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CNN International: Nicola Sturgeon To Resign As Scottish First Minister; Zelenskyy: Situation In Eastern Regions "Remains Extremely Difficult; Report: Ukrainian Children Held At Russian Network Of Camps; New Rescues 9 Days After Quake; Death Toll Tops 41,000; Turkey Says More Than 50,000 Buildings Need To Be Demolished; Cyclone Gabrielle Prompts National Emergency In New Zealand; U. S. Blacklists Companies Linked To Chinese Military. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 15, 2023 - 08:00   ET




MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. Welcome to CNN Newsroom. I'm Max Foster in London. Just ahead, Nicola Sturgeon is resigning, a Scotland's first minister, saying her decision was not a reaction to any short- term pressures.

Then, NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels, promising continued military support for Ukraine as a fierce fight for territory rages in the east of the country. Plus, miraculous stories of survival in Turkey more than a week after the devastating earthquake has killed at least 41,000 people. We'll have the latest.

It really is the end of an era in Scottish politics. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is resigning after eight years in office. She made the announcement earlier on Wednesday, adding that she'll stay in office until a replacement is found. Sturgeon was seen as the face of Scotland's independence movement and Brexit opposition as well. Neither of them -- neither worked out.

As Sturgeon says, it's the right step to step down.


NICOLA STURGEON, SCOTTISH FIRST MINISTER: I am proud to stand here as the first female and longest serving incumbent of this office, and I'm very proud of what has been achieved in the years I've been in Butte House. However, since my very first moments in the job, I have believed that part of serving well would be to know almost instinctively when the time is right to make way for someone else. And when that time came to have the courage to do so, even if to many across the country and in my party, it might feel too soon.


FOSTER: Bianca has been following the story. It was a real shock announcement, wasn't it? What did you make of her reasons for stepping down?

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR: It was a shock and it was the abruptness that no one was expecting. There'd been chatter about will she still be leader at the next election in 2025? But this came out of nowhere all of a sudden. Journalists scrambling to be there for the announcement.

So her reasons? She had several. A lot of it was personal. She said that she wanted to focus on Nicola Sturgeon, the person rather than the politician, but she also had a view on her party, what was best for them and for independence. And she didn't want to be making key decisions herself if she wasn't 100 percent sure she was going to be the one in power in months or years to come, because she didn't think that that was fair.

So she'd asked herself, is this right for me? Is this right for her party? And she decided that now is the time to step down. But she also spoke about how the culture has changed and how it's made her question whether or not she has the will to continue.

FOSTER: OK, thank you very much for that. We'll wait to see who replaces Nicola Sturgeon. A big set of shoes to fill.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's President says battles are taking place for every meter of land in the eastern Donbas region, and he's describing the situation as extremely difficult. The Ukrainian military says more than 25 settlements were shelled on Tuesday along with what it's calling the Bakhmut access as Russian forces try to advance in several areas. Officials are limiting civilian access to the embattled city.

NATO defense ministers, meanwhile, gathering in Brussels for a second day of talks focused on boosting ammunition to Ukraine. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says the Western alliance needs to ramp up production even further.

CNN's David McKenzie joins me now live in Kyiv. Because there's been some suggestion that the Ukrainians could run out of munitions. You've got a siren going there.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. You can hear the air raid sirens going on in Kyiv. They've been going on periodically through the day. And it reminds one of the aerial threat that this country is under at all times during this conflict almost a year into the war, Max.

And you're right, the big question in the last few days hasn't necessarily been tanks or aircraft that President Zelenskyy is looking for, but in fact, ammunition, the ammunition they need to stave off the advancing Russian forces in the eastern part of this conflict, which has proved a very critical potential chokepoint of this war.

The Secretary General of NATO was asked about that. Here's his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: This is now becoming a grinding war attrition. And the war attrition is a war of logistics. And therefore, this is so crucial for our ability to ensure that Ukraine wins, is able to retake territory and launch offensives that ensures that it's able to win the war and to prevail as a sovereign, independent nation.



MCKENZIE: Well, NATO officials have been, I think, deliberately vague about exactly how they are ramping up. He said they have had the signed deals with manufacturers, particularly of the basic artillery shell that the Ukrainians are using. But the relentless attacks happening in the east of this country are really putting Ukrainian soldiers under pressure, despite the heavy losses taken by Russian forces.

There is certainly a sense of anticipation as the days count down towards the first anniversary of this brutal conflict. And, you know, those air sirens, no matter where you are in the country when they are happening, is a reminder that it's certainly never normal in Ukraine, even when you're far from the direct front.

FOSTER: David McKenzie in Kyiv, thank you.

Russia dismissing a chilling new report, meanwhile, that claims its government has held thousands of Ukrainian children at a network of camps as absurd. The U.S. government sponsored study details a systematic or systemic effort by Moscow to relocate, reeducate, and at times militarily train some 6,000 Ukrainian miners. The State Department says it's all part of the Kremlin's goal to erase Ukraine's culture and identity.

Clare Sebastian joins me now. How did they gather this research, Clare?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Max. Relying heavily on open- source data, things like social media posts and on very high- definition satellite imagery to sort of piece together the fate of what they say is at least 6,000 children over the course of the now nearly year-old war. They say the number could in reality be much higher than this.

