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U.S. & Germany Appear Ready To Send Tanks To Ukraine; Wagner Private Military Behind Most Recent Russian Gains; Chris Hipkins Sworn In As New Zealand's Prime Minister; Sources: Classified Documents Found At Pence's Home; Half Moon Bay Gunman Lived, Worked At First Shooting Site; Police & Protesters Clash As President Seeks "Truce"; Haiti Mired By Political, Economic, Medical Problems; Texas Tornado Causes "Catastrophic" Damage Near Houston. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired January 25, 2023 - 02:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. Just ahead here on CNN Newsroom, after months of pleading by Ukraine's President, the United States and Germany appear poised to send tanks to the front lines in the war against Russia.

New Zealand swears in its new prime minister after Jacinda Ardern's shocking resignation. His uphill battle with a general election just around the corner. Plus, Haiti in crisis. Rampant hunger, a cholera outbreak, exploding gang violence, and now a grave threat to the future of its democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN Newsroom with Rosemary Church.

CHURCH: Thanks for being with us. And we begin with a major breakthrough in Western military support for Ukraine as we learn both the U.S. and Germany appear poised to send sophisticated tanks to the battlefield. The German news outlet Der Spiegel is reporting that Berlin is now set to send Leopard 2 tanks after months of debate.

In the coming hours, the German parliament is expected to debate the issue. That news coming after we learned the U.S. is finalizing plans to send about 30 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. U.S. officials say an announcement could come as soon as this week. All this just days after Germany had indicated it would not send tanks unless the U.S. agreed to send its own.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy discussed the need for modern western tanks during a visit from the Finnish president. Mr. Zelenskyy says the need is urgent.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): It is not about five or 10 or 15 tanks. The need is greater. We are doing what is necessary every day to fill the deficit. And I thank everyone who supports us in this. However, discussions must end with decisions.


CHURCH: Ukraine has now pushed out at least a dozen high ranking officials in its first big anticorruption purge since the Russian invasion. The acting minister for regional development was arrested over the weekend. He's accused of receiving $400,000 in unlawful benefits for arranging contracts for power generators.

And on Tuesday, the President's deputy chief of staff announced he's quitting after reports that he had been under a vehicle or using a vehicle meant for humanitarian purposes. CNN Salma Abdelaziz is tracking developments for us. She joins us now live from London.

Good morning to you, Salma. So, the U.S. and Germany appear poised to send these battle tanks to Ukraine. What is the latest on this and what's Russia saying about it?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So a days long diplomatic lock jam with Berlin appears now to be breaking after that announcement. Not yet official, but coming from U.S. officials familiar with the matter that D.C. is preparing to announce that they will send 30 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. Unclear how long that will take, that could be a lengthy timeline. It does take months to train on these tanks but that has eased, it seems, Germany stance.

Germany has been reluctant to give the OK, the green light to send their own German-made tanks, the Leopard tanks, to Ukraine. There's been this growing pressure, piling pressure on Berlin from its European allies, particularly Poland, that want to see those tanks sent to the front lines as quickly as possible.

But it's important to point out here, Rosemary, there's a stark difference between these two types of tanks. The Leopard tank, the German-made seen as easy to use, practical, whereas the Abrams tank by the U.S. much more complicated. Take a listen to how John Kirby, a senior U.S. official, described it.


JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We have talked about the fact that the Abrams are an incredibly capable system but it's a very expensive system to operate and to maintain. It has a jet engine. That doesn't mean that the Ukrainians can't learn it. It just means that we have to factor all that stuff in with any system that we're going to potentially provide to them.


ABDELAZIZ: Now, Germany again has not made an official announcement but we did see reports in the premier newspaper, Der Spiegel, that Germany is preparing to make that announcement. There will be a debate in the German parliament today, but this does mark a milestone here, Rosemary, for some time now.


European allies, the United States have played this balancing act with the Ukraine war. How many weapons, how much material support can they provide Kyiv to defend and fight back for its territory without tipping this conflict over the edge, without providing weaponry that might instigate a wider, deeper conflict with Russia?

Clearly, now that red line, the tanks, moving forward. But there is, of course, a response from Russia on this, which has, over the course of these last few days, sort of finger wagged Berlin. We do have a new statement on these latest announcements obtained by our Fred Pleitgen.

And I want to pull up that quote for you. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying, "Unfortunately, more weapons for NATO bring more suffering for people in Ukraine. It also brings more tension to the conflict, but it cannot prevent Russia from reaching our goals."

