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Helicopter Crashes Near Buildings in Kyiv Region; Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa Acquitted of Tax Evasion Charges; Von der Leyen Backs Listing Iran's Guards as Terrorist Group; Ukrainians Train on Patriot Missile Systems in U.S.; More Military Support from Allies of Ukraine; Ex- Russian Mercenary Flees Norway; China Reopens; UAE Criticized Over COP28 Leader; Helicopter Crash Kills Top Ukrainian Officials; Ukrainian Football Team Launches Project for Mariupol; Rafael Nadal Injured in Second Round. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired January 18, 2023 - 03:00   ET




UNKNOWN (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. We begin with breaking news out of Ukraine where the presidential office says a helicopter has crashed in the Kyiv region. This happened in the city of Brovary.

The head of Kyiv's military administration says the crash was near a kindergarten and a residential building. He says there are injured people, but it appears the kindergarten was evacuated. Local officials say firefighters and paramedics are already on the scene.

Let's turn to CNN's Clare Sebastian. She's following developments for us from her vantage point there in London. Clare, what more are you learning about this crash and, of course, possible casualties near this kindergarten and residential building?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Rosemary, Brovary is essentially a suburb of the capital Kyiv just to the east of the city, just some 25 kilometers from Kyiv. Government buildings are very close to the capital there.

We know that, according to local officials, the regional governor saying this was, as you say, a helicopter that crashed, he says, near a residential building and a kindergarten. We have some video that shows a fire over what seems to be a pretty wide area. It's a little hard to see close up to see what exactly is going on there.

In terms of injuries, the regional government says there are injuries. And the deputy head of Ukraine's presidential administration says the number of reports of victims is increasing. So, we are waiting for more formation to come out of this. There's a lot that we still don't know, for example, crucially whose helicopter it was that crashed and why this happened.

But to some context on Brovary itself, this is one of the suburbs of Kyiv that was occupied by Russian troops in their failed attempt at the beginning of the war to take the capital. Multiple reports of abuses of civilians, killings of civilians, came out during after it was liberated by Ukraine. So, this looking like yet another traumatizing incident for the people of that city.

CHURCH: All right. Our thanks to Clare Sebastian bringing us up to date on that breaking news. Please stand by. We will come back to you in just a moment.

Ukraine could soon be getting a boost on the battlefield in its fight against Russia, thanks to promises of more military aid from western leaders. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hinted at the possibility during talks with his British counterpart in Washington on Tuesday. The top U.S. diplomat says the best part to a diplomatic end to the war is to give Ukraine a strong hand on the battlefield. Take a listen.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: As this aggression has evolved, so too has our assistance to Ukraine, making sure that it has what it needs to meet the aggression head-on, and I would anticipate that you will hear more announcements in the days to come.


CHURCH: Meanwhile, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte met with President Joe Biden in Washington and announced his country intends to join the U.S. and Germany in sending Patriot missile defense systems to Ukraine. He says military support for Ukraine will end when the war ends.


MARK RUTTE, DUTCH PRIME MINISTER: We have the intention to join what you are doing with Germany and the Patriots project, the air defense system. I think that is important and we joined that. I discussed it also this morning with Olaf Scholz of Germany. And then on accountability, we can never accept that Putin and Russia get away with it. So, accountability to take them to court.


CHURCH: And we could get some clarity on Germany's military commitment to Ukraine when Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in the coming hours. Now, he's under growing pressure to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

We want to get more on this. We will bring in CNN's Anna Stewart and Clare Sebastian standing by in London. Good to see you both. So, Anna, let's start with you. The German chancellor will address the World Economic Forum and he is under this increasing pressure to announce more military aid for Ukraine. What are the expectations on that?

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: Yes, this opportunity to speak really comes at a bit of a crunch point, I think, particularly for Germany under so much pressure not just in terms of allowing the re-export of German-made tanks by other nations in Europe, but also to send their own. And so far, of course, we very much get the feeling that for Germany to be on board with this, they made the U.S.


STEWART: And all the hints that we are hearing here suggest that in the coming days, that could be something we see. So, we are looking out for that in the address today. And also, it's worth noting that Ukraine is very much front and center of the World Economic Forum in Davos this year. Yesterday, it kicked off with a special address by the first lady of Ukraine, who really underlined the urgency for decisions to be made now. Take a listen.


