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Russia Retreating Near Kharkiv, Ukraine's Second-Largest City; January 6 Committee Issues Subpoenas to Five House Republicans; Pence to Campaign for Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) Ahead of Georgia Primary. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 13, 2022 - 10:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Friday morning, I'm Erica Hill.


Happening right now, Russian forces actually retreating, a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, in the northeast part of the country, has pushed Russian troops back. This as new satellite images show that those Russian forces destroyed three bridges around Kharkiv. Officials believe the Russian army did so in an attempt to further hold off any advances by Ukrainian forces, literally burning a bridge.

HILL: Yes. In the meantime, I want to update you on the situation in Mariupol. More new satellite images show Russia excavating the site of that bombed out theater, the same one who Ukrainian officials believe some 300 citizens were killed as they sheltered. You'll remember the word, children, written in Russian could clearly be seen from above.

Also this morning, Ukrainian officials say Russian forces are launching new artillery and airstrikes in the region, blocking Ukrainian troops near the Azovstal steel plant where several remain trapped.

Now, all of this happening as Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed to Germany and France this weekend where he's expected to meet with NATO foreign ministers and discuss their response to Russia's ongoing war to Ukraine.

SCIUTTO: This morning, a Russian soldier is on trial in Ukraine accused of shooting and killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian. According to Ukraine's prosecutor general, the 21-year-old seen there shot a 62-year-old man who was unarmed, riding a bicycle, in the Sumy region of Ukraine.

HILL: This is just one of what Ukrainian officials say are thousands of civilian deaths. The world, of course, has watched in horror as Russian artillery devastated Ukrainian cities, Ukrainian lives seemingly with impunity, targeting civilian areas, as we saw that theaters, schools, as we know. The U.S. and the international community accuse Russia of war crimes in Ukraine.

What has been difficult, though, in many cases is tying specific leaders, specific generals to some of these alleged war crimes, and that could be key to carrying out some prosecutions.

SCIUTTO: No question, because you want to get not just the soldiers, the lower ranking ones but you want to get the higher rankings ones who issued the orders.

In Kharkiv, CNN has seen the aftermath of attacks, again targeting civilians, using cluster munitions, which are designed to kill people. The use of them is a war crime.

In a two-month long investigation, CNN can reveal that the commander responsible for those attacks and a string of atrocities he has committed not just in Russia's latest war in Ukraine but also going back to 2014 when Russia first invaded Ukraine, as well as in Syria.

CNN Chief International Investigative Correspondent Nima Elbagir has this exclusive report. A warning, you may find some of the images in the story disturbing.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A devastation of civilian homes and lives. Throughout the last two months, we have witnessed atrocities in Ukraine.

More mortar strikes very, very close. They want us to stop moving.

While we know these are Russian actions, it's been difficult to draw a direct line from individual atrocities to a specific Russian commander until now.

CNN can exclusively reveal that this man, Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov, commander of the western military district, is the commander responsible for this.

Munitions targeting civilians in the city of Kharkiv, East Ukraine, a war crime under international law.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You can see more artillery rockets apparently being fired from Russian territory towards the territory, I would say, around Kharkiv. I don't know if you can hear this right now.

ELBAGIR: This is the start of the war. CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen witnessed artillery being fired from inside Russia within Zhuravlyov district towards the city of Kharkiv. Sam Kiley was in Kharkiv and could hear the shelling moments later.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You could feel the concussion against the glass.

ELBAGIR: We soon learned from experts these were Smerch rockets. This is what they're capable of delivering, cluster bombs, one Smerich rocket releasing many smaller explosives, scattering bombs, amplifying the devastation.

These attacks captured on social media both in Kharkiv and both from the same day are a clear example of their indiscriminate nature. When used in this fashion against civilians, it's considered a war crime.

The use of Smerch rockets are key in our findings of who is responsible because they are unique to one unit here, one commander. After months of forensic work, we can reveal the trail of evidence leading to Zhuravlyov.

Using social media videos to guide us we return to some of the scenes of the attacks focusing on February 27th when three civilian targets were hit and eight more on February 28th.


