Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Finnish Leaders Announce Support for NATO Membership; Video Shows Russian Soldiers Shooting 2 Civilians in the Back; Wildfire Burs Multiple Homes in Southern California; U.S. Senate Fails to Advance Bill Protecting Abortion Access; Biden Blames Russia for Food Shortages and Price Hikes. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 12, 2022 - 04:00   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and all around the world. I'm Max Foster in London. Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Finland has been preparing for this moment for more than a generation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Russians are very much able to launch an attack to retake some of these villages that the Ukrainians have just retaken.

CROWD: My decision.


CROWD: My decision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our children will grow up in a world where they have fewer liberties than those who came before them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A big, big job for them and just devastating -- absolutely devastating for the people who live here.


ANNOUNCER: Live from London, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Max Foster.

FOSTER: It is Thursday, May 12, 9:00 a.m. here in London, 11:00 a.m. in Helsinki where Russia's invasion of Ukraine has prompted Finland's leaders to announce their support for NATO membership. We'll take you live to Helsinki in just a moment.

But first a Russian civilian has been killed on Russian soil by Ukrainian shelling. The report comes from the governor of Belgorod just across the border from Ukraine's second largest city Kharkiv. The region has come under a series of recent attacks but Ukraine will neither confirm nor deny responsibility. Meanwhile, new drone video and satellite images show Ukraine has blown up at least two pontoon bridges built by Russian forces in the Luhansk region.

But Ukraine's general staff acknowledges some Russian advances in the east, though it's difficult to measure their scale. And Ukrainian forces claim they've recaptured more villages in the northern Kharkiv region. Despite the gains much of the area is still within range of Russian artillery fire there.

Now in the south, Ukraine is offering to swap Russian prisoners of war for wounded Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the Azovstal steel plant. A Deputy Prime Minister says there is no agreement yet but negotiations are under way. The Ukrainian deputy commander reports as many as 600 people inside the factory need medical attention. He says the constant bombardment by Russian forces makes it hard to fully assess the situation, but he believes all civilians are now out.


CAPT. SVYATOSLAV PALAMAR, UKRAINIAN MILITARY (through translator): We all know the enemy outnumbers us by far. They have got aviation, they've got navy. And for us, it is just not enough to hear from them that they are doing everything possible. What we need to hear is that they are doing and will be doing everything impossible to rescue their soldiers.


FOSTER: Now new surveillance video obtained by CNN appears to show Russian soldiers shooting two unarmed Ukrainian civilians in the back. And as CNN's Sara Sidner reports, this is already being investigated as a possible war crime. A warning, what you are about to see a graphic and it's difficult to watch.


SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (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 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 track 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 (through translation): My father's name is Leonid Oleksiyovych Plyats.

SIDNER (voice-over): His daughter Yuli wanted the world to know his name and what the Russians did to him.


Both civilians both unarmed, we know this because the video shows them greeting and getting 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 man a couple of days before the attack, told CNN, he did not want to be identified for security reasons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): We came there earlier, warn people to leave that place. We also hope for the humanity of Russian soldiers. But unfortunately, they have no humanity.

SIDNER (voice-over): 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 dropped to the ground, dust shoots up from the bullets hitting the pavement. The soldiers have opened fire. Minutes later, the guard Leonid need gets up, limping but alive. He manages to get inside the guard booth to make a call to the local guys for help. This is one of those guys, a Ukrainian truck driver turned civilian soldier.

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

SIDNER (voice-over): He's the commander of a ragtag 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 (through translation): One man from our group went there and the guy was still alive. He gave him bandages and tried to perform first aid but the Russian started shooting.

SIDNER (voice-over): They tried to fight back but were unsuccessful. They didn't have the firepower to save their countrymen.

SIDNER: Yuli have you seen the video?

PLYATS (through translation): 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 wanting to know who are neighbors are.

SIDNER (voice-over): 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.

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

PLYATS (through translation): Bye-bye, kisses, say hello to your boys. SIDNER (voice-over): Her boys will be left with a terrible lasting memory, the death of their grandfather now being investigated as a war crime by prosecutors.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Kyiv.


FOSTER: Powerful piece.

Now the leaders of Finland now say their country must apply for NATO membership without delay. It's a move sure to anger Russia which has a long western border with the country. They've been very vocal about NATO expansion. The U.S., the U.K., other NATO allies have expressed support for Finland's potential membership. The country has traditionally tried to stay neutral, but the war on Ukraine has dramatically changed Finland's views of the Kremlin.