OLENA ZELENSKA, UKRAINIAN FIRST LADY (through translator): We are facing the threat of the collapse of the world, as we know it, the way that we are accustomed to it or to what we aspire. What can be life in a world where tanks are allowed to strike at nuclear power stations? What will happen to inflation when state borders start to collapse and the integrity of countries will be trampled on by those who want it?


STEWART: Her husband, the president of Ukraine, will also be speaking today remotely through to Davos. That's 11 a.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. local.

In terms of the first address there by Olaf Scholz, I think we'll also hear more on Ukraine but from the economic standpoint, in terms of the energy crisis that has gripped Europe. I expect Scholz will say that they have dealt with it well, they have acted swiftly.

And according to interviews that he has given to Bloomberg so far since being there, that Germany will stave off having a recession this year. So, probably quite a bullish outlook in terms of the economy. Rosemary?

CHURCH: All right. Many thanks to you, Anna. Clare, let's go back to you. What is at stake for Ukraine here? Are we at a tipping point in terms of the level of military support from the west?

SEBASTIAN: So, Rosemary, I think that the issue now for debate is the west approach of sort of assessing the battlefield, looking at the increase in attacks and the type of attacks from Russia, and tailoring the military response accordingly.

We have seen a significant uptick. We saw the Patriots in December. Just now, the promise from the U.K., the first from one of Ukraine's western allies, of tanks, Challenger, two tanks to be sent from the U.K. to Ukraine. I think that the attack on the Dnipro, the increase in Russia's military posturing, is all strengthening result of this western alliance. Take a listen, for example, to what the U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had to say in Washington about this.


JAMES CLEVERLY, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: And the message we are sending to Putin and, frankly, anyone else that cares to be watching is that we made a commitment to support the Ukrainians until they were victorious. This is what they need to get the job done. This is what we are going to supply, and we are going to supply modern heavy military equipment and the ammunition to allow them to defend themselves properly.


SEBASTIAN: So, he is clearly stating for the world and Russia to hear that they are in it for the long haul, that they are not backing down even as the world approaches its one-year mark.

But there is criticism of how this is being done whether this is enough. Obviously, the speech from Olena Zelenska in Davos shows that Ukraine feels that it needs more to get the job done. Take a listen to Gen. Wesley Clark speaking to CNN on Tuesday.


WESLEY CLARK, RETIRED GENERAL, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: We are just penny pocketing the supplies out. You know, it is great that we are giving them 10 tanks from Britain. But 10 tanks, Ukraine needs 300, 500 tanks. It's great that we are trying to send them a few more howitzers, but it's not enough. So, we got to get serious about this.


SEBASTIAN: Now, the concern, of course, continues to be in the west, that Russia will see these increases in weapon provisions as an escalation, that it is now a firm part of the Russian official rhetoric that they are fighting not just with Ukraine but with the collective west and NATO. The Kremlin called this a proxy war on Tuesday and has warned, for example, that the British tanks, that they will burn on the battlefield.

CHURCH: All right. Anna Stewart, Clare Sebastian, many thanks to you both. Appreciate it.

Some three years after the COVID lockdowns began, Chinese officials are letting the World Economic Forum know that China is open for business, and that reopening is bringing cautious optimism after many top economists had said that they believe the global recession is likely this year.

The chief executive of S&P Global predicts China's spending will help offset the pain, saying -- quote -- "There's pent up savings, there's pent up demands, so we expect China will see very strong growth, especially as you get later in the year."

Douglas Peterson added that he anticipates net growth globally this year. And the head of Portugal's Central Bank says the European economy may also exceed expectations. Take a listen.


MARIO CENTENO, GOVERNOR, CENTRAL BANK OF PORTUGAL: I also think that the economy has been surprising us quarter after quarter. The first quarter in Europe will be most likely still positive. Maybe we will be surprised also in the first half of the year, but we also see a pick up through 2023.



CHURCH: And CNN will be covering all the big events in Davos. Join Richard Quest and Julia Chatterley as they interview world and business leaders throughout the week.

Journalist and nobel laureate Maria Ressa has been acquitted of four charges of tax evasion in the Philippines, ending a slew of legal hearings. She says we are politically-motivated. The charges were brought against her by the government of former Filipino president, Rodrigo Duterte, and a fifth tax evasion charge still looms over Ressa and her media company Rappler. The veteran Filipino-American journalist says the ruling is a victory for truth.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins me now from Seoul with more on this. So, Paula, what are you learning about Maria Ressa's acquittal and, of course, her ongoing legal wars?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, Maria Ressa and those at Rappler have already said consistently that these charges were bogus. They have denied the charges against them. They had said that they were politically-motivated. And this was really the first high-profile test of whether or not the legal trials against Rappler and Maria Ressa were going to continue under the new presidents, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.

