Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Ukraine Taking Advantage Of Western-Provided Weapons; Satellite Images Show Heavy Damage At Crimea Air Base; Iranian Charged In Alleged Plot To Kill John Bolton; Donald Trump Declines To Answer Questions In New York Probe; Taiwan Conducts Military Drills As China Ends Exercises; Thousands Stranded In Chinese Resort City Amid Lockdown. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired August 11, 2022 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN. Ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM.

Russia says a series of explosions at its airfield in occupied Crimea caused only minor damage. The reality, four major blast craters as well as buildings and warplanes were destroyed or badly damaged.

The Iranian plot to assassinate former Trump advisor John Bolton, retaliation for the U.S. killing of Qassem Soleimani, a leader in Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

Also ahead.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?


VAUSE: Oh, what a good question, Mr. Trump. So, why did you take the Fifth continuously during four hours of questioning by the New York State Attorney General?

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with John Vause.

VAUSE: Russia continues to insist that only minor damage at its airbase in Crimea was caused by the accidental explosion of ammunition stored on site.

But the day after the blast and reality it seems is something else entirely. There are new satellite images which showed at least seven aircraft destroyed. Russia said no aircraft had been damaged, four blast craters deep and wide can also be seen.

Witnesses heard a series of explosions up to a dozen, one after the other, but the cause of those blasts remain unknown.

This is new video just in to CNN which shows the three separate explosions. Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

Meantime, Russia has ramped up its offensive across several regions of Ukraine. Heavy rocket firing and artillery strikes were reported Wednesday from Zaporizhzhia in the south to Kharkiv in the north.

Ukraine's president says the only way to convince Moscow to reassess this war is to kill more Russian soldiers.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): When will the war end? Some say months, some say a year, some even say more, but the matter of time actually depends directly on the question of the losses suffered by Russia.

The more losses to occupiers suffered, the sooner we will be able to liberate our land and ensure the security of Ukraine. This is what everyone who defends our state and helps Ukraine should think about, how to inflict the greatest possible losses on the occupiers in order to shorten the war.


VAUSE: Ukraine has been able to hit Russian targets more effectively than ever, because of billions of dollars in military equipment supplied by Western countries.

As CNN's Nic Robertson reports, the modern weapons are proving more reliable than the aging Soviet era Arsenal they replaced.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice over): Suddenly, action camouflage off, Ukrainian troops rushing their new NATO compatible artillery out of cover. The Polish Crabs, a 40 ton beast of battle.

This day targeting Russian positions almost 30 kilometers, 18 miles away. They shoot and scoot.

That whole operation took about two to three minutes, they calculate. They've got about eight minutes to get back under the tree line here to be safe from any return fire.

There's a lot these troops like about their new kit, safety high on the list.

It's so much better than we had before. Gun Commander Vasli (PH) says its mobile, we're out of danger fast.

So, this is your command vehicle?

VASLI, GUN COMMANDER: Yes. It's our my command vehicle. ROBERTSON: Artem runs the whole battery.

So, you can see the whole battlefield here?


ROBERTSON: It's all high tech.

So, where there's a cross here, this is the target?

ARTEM: Yes, this target, we should already started.



ROBERTSON: A former math teacher. He had two weeks training on the Crabs.

ARTEM: To learn it, it's very -- I would say it's --

ROBERTSON: User friendly?


ROBERTSON: Poland gave Ukraine 18 of the Crab system and they're buying another 56. Two months in service their accuracy making them popular.

ARTEM: So, very big difference between this new guns and Soviet old guns because it's guns got the new GPS systems.


ROBERTSON: Each shot a better chance of hitting its target. These troops are really hoping the Crab system can make a difference. So far, this war has been fought mostly by artillery. The Russians massively out gunning the Ukrainians.

But even with the new guns, there's a problem, ammunition here is tight.

Do you have enough shells? His answer with a wry smile and chuckle. I'd like to have more rounds to send the occupiers back home.

Nic Robertson, CNN on the Eastern front Ukraine.


VAUSE: CNN Military Analyst and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark joins us now. And it's been a while, welcome back to the show.