Now, for President Zelenskyy, I know you played that sound bite just a little while ago. This is, of course, very welcome news. The Ukrainian military has been heavily reliant on the Soviet era tanks, which, of course, are hard to maintain. They're outdated. So this provides a modern weaponry for what is very much an infantry war, a ground war, where tanks are extremely important to spearheading any offensive by Ukrainian troops.

CHURCH: All right, Salma Abdelaziz, many thanks for bringing us that report. Appreciate it.

Well, meantime, President Zelenskyy says Russia is amassing forces and preparing for revenge. And that means Ukraine's battlefield wish list is growing longer. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen has details.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Even as fighting rages in eastern Ukraine, Russian forces are making little headway. Vladimir Putin recently appointed his military chief, Valery Gerasimov, to lead the war in Ukraine. Yet another reshuffle in the hierarchy.

The deputy head of Ukraine's Defense Intelligence tells me he believes Putin realizes his entire command structure is in disarray.

VADYM SKIBITSKIY, UKRAINIAN DEPUTY HEAD OF DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE (through translation): He really does have problems with the command, both at the top level, the generals, and at the bottom level of platoon or company commander. That issue is generally very problematic.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Another problem, those marginal gains Russia is making come mostly from mercenaries of the Wagner private military company around Bakhmut, where Wagner has been gaining ground while suffering severe losses themselves. Wagner's boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been highly critical of Russia's military leadership, calling them all but incompetent.

The Ukrainians say he's made plenty of enemies among the elites.

SKIBITSKIY (through translation): The leadership of the Russian Armed Forces are going to try to belittle Prigozhin's role and place however they can, so he cannot strengthen his positions in the Kremlin hierarchy.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): While the Ukrainians try to hold on in Bakhmut, they say they urgently need western main battle tanks to take back more territory.

ANDRY MELNYK, UKRAINIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER: There are about 2,000 tanks available, and even if each country would send 10 percent of that amount, it would be a huge army, which would allow us to start this counter offensive in spring.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): But the Ukrainians say just as critical are longer range rockets from the U.S. to hit Russia's supply lines, something the U.S. is wary of giving them for fear of escalating the conflict.

SKIBITSKIY (through translation): Right now, they have moved the logistics and control, but mainly logistics systems further away from the front line, and that's 80 to 100 to 120 kilometers away. And to strike them, you need longer range strike systems.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): That would include targets on Russian territory to choke off any future offensive by Moscow's forces.

SKIBITSKIY (through translation): There are strong logistics hubs in the Rostov region. It is these very hubs and they need to be struck in order to disrupt the supply systems of all kinds.

PLEITGEN (on-camera): For now though, the Ukrainians certainly seem to be very happy with that decision by both the United States and Germany to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. In fact, the chief of staff of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying that he believes Western main battle tanks are as he puts at democracy's punch against autocracy.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Kyiv.


CHURCH: New Zealand's new prime minister faces the daunting challenge of filling the shoes of his predecessor with elections on the horizon. Chris Hipkins was sworn in just a short time ago in Wellington, followed by his first Cabinet meeting. The 44-year-old received unanimous support from the ruling Labor Party to succeed Jacinda Ardern, who resigned unexpectedly last week.


Mr. Hipkins had served in Ardern's Cabinet as Education Minister and says he's enthusiastic to lead the country through the challenges ahead. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS HIPKINS, NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER: And I think cost of living is right at the top of the issues facing New Zealanders at the moment, because it has an impact on just about every other one of the issues that New Zealanders will care about.


CHURCH: As for Hipkins, former boss Jacinda Ardern says she's ready to be a backbench MP and spend more time with her family.

And for more on this, CNN's Anna Coren joins me live from Hong Kong. Good to see you, Anna. So what more are you learning about New Zealand's new leader, Chris Hipkins, and, of course, the legacy of outgoing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, Chris Hipkins certainly has some big shoes to fill and he acknowledges that. Although, he is trying to distance himself from Jacinda Ardern, who's been at the helm now since she was elected in 2017, her shock resignation last week really surprised many people, but perhaps not so in New Zealand.

You know, New Zealanders have basically fallen out of love with Jacinda Ardern, the reason being, you know, issues like inflation, crime, inequality. These are things that really matter to New Zealanders and they blame the government in power for, you know, cost of living, something that Chris Hipkins obviously just mentioned when he was sworn in early this morning.