Now, as you said, these charges were brought against Maria Ressa back in 2018 under the previous presidency. We know that President Duterte did not appreciate the aggressive investigative journalism that Rappler had been doing against the president and also his bloody war on drugs.

So, what we have seen today is that these four charges, that Maria Ressa has been acquitted of them. But, as you say, there are still charges against her and against others within the same media group.

Now, it has been welcomed today, though, by Maria Ressa herself, saying today, facts win, truth wins, justice wins, also pointing out that it's not just a win for Rappler but for every Filipino who has ever been unjustly accused. Human rights watch among others, also welcomed them, saying the acquittals clearly welcome news and a boom for press freedom in the Philippines.

We also spoke to Maria Ressa a little earlier on CNN. Let's listen to what she said.


MARIA RESSA, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, RAPPLER: The world was really turned upside down against Rappler. In less than two years, I had 10 arrest warrants. These -- this was the cost of trying to do journalism in our country.

Is it turning around? Look, I don't think the problem is just the Philippine government. As long as our information ecosystem prioritizes the spread of lies, how can facts win? This is what social media and technology has done. So, today, I am optimistic, the sun is shining, but the fight must continue.


HANCOCKS: CNN also asked Ressa whether or not this was going to change things, the fact that there was a change in administration and president in the Philippines, and she said that is not necessarily President Marcos. Even though this is the first decision about her legal woes under the new president, she said that there is a change because there was a palpable fear, she says, under President Duterte, and that has now started to be lifted.

So, certainly, this has been welcomed as a vindication of press freedom within the Philippines. But again, there are still outstanding legal battles that Maria Ressa and Rappler do need to face in the coming months and it will be very interesting to see which direction they take as well. But as you heard, Maria Ressa is saying this is a positive day. She is optimistic and advocates of human rights group also saying that this is a positive development. Rosemary?

CHURCH: All right. Our thanks to Paula Hancocks joining us live from Seoul.

Federal investigators have conducted multiple interviews as part of a review of how U.S. President Joe Biden handled classified material. Sources tell CNN, Mr. Biden's personal attorney, Patrick Moore, was among those interviewed. Moore made the initial discovery of the classified material. In total, about 20 documents from Mr. Biden's time as vice president have been found at his home in Delaware and at a former office.

The White House is facing criticism over its handling of the matter, including what it has disclosed publicly and when. But on Tuesday, it defended its actions.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have been forthcoming from this podium. What I said yes to was what the statement at the time that we all had. Right? You all had the statement, and I was repeating what the -- what the counsel was sharing at that time.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Are you upset that you came out to this podium on Friday with incomplete and inaccurate information? And are you concerned that it affects your credibility out here?


JEAN-PIERRE: Well, what I'm concerned about is making sure that we do not politically interfere with Department of Justice.


CHURCH: One top White House official says the Biden administration will cooperate fully with the Justice Department and answer any congressional concerns.

Still to come, the European Commission chief backs listing Iran's guard as a terrorist organization. We'll have an expert weigh in on the issue after the break.


CHURCH: Rescuers in Nepal have found another victim from the deadly Yeti Airlines crash, bringing the total number of bodies recovered to 71. The search continues for the last remaining person still missing. There were 72 on board, including four crew members, when the plane crashed into a river gorge near the city of Pokhara on Sunday. It's the deadliest air disaster in Nepal in more than 30 years.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says she backs listing Iran's revolutionary guards as a terrorist organization. Speaking in Davos, von der Leyen says the step is a necessary response to the trampling of fundamental human rights in the country. Listen.


URSULA VON DER LEYEN, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: The actions of the Iran regime are atrocious and horrible, and they are trampling fundamental human rights with their feet. So, it is unbelievable, what we are seeing, what is happening in Iran. And there needs to be a very strong message and very strong reaction. And therefore, we are looking indeed at a new round of sanctions. And I would support also listing the revolutionary guards. I've heard several ministers asking for that, and I think the right.


CHURCH: Ties between E.U. member states and Tehran have deteriorated in recent months as the block is critical of the regime's violent crackdown on antigovernment protesters.

