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Kremlin Says Geneva Conventions Don't Apply; Dianna Shaw is Interviewed about her Nephew; Supreme Court Decision on Abortion; Brooks Hopes to Win Alabama. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired June 21, 2022 - 09:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: American citizen fighting in Ukraine. There he is, Stephen Zabielski. His obituary says he died in mid-May in fighting there at the age of 52. He is survived by his wife and five stepchildren. Sad news.

Well, right now, Russia is refusing to guarantee any protections laid out in the Geneva Conventions for two U.S. citizens now being held hostage in Ukraine. Russian-backed separatists captured the American veterans, military veterans, there they are, fighting for Ukraine last week.

Listen to what the Kremlin spokesman just told NBC News.


DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESMAN: They're soldiers of fortune and they were involved in illegal activities on the territory of Ukraine. And they were involved in firing and shelling our military personnel. They were endangering their life. And they should be responsible. They should be held responsible for those -- for those crimes that they have committed.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins us now from Kyiv.

What more are you learning about their fate?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Poppy and Jim, what's extremely concerning is where these men are being held. That's the Donetsk People's Republic, the DPR, a separatist-backed authority that only Russia recognizes, no other country.

And there's a very worrying precedent that was set here. Just a few days ago, two British nationals and a Moroccan who were also fighting under Ukrainian military command, part of that volunteer foreign fighting force, they were sentenced to death by one of these DPR courts. One of these courts in the Donetsk People's Republic that, again, is not recognized by any international body.

Now, they've been given a month to appeal their verdict. But the reason they were given this sentence, according to the separatist- backed court, is because they were considered mercenaries. You mentioned there that these two Americans should be treated under the Geneva Conventions as prisoners of war. Clearly, this separatist- backed court does not see it that way.

And the other worrying part about this is that, in Russia, there is a moratorium on the death penalty. But in this separatist backed court, in the DPR, they use firing squads to execute people. All of this adding up to an extremely concerning and worrying fate potentially for these two Americans. And you might hope here that there's a possibility of a prisoner swap. Well, again, those separatist-backed officials ruling that out, saying that they will try these men. A lot here to be concerned about. Of course American officials saying they're doing everything they can. They're in touch with all relevant authorities from the Red Cross to the Ukrainian government, but yet another warning of just how dangerous it is for Americans to come and fight in Ukraine.

HARLOW: Salma Abdelaziz, thank you for the reporting from Kyiv.

SCIUTTO: Joining me now to discuss all this is Dianna Shaw. She is Alexander Drueke's aunt.

Dianna, thanks so much for joining us this morning.


SCIUTTO: First, I got to ask you, how are you doing? How's his mom doing? How's the whole family doing now?

SHAW: Well, it's stressful, but we are very well supported by family, by friends, by all the prayers of everyone, and especially by the State Department. They have been in contact with us every day.

SCIUTTO: That's good to hear. I'm sure you've seen the reporting about what Russian military officials say that they consider foreigners fighting for Ukraine to be mercenaries. What has the State Department told you about those comments, and does that make it, in the State Department's view, more difficult to get Alex home?

SHAW: Well, you know, that is a tactic, I think, to distract from the point that, you know, Alex and Andy were volunteers. They went to help train the Ukrainian forces. You know, the Ukrainian forces were made up of volunteers largely. They were receiving equipment that they were unfamiliar with. And Alex wanted to go over and help train them. So, as volunteers, they are now POWs, prisoners of war.


SHAW: No matter what the Russian government tries to label them as, they should be treated as POWs.

SCIUTTO: Now, there are videos of Alex since he's been captured here. CNN does not broadcast them because it shows them speaking under duress. But I know you built a team of family members, as you were telling me, to kind of divvy up the jobs here to help bring him home. And one of your brothers, you said, has been watching the videos. Has he or others seen anything in those videos that give you some hope?

SHAW: Absolutely. First of all, when we first saw the initial video, it was a very short snip where he was made to read a statement under duress.


It was our first actual confirmation that Alex was indeed alive and that it was indeed Alex in the images that were beginning to come out on social media. So, we were elated, of course, to know that he was alive. And, at that point, he looked like he was in relatively good shape.

There's a second video where he is allowed to personally address my sister and tell her that he loves her, and that has been golden. That is the one video we've allowed her to have. And I believe she watches it every night before she goes to bed.

SCIUTTO: Oh, goodness, I'm sure she does.

And now Alex, as I understand it, was aware of this very danger to the point where he warned his mother that if he were captured, he might be forced to say things he didn't mean, right, be forced to say things under duress. He knew the dangers.