But for Jacinda Ardern, you know, people think of her very fondly abroad, her international persona very, very different to how she is perceived domestically. And she certainly will be remembered very warmly.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congratulations, Prime Minister Hipkins.

COREN (voice-over): A new prime minister for New Zealand, Chris Hipkins succeeds Jacinda Ardern after she suddenly announced her resignation last week.

HIPKINS: This is the biggest privilege and the biggest responsibility of my life. I am energized and excited by the challenge that lies ahead.

COREN (voice-over): The 44-year-old career politician, also known in Parliament as Chippy, has been a close ally to Ardern, most notably taking charge of the country's COVID-19 policies when the pandemic began. His swearing in also marks the end of an era for Ardern, whose poise and leadership were lauded far and wide.

JACINDA ARDERN, THEN-PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND: I am determined to do things differently. I do think you can be both strong and compassionate. I do think success is not just about economics, but about your social indicators of success.

COREN (voice-over): Ardern burst onto the global stage in 2017 as one of the world's youngest female leaders, known for taking her newborn to the U.N. General Assembly.

ARDERN: I am by no means the first woman to multitask. And in terms of being a woman in politics, there are plenty of women who carved a path and incrementally have led the way to be able to make it possible for people to look upon my time in leadership and think, yes, I can do the job and be a mother.

COREN (voice-over): She's an outspoken supporter of gender equality, gun control and fighting climate change. In the end, she said she was tired and needed to step down. But her legacy won't be forgotten.

HIPKINS: Jacinda Ardern has been an incredible prime minister for New Zealand. She was the leader that we needed at the time that we needed it. Jacinda provided, you know, calm, stable, reassuring leadership, which I hope to continue to do.

COREN (voice-over): With elections less than a year away, Chris Hipkins has to prove he can keep the ruling Labor Party in power.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He definitely has big shoes to fill. He won't ever fill the shoes that Jacinda has. And it'll be interesting to see what labor come out within terms of the election campaign over the next year.


COREN: Rosemary, Chris Hipkins may not have the charisma of Jacinda Ardern, but he is known as Mr. Fix-It. He likes to roll his sleeves up and get down to hard work. He's been in charge of numerous portfolios under Ardern's government, police, COVID response, health, education. So he is well known by New Zealanders.

But will it be enough to get the Labor Party reelected and him prime minister on October 14? Only time will tell. As for Jacinda Ardern, Rosemary, she will be on the back bench for the next three months until she resigns from politics altogether in April. Yes.

CHURCH: The new prime minister has a lot of work ahead of him. Anna Coren, many thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

Right now to Washington, where the FBI and Justice Department are reviewing classified documents found in the home of former Vice President Mike Pence. Sources tell CNN an attorney found about a dozen documents during a search of Pence's Indiana residents last week. He turned them over to the FBI.


The discovery comes as special counsels are investigating classified documents found at the home of former President Donald Trump and several locations linked to President Joe Biden. Pence had repeatedly denied he was in possession of any such documents. Well new details now on the two shootings in Half Moon Bay, California, on Monday. Police say the gunman is set to be arraigned in the coming hours. He's accused of killing five men and two women of Asian and Hispanic descent as he moved from one site to another. The shooter also lived at the first farm where he opened fire, according to a company spokesperson.

He had lived and worked at the first site since at least March of last year, when it was sold to new owners. Police say he was also accused of threatening to murder a former coworker at a different job. California Governor Gavin Newsom shared his frustration about the shootings on Tuesday.


GAVIN NEWSOM, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: Here we are, you know, Lunar New Year, where we're celebrating incredible cultural contributions of people from all around the world that all share one thing in common, and that is a pride in being in California and a desire to be an American. And here they are in torn asunder, and it's difficult to square. And that's why I'm particularly sensitive to the needs of the community at this moment and have a lot of work to do.


CHURCH: Just ahead, police and protesters clashed on the streets of Lima on Tuesday as the political crisis in Peru shows no sign of winding down even after several weeks of violent protests.

And we'll look at the situation in Haiti as the people there suffer the effects of violence, food insecurity, disease, and political dysfunction. You'll hear from an expert, that next.


CHURCH: No let up in violent protests across Peru, with police using tear gas during clashes on Tuesday. The demonstrations began in December after the ouster of President Pedro Castillo and parts of the country have been left paralyzed. Meanwhile, Peru's current president told reporters on Tuesday that the right to protest can't be accompanied by violence, damage and death.


