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G7 Foreign Ministers Meet in Germany for Talks on Ukraine; U.S. Marks One Million Deaths from COVID-19; Top House Republican and Trump Allies Ordered to Testify; Russian General Overseeing Attacks Targeting Civilians Using Smerch Rockets is Revealed. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 13, 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 am Max Foster, in London. Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: CNN can't exclusively reveal that this man, Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov, commander of the western military district is the commander responsible for this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a result of very drastic change in our security environment after the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have relevant testimony. They need to do their duty. They need to uphold their oath and come in voluntarily and testify.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We mark a tragic milestone here in the United States -- 1 million COVID deaths. 1 million empty chairs around the family dinner table. Each irreplaceable.


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

FOSTER: It's Friday May the 13th, 9 a.m. here in London, 11 a.m. across Ukraine. And we begin with this CNN exclusive. New evidence that Russian forces may be holding off a counter offensive from Ukrainian soldiers. Satellite images show the destruction of three bridges, vital to Ukraine's advance in the Kharkiv region. Ukrainian forces have been regaining ground in the area, moving closer to the Russian border. But this development could stall their momentum.

Meanwhile, military leaders described intense shelling around the frontlines in the Luhansk. Satellite images show plumes of smoke from fighting along the key river separating Ukrainian and Russian forces. While the north in Chernihiv, three people were reportedly killed and 12 wounded by Russian attacks on two schools. Moscow says it was targeting military command posts and ammunition depots. Russia's reacting to Finland's announcement that it hopes to join NATO

with threats of retaliation. Former President Dmitry Medvedev warns Russia would seriously strengthen its ground, naval, and air defenses on its western flank. The foreign ministry in Moscow called Finland's announcement a radical change in policy and a treaty violation that will bring consequences. Finland declared neutrality at the end of World War II but Putin's war in Ukraine has shattered stability in Europe leaving many feeling vulnerable.


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


The Soviet Union invaded Finland in 1939 in what's known as the Winter War. The country signed a pact treaty in Moscow, less than four months later. We'll hear more from the chairman of the Finnish Parliament Defense Committee.

Still ahead this hour. CNN correspondents are across the region covering the conflict from every angle. Our Nada Bashir and Nima Elbagir are here in London. Nic Robertson is in Helsinki, Finland. Nada, first of all, we want to talk about a the big meeting today -- G7 foreign ministers meeting, trying to come up with a cohesive response. But there are so many different things to consider. Haven't they? Not least economic actually.

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Absolutely, one of the key issues on that economic front is the grain shortage. The exports of grain from Ukraine being blocked. According to the German foreign ministry, some 25 million tons of grain blocked off the port of Odessa. There are significant concerns around that and that was posing and trying to produce (INAUDIBLE) -- how to tackle that. Because on one front, you are being blocked by warships, and mines. And of course, there are concerns from the Ukrainians that if this is unblocked, that could in fact, allow the Russian forces to further their invasion of Ukraine.

And on the logistical front for the EU as well. They are aware of a major backlog on their borders. And so, they're working to sort this out as well. But of course, there are concerns. We've heard from the U.N. World Food Program chief. He appealed directly to President Putin and warned that millions of people could die. Because of course, Ukraine is one of the key supplies of grain two regions including Africa and the Middle East and they are highly dependent on this.

FOSTER: In terms of military support that the G7 can they give Ukraine -- they're giving a lot -- what about the defenses on the sort of NATO side of things as well?

BASHIR: Look, we are seeing defenses being stepped up.


And what's interesting about this G7 foreign minister meeting is that they have invited the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, to take part in this session. And that is because of course, he has been repeatedly calling for military support from Europe, from NATO allies to be stepped up. Now we've heard already from the European Union Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell, as he made his way into today's session, he said that they will indeed, be stepping up their support. Take a listen.


JOSEP BORRELL, EU FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF: The recipe is clear, more of the same. I mean more support to Ukraine, including military support. I will announce that we are at the European Union we will provide a new tranche of 500 more millions to support military Ukraine.


BASHIR: We also heard from the British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, as she made her way on to that meeting. She has said previously that the G7 foreign ministers, NATO allies, need to go further and faster when it comes to military support. She wants to see Ukraine supplied with NATO standard equipment. And that has been echoed by other members of this alliance. We've heard from the Ukrainian foreign minister. He wants the support to be maintained if not bolstered as the threats continues.

FOSTER: OK, Nada, thank you. Back with you as those meetings take place.