VAUSE: OK, so I want to start with a satellite images of the Russian airfield that was attacked in occupied Crimea. And if you'll get them, it seems like the damage is quite extensive, considerably more than the Russians indicated on Tuesday. There's three very big crated areas that you could take out quite easily from those images.

What effect does this have on troops on the frontline? How much of a boost is it for Ukrainian soldiers when they look at that sort of damage, which has been afflicted? How demoralizing is it for the Russians? And what does it do for the Russians in their overall strategy?

CLARK: Well, this is operationally significant, it's also politically significant. So, on the operational side, this airbase is part of the Russian forces reserve structure, these aircraft can come in, there'll be a danger to the Ukrainian troops when they do their counter offensive to try to regain Kherson. They could be used to launch air to ground missiles as well.

And so, this shows this strike is part of the Ukraine campaign to sort of trip and take away the Russians capability to react to the Ukrainian counter offensive its taking form aimed at Kherson.

But it's also politically significant because this is the first real strike that's hit Crimea. Now how this strike was done? Bit of a mystery, some people say it was Special Forces. Somebody said it might be a long range Ukrainian design missile or maybe an air to sea -- a ground to sea missile that had been repurposed. We don't know exactly. And Ukraine has been more moderate. That probably means it's going to be done again on other targets in Crimea.

But I have to say this is a big step for Ukraine, and it does show promise that they could if they continue to receive supplies, and support from the West, they could regain Crimea at some point. This would be a really great precondition for starting the negotiations that end the war.

VAUSE: Well, to the end the war, the Ukrainian president believes that the only way Vladimir Putin will actually withdraw or pull back is to increase the number of dead Russian soldiers, here he is, listen to this.


ZELENSKYY (through translator): If almost 43,000 dead Russian soldiers do not convince the Russian leadership that they need to look for a way out of the war, then we need to fight more with more results to convince.


VAUSE: That said number of Russian soldiers killed in action 43,000, do you believe that to be accurate, because it seems incredibly high, especially considering none of Putin's objectives have been met? And I guess the question, how many more troops is Putin willing to lose?

CLARK: Whether it's 43,000 or 33,000, it's still an enormous casualty. Oh, and that doesn't count the ones who are wounded, incapacitated and evacuated. Probably 40 percent of the force has been hit.

Normally, if you take a unit down by one-third, the unit becomes inoperative. So, if you consider that some of these 200,000 or 180,000 troops that began were not in the frontline units that received most of the Ukrainian fire, you can imagine that this Russian force is really really struggling.

And that is borne out by the battlefield performance. Their infantry is really -- it's really making futile attacks at this point. They still have artillery. The artillery is not terribly accurate. It is connected to some Orlan-10 drones that are helping them locate Ukrainian targets.

Yes, it's still a problem for Ukraine. But in terms of infantry, and the ability to actually attack and carry out on assault, my Ukrainian friends telling me that they really broken the back of the Russian command structure that could do this on any operational scale.

VAUSE: Well, a lot of generals are among the 43,000 dead. Reportedly at least 10 generals have been killed since this whole began. 100 senior officers also reportedly killed. How long before those losses at that senior level impacts day to day operations?


CLARK: Yes, well, all -- the destruction of these command groups and the casualties imposed on the Russian leadership from the very beginning are increasingly significant.

Now, given a year, given mobilization can Russia comeback and create a threat in 2023, absolutely. Even with obsolescent equipment, it was Stalin who said, quantity has a quality all of its own. And the Russians still outnumber the Ukrainians by far in artillery troops and they can produce plenty of ammunition.

And given nine months, they could mobilize, train, build new organizations. They did it in World War II, they could do it now.

VAUSE: General Clark, thanks for being with us, sir.

CLARK: Thank you.

VAUSE: An Iranian national has been charged in alleged plot to assassinate former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton. Sources say Bolton wasn't alone. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also allegedly in Tehran's crosshairs.

CNN's Kylie Atwood has the story now from Washington.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is the man the FBI alleges tried to hire an assassin to kill former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton. Shahram Poursafi, allegedly a member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The FBI says that in 2021, Poursafi tried to get an informant to hire someone for $200,000 in order to eliminate someone. That number eventually grew to $300,000.

Poursafi even sent screenshots of Bolton's home address, and photographs of stacks of money to the informant.