Now look, we know Ukraine has been alleging for many months that the forced deportation of children has been happening in the thousands, perhaps even in the hundreds of thousands. The architect has alleged in this report of these policies in Russia has already been sanctioned by the U.K. and the U.S. But this gives a lot more detail of what happens to these children inside of Russia.

They've identified 43 facilities, most of them preexisting summer camps, that they say are being used for the political reeducation of children, the ages, by the way, ranging from several months up to 17 years. And that ranges from cultural, patriotic types of education right up to military in the cases of two camps, including the use of firearms.

And as you say Max, the State Department Spokesperson Ned Price unequivocal in his condemnation of these findings. Take a listen.


NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: The network of facilities which these children are sent is vast, spanning from Russia of occupied Crimea, across Russia itself, from the Black Sea region to its Far East. Putin seeks to rob Ukraine of its future by taking its children.

Russia's system of force, relocation, reeducation and adoption of Ukraine's children is a key element of the Kremlin's systematic efforts to deny and suppress Ukraine's identity, its history and its culture.


SEBASTIAN: Well, the Russian embassy in Washington slamming Ned Price's comments as absurd. This is their statement. They say, "We remind that Russia accepted children who had been forced to flee with their families from the shelling and atrocities of the armed forces of Ukraine. We do our best to keep minors in families and in case of absence or death of parents and relatives to transfer orphans under guardianship. We ensure the protection of their lives and well-being."

Don't forget that one of the Russian justifications for the war in general was the protection, it said, of citizens in the Donbas region in Ukraine. And meanwhile, the State Department, Max, is saying that the unlawful transfer and deportation of protected persons, which of course includes children, is a breach of the Geneva Convention and a war crime.

FOSTER: Clare, thank you.

Now, more than a week after an earthquake devastated Turkey and Syria, and survivors are still being found. A rescue crews in Turkey pulled a 77-year-old woman from the rubble on Tuesday. This is video of Fatima Gungel (ph) being rescued 212 hours after the quake. Local media report another woman was rescued near the epicenter 10 hours later, and crews say they're still hearing the voices of trapped survivors.

So many others are not as fortunate. At last check, more than 41,000 people lost their lives in that disaster. In Turkey alone, another 13,000 are in hospital, which is taxing the system.


DR. SULEYMAN CETINKUNAR, CHIEF OF STAFF, ADANA CITY TEACHING AND RESEARCH HOSPITAL: Our staff is working still and they have been working for three to four, seven days in 15 operating rooms. We will -- we perform about 1,000 surgery, orthopedics and the plastic surgery and still going these cases in our operating room.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [08:10:02]

FOSTER: Let's bring in Nada Bashir joining us from Istanbul. I mean, the stories are incredible, aren't they? But they're getting -- well that we're hearing about them less and less often.

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Yes, absolutely. I mean, it is remarkable that we are still hearing of these rescues even today. And rescue teams do say that they are still hearing voices beneath the rubble and there are so many thousands hoping for news of their loved ones, waiting for news that they may be pulled out of the rubble alive.

But of course, as you said there, this is becoming less frequent and the window for finding survivors beneath the rubble is certainly closing very, very quickly. This is shifting now to more of a recovery effort. But there are still rescue teams from across the globe working around the clock.

Our colleague Jomana Karadsheh in the southeast of Turkey currently around those rescue efforts. They are working day and night in order to pull out survivors. But, of course, this is now the operation to rescue people is coming to an end. And sadly, there are still thousands more people waiting for news of their loved ones. And of course, thousands of survivors, people impacted by the quake who have simply lost everything.

Today, in Istanbul, the authorities are expecting hundreds of people from the southeast of the country impacted by the quake to be evacuated to the city. We spoke to one family who've been put up by a volunteer host family here in the city and we've seen this groundswell of support in Istanbul providing aid and donations to those impacted and that will be a real focus now, as well as, of course, the infrastructural challenges that the Turkish government now faces.

According to authorities, there are some more than 50,000 buildings deemed unsafe which need to be demolished as soon as possible. So there is a huge challenge ahead for the authorities in the southeast. Of course, a lot of landmarks and important buildings in Turkey also damaged in the earthquake. But of course, the focus right now remains on that human suffering, the human toll that we have seen in the country.

And of course, we can't forget the situation in northwest Syria. Now, we are still hearing voices beneath the rubble here in Turkey. There is still hope. There may be survivors pulled out further and later on today. But in northwest Syria, for days now, the White Helmets who have been leading on that search effort said they were not hopeful that any further survivors would be beneath the rubble.

They are focusing solely now on the recovery of these bodies and of course, on getting aid into the country. It has taken days and days to get sufficient aid into northwest Syria, into that rebel-held territory and still it is not enough. It is simply too little, too late. And in fact, here in Turkey, there is a sense of growing frustration, many saying that the aid isn't getting to those in need as quickly as they would have liked. There are questions around the accountability behind this earthquake, many questioning whether there was enough done to prepare for a disaster of this scale. And as we understand it, the Turkish government still ongoing with its investigation into allegations of negligence within the construction industry.

More than 100 people already identified as potential suspects and we have already