For more, I'm joined now by Trita Parsi. He is the executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and the author of "Losing an Enemy." He joins us from Fairfax, Virginia. Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: Of course. So, the U.S., the E.U. and the U.K. have all condemned Iran's actions in executing British-Iranian Alireza Akbari and other Iranian citizens. The U.K. reconsidering its support for the Iran nuclear deal and the E.U. considering new sanctions and listing the revolutionary guards as a terrorist group. Is all this sufficient response to what Iran is doing?


PARSI: First of all, it's absolutely correct to condemn the massive human rights violations that are taking place in Iran as well as imposing sanctions, sanctions that really go after the perpetrators of these crimes rather than punishing the population as a whole.

And I think there's even more desire to do more. The question is, will these different measures actually be effective in bringing about a different situation? And there I am skeptical. It's different from saying that these measures would be wrong. It is about whether they actually would be able to work.

In the history of the last 40 years, all that we have seen is that these types of measures tend to further isolate the country which has tended to strengthen the most extremist and reactionary forces inside that country. Particularly at this point where the nuclear deal more or less is about to die, this measure could end up being the final straw that breaks its back, and then we will be in a completely different scenario in which we will have a full-blown crisis.

CHURCH: Right. And what would that full-blown crisis look like? And given relations between Europe and Iran were already deteriorating due to Iran's support for Russia in its war on Ukraine, what impact might IRGC terrorist designation have on that relationship?

PARSI: First, I think what you pointed out there is really important for people to fully understand, that as a result of the Iranian support for Russia in Ukraine, thinking in Europe about Iran, about the nuclear program has changed dramatically.

Europeans have always been concerned about the Iranian nuclear program, but it's not been seen as an existential issue, whereas the war in Ukraine is. And as a result, I think the manner in which the JCP will be prioritized going forward will likely be very, very different.

But that does not mean that the consequences of not having a nuclear deal suddenly have changed. Not having a nuclear deal will mean the Iranians will expand their program and will increase the likelihood of some form of military crisis. And question is, of course, from a western standpoint, given Ukraine, given a potential conflict in Taiwan, do we have the bandwidth to be able to handle yet another major crisis?

CHURCH: And so, what do you think will happen ultimately to the Iran nuclear deal? PARSI: Well, at this point, there's very little hope to see it being

able to be revived. But the status that we are in right now is that all sides essentially know that it is in a coma state. But neither side is willing to say that it's dead because the minute you admit that it's dead, you have a full-blown crisis. And neither side, despite everything that is happening, seem to want to have that crisis, at least, not at this point.

CHURCH: And how much has Europe's approach to Iran changed since Russia invaded Ukraine and Iran decided to back President Putin in this brutal war?

PARSI: Well, I don't think we have seen the full scale of the change in thinking in Europe. Measures have been taken. But we haven't seen a major shift yet. But I think if this current situation continues, then that's when we will see this change of state, this change of perception manifest itself in the decisions that Europe takes.

CHURCH: Trita Parsi, we thank you for analysis and for joining us. Thank you.

PARSI: Thank you so much for having me.

CHURCH: It should come as no surprise that London's Metropolitan Police force has sacked an officer who admitted to dozens of sexual assaults against women. David Carrick's dismissal came during a misconduct hearing on Tuesday that he did not attend. His 49 offenses include 24 counts of rape of 18 years. The case is triggering calls for an inquiry into the U.K.'s largest police service, and growing questions over why it took authorities so long to intervene.

Still ahead, Ukrainian troops arrived in the United States to begin training on their state-of-the-art missile defense system, and Washington says more military support is on the way. A report from the Pentagon, next.

Plus, a former Russian mercenary is now seeking asylum in Norway and speaking out about what he claims is really happening to the prisoners killed fighting in Ukraine.




CHURCH: We continue to follow breaking news out of Ukraine where the national police chief says at least 16 people have been killed following a helicopter crash. It happened in the city of Brovary in the Kyiv region when the chopper crash near a kindergarten and residential building. The official says nine people on board the helicopter and two children were among those killed. At least 22 people are in the hospital, including 10 children.

Well, in the city of Dnipro, rescue efforts have turned to recovery as more bodies are removed from the rubble days after a Russian missile slammed into an apartment building. The death toll has climbed to at least 45 with six children among the dead. Police say the attack has left five children without parents. More than a dozen people remain missing.

The U.S. secretary of state says Washington is determined to give Ukraine what it needs to succeed on the battlefield. Antony Blinken also hinted at more announcements of additional support in the coming weeks.