Poursafi allegedly said the killing should happen in Bolton's office garage with the informant noting it was a high traffic area.

The FBI also alleges that Poursafi had a second job for $1 million, the target of that job, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to a source familiar with the investigation and a source close to Pompeo, the Department of Justice said this about the motivation behind the Bolton plot.

MATT OLSEN, U.S. ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, NATIONAL SECURITY DIVISION: This assassination plot was undertaken in apparent retaliation for the January 2020 killing of Qasem Soleimani.

ATWOOD: Pompeo was Secretary of State at the time of the assassination.

MIKE POMPEO, THEN-U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We saw that he was plotting further plans to take down Americans, in some cases, many Americans, we took the right action to defend and protect America.

ATWOOD: And though Bolton was no longer in the administration when the airstrike was carried out against Soleimani, a top Iranian general the Trump administration said was planning attacks on Americans, Bolton has long advocated for more hawkish U.S. policy towards Iran.

After the Soleimani assassination, Bolton tweeted "Congratulations to all involved in eliminating Qasem Soleimani. Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran."

And after today's news, Bolton thanked the Justice Department, the FBI and the Secret Service and said that Iran's rulers are liars, terrorists and enemies of the United States.

The suspect has not been arrested but is wanted by the FBI after seeking to carry out this plot.

OLSEN: This was not an idle threat. And this is not the first time we have uncovered brazen acts by Iran to exact revenge against individuals on U.S. soil.

ATWOOD: The plot against Bolton is just the latest allegation of Iran planning attacks on U.S. soil. In 2011, U.S. authorities said Iran was planning to bomb a D.C. restaurant to kill then Saudi ambassador to the United States and current Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir.


ATWOOD: And just last week, Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad, a U.S. citizen who lives in New York, blamed the Iranian regime after a man carrying an assault rifle was arrested in her neighborhood. Coming year after U.S. authorities say the regime was plotting to kidnap her.

Alinejad delivered this message to the regime on CNN.

ALINEJAD: Go to hell. I'm not as scared of you.

ATWOOD (on camera): Now, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned this afternoon that there would be severe consequences for actions taken against any U.S. citizen.

We're also hearing from the Iranian side, with the Iranian foreign ministry warning against any actions against Iranian citizens that are based on what they are calling baseless accusations.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, Washington.


VAUSE: Donald Trump would often ask rhetorically if you're innocent, why take the Fifth? The Fifth being the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution and the right not to self-incriminate.

But for almost four hours on Wednesday, well under oath, that's exactly what he did. Refusing to answer questions from New York state prosecutors over the Trump organization's finances.

Just three days earlier, the FBI searched his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. The Wall Street Journal is reporting an informant told investigators there were more classified documents on the property after the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes earlier this year.


To California now, former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman and now host of the Talking Feds podcast, and someone I have not seen for a while. So, it's good to have you with us.

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You too, John, good to see you.

VAUSE: Thank you. To the surprise of absolutely no, I'm guessing Donald Trump pleaded the Fifth. And we'll get to that rank hypocrisy in a moment. But this is a civil case brought by the state attorney general of New York alleging Trump and the Trump Organization overvalued or undervalued assets like golf courses and high rise buildings, deliberately misleading lenders and tax authorities. That's kind of in a nutshell.

Given there is a parallel criminal investigation by the Manhattan D.A., was taking the Fifth the best legal move for Trump just purely in a legal sense?

LITMAN: You know, probably there's several reasons to do it. That's one, although that investigation has been considered indolent.

Another one is that he could in fact have hurt or wound up perjuring himself based on contradiction of other evidence that the A.G. in this investigation has found. And the third is that the stuff he would say here, which would tend to

show his knowledge and set him up for a guilty verdict, again, in a civil case.

Now, just a quick point, he's pretty well set up already, because if this goes to trial, all the evidence is going to be from the prosecution side, incriminating of this civil charge about the evaluations just as you said.

And super important, they can use his taking the Fifth Amendment as further evidence against him. And he's got basically nothing on the other side.

So, doing this really stacked the deck against him in the civil case, which won't land him in jail, but could give very harsh financial penalties and almost knocked the Trump organization out of business in New York.