We start in the Pavlova Pola (ph) neighborhood of Kharkiv. This is shrapnel from those missiles that fell on our neighborhood, she tells us. This shrapnel was found in one of her wounds.

Lilya (ph) takes us to see a Smerch rocket that fell 200 yards from her apartment block in this once affluent area.

I remember the whistling sound of the missiles. I know that the missiles were flying and that they were accompanied by fighter planes or drones.

You can see the hole that it came through. You can see the way that the rocket buckled when it hit the car. You can also very clearly see that this is a Smerch.

It's not the only rocket coming from this direction on this day. Less than a half mile down the road, another hit.

Helping to situate us, this kiosk, that water cooler, they're key landmarks. The bodies landed down here on this road. Those blue doors you see, that's where the cluster munition shrapnel embedded.

This video filmed moments after the attack where four people including a child were kill. Another Smerch launched with cluster bombs. We know this because one of the unexploded bombs was found only 280 yards away. Notice the date, 2019, Russia stopped selling arms to Ukraine in 2014. This confirms this is a Russian cluster bomb.

1.5 miles away another strike, more suffering and no sign of any legitimate military targets. People were queuing for food and then something just hit. People started running here, she says.

This is the exact moment of impact. Look at it again. Frame-by-frame you can see the scale of the rocket and proximity to innocent civilians.

We are here in Kharkiv. Notice the five hits along this line from the 28th. They're pretty much in a line apart from three here which line up with a hit from February 27th. We can trace these lines 24 miles to a point of convergence here across the border in Russia, well within the range of a Smerch rocket, where we have a satellite image from the 27th showing the launch position.

Notice the plume of smoke and telltale burn marks of a Smerch launch here, here and here. In collaboration with the Center for Information Resilience, we can also tell you who is firing from this position, the 79th Russian Artillery Brigade, part of the western military district which borders Ukraine and is under the command of Zhuravlyov.

According to open source information reviewed by CNN, military experts and intelligence sources, they are the only unit equipped to launch Smerch rockets and only the commander has the authority to order the 79th Artillery Brigade to launch the rockets. One expert told CNN, Smerich is a district-level asset. There are very few of them in the Russian Armed Forces, and, therefore, they're dedicated to special missions at the order of a military district commander.

Colonel General Zhuravlyov is this commander and he's no stranger to these brutal tactics, atrocities targeting civilians. They're very similar to what we saw in Syria in 2016. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Zhuravlyov also led Russian troops during the siege of Aleppo. He is the architect of the devastation you see here.

For leveling Aleppo, he was awarded the highest honor granted to Russian officers, hero of the Russian Federation. Yet Syrians have documented his war crimes.

Despite the direct line from the impunity the world afforded Russia and Syria to the atrocities suffered by civilians here today, the question remains, what will the world do to stop this cycle?


ELBAGIR (on camera): We've asked the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment as well as the Kremlin, but we've yet to receive a response. We also shared with the State Department, the U.S. State Department, our findings, noting the lack of action taken by them against Colonel General Zhuravlyov and other key Russian generals. They wouldn't comment on these specific acts or give us any other information but said they continue to track and assess war crimes and reports of ongoing violence and human rights abuses.


It doesn't, though, answer the key question, how will the world pull back on the impunity that it has afforded Russia and how do they take responsibility for allowing Russian generals to come this far, Erica.

HILL: It is an excellent point and excellent question and just incredible reporting, Nima, you and your team. Thank you so much for all of the work you're doing. It is so, so important.

ELBAGIR: Thank you.

HILL: And I want to continue talking about the importance of that Nima and her team.

Joining us now, Emine Dzhaparova, she's the first deputy minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. It's good to have you with us this morning.

I'm hoping that you could hear some of the reporting from my colleague, Nima Elbagir, and her team there, which specifically points to not only Russian cluster bombs, which we know cluster bombs are a war crime being used, but draws a direct line to this 79th Artillery Brigade and the commander who would have been in charge, who would have had to give that order.

Getting to the so-called decision-makers is going to be key here to war crimes. How much does that information help in those efforts?