CNN's Oren Liebermann reports from the Pentagon.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A few big steps for U.S. assistance to Ukraine. First, the training of Ukrainian service members on the Patriot missile system and started in Fort Sill in Oklahoma, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday. Over the weekend, about 90 to 100 Ukrainian troops arrived to Oklahoma at Fort Sill where the U.S. conducts its own Patriot training.

It could begin -- it will be a process that the Pentagon expects will will take several months. The Pentagon is trying to accelerate this process as much as it can. The Patriot missile system, although very capable, is also very complex. So, the training is not only operations but also maintenance is expected to take some time.

The Pentagon will put a timeline on it because it is not sure how much it can accelerate this process. But also, the Pentagon doesn't want Russia to know when the Patriot missile system will arrive. Crucially, Germany, a couple weeks ago, announced they will also send a Patriot battery in, and the Netherlands saying it will send one of its own. So, that in total, when the training is done, will be three long-range air defense system that will dramatically help Ukraine defend its own skies as we see the continued Russian barrages against Ukrainian infrastructure and other targets.

Also, the top U.S. general met his Ukrainian counterpart in an undisclosed location in Poland. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meeting General Valery Zaluzhny of the Ukrainian military at that site in Poland. According to a readout provided by the Americans, they discussed not only what's happening on the battlefield in Ukraine but continued U.S. support to Ukraine.

The U.S. is hosting what is known as the Ukraine Contact Group, an international gathering of some 50 countries in Ramstein, Germany later this week. So, we've already seen some major announcements. For example, the U.K. saying it will provide tanks to Ukraine. And we should expect to see several more, especially given the fact that this is an opportunity for the U.S. and others to put forward what they will be announcing as this war nears the one-year mark.

One day earlier, General Mark Milley also visit Grafenwoehr. That's where training for the U.S. to the Ukrainians for combined arms.


LIEBERMANN: Larger operations began this week. That, too, a critical part of what the U.S. is providing.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, at the Pentagon.


ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN HOST: For more, I am joined by David Sanger, CNN political and national security analyst, and a White House national security correspondent for "The New York Times." Always a pleasure to have you with us.


CHURCH: So, David, as the death toll rises in the wake of Russia's missile attack on that apartment building in Dnipro, Ukraine, one of the single most deadly strikes on civilians in this brutal war, we are seeing an acceleration in western military aid to Ukraine. But what about diplomatic efforts to find an end to this war? Is that happening too, or has that reached a dead end?

SANGER: It hasn't happened yet. I don't think that it's really time for a dead end to be reached, Rosemary, because we don't have the conditions yet that will enable those negotiations to happen. All wars end in a diplomatic conclusion, or most do. But that happens only when one side clearly has the upper hand over another.

And in this case, both sides think they can still win. Now, there are varying assessments from the western allies about whether Ukraine really has a chance of driving Russia off of its territories. But right, now it's hard to say which side really has the upper hand.

CHURCH: All right, so let's get back to these inquiries in western military aid to Ukraine. The Dutch prime minister meeting with President Biden on Tuesday, said his country will join the U.S. and Germany in sending a Patriot Missile defense system to Ukraine. This coming after the U.K. announced its sending more battle tanks. And Poland's prime minister calling on Germany to do more.

He says if Ukraine is defeated, that could trigger World War III. Do you agree that could happen if more military aid from western nations isn't sent immediately right now?

SANGER: Well, it's certainly true that the only reason that the Ukrainians have been able to hang on this long this effectively, is because of the western military aid. They've also been very good and innovative fighters. And of course, they're fighting for their homeland in a way that the Russian troops, many of them inexperienced, some of them just conscripted, are not.

So, there are a lot of things going in Ukraine's favor. But what favors the Russians in the next few months is just the sheer size, weight, and fire power that they can bring in along the way. And that's a significant advantage, if properly marshaled.

CHURCH: And David, later this week, member nations of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group will meet in Germany in an effort to convince that country to allow Poland to provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 battle tanks. How likely is it that Germany will give the go ahead for that to happen, and why hasn't it already done that?

SANGER: Well, the Germans are still concerned, understandably, about the overhang from World War II. And they just don't -- I think Chancellor Scholz in particular, don't feel that it's appropriate to see German tanks rolling through Europe, for what that makes people remember and feel.

I think many of the allies think that it's really time for Germany to get over that, that people are convinced at this point that Germany is not an aggressor state. But, you know, this is the same issue that the Japanese have along the way. That visit by Prime Minister Kishida to Washington suggests the Japanese are getting over it.