VAUSE: It's been quite the week. On Monday, the FBI issued a warrant to search his Florida home. On Tuesday, there's an appeals court which ruled the IRS has to turn over Trump's tax returns to Congress. And now we've got this on Wednesday.

Looking at the totality, though, Trump's legal jeopardy, you know, the January 6th Committee, the Georgia investigation voter fraud and voter interference. Is this civil suit -- this has to be the least of his problems.

LITMAN: Well, except it's coming at him like a freight train and soon. He does have maneuvering room in different aspects. And in particular, there's when you think about when you get off the calendar and stack it up with what's happening in Georgia and the DOJ, you see a scenario where maybe he can extend things out till 2024. And then, you know, that's the big question mark.

So, I wouldn't discount this, especially because he cares a lot about money, he cares a lot about the Trump Organization and it could be a body blow there, but certainly just to say, it's nothing next to say a conviction for seditious conspiracy.

VAUSE: And for many Republicans, the fact that Donald Trump appeared before the state attorney general exercised his constitutional right to say nothing. That's evidence of the end of democracy, the collapse of civil society, and clearly the rise of tyranny. Listen to this.

LITMAN: There you have it.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): This is what happens in places like Nicaragua, where last year every single person that ran against Daniel Ortega for president, every single person that put their name on the ballot, was arrested and is still in jail.

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): This should scare the living daylights out of American citizens. The way our federal government has gone, it's like what we thought about the Gestapo.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER: You really are now seeing the ugly face of a tyranny. We have no idea whether or not they planted evidence.


VAUSE: At the end of the day, the pearl clutching is all over. Just explain what happened here in terms of the legality of Trump turning up and doing what he did.

LITMAN: It's so straightforward. It's what happens to civil defendants. What happened in Mar-a-Lago is what happens to criminal, you know, suspects. Somebody come -- they did it in fact in a very low key non sort of grandstanding manner.

So, it all comes down to you know, that would all be true and Ortega's Nicaragua whatever, if ever -- if there was no basis for law enforcement activity.

Of course, Trump has given law enforcement all over the country huge bases and the you know, it'd be the failure of the rule of law would be if they did nothing based on his control and political influence. This, on the contrary, is law enforcement without fear or favor.

VAUSE: Yes, it's like Bizarro World sometimes when you listen to some of the stuff on Republicans and the conservatives. But Harry, it's good to see you, it's been a while. So, thanks very much.

LITMAN: Likewise, John. OK. See you next time.

VAUSE: Absolutely. Take care.

Taiwan has launched a new round of military exercises and China is once again calling for peaceful reunification. We're live in Taipei.

Also ahead, oh, Kim Jong-un, is there nothing you cannot do? North Korean leader just declared victory over COVID-19, next.



VAUSE: Today's military drills surrounding Taiwan, China has announced it has successfully completed its exercises. But the threats keep coming.

On Wednesday, the China's State Council laid out its contentious policy towards Taiwan. Beijing is calling for peaceful reunification with the self-ruled island. But what -- it will use force if necessary.

Meanwhile, Taiwan is on the second day of live fire artillery drills. These images just coming in to CNN.

CNN's Blake Essig live for us this hour in Taipei. So, Blake, this White Paper on Taiwan. It's the first one in many, many years. Is there anything significantly different in this policy that we're seeing now compared to, you know, the other one was toys? I think, you know, the one we hear stories I think nearly 30 years ago, probably 40 years ago.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): You know, John, I mean, it's not a whole lot different, especially when concerning China's policy towards Taiwan, again, proposing the idea of a One Country, Two Systems model similar to the model that is used in Hong Kong.

But to your point, once again, not ruling out reunification by force, but saying that they would like to reunify Taiwan peacefully. So, at least that's perhaps the good news here.

Now, China's most recent military drills held around Taiwan are now officially over. As you just mentioned, China's Eastern theater command took to social media on Wednesday to say that the People's Liberation Army has accomplished all tasks in the air and at sea around Taiwan.

Now, despite the drills being completed, a command spokesperson said that China's military will keep close tabs on the Taiwan Strait and continue to conduct war preparation and combat readiness patrols to defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Now, these military exercises were held in six designated zones essentially encircling Taiwan, they were announced about 30 minutes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan last week and then started just the day after she and her delegation left Taiwan.