EMINE DZHAPAROVA, FIRST DEPUTY MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF UKRAINE: Yes, Erica, hi. It's a pleasure to join the studio. I hope, technically, I will be able to give you the interview.

Indeed, I've been listening carefully to the piece of Reportazh, great job, I believe. This is exactly what we need to spread the information about the reality and the hell that my country has been living for almost more than two months.

We've been pushing within the legacy, within the international courts for three tracks. The first one is the prosecutor general of Ukraine. They have launched over 10,000 cases that are about proving that these are war crimes against Ukrainians. And there was a very close cooperation between ICC, the International Crime Court, and Karim Khan, who is the prosecutor. And we believe that the refined information that should be allowed is very important.

The second is the ICJ, the International Court of Justice, have been also filed in two day after the war started, and U.K. is claiming that Russia has been manipulating with the very notion of genocide to cover up its own crimes because they insist that we do commit genocide against Russian-speaking and so on. So, this is what you see at the piece of Reportazh. It's something that is indeed about atrocities.

And the third track is that our president is very strong, saying that we have to launch a special tribunal on aggression, because ICC doesn't cover the aggression crime, the only cover crimes of genocide, crimes of war crimes and crimes against humanity. So this is our legal base, I would say, something that Ukrainian diplomacy will be pushing for.

HILL: So, as you're pushing on all of those fronts, we're also following closely this trial, of course, today, a 21-year-old Russian soldier standing trial in Ukraine for allegedly killing an unarmed -- a 62-year-old unarm Ukrainian civilian.

The fact that this trial is happening while the war is still ongoing, do you believe that it could deter some Russian soldiers from perhaps making a similar move if they were faced with that?

DZHAPAROVA: Absolutely. Because I think that Ukrainian people are brave, and I think that the whole world has been amazed by this bravery. But Russian soldiers, those conscripted to the Russian army and some are hostages, because if they refuse to be conscripted, you'll get imprisoned. And those Russian soldiers, most of them, they don't know where they are and that they're trapped and fated together with 140 million of Russian people by their perverted leadership, perverted President Putin.

These atrocities, and there are many cases that really, I think, makes everyone numb, when, for example, women have been raped in front of their children or children have been raped in front of their parents. Like we have the case of a 11-year-old boy who lost his power to speak, his ability to speak, when he was raped by two Russian soldiers in front of the mother. And the only way how he communicates to the world is making the black lines on the white paper.

And, of course, I believe that the cases about the trials and when we show that there was no more impunity that Russia has starting from 2014, this is the way how we should act because this is my personal feeling, that the war we're seeing and facing is a direct consequences of our inability to give a proper response to Russia after 2014, after Georgia, after Syria, because always evil becomes bigger when it is not stopped.

HILL: Emine Dzhaparova, I appreciate you taking the time to join us today. We should point out, you testified about that young boy, about the atrocities before the U.N. Human Rights Council yesterday. I know there is more of that on your Twitter feed for folks at home. Thank you.

DZHAPAROVA: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: And we do have this just into CNN, some news about the WNBA star being held in a Russian jail. Russian state media now says that Brittney Griner's pretrial detention has been extended by one month.


The two-time Olympic gold medalist was detained at the Moscow Airport back in February accused of having cannabis oil in her luggage. The Biden administration has said she is being wrongfully detained and we now know that detention extended at least a month.

It does appear that Russia's invasion of Ukraine will ultimately enlarge, not shrink or weaken NATO, this if Finland and possibly Sweden join the alliance.

Just ahead, the former prime minister of Finland will join me live to explain why his country now thinks that's necessary.

HILL: But, first, former Vice President Mike Pence now publicly bucking his former boss, set to campaign with a Georgia candidate that Donald Trump is actually trying to get out of office.



SCIUTTO: January 6th committee making a big move in their investigation into the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. The panel issuing five subpoenas to fellow lawmakers, fellow members of Congress, Republicans, including the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy.

HILL: It's part of an effort to get all of the information the committee can before public hearings begin in less than a month.