DINA BOLUARTE, PERUVIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): At the start of my address, I said we were respectful of the rule of law, of the constitution, and of the institutions. Would my resignation resolve the crisis and the violence? Who would assume the presidency of the Republic?


I'll say it once more. The death of my fellow citizens hurts my heart and my soul. Once again, I ask forgiveness for those deaths.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH: Dina Boluarte also called for a national truce to end and weeks of unrest. Protesters are calling for her resignation.

The international monetary fund has approved $105 million help Haiti address severe food insecurity. Haitians were already suffering severe malnutrition and food insecurity before the war in Ukraine began. And that suffering has become worse with the recent surge in food prices and inflation. The humanitarian crisis has been compounded by gang violence and political instability.

Alex Dupuy is a Professor of Sociology at Wesleyan University. He joins me now from Middletown in Connecticut. Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: So democracy appears to be under attack in many parts of the world, but Haiti offers one of the most glaring examples, now facing its worst crisis since the assassination of its president in July 2021. And with no elected leaders, Prime Minister Henry is ruling by decree. Rival gangs are fighting over control of parts of the country in the midst of this record hunger and another cholera outbreak. So what hope remains for this country?

DUPUY: What I can see as a hopeful sign is that many organizations, political, popular organization, religious organizations, civic organizations, workers organizations and those representing farmers and peasants, they have, you know, come together to create, publish a document known as the Montana Accord, which is calling for a new government, an interim government that would last two years to replace Prime Minister Ariel, who is ruling by decree and to begin the process of reconstructing the society and the economy and the political aspect, the political structure and the political system.

So while, you know, they -- it's far from them being able to take power, given the current circumstances and the, you know, the ravages and the killings, and the havoc that the gangs are creating, at least what it suggests is that there are people in Haiti who are thinking about what they refer to as a Haitian solution to the current crisis.

CHURCH: Right.

DUPUY: Now --

CHURCH: But that hasn't happened yet. How can --

DUPUY: No, it hasn't happened.

CHURCH: -- there is this map, I mean, this report that sets out what needs to be done. But how does it get done?

DUPUY: Well, the only way it would get done is if, indeed, the gangs could be brought under control, could be neutralized, and could be prevented from continuing to do -- to kill people and to kidnap people and to create havoc in the economy, to block access to ports, to roads and to terminals and so on, and to return a situation to some sort of normalcy.

CHURCH: And how does that happen? Because the police in Haiti and certainly in Port-au-Prince have not been able to control these gangs who have taken over a large part of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other parts of the country. So what will it take to, as you say, neutralize those violent gangs?

DUPUY: Well, it's hard to say. You know, there have been calls for some kind of international force. The U.N. Secretary General has basically given his approval to such a force. But Canada, the U.S., and other countries like France, are reluctant so far to commit to any form of foreign troops, given the legacy, basically the grim, the negative legacy of previous interventions, among which the last one brought Colorado to Haiti, which is now on an uptick again.

So it doesn't seem that there is an appetite, at least among most Haitian civil society organizations for another military intervention.


But the question is how then to get neutralized to get rid of the gangs --


DUPUY: -- given the inability of the police force to, you know, rise up to you to the challenge. And so, you know, it looks like -- it seems like, you know, the people on the ground in Haiti are going to have to find some way of resolving whatever, you know, the current crisis. How to do that remains to be seen.

CHURCH: Right. Alex Dupuy, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Well, deadly cold is impacting people across Afghanistan. Just ahead, a live report on the freezing temperatures. Plus, dangerous storms threaten the U.S. gulf coast. We will have more on the damage and the latest forecast, that's next.


CHURCH: This is the trail of destruction left behind as more than a dozen tornadoes were reported across parts of Texas and Louisiana on Tuesday. A local official outside Houston calls the structural damage catastrophic. And dangerous weather remains a threat along the Gulf Coast of this hour. Tornado warnings have now been cleared for New Orleans, but the storms are moving east.

And for more on this, we want to turn to CNN Meteorologist Britley Ritz who joins us live from the Weather center. Good to see you, Britley. So those storms moving east, who's in the path of that bad weather?

BRITLEY RITZ, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. Now we're moving into southern Mississippi and, in fact, we have three tornado warnings that are in effect for Baldwin, in Mobile County until 1:30 Central Time. So we have about a minute and a half left on these warnings.

A lot of the storms lost their rotation, still dealing with strong damaging winds, hence the severe thunderstorm warning that's now in effect for the same counties. But we still have to watch this over the upcoming hours. Tornado watches still in effect until 5:00 Central Time for southern, Alabama in the panhandle of Florida. So we'll watch this closely in the upcoming hours.