Now, Taiwan's Ministry of Defense described these drills that took place as a simulated attack on Taiwan's main island and accused Beijing of trying to set up a blockade.

Throughout China's at least six days of war games, large numbers of warplanes and military vessels were seen operating around Taiwan with many entering Taiwan's air defense identification zone and some crossing the Taiwan Strait and median line.

These Chinese drills marked an escalation of tensions as its military launched nearly a dozen ballistic missiles with some flying directly over Taiwan for the first time ever.


Besides live fire drills, China was also accused of launching cyber- attacks and disinformation campaigns against the democratic Island.

And although Beijing announced that their military drills are now over, as you mentioned, for the second day this week, Taiwan held its own live fire artillery drills near its islands southern most tip.

It is worth pointing out here, that these drills were planned, their annual drills, small scale, and in no retaliation, no reference to the military drills just recently carried out by Beijing, very separate to all that.

Now, separately, after two weeks of increased tensions around the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese state council did issue its White Papers which concern what it is called -- or what it's calling is the Taiwan question.

Again, still proposing this One Country, Two Systems policy similar to Hong Kong. And again, not ruling out the potential use of force to reunify Taiwan with Mainland China, John.

VAUSE: Blake, thank you for that. Blake Essig live for us in Taipei.

The Chinese manufacturing hub of Yiwu is restricting movement within the city due to rising COVID cases. Residents in some areas cannot leave their homes and factories have to stop production. They can't provide a fully isolated work environment. Just one of many Chinese cities affected by new COVID outbreaks.

On the island of Hainan, more than 10,000 medical workers have been sent there to fight a resurgence of the virus, and tens of thousands of tourists remain stuck in the resort city of Sanya due to a strict COVID lockdown.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout has our report.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's China's tropical island paradise Hainan, known for its sandy beaches and extravagant resorts, a coveted destination for Chinese travelers like Li Zefeng, an engineer from Shanghai.

LI ZEFENG, STRANDED TOURIST (through translator): I chose to come to Sanya because the COVID restrictions are more relaxed than in Shanghai.

STOUT: Before Li and some 80,000 tourists, their island getaway turned into a nightmare. Officials hastily imposed the lockdown in the resort city of Sanya to curb a COVID 19 outbreak.

From Saturday, public transport was suspended. People's movements restricted and tourists were required to stay for seven days and clear five COVID-19 tests before leaving.

Sudden flight cancellations lead to chaos at the airport. And this widely circulated video, a local official tries in vain to placate dozens of frustrated travelers.

He says the government will assist with room and board but it's not enough. We want to go home, they say.

In heavy rain, residents and visitors queue for mandatory COVID tests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my God, look how big the queue is. Oh, my God, what's going on? To the back of the queue -- to the back of the queue. STOUT: And across China, a number of domestic tourist hotspots have been struck by zero COVID lockdowns. Last month, more than 2,000 tourists were trapped in the resort town of Beihai.

Meanwhile, cases are rising in Xinjiang and even Tibet, which had been COVID Free for almost three years with overseas travel still banned and domestic tourist destination struck by the virus, the summer has ended early for many Chinese vacation goers.

The first batch of stranded tourists have started to leave Hainan, and Li is still waiting for his trip home.

You endured the lockdown in Shanghai, you're now under lockdown in Sanya. How do you cope?

ZEFENG: For someone who has endured a three month lockdown in Shanghai, I am keeping a steady peace of mind because this is the kind of natural disaster. It's out of our control.

STOUT: Li says because he's in a high risk zone with confirmed cases, he must stay put for another week or so, under locked down yet again but this time with an ocean view.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN, Hong Kong.


VAUSE: Despite having no vaccine program, no capacity for PCR testing in a hospital system which considers electricity a luxury, North Korea's Kim Jong-un has declared victory over COVID-19.

This according to state media, the leader himself deeply suffered from a high fever during the outbreak. Fever being euphemism for COVID-19 cases or infections. And now his sister is calling for deadly retaliation against South Korea for spreading the virus north.