CNN's Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill this morning. So, I would say the consensus this morning is unlikely they will comply. So, what's next?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's really the big question because the members of the January 6th select committee would not entertain the idea yesterday when it was brought to them that these Republicans don't seem like they're willing to comply even with a subpoena. They said they were still going to try to pursue and get their testimony.

But in talking to several of them and seeing also the public statements they released, they are fighting this for now, not exactly saying that they won't comply but making clear that they disagree heavily with this extraordinary approach to get subpoenaed from a committee of the House, and unprecedented to go after a party leader the way this committee did after Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who stands poised to be the next speaker of the House if Republicans take the majority in the fall.

Now, talking to reporters yesterday, McCarthy wouldn't say one way or the other when asked repeatedly whether he would comply with their subpoena, but said, my view on the committee has not changed. They're not conducting a legitimate investigation. They just want to go after their political opponents. But the one thing that has changed in America, higher inflation, unsecure border, gas prices, and now we don't have baby formula.

So, he was not answering whether or not he will be part -- will comply with the subpoena. And, typically, McCarthy, when Congress is in session, will have an end of the week press conference, he's not having one today.

So, it's unclear if he's going to address this any further and it's also unclear exactly what the committee will do once the actual, formal rejection, if it does happen, if they don't agree here, will they actually go to the unprecedented move of holding some of these members in contempt for defying their subpoenas and the potentially the Republican leader.

They have not yet said they will go to that approach but they have done that for several other witnesses who have defied their subpoenas. So, this is just only certain to escalate and Republicans, of course, are warning that if they take back the majority, they may respond in kind with their own subpoenas to some Democrats for their own investigations.

SCIUTTO: And that's the thing, what's the power of the subpoena? No one pays attention to them. Manu Raju, thanks so much.

HILL: Also on the political radar this morning, former Vice President Mike Pence breaking it yet again with his former boss, Donald Trump, announcing this morning he'll rally support for Georgia Governor Brian Kemp ahead of the state's Republican primary on May 24th.

Now, Trump has repeatedly criticized Kemp for his role in certifying Georgia's 2020 election results and has backed Kemp's challenger, former Senator David Perdue.

SCIUTTO: Let's bring in CNN's Michael Warren. So, Michael, it's an interesting race. You have what I suppose you could call the establishment choice Kemp versus Perdue, who's fully embraces, and we should say this out live, and Trump's outright lies about the 2020 election results here in Georgia. Where does the race stand and what would Pence's entrance mean for this?

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Georgia is one of these major tests this month for Donald Trump's influence on the party through all of these primaries. And you mentioned that Trump is backing David Perdue. He's really been railing against Brian Kemp for over a year complaining that he didn't do enough to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia, as Trump would have liked him.

Mike Pence going in the day before the May 24th primary to help Brian Kemp, Pence issued a statement through the Kemp campaign this morning. I want to read a part of that statement. Now, Brian Kemp is one of the most successful conservative governors in America, Pence said. Brian Kemp is my friend, a man dedicated to faith, family and the people of Georgia. I am proud to offer my full support for four more years of Brian Kemp as governor of the great state of Georgia. So, a real contrast there between the former president and former vice president on the issue of Brian Kemp.

We should note a few other things. Marc Short, a Trump White House official, who is currently Mike Pence's top political adviser, also advising the Kemp campaign. And this follows the announcement that a number of non-Trump figures in the Republican Party are coming out for Kemp, outgoing Governors Doug Ducey of Arizona, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, former Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey coming out in this final week, a real sort of contrast here.

Pence, of course, is a former governor himself and is interested to running in 2024 potentially for the Republican nomination.


This is a part of a pattern for Pence to separate himself from Donald Trump. He's been more forceful in recent months. This is just another data point in that story.

HILL: Yes, and also another reminder why there is so much attention on Georgia right now and will be for the coming months. Michael Warren, I appreciate it, thank you.

SCIUTTO: After decades of taking a neutral military stance, Finland is about to take a big step, seek membership in the NATO alliance. Russia is now threatening to retaliate. Up next, I'm going to speak to the former prime minister of Finland so he can explain what changed in Finland.