CNN's Nic Robertson is standing by in Helsinki with the very latest. I mean, for the country, this is seismic. Isn't it? This is a country that post war was always neutral and is changing that stance and the border between NATO and Russia expands massively.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It does. If the application is made to join NATO -- as seems almost undoubted at the moment -- and NATO accepts. Which also seems to be pretty much on track. It will effectively double the length of NATO's border with Russia -- 830 miles, 1300 kilometers is Finland's border with Russia. And that will become part of NATO's border with Russia in the near course of time it appears.

What the Finnish president and Prime Minister had said in their joint statement today is that the country needed time for Parliamentary and society debates. It needed time for international communication with NATO and with members of NATO and with Sweden as well, to have those discussions. But now is the time to act. They said very clearly that joining NATO will make Finland's security stronger, that Finland will add strength to NATO as well, that the decision should now be taken. The application for NATO membership, should be made without delay and the other steps that are to be taken here in Finland should happen quickly.

These steps are fairly straightforward. The Prime Minister's party to announce their position likely Saturday, the coalition -- government coalition of five parties on Sunday. We're expecting a press conference with the President and Prime Minister on Sunday as well.


All of this is driving forward to an expected statement from a foreign affairs committee and then a plenary Parliament vote in the early days next week.

Finland's foreign minister has said this morning that at the moment Finland does not see a direct threat from Russia. But of course, that is a big concern for people here. Here's how he framed it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PEKKA HAAVISTO, FINNISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Russia's invasion of Ukraine has altered the European and Finnish security environment. However, Finland is not facing an immediate military threat, maintaining national rule and freedom of choice remain integral parts of Finland's foreign security and defense policy.


ROBERTSON: So, expect over the coming days for Finland to essentially move forward rapid pace. And by the middle of next week expect Finland to have come to that conclusion that the Prime Minister and President have laid out. That Finland will request to join NATO.

FOSTER: OK, Nic, we'll get back with you on updates leading up to that.

A fast moving wildfire, meanwhile, is burning through the Laguna Hills area of southern California with a mandatory evacuation order now in effect for some neighborhoods.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god, that house is done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those are all those trails right there we used to run.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of these trails.


FOSTER: Looking at pictures there of Laguna Niguel in Orange County, California. About 20 homes, some described as multimillion-dollar mansions overlooking the Pacific Ocean, are engulfed in flames. The fire has spread to about 200 acres. As of Wednesday evening, authorities say that they are working around the clock to extinguish as much as possible.


BRIAN FENNESSY, ORANGE COUNTY FIRE CHIEF: The focus is to get into these homes, to really take a look at those attics, to get down in the vegetation, to really make sure that we're not leaving any hot embers in place. So, that when the wind does pick up again tomorrow, that we've missed anything and we have, you know, a rekindle. So, you'll see the firefighters out here en masse throughout the night, certainly out tomorrow, and they'll be making sure that this fire is completely extinguished before we walk away from it.


FOSTER: The fire broke out Wednesday afternoon and quickly increased in size under strong gusty winds. No word on the cause, but officials believe the fire was made worse by wind speeds and dry vegetation. One local reporter described the chaos that firefighters were trying to get under control.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got a lot going on here on Coronado point. One firefighter just told me all of the chaos is at the end of the street here and when I asked him for a count of how many homes have burned, he said at least every third or fourth house is on fire.

Now, here is something that we hadn't known earlier, and that is that this street has approximately 72, 73 homes on it. So, if every two or three houses are on fire, that is a very large toll here on this one Laguna Niguel street.

Now there was a man who came running in a short time ago, he wanted to see if his house was still standing. He said that he was evacuated. He didn't want to leave, but he was forced to leave his home a couple of hours ago. He now got back in and he creeped down the street and then he walked past us and he said I think it's gone.


FOSTER: Much of the Southwestern U.S. has been experiencing a crippling drought. Desperate firefighting crews scooped up water from a pond of a nearby local country club to help fight the fire there.

Let's bring in Brian Fennessy. He is the chief of the Orange County Fire Authority and he's joining me on the phone from Orange County. Thanks for joining us. I know you are incredibly busy. What are your teams telling you about the situation on the ground?

FENNESSY (via phone): Well, as you've seen, it is a pretty dire situation. We've lost, you know, several homes, large homes and it's just tragic. You know, especially for the families obviously that rare going to be displaced. And it's regrettably become our norm, with climate change and the drought we're experiencing throughout the West, it is just a sign of much more to come unfortunately.

FOSTER: As you say, you've got a lot of experience in this area. How do you intend to sort of contain the fire at least?