For more, let's go to Seoul. CNN's Paula Hancocks standing by live. How does this work? They got COVID-19 and Seoul (INAUDIBLE) there. What's the logic here?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, well, John, effectively, they've said that they've managed to eradicate the pandemic within about 91 days. It was only back in May that they admitted to the very first COVID case, which many experts have been raising their eyebrows about for the past two years, considering they do actually border China and many other countries which had significant outbreaks.


So really, for us, this needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. The takeaway from this is the fact that this is what Kim Jong-un is telling to his people. This is what he is signaling to them. The fact that he believes that this is over. It is time to move on. And of course, that means he wants to move on to other issues. Now, the fact that Kim Yo-jong, his sister and also high official

pointed out that he himself had had a high fever, we don't know whether or not that is accurate. We can't verify those claims, but it is in keeping with what we've heard from -- from the propaganda machine, effectively saying that he is suffering along with his people.

So what we're also hearing is that they're blaming South Korea. They have said this before. They have pointed out that these anti-North Korea propaganda balloons that have been flown across the border, carrying anti-North Korean messages, in some cases back in April, carrying masks and Vitamin C tablets, have actually spread the disease.

They claim that this is what introduced the virus into North Korea in the first place.

Now the U.S. CDC has said it is extremely low likelihood of catching it from the surfaces of something. But this is the message that North Korea is giving -- John.

VAUSE: Thank you, Paula. Paula Hancocks, live for us in Seoul. We appreciate you reading the tea leaves. Thank you.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, Ukrainian P.O.W.'s killed at a Russian camp. Military experts say Moscow's version of what happened does not hold up under scrutiny. Those details after the break.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Western military experts say it's extremely unlikely that dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed last month by a U.S.-made rocket. Ukraine has denied it attacked a prison camp, as Moscow has claimed.

Experts believe that, if the powerful U.S. weapon had been used, there would be a massive crater and nothing left of the building. But photos of the burnt outside show relatively little structural damage.

CNN's David McKenzie has our report, but it comes with a warning. Some images are extremely graphic.



DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Svetlana (ph) hasn't heard from her son in more than two months.

SVETLANA (ph), SON MISSING IN ACTION (through translator): They were promised that they would be taken prisoner in order to save their lives. MCKENZIE (voice-over): Her son, like sons and husbands of many at this

demonstration in Kyiv, is a prisoner of war, held at a Russian camp in Olenivka.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Save our heroes! Save our heroes!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Save our heroes! Save our heroes!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Save our heroes! Save our heroes!

MCKENZIE (voice-over): It's a cry for help, but for many of the P.O.W.'s, one that came too late.

GRAPHIC: Warning: This video contains disturbing images.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): At least 50 of them were killed in an attack on the building where they were held. Russia was swift to blame Ukraine, saying it had killed its own to prevent them from confessing to war crimes.


LT. GEN. IGOR KONASHENKOV, RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE SPOKESPERSON (through translator): A deliberate missile attack on July the 29th from the American HIMARS multiple rocket launch system on a pretrial detention center in the area of settlement of Olenivka.


MCKENZIE (voice-over): Russian journalists at the scene displaying remnants of a HIMARS rocket, serial number included. But a CNN investigation found that it's extremely unlikely that a HIMARS struck the prison.

CHRIS COBB-SMITH, BRITISH ARMY VETERAN AND SECURITY ADVISOR: We would see a crater in the ground, and we would see more blast damage.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): British army veteran and weapons expert Chris Cobb-Smith has seen his fair share of missile strikes. He says this wasn't one of them.

COBB-SMITH: We would see, certainly on this far wall here, we would see fragmentation, pock-marking from a -- from an explosion, from the fragments of the munition, as it went off. And that's not happened. All we're really seeing here is evidence of a fire, an intensive fire. So to me, this does not indicate a large detonation.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): The available video and images show bodies badly burned, some still in their bunks. Forensic pathologists tell CNN that a fire, preceded by a small explosion, was likely responsible.

DR. BENJAMIN ONDRUSCHKA, PATHOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER HAMBURG-EPPENDORF: It seemed to be that something needs to be exploded close by, to be very burned badly, resulting in a detonation, resulting in a fire. MCKENZIE (voice-over): Ukraine is using U.S.-donated 200-pound HIMARS

rockets to hit Russian depots and other high-value targets.