The system tracking eastward, moving through the southeast and on up into the Carolinas. With that, holding the threat of severe weather within the same vicinity. Areas highlighted in yellow where we're most vulnerable for that damaging wind threat and isolated tornadoes. While the threat decreases for tomorrow, we still hold the same concerns. We have to keep our eyes out on that.

On the back end of that area of low pressure, it's cold. So now we're dealing with the snow from Oklahoma City on up into New England. Winter storm warnings in effect, where some of these locations could pick up over a foot of snow, and that includes part of the Ohio Valley, especially the higher elevations up through New England.


Snowfall totals already reaching a foot in parts of Arkansas, Texas nearly 10 inches in some locations. And it's not just that, it's the rain too. Heavy rain, flooding a big concern, especially near your Houston, that through Southern Louisiana, Southern Central Louisiana. We're talking about breaking daily records here at the Houston airport. Your maximum record Tuesday, 4.04 inches. The previous record, nearly two inches of rain, Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right. Britley Ritz, many thanks for bringing us up to date on all those details. Well, East Asia is dealing with a powerful cold snap. The weather has forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights in Japan, impacting thousands of travelers. But some better news for people stranded by snow in South Korea, flights to and from Jeju Island have been allowed to resume, but that doesn't mean the extreme weather is over. Up to 70 centimeters of snow is expected on Jeju through today. Nearly 36,000 people were stranded on Tuesday after almost 500 flights were canceled.

And in Afghanistan, freezing temperatures have killed at least 157 people this winter. That is according to the Afghan Ministry of Disaster Management. It also says extreme cold has killed about 70,000 livestock around the country. Earlier this month, temperatures plunged as low as minus 28 degrees Celsius, far below average temperatures for this time of year. And for more on the extreme cold, Adam Combs, I should say, joins me now from Istanbul. He is a Regional Director for the aid group, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and we appreciate you being with us.


CHURCH: So, freezing temperatures across Afghanistan have killed at least 157 people, perhaps many more than that. And this comes on top of severe hunger being experienced by millions of Afghans in a country reeling from an economic crisis. What humanitarian efforts are underway to try to prevent more Afghans from suffering due to plummeting temperatures, and of course, this lack of food?

COMBS: Firstly, this is an extreme situation at the moment that we're facing with sub-zero temperatures and many other areas of operations. And families that are already have been pushed to the brink for survival due to the economic crisis are even in more dire straits. However, with the new situation of the ban on female workers, many of the agencies, including NRC have been forced to stop their humanitarian operations, simply because we cannot do our job without having our female colleagues in place to be able to reach the most vulnerable.

CHURCH: What does that mean, in terms of other humanitarian groups helping on the ground?

COMBS: I think there's a mixture, I think there is a -- there is a call for unity around this front in towards the factual authorities in Afghanistan to revoke and reframe their ethic coming out to us, to make sure that female workers are allowed to work in Afghanistan. Now, as you know, there are exemptions in place for medical services, where females are allowed to work. However, we have seen some from some agencies on the ground, that those exemptions aren't necessarily being understood and enacted on at provincial or lower provincial levels.

CHURCH: So, what does life look like for most Afghans under Taliban rule? And how will most people survive the extreme cold, the lack of food, and of course, the clear absence of financial security?

COMBS: The trajectory, as I said, is dire. It's going in the wrong directions. People have already faced an extremely difficult year and a half. There has not only been a shift of the power structure within Afghanistan but there's been droughts, earthquakes, and so forth, that have made life extremely difficult. And this -- this current situation is just getting -- is just exacerbating this situation. It's also important to note that humanitarian assistance, although incredibly important, is not the solution to this. And the solution is more durable solutions and longer-term assistance. And this type of ban, actually is a -- it creates extreme difficulties for that assistance to be able to come through for the longer-term solutions.

CHURCH: So, when your organization was working on the ground, they were in Afghanistan, how difficult was it to help people there?


COMBS: It was difficult, I mean, it -- Afghanistan is a country that provides continuous challenges for operations. However, we were be -- we were able to operate and continue operations. Since the turnover from August 2021, we've been able to help over 200,000 people. So, our operations actually are within 18 provinces, we have had access, and we continue to have that access. And we just need to be able to move forward now to make sure that our women are able to work with us.