I think the next question though is, would tanks be enough? Because you need the combination of combined arms training, tanks, anti- missile defenses, and the aircraft, and it's all got to coordinate. And of course, the Ukrainians say they need far more of everything than what's on offer. Now, everyone would say that if you were in the Ukrainian's position.

CHURCH: And of, course all of this takes time, as you point out. The U.S. currently training Ukrainian troops here in America on how to use the new Patriot Defense Missile System that the U.S. has given Ukraine. But should the U.S. be providing more military aid and moving faster with the support, given what we just saw happen in Dnipro?

SANGER: So, that is certainly the argument that refers to the British. It's an argument you've heard Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates, the former defense secretary, CIA chief, make in an op-ed piece recently, that you've got to go move faster.


There are some in the U.S. government that say, look, no matter what we gave them, this is going to be a frozen conflict in the south and the east for some time.

I think the Russians may want to be -- make it appear as if they could try to get Kyiv again, and that's why you've seen this buildup of forces, of Russian forces in Belarus, to make that case. They may simply be trying to divide the Ukrainian forces. But we're in for a pretty uncertain period. And I think that period may well be marked by the Russians finally getting their act together. And I think that's what many in the west are concerned about.

CHURCH: David Sanger, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

SANGER: Great to be with you, Rosemary.

CHURCH: We want to update you now on breaking news we're following out of Ukraine. The national police chief says at least 16 people have been killed in a helicopter crash. We're just learning the interior minister, the first deputy minister, and the state secretary are among the dead. This happened in the city Brovary in the Kyiv region, when the chopper crashed near a kindergarten and a residential building. At least 22 people are in the hospital including 10 children.

A former Russian mercenary is now seeking asylum in Norway after fleeing the war on Ukraine. The lawyer for Andrei Medvedev tells CNN possible war crimes charges for his client is, quote, a thought that is unavoidable. Although Medvedev denies committing any crimes. The ex-soldier for hire is making grim new allegations about how Russia treats prisoners fighting and dying in its war. CNN's Nic Robertson has our report.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Andrei Medvedev is lucky to be alive. The former Wagner Unit commander says he fled Russia in a daring arctic escape, dodging bullets and dogs across a frozen river to Norway.

ANREI MEDVEDEV, FORMER WAGNER MERCENARY (through translation): I have been chased. I'm afraid for my life.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Afraid, he says, because he has witnessed the murderous atrocities in Ukraine committed in the name of his ex-boss, Wagner oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, aka Putin's chef, and he wants to tell all. Russians killing Russians, some of them former prisoners freed from Russian jails to fight for Wagner.

MEDVEDEV (through translation): I know cases where prisoners were demonstrably shot dead for refusing to fight or for betrayal. They were showing fighters here, this is what will happen to you.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): He says he joined Wagner in July last year, signed up for four months, fought near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, but when Prigozhin began recruiting former prisoners to swell Wagner's ranks, Medvedev saw a deadly change, wanted out as his contract ended, but wasn't allowed to quit.

MEDVEDEV (through translation): Since the moment the prisoners have come to serve with us, strange things and murders of their own recruited prisoners by the Wagner security service and foolish order such as sending us to die as cannon fodders starts to happen.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): He is the highest-ranking Wagner fighter to flee to the west. His eye witness account of Prigozhin's murderous practices in Ukraine is revelatory.

VLADIMIR OSECHKIN, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: He is really a target for the Russian's special forces, for the security service from Wagner group. It's a very high risk of dying.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Human rights activists Vladimir Osechkin helped Medvedev escape, has made sure his story gets out.

OSECHKIN: It's very important to do the international investigation about this. It's very important to open this information to the Russian people, to understand what has happened.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Medvedev's biggest revelation will likely be the most damaging to Putin and Prigozhin's recruitment drives. Last month, Prigozhin recorded this callous video, purporting to pose in front of his dead fighters in body bags, claiming their contracts were complete, and they were on their way back home. But Medvedev says he's seen the truth, many fighters never making it home because Prigozhin is too cheap to pay out insurance on their death.


