he wants it finalized by the anniversary of the disaster next month.

OK, meanwhile, Donald Trump has officially checked out of the Trump International Hotel in Washington. A source says the Trump Organization will sell the lease to a Miami based investment firm for $375 million, and they're planning to partner with Hilton and rebrand this hotel as a Waldorf Astoria. BLACKWELL: And so, you know, this historic property is right near the

White House. It hosted conservative lobbyists, as well as world leaders during the Trump presidency. And it raised questions about conflicts of interest. The hotel also lost $70 million during that time. The deal still must be approved by the federal government.

CAMEROTA: OK, now to the most frustrating story of the day. There could be a bunch of angry, would-be millionaires out there.

BLACKWELL: I'm so confused by this. Today -- rather Tuesday night. Tuesday night the host of the Mega Millions drawing called the wrong number for the gold mega ball. We all know the gold mega ball, it's always been trouble. It's always been trouble. He called a 6, when he should have called a 9. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now for the gold mega ball, that is 6. Again, tonight's winning numbers are 15, 19, 70, 61, 20 and the gold mega ball is 6.


CAMEROTA: OK, easy mistake.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we'll make mistakes

CAMEROTA: Absolutely.

BLACKWELL: So, this mistake prompted New York lottery officials to temporarily suspend all payouts until everything is settled. Mega Millions officials say they're sorry for the mix-up.

CAMEROTA: What do they have to settle? He called the wrong number, the people who had the 9 need the $86 million jackpot.

BLACKWELL: Run me my money. $86 million!


CAMEROTA: Can you imagine? If they were like, you know what, we screwed up, you're not going to get your $86 million.

BLACKWELL: Let's try next Tuesday. No, we all know it's a 9. Right. The 6 people know they lost or they got something else. Give these people their cash.

CAMEROTA: We've solved this problem.

BLACKWELL: Come on, Mega Millions.

CAMEROTA: Yes, meanwhile, "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.