But the visuals of the aftermath that have emerged are usually different from the scene at the prison. Before and after satellite imagery from a confirmed HIMARS strike in Nova Kakhovka shows a Russian warehouse destroyed by the blast.

At Olenivka, there are burn marks on the wall, but crucially, no structural damage.

COBB-SMITH: Everything in the set is blackened. The bodies have been severely charred. Everything you can see has been -- is blackened with soot.

The HIMARS pieces we've seen presented as evidence do not display any blackening at all. It does not look as though they've been in the scene of an intensive fire.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Cobb-Smith and other experts say that it's unlikely that the incident was accidental. Olenivka is believed to house more than a thousand prisoners. Here, you see the satellite images from the day before the incident, showing P.O.W.'s circulating in different areas of the camp.

But Ukrainian officials and relatives say around 200 prisoners were moved to this warehouse in a different zone just before they were killed. Ukrainian officials also say the incident happened on the eve of a prisoner exchange.

Kyiv has rejected Moscow's version and accused Russia of using a powerful incendiary weapon against the building and the prisoners.

MCKENZIE: CNN's investigation can almost certainly rule out Russia's version of events, but we may never know why those prisoners were moved and exactly what happened.

Russia has publicly invited the Red Cross and United Nations experts to visit, but both organizations say that they have yet to be given access to the prison.


MCKENZIE (voice-over): The families of the prisoners are increasingly desperate.

SVETLANA (ph) (through translator): I'm asking all people who can, who care, to help bring back our sons, our heroes.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): But they don't even know who was killed that night, nor what killed them.

David McKenzie, CNN, Kyiv.


VAUSE: CNN reached out to the Russian defense ministry for comment on the findings of our investigation. So far, we're yet to hear back.

We'll take a short break. In a moment, drought conditions and massive wildfires devastating parts of France, and the country's fourth heat wave since June is only making everything worse.



VAUSE: Across Southwestern France, thousands of hectares have been left burned and charred by wildfires. At the same time, the region is struggling with severe drought and conditions and a fourth heat wave since June.

About 10,000 firefighters have deployed across France. Thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate.

The E.U.'s Drought Observatory says 63 percent of land across the E.U. and the United Kingdom combined is under drought warnings or alerts.

Those fires keep burning. Let's go to meteorologist Pedram Javaheri for the details -- Pedram.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: John, that is an incredible visual you shared. My goodness. Seeing the fire conditions there across portions of Europe.

And you know, the heat that's been in place across this region exacerbating all of this that has played out. And you've noticed the heat alerts, not just a one-day event here. Multi-day set up across the Southern tier of the U.K., where temps could be as hot as 33 degrees over the next several days. So dangerous heat building again. Not touching records this time, but the longevity of it certainly going to be problematic.

And notice, we're still running ten or more degrees above average in the past 24 hours. So any time in the month of August you're running even, say, four or five degrees above average, it's pretty impressive. Ten degrees above average is going to become dangerous.

And of course, you notice the entirety of Europe and into the U.K. there, some 47 percent underneath warnings when it comes to drought. And 17 percent underneath alerts, as well. So, really a dangerous setup here.

And just look at how July played out across the U.K.: 1.3 degrees Celsius above the 30-year average. So yes, it is hotter. It is drier, and this pattern here continues for a couple more days as the heat expands a little farther towards the North.

And finally, see some relief possibly into early next week.

Look at Paris, 33 to 34 the next three days and then drop it back down, bringing with it some showers and some more comfortable temperatures early next week. And London, as well. Could be one of the last runs of heat waves like

this that last three or four days. But it does come right back down to the middle twenties here over the next couple of days as we go into Sunday and Monday, John.

Quick glance, here's what's happening across areas of South Korea. We've had tremendous rainfall. Seoul in particular beginning to quiet down. The energy now shifting a little farther towards the South here and also shifting a little farther towards the East.

John, there is a tropical system trying to form just South of Japan. So we're going to watch this for an additional threat for rainfall, mainly for Japan in the coming several days.

VAUSE: Pedram, thank you. Pedram Javaheri there with the latest. Appreciate that.

Now, thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.


VAUSE: WORLD SPORT starts after a short break.