MEDVEDEV (through translation): The majority of the prisoners were buried and then declared missing. The insurance only pays out money to relatives of the deceased if the body was identified and handed over to the relatives, so they were just declaring everyone as missing.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Right now, Medvedev is at a secure location in Norway, telling investigators every detail he can remember. He says he didn't commit a crime and wants those responsible for the murders brought to justice. Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

CHURCH: Two years to the day after he returned to Russia and was a mediately jailed, Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is vowing to continue his opposition to the Russian government. Navalny tweeted, "When you write a post like this you have to ask yourself, how many more of such anniversary post will you have to write? Life and the events around us prompt the answer, however many it may take. Our miserable exhausted motherland needs to be saved. It has been pillaged, wounded, dragged into an aggressive war, and turned into a prison run by the most unscrupulous and deceitful scoundrels."

Navalny is serving a nine-year prison sentence for fraud charges, which his supporters say were politically motivated.

U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner made her first public appearance on Monday since being released from a Russian prison last month. Griner and her wife attended a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event, celebrating the life of the civil rights leader.

Griner was arrested in Russia in February last year for carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis. She faced nine years in a Russian prison after being convicted, but was freed in a prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Moscow.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg is released from custody after being arrested by German police, not once, but twice in the past few days. A closer look at the protest effort in Germany that's grabbing global attention. Back with that in just a moment.


CHURCH: Welcome back everyone. Well, India is on track to surpass China and become the most populous country in the world this year. In fact, it may have already happened. India's 2021 census has been delayed by the pandemic. But U.N. experts predicted last year India would hit 1.412 billion people.

Meanwhile, China's population has fallen for the first time in six decades. Now, 1.411 billion. And analysts say it will continue to shrink over the next 30 years. China's vice premier says despite the drop, the economic outlook is bright, now that the government has ended its zero covid policy. Take a listen.



LIU HE, CHINESE VICE PREMIER (through translator): We must always promote all around opening up. Opening up has a basic state policy is a catalyst of reform and development in China, and a key driver of economic progress. China's door to the outside world will only open wider.


CHURCH: Meantime, some cities in China claim they have seen the worst that COVID has to offer as they potentially passed the peak of new infections.

In Guangzhou, officials say more than 85 percent of residents have already been infected with the virus. And that new cases and emergency visits are both returning to normal levels.

Authorities in Shanghai also believe they've passed the peak of new infections. The city saw a large spike in cases during December, but is still hard at work trying to prevent new infections, especially with senior citizens.

And our Becky Anderson sat down Tuesday with the energy minister for the UAE to talk among other things about how China's reopening will impact the world oil market.


SUHAIL AL MAZROUEI, UAE ENERGY MINISTER: Well, definitely there is a -- there is a demand pick up with China opening, but also there is a slowdown that we have noticed in the demand from the many countries due to the economic situation and the way things are.

We are also having a mild winter this year, luckily, for gas consumption. So, all of these have helped also the demand side. There is an issue in supply. There is an issue we are always talking about, which is a lack of investments. And we are at the very important transition. And we need to have resources available. The globe (ph) is there. They will -- OPEC Plus, they will always do their best.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR, CONNECT THE WORLD: How does the UAE's plans to increase production to 5 million barrels per day from the current, say, 3 play into that equation because that is a significant increase in production and it is way above your current OPEC quota?

AL MAZROUEI: We are transitioning, as I said. One thing that is not helping is the high volatile commodity prices, whether it's oil. So, we're trying to avoid what happened in the gas by encouraging investments. We spoke with everyone. We encourage everyone. We saw very slow response. Therefore, we brought forward our target of 5 million to 2027, to provide the maximum support to this transition to clean forms of energy.

This leadership that we have in UAE, led by His Highness Hamed bin Zayed, have a vision and responsibility as a responsible producer toward our partners and our customers. And we study it very well, and we thought bringing it forward would help stabilize the price, avoid high volatile oil market, and we are trying to do it with the group (ph).

We need to make the energy prices affordable during transition. People are thinking about three things, but they prioritize them differently, security of supply, affordability and sustainability. We need to work on the three of them, not only pick one and say this is the most important and forget the other two.

ANDERSON: So, the United Nations chief has made it clear that the continued use and investment in fossil fuels puts the world on a climate highway to hell. Is this country get set to host COP28 at the end of the year, there are critics who say upping (ph) investment in oil, and I know there are plans to up investment in gas here as well, fundamentally puts UAE in conflict with those global climate goals, to what you say what?

AL MAZROUEI: There is no base law currently that is available to available to consumers and countries that is totally 100 percent green, unless you are talk about nuclear. So, being practical, we know that the highest contribution will come from renewable energy. That's why we believe in it, we're investing in it. But at the same time, someone needs to be investing in the base load. Someone needs to be investing in hydro power.