SHAW: Absolutely. Yes, he did. He had a 12-year career with the U.S. Army. He had two tours in Iraq. And so we were prepared long ago for a situation just such as this. We come from a military family. My father served in Korea. My sister's husband served in Vietnam. You know, she is of an age where she grew up during the Vietnam era. And, you know, understands how these kinds of situations work.

SCIUTTO: Russia is guilty of alleged war crimes in Ukraine. They've been accused by President Biden, European officials, and we certainly as journalists have seen a lot of evidence of that. They've not behaved well there. You know that well.

I want to give you a moment here to speak to Russian officials. What would your appeal to them be about Alex?

SHAW: My appeal would be that Alex and Andy are POWs. They are prisoners of war. Even if they were with this Ukrainian unit as third country volunteers. And as such they should be treated that way. The Russians and their surrogates should afford them the humane treatment and the protections that are due to prisoners of war.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, I hope they're listening. Please know that our hearts go out to you. We know you're going through a lot here and we do hope that Alex gets home safely.

SHAW: We really appreciate that. And we ask everyone to call their senators and representatives, thank them for the government's involvement so far, and ask them to please stay the course.

SCIUTTO: Dianna Shaw, thanks so much.

SHAW: Thank you.

HARLOW: A great interview with her.

Still ahead, at 10:00 a.m., so just less than 30 minutes away, the Supreme Court will hand down decisions, several key cases remain this term, one of those on the right to abortion. Up next, we take a closer look at the reality in Oklahoma, which has the strictest abortion ban in the country.



HARLOW: Well, next hour the Supreme Court is expected to issue new opinions. We're watching for several major cases. It would have wide ranging implications for this country. One of those is the first significant Second Amendment case to be taken up by the court in more than a decade. Another is a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, that is Dobbs versus Jackson Women's Health Organization. And if the court sides with Dobbs here, the abortion bans in at least 13 states would go into effect immediately.

SCIUTTO: That includes the state of Oklahoma. Last month the state signed one of the most restrictive abortion bans in this country, barring the procedure from the moment of fertilization.

HARLOW: The law also allows private citizens to sue abortion providers who knowingly perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman.

Our correspondent Lucy Kafanov has more on what this means for women in the state.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Joy and eager anticipation as one Oklahoma family prepared to welcome its newest member into the world.

LORI BROWN-LOFTIS, FORCED TO SEEK ABORTION OUT OF STATE: You're safe to share your news. You get excited. We had the nursery, like, getting started.

KAFANOV: What should have been a happy time for Lori Brown-Loftis soon turned to crushing devastation. An ultrasound revealed a rare genetic disorder.

BROWN-LOFTIS: The doctor kind of explained that this disorder is not compatible with life. And it was a little girl. That, you know, she would not be viable. That most children either die during childbirth or shortly after.

KAFANOV: With no chance of the baby surviving outside the womb, Lori made the painful choice to have an abortion.

BROWN-LOFTIS: That is one of the most difficult things that I've ever had to do. It was the hardest decision. Had I been forced to carry that pregnancy knowing that I would not get to bring that child home would have caused so much trauma.

KAFANOV (on camera): This was not a decision you took lightly.

BROWN-LOFTIS: I didn't make that decision lightly or easily.

KAFANOV (voice over): At 23 weeks pregnant, Lori was forced to travel out of state for the three-day invasive procedure, at significant financial and emotional cost.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to pay with hellfire.

KAFANOV: Visibly pregnant, she describes being harassed by protesters.

BROWN-LOFTIS: Just the assumption I didn't want my baby, you know, I think that was probably the hardest part.

KAFANOV (on camera): This was a wanted child.

BROWN-LOFTIS: Yes, absolutely.

KAFANOV (voice over): This was in January, when Oklahoma had allowed abortions up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Today, the state has one of the most far-reaching abortion bans in the nation, prohibiting the procedure at moment of fertilization, with very narrow exceptions.

GOV. KEVIN STITT (R-OK): I don't know how much clearer we can be. We don't believe in abortion in Oklahoma. We don't want it in our state.

CYNDI MUNSON (D), OKLAHOMA STATE HOUSE: That puts us in a very dangerous position here in Oklahoma. It is life or death for women.

DR. ELI RESHEF, REPRODUCTIVE SPECIALIST: Your lining looks great. That's the bladder. That's the uterus. That's the cervix.

KAFANOV: As a fertility doctor, Eli Reshef's mission is to bring life into the world.