Now the U.S. has now reached a coronavirus number difficult to believe -- a million deaths from COVID. For a comparison, that's more than the total number of casualties the U.S. has had in all of the wars you see their combined. President Joe Biden spoke about the horrific death toll at a virtual COVID summit with other world leaders on Thursday. And he said each victim has left behind many loved ones who will never see them again.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's still so much left to do. This pandemic isn't over. Today we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States. 1 million COVID deaths. 1 million empty chairs around the family dinner table. Each irreplaceable, irreplaceable losses. Each leaving behind a family, a community forever changed because of this pandemic.


FOSTER: We now want to show you the names and the faces of some of those whose lives were cut short by the deadly virus. Sanjay Gupta has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Few of us imagined the overwhelming scope of this tragedy more than 1 million lives lost. Far surpassing the 1918 flu pandemic or even America's deadliest conflict, the Civil War.

Across the nation, the time of remembrance. In Los Angeles, Maria Santos Peterson devoted her life to caring for others as an ICU nurse at a VA hospital. Just last year, she traveled to central America on her last medical mission. She leaves behind her husband and teenage son.

In Virginia, Teresa Sperry's parents remember their daughter as an avid reader, smart, beautiful, loving and always open to taking care of others. At Hillpoint Elementary, the ten year old was known to bandage her classmates cuts and scrapes.

Similar heartaches reverberating all across the country in communities of all creeds and color. In New York, a Hispanic community hit hard. Two congregations united in grief after losing more than 100 members.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): there are moments we can't explain with reason. We have to walk in faith, feel our own vulnerability, to care for ourselves, and care for others.

GUPTA (voice-over): In the border county of Hidalgo, Texas, more than 3,500 deaths in the county of less than a million.

DR. MICHAEL DOBBS, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, UT HEALTH RGV: I'm not sure that everyone has slowed down enough to really understand who's missing, and what's missing.


FOSTER: Now the U.S. House Committee investigating the January 6th riot at the Capitol is getting fed up with Republicans actually rejecting requests for voluntary testimony. So now the panel has taken extraordinary step of sending subpoenas to these five lawmakers. Among them the top Republican in the House. CNN's Ryan Nobles has the details.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is by any measure an unprecedented step. The January 6th Select Committee issuing subpoenas for five members of Congress. Asking them to sit for depositions and comply with their investigation. Included in this list, a big name, The House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. They're also asking Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania to comply. As well as Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama. And then of course, Jim Jordan of Ohio.


Now each one of these individuals has already been asked by the committee to participate voluntarily and they've all turned down that request. But what the committee is saying is that they've come across information in their investigation in which there are gaps. Gaps that they believe these members can fill and also answer for the role that they may have played in the days leading up to January 6th or on January 6th itself.

For instance, Kevin McCarthy spoke to Donald Trump on that day. He could've spoken to him multiple times. Representative Pete Aguilar wants to know what was part of that conversation.

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): We feel that the substance of those conversations is important to our overall investigation. But I would also say, with respect to Kevin McCarthy, you know, we're not sure which version of the story to believe. So, I think he's come down a couple of times in a couple of different places on this. So, I think he has an obligation to come forward and to share.

NOBLES: Now at this point these Republican members have yet to say how they plan to comply -- if they plan to comply at all. They have already attacked the committee. They believe that it is not partisan. Despite the fact there are two Republican members that are a part of it. All of them said today that they need to read the subpoena to see exactly what the committee is asking for.

But what's interesting is that Mo Brooks of Alabama suggested he may be willing to comply if it involved a public hearing. Now, the committee is not asking for that right now. They want their interview to be behind closed doors. The Chairman, Benny Thompson, said that could lead to a potential public hearing as part of those marathon hearings that are going to take place in the month of June. But Representative Jamie Raskin told me it will certainly not be part of their negotiation. He said this is not a game. They're not playing Parcheesi or checkers, this is a serious investigation. The subpoena has been submitted, and they expect these members to comply. The question is what happens if they don't?

Ryan Nobles, CNN, on Capitol Hill.


And there are possible war crimes are found everywhere across Ukraine. Now CNN has identified the senior Russian general who ordered some of those atrocities. Our exclusive report just ahead.



FOSTER: The world has watched in horror as Russian artillery has devastated Ukrainian cities and Ukrainian lives seemingly with impunity. The U.S. and the international community have accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine. But what has been difficult, is tying specific generals to specific crimes. The key to actually carrying out war crimes prosecutions. In Kharkiv, CNN has seen the aftermath of attacks using indiscriminate cluster munitions -- a war crime.