CHURCH: And Dubai will host the next big climate change conference, COP28, in November. And the UAE is facing criticism for pointing the head of one world's largest oil producers to oversee the U.N. climate meeting.


Well, climate activist, Greta Thunberg, has been released from custody after being detained by German police for a second time this week. Thunberg had joined protesters to oppose expansion of a coal mine operation in Western Germany.

Police say she and other demonstrators broke through a police barrier, heading for a coal pit, which authorities say could have collapsed under the weight of the group. Thunberg was also detained on Sunday after addressing demonstrators and joining the protest.

Still to come. Not even a war can stop this Ukrainian football club from playing. How they're trying to inspire the nation, when we return. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHURCH: We are following breaking news out of Ukraine, where authorities say at least 17 people are now confirmed killed in a helicopter crash. Police say Ukraine's interior minister, the first deputy minister, and the state secretary are among the dead.

This happened in the city of Brovary in the Kyiv region, when the chopper crash near a kindergarten and a residential building. At least 22 people are injured.

Ukrainian football club, Shakhtar Donetsk, has launched a new project to help soldiers of families in Mariupol affected by the Russian invasion. The $25 million project comes on the heels of trading their star player to England's Chelsea football club.

CNN World Sport's Don Riddell spoke with the club CEO about how the game has changed since the start of Russia's invasion.


SERGEI PALKIN, CEO, SHAKHTAR DONETSK FOOTBALL CLUB: When the war started, we didn't play almost half of a year, you know, and we lost half of our team because FIFA released all our important players and we lost our coaching staff. And actually, we started everything from the beginning, from scratch, you know, and we invited some Ukrainian players. We invited new coaching staff. And we start to play our game in the, you know, in the western part of Ukraine.

Four players it is difficult because -- I mean almost all players living without families because families are living abroad and some kind of safety areas, you know. And therefore, it's difficult from a psychological point of view because, you know, when you have war in the country, difficult to concentrate, it's difficult to play football because, you know, when your home, you know, in your home, you have problems, big problems, you know, and dying people, a lot of people, and it's difficult to concentrate.

We understood that what we're doing on the pitch it's because of, I mean, in support of our people, of our refugees, of our Ukrainian army, and because of them, you know. And all speeches of our coaching staff or myself opposite our players was just concentrated that we are playing for Ukraine, we are playing for Ukrainian army, and we are playing for refugees, supporting all of them.

DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: When do you think or when do you foresee that you can get back to some kind of normality?


PALKIN: You know, we will come to normality when war will be finished, when we win this war. We understand that when we are playing football, we show to the whole world that we are alive. We continue to live, you know, and we continue to fight. And we are sending messages to the whole world that we need to support Ukraine. We need to win this war, because democracy should win over autocracy, you know. And the whole world should support democracy. Otherwise, everyone will suffer from this.


CHURCH: And what's being held as a victory for female athletes, footballer, Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir, has won a landmark maternity case against her former team, Olympique Lyonnais. She filed suit against the club, claiming they failed to meet their obligations to her while she was pregnant.

The FIFA council implemented protections in 2020 requiring players be giving 14 weeks paid maternity leave, obliging clothes to provide adequate support during pregnancy, and ensuring players can return to their team when they're ready.

Football Players Union, FIFPRO, tweeted that the ruling sent a clear message to clubs and footballers worldwide that the strict application of maternity rights is enforceable.

Well, to the Australian Open now, where defending champion Rafael Nadal has crashed out of the tournament in the second round. The 22- time major champion who is facing American Mackenzie McDonald on Wednesday in Melbourne was down a set when he pulled up with a hip injury. After a medical timeout, he elected to continue but unable to move he, was ousted in straight sets. And this is only the second time since 2007 that the Spaniard has exited the Australian Open this early in the tournament.

And an Australian runner has completed a staggering 150 marathons in 150 days. Erchana Murray-Bartlett's feat might be a new world record. She ran a total of 6,300 kilometers from the country's northern tip to the southern city of Melbourne. If the results are confirmed by Guinness World Records, she will have shattered the previous record of 106 consecutive marathons.

Murray-Bartlett ran to raise awareness of the threats to Australia's biodiversity, and raised more than U.S. $82,000 to benefit the conservation of Australian animals. Well done.

Well, thank you so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. Have yourselves a wonderful day. "CNN Newsroom" continues with Max Foster, next.