CHURCH: And outside of the humanitarian assistance, which clearly is needed, what can be done to prevent Afghanistan's continuing economic decline, because eventually there won't be any humanitarian aid?

COMBS: Yes, I agree. Engagement, and I think engagement is the key here, engagement at all levels. From the diplomatic level, we need to re-engage with the Taliban. It's obvious that the -- that the -- that the -- excuse me, it's obvious that the tactic of isolation is not working, it just simply hardens the Taliban's response to these things. So, we need to be engaging both at the diplomatic level and at the humanitarian level. And R.C. also is very, very aware of the need to engage at the local levels, at the provincial, and district levels to ensure that access for our female staff to be able to go forward. Without engagement, Taliban -- Afghanistan becomes an isolated state, and this is not a good solution.

CHURCH: Yes. Adam Combs, thank you so much for talking with us. Appreciate it.

COMBS: Thank you.

CHURCH: Well, a massive piece of iceberg roughly the size of Greater London has broken off from Antarctica's Brunt Ice Shelf. Now, this satellite image shows the part splitting away on Sunday. The British Antarctic Survey says cracks have been naturally developing across the ice shelf for at least a decade now. And there have been two major breakoffs in the last two years. They say the breaking is not a result of climate change. Still to come, it's history in the making for India after a song from a blockbuster film gets nominated for an Oscar. What the recognition means to the country's film industry, after the break.


CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, the nominations for the 95th Academy Awards were revealed Tuesday. Leading the pack with 11 nominations is the science fiction film Everything Everywhere All At Once.


MICHELLE YEOH, ACTRESS: Across the multiverse, I've seen thousands of Evelyns.

CHURCH (voiceover): The film earned nominations for Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role for Michelle Yeoh, and two nods for Actress in a Supporting Role for Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu. Also, up for best picture is James Cameron's Avatar: The Way Of Water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get it done.


CHURCH: The film is also in contention for production design, achievements in sound, and visual effects. Big names in the world of music also offer original song including Lady Gaga.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Avatar The way of water.

CHURCH: That's the song from Top Gun Maverick competing against tunes by Rihanna and others.


CHURCH (on camera): Well, another original song nominee has put Indian filmmakers in the spotlight. It's the first time a song from a fully- Indian-produced film has ever been considered for the category. CNN's Vedika Sud has more on the historic nomination.


VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER: It has explosions, epic battles, larger- than-life action scenes, and a man wrestling a tiger. India's latest blockbuster movie RRR, Rise, Roar, Revolt has been making waves around the world. Triumphing over Rihanna and Taylor Swift's soundtracks at the Golden Globes, RRR was awarded the Best Original Song for Naatu Naatu. The action fantasy film about real-life Indian revolutionaries fighting against colonialism has earned an Oscar nomination, a rare moment for an Indian film.

S.S. RAJAMOULI, DIRECTOR, RRR: Seen, when we initially set out to make, we don't have the critical acclaim in mind, we set out to make the movie for the audience, for them to love it, for them to experience the movie.

SUD: RRR has already grossed more than a $150 million worldwide. And stayed for 16 weeks on the list of top 10 Most Viewed non-English films on Netflix. Critics say the film is a breath of fresh air for the American audience.

COURTNEY HOWARD, FILM CRITICS: There's just something fresh and unique about it, where I think it's going to be hard to -- if Hollywood tries to do it. It's going to be hard to recapture that lightning in a bottle that this movie seems to do.

SUD: Director S.S. Rajamouli is known for his bombastic, and maximalist action scenes. The film's budget are reported $68 million, makes it one of the most expensive Indian films to date, far below most Hollywood blockbusters. The movie's overseas success is being celebrated back home. India's Prime Minister Modi personally congratulated the filmmakers after their win at the Golden Globes, saying "This prestigious honor has made every Indian very proud." Hollywood has opened its doors to non-English films in recent years. And like Parasite, which became the first foreign language film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Critics say RRR's Oscar nomination is pushing boundaries.

SHUBHRA GUPTA, FILM CRITIC, THE INDIAN EXPRESS: What it's already doing is something that has no other Indian film has ever done. It's the kind of a sort of a gigantic leap in the awareness that there is something called Indian cinema, and that there will be a lot more interest in it going forward.

SUD: A win at the Academy Awards would be a first for an Indian film, and a historic one. Vedika Sud, CNN, New Delhi.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH: And thanks for joining us, I'm Rosemary Church. "WORLD SPORT" is up next. Then I'll be back in 15 minutes with more CNN NEWSROOM. Do stick around.