RESHEF: It looks great.

KAFANOV: But he worries Oklahoma's anti-abortion law allowing private citizens to sue anyone who helps women terminate a pregnancy could have unintended consequences, impacting services like in vitro fertilization.

RESHEF: There is a sense of panic among patients. Patients are very concerned that they'll -- they will have access to in vitro fertilization because it's very difficult to read the law. And even if you read it, as I did, it's hard to interpret. There are a lot of ambiguities.

KAFANOV: Abortion is now effectively outlawed in Oklahoma, with all four of its clinics no longer providing the service. If they can afford it, women seeking an abortion will now need to travel out of state, just like Lori Brown-Loftis did. BROWN-LOFTIS: It was incredibly difficult. I mean I still have

flashbacks and nightmares. And it is hard. And it is -- it will impact me for the rest of my life.

KAFANOV: One woman sharing her painful journey, trying to end the stigma around abortion and help others feel less alone.


KAFANOV: With the Supreme Court poised to overturn or severely weaken Roe v. Wade, the legal status of abortion could be left for individual states to decide. At least 13 have so-called trigger laws that would effectively ban the procedure the moment Roe is struck down. If that happens, a lot more women will have to travel out of state to get abortion services. And rights activists are concerned that this will place an undue burden on low income women, as well as women of color. It would also place a strain on states like Colorado, which have enshrined the right to abortion, but are overwhelmed with a surge in demand.

Jim. Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Lucy Kafanov, thanks so much. It shows that in some states already Roe v. Wade does not apply anymore.

HARLOW: Right. Right.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, what we are watching in today's key primary and run-off elections in four states and why Alabama is the latest test for the Republican Party. We are in Montgomery, coming up.



HARLOW: Well, voters are headed to the polls today in key elections in Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia and the District of Columbia. All eyes are really on Alabama where Republican Senate candidates Katie Britt and Congressman Mo Brooks go head to head in a run-off for their party's nomination.

SCIUTTO: Former President Trump once endorsed Brooks, who's been one of his most vocal supporters in Congress, but then flipped to Britt, who was the clear front-runner after the first round of voting.

CNN's Kristen Holmes live from Montgomery, Alabama.

And, Kristen, we've seen this. We've seen Trump sort of game his endorsements for where the wind is blowing. But what are Republicans there saying as they head into this vote?


Well, Republicans are really divided, and not in the exact way you might think. Katie Britt, while she is endorsed by Donald Trump, is not a MAGA world candidate. She is an intense establishment candidate. She is backed by Mitch McConnell supported groups. She is the former chief of staff to retiring Senator Richard Shelby, who Trump once called a RINO, a Republican in name only. So it angered a lot of Trump's most ardent supporters when he did rescind that endorsement from Mo Brooks when his campaign was struggling.

Remember, Brooks, as you said, was one of Trump's most staunch allies. He promoted the lies around the 2020 election. In fact, he actually spoke at the January 6th Stop the Steal Rally, riling up the crowd before the deadly riots on the U.S. Capitol. So, again, a lot of anger there.

But, as you noted, Britt was already the front-runner when Trump slapped in endorsement on her. And this is a time when the former president is looking to shore up his status as a kingmaker within the party after some very high profile defeats last month.

Now, one thing to point out is that Brooks is not taking this lying down. He recently said that Donald Trump is not loyal to anyone or anything except himself.

And we'll be at Britt headquarters tonight as those results come in.

Now, the other race I want to point out here is a very important one. It is for secretary of state. Important because this is the person who is going to oversee the elections in the state of Alabama. And you have two Republicans going up head to head, Jim Ziegler as well as Wes Allen. Both of these candidates have expressed concern around election integrity. Ziegler going a step farther. He questions the 2020 election. And he is supported by Trump ally and election denier Mike Lindell, if that tells you anything.

Again, a big race here because that person will be the Republican candidate to be the secretary of state and oversee all elections.

HARLOW: A huge responsibility.

Kristen Holmes, in Montgomery, thanks very much for the reporting.

Still ahead, outrage as new images are released of officers inside of the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, with rifles and shields, so they had protection, an hour before any door was breached and before the gunman was stopped.


We are live in Texas where the Department of Public Safety director is about to face questions next. You'll see that live right here.


SCIUTTO: A good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us.

We are closely watching the Supreme Court this morning. This hour, the nation's highest court is set to release several opinions.

SCIUTTO: We are expecting some major rulings from the court before the end of its term in late June, early July.