FENNESSY: Yes, you know, I've been in the fire service for 44 years. And, you know, I've seen many large fires over that time and hundreds of homes lost and lives lost. And you know, the key is really rapid initial attack, getting on top of these fires quickly. And what we're finding in our new norm is fires are spreading much faster than we've ever experienced.


And so, getting these fires quickly and extinguishing them has become very difficult.

We've got a tough day ahead tomorrow. The winds have subsided dramatically, and so this is the time for us to really try to contain the fire as best we can before the winds pick up tomorrow afternoon.

FOSTER: This is the issue, isn't it, often because, you know, you are not expecting rain, so you don't have that advantage. But it's the wind that you can't really predict. And that really is what whips up the fires and pushes them along.

FENNESSY: Well, I think what's really unusual and indicative of the conditions we're experiencing in the West, is this is not a Santa Ana wind-driven fire that we're typically used to with very low humidity, very strong winds out of the northeast. This is a coastal wind. The wind we experienced today is very normal. The humidities are not very low. But the vegetation, you know, the fuel moisture in that vegetation, is so low due to the prolonged drought that fire is spreading with any kind of wind much faster than we'd have seen 5, 10, 15 years ago. And so that is really the issue.

OK, Brian Fennessy, Orange County Fire Chief, thank you very much for sparing the time to speak with us and good luck with your work.

FENNESSY: Thank you.

FOSTER: California isn't the only state in the Southwest suffering. In New Mexico, two large wildfires have cost nearly $73 million to fight according to the governor's office. Both fires that burned more than 280,000 acres. For the latest on this wild fire, I'm joined now by CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. Is it a similar situation, similar conditions?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, across the Southwest absolutely, the dry conditions, the drought has certainly helped expand the fire situation there. I want to show you though some of the scenes out of areas of Southern California because we know this particular fire, a wind driven, terrain driven fire, the coastal fire and this is just a few kilometers away from the coast. So really, having that sea breeze certainly doesn't help the situation.

And the drought landscape here, the entirety of the state of California dealing with drought. In fact, the southern extent of it underneath a severe drought situation. And of course, you take a look at how things have played out here, the landscape, the canyons, the hillsides here, really exacerbate the situation. Because this elevated terrain, you get these fires that work their way up toward the summit of these peaks, and especially these gusty winds pick up embers. They deposited them downstream. You start additional brand new fires and firefighters really have a tough time getting the upper hand on this sort of a situation.

I often say, when it comes to fires Mother Nature will always have the upper hand. And the winds, when they are calm into the early morning hours, the overnight hours, that is your best bet here to try to get some coverage of these fires.

But of course, the fire seasons are becoming longer. They're far greater burn intensity and the spatial extent expands rather quickly as well because the fuel moisture is just extremely low across the soils in this region. In fact, we do have some areas of concern here with mandatory evacuations in place. And you will notice not only has it been extremely dry for years and years, but even in 2022 right now, we're at the very tail end of what would be the wet season.

Long Beach, California, their observation, one of the more reliable ones, closest to this particular fire has only picked up 1.14 inches of rainfall in 2022. They should have 8 inches. That's an average year in a very dry landscape in the wet season. But only 14 percent of what typically comes down in this dry landscape has come down. So even less of course than what you'd want to see.

But you'll notice the coverage right now, 195 acres of land consumed, containment set at 0 percent. We hope the firefighters get at least some coverage of this the next few hours before the afternoon winds once again kick up here and create a hazardous situation that we know happens every single afternoon across portions of Southern California with these windy conditions.

But there you go, below average conditions is what we expect in the way of rainfall between the next 6 to 10 days. We don't expect much at all across the Southwestern United States and that includes portions just next door into New Mexico as well.

And, Max, look at this perspective. Back on 19 October, upwards of 87 percent of the state of California had drought. Back in December and into January, we saw conditions actually improve quite a bit, rainfall came down in abundance there in that period and then it very much quieted back down January into February. And right now, we have increased the extreme drought coverage to 40 percent with drought being experienced in all of California to some extent. And that is really what is concerning right now across this region.

FOSTER: Yes, that's what the firefighter was describing as well. That sort of conditions, the new norm as he described it. Thank you very much, Pedram Javaheri.

In Washington U.S. Senate Democrats have failed to pass a bill that would protect access to abortion nationwide. The Women's Health Protection Act failed with a 49-51 vote on Wednesday among strong Republican resistance.