And in a two month-long investigation, CNN can reveal the commander responsible for these attacks and the string of atrocities he has committed, not just in Russia's latest war in Ukraine, but also in the 2014 more in Donbas and in Syria. Chief international investigative correspondent Nima Elbagir has this exclusive report and you might find some of the images disturbing.


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

ELBAGIR: More mortar strikes very, very close. They want us to start moving.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): 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 be firing from Russian territory towards the territory, I would say, around Kharkiv. I don't know if you can hear this right now.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): This is the start of the war. CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen witnessed artillery being fired while inside Russia within Zhuravlyov's district toward 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 (voice-over): We soon learned from experts these were Smerch rockets.

Built in the early 80s at the end of the Soviet era, this multiple rocket launch system scorching the earth as it fires is a pride in joy of Russia's armaments -- as seen here in this propaganda documentary. This is what they're capable of delivering.

Cluster bombs, one Smerch 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 was 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 returned 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 Pavlovo Pole neighborhood of Kharkiv.

This is shrapnel from those missiles that fell on our neighborhood, Lilia (ph) tells us. This shrapnel was found in one of the rooms. Lilia (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 sounds of the missiles. I know that the missiles were flying and that they were accompanied by fighter planes or drones.

ELBAGIR: 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.


ELBAGIR (voice-over): It's not the only rocket coming from this direction on this day. Less than a half mile down the road, another hit.

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

ELBAGIR (voice-over): This video filmed moments after the attack where four people, including a child, were killed. Another Smerch launching 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.

One and a half miles away, another strike, more suffering and no sign of any legitimate military targets.

People were queueing 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 the hits 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 launching position.

Notice the plume of smoke and the 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 in this district equipped to launch Smerch rockets, and only the commander has the authority to order the 79th Artillery Brigade to launch the rockets. And this was just in the two days that we analyzed. These stills shared exclusively with CNN by Kharkiv prosecutors. Show the Russian armaments raining death, among them many Smerch remnants. Experts say this is among the heaviest bombardments in recent history.

Zhuravlyov is 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.

ELBAGIR: Russian?


ELBAGIR (voice-over): Despite the direct line from the impunity the world afforded Russia in Syria to the atrocities suffered by civilians here today, the question remains, what will the world do to stop this cycle?


FOSTER: Well, we have asked the Russian ministry of defense for comment, as well as the Kremlin, but we're yet to receive a response. CNN shared with the U.S. State Department our findings, noting the lack of action taken against the colonel there and other Russian generals. They would not comment on the specific acts or other information reviewed but said that they continue to track and assess war crimes and reports of ongoing violence and human rights abuses.

Nima is with me now. This guy isn't on the sanctions list but we can assume that the authorities in the West know who he is.

ELBAGIR (on camera): Well, after the siege of Aleppo he was very publicly congratulated and awarded the highest Russian military honor. So, there is absolutely no way, specifically for his role in besieging Aleppo. So, there is no way that the world was not aware. The question is, did the world care? And I think that's the question that so many of the prosecutors and the sources that we've been talking to in Ukraine are grappling with. If it has been known for so long that Russia was perfecting -- what Colonel General Zhuravlyov called it at the time, ingenuity and expertise -- in atrocities, our word, not the Russian word.


How have they been allowed to operate with impunity for so long. And whose responsibility, is it?

FOSTER: Whose responsibility, is it? ELBAGIR: Well, the global community, the same people who are now

saying we want war crimes prosecutions. And that's what we are hearing from human rights lawyer and activists. If you had had war crimes prosecutions for what Russia did in Syria, perhaps you would not see what's happening in Ukraine now.

FOSTER: Nima, thank you very much indeed.

Now Finland spent the entire Cold War as officially neutral. But after seeing what Moscow has done to Ukraine in a few short months, Helsinki is ready to tell NATO that they want in.

Plus, we'll head to Helsinki with reaction from the chairman of the Finnish Parliament Defense Committee.

You are watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from London.


FOSTER: Our top story-- the Kremlin is furious that Finland is now taking steps to join NATO as quickly as possible. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that Russia will greatly boost its military presence in the region in response. But Moscow's brutal invasion of Ukraine has alarmed capitals across Europe. Finland's Parliament is expected to endorse joining the alliance in the coming days. Although full membership would probably take months to actually happen. In Ukraine, officials were quick to point out that Helsinki seems to be getting special treatment. Whilst Kyiv's desire to join NATO goes nowhere.


ANDRIY YERMAK, CHIEF OF STAFF TO PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: We are very happy for our friends in Finland. And of course, it's absolutely logical steps. But at the same time, it shows the double standard of the alliance. Because all the world now see how long.