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Legislation would allow abortions of viable babies in the ninth month with no waiting period or informed consent at the hands of a nonphysician. Taxpayers could be forced to pay for it. And Catholic hospitals would be forced to perform it.


FOSTER: This comes amid growing concerns the Supreme Court is poised to overturn the landmark Roe versus Wade ruling with the outcome of the vote showing the nation's partisan divide on the issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The vote we just took makes crystal clear the contrast between the parties as we approach the midterm elections. Vote, elect more pro-choice Democrats if you want to see a woman have control over her own body. Elect more pro-choice Democrats if you want to protect a woman's freedom and right to choose. Elect more MAGA Republicans if you want to see a nationwide ban on abortion, if you want to see doctors and women arrested, if you want to see no exceptions for rape or incest.

CROWD: This is my life. My decision. My life. My decision.


FOSTER: Ahead of the vote, about two dozen progressives from the House loudly marched to the Senate chanting my body, my decision. They could be heard in the chamber.

Now the price of everything just keeps going up. How the Biden administration is dealing with the pain of inflation, next.



FOSTER: The U.S. president says Russia's invasion of Ukraine is directly responsible for much of the bad economic news at home and abroad, that includes soaring domestic prices as well as shortages in the global food supply. On Wednesday, Joe Biden met with American farm workers in Illinois and praised them for being, quote, the bread basket of democracy amid the war.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America is fighting on two fronts. At home, it's inflation and rising prices. Abroad it's helping Ukrainians defend their democracy. And feeding those who are left hungry around the world because Russian atrocities exist.


FOSTER: Now for the first time since August, the pace of U.S. inflation has just let up but just a little. The Consumer Price Index was up 8.3 percent in April compared to a year ago. And that's an ever so slight dip from its high of 8.5 percent in March which marked a 40 plus year record. This basically means that prices are still going up but at a slower right than before. Now is hope the worst is over even though prices remain painfully high. CNN's Brian Todd looks at how Americans are coping.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): At a grocery store in Northeast D.C., shoppers are more than a little fed up with food prices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know it's high. You know, it's hard trying to balance, you know, what you need and what you want.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything from sodas, to meats, to vegetables, everything has just increased.

TODD (voice-over): According to new government figures, annual inflation did ease off a little bit last month but is still a near 40- year high, prices rising 8.3 percent for the year ending in April, slightly lower than the 8.5 percent rise through March. And food was one of the biggest factors along with shelter. In just a month, meat, poultry, fish and eggs when up 1.4 percent, with eggs by themselves spiking 10.3 percent.

TODD: What have you noticed most has gone up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it would be the eggs, because a while ago they were really cheap.

TODD (voice-over): And housing costs for renters and owners went up 0.5 percent for the third month in a row, consumers taking a big hit each month.

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: The typical American households are spending $450 more now than a year ago that buy the same goods and services, and that's because of the higher inflation. So, this is incredibly painful.

TODD (voice-over): Gas prices dipped last month but are now back to setting records.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day you walk by, I mean, drive by it's one price, and within a matter of hours, it'll jump up again.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say with inflation this high, millions of Americans families already struggling to make ends meet due to the pandemic may still have to make tough choices.

MICHELLE SINGLETARY, AUTHOR, WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR MONEY WHEN CRISIS HITS: It really will mean that some people might actually have to skip a meal. Maybe, you know, they can't feed their children the way they want to. They will perhaps not be able to cover their rent or all of their rent.

TODD (voice-over): But on the bright side, at least one top economist says there could be relief in sight.

ZANDI: Inflation is peaking, I think the high inflation, that painfully high inflation is due to the pandemic and to the Russian invasion. If those things don't go off the rails, then I think we will see inflation lower by the end of the year and certainly this time next year.

TODD: Analyst Mark Zandi says that doesn't mean the prices for everything are just going to come down. He says we should get used to high prices for things like food. What will come down he says, the price of gasoline and before the end of the year he believes the prices of new cars will start to go down as some of the supply chain issues get ironed out.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


FOSTER: A shortage of baby formula in the United States is getting worse every week as supplies in store shelves dwindle around the country. A data agency says the current supply is less than half of what it should be in at least eight states with the national average not far behind. The White House says that officials are working around the clock to fix the problem. Formula maker Abbott has a plant in Michigan -- previously at the center of a recall -- could restart production within two weeks with formula back in stores within eight weeks pending FDA approval.

Now still to come, the funeral procession for the Al Jazeera journalist fatally shot in the West Bank is on its way to the Palestinian Authority's presidential compound. We'll have a live report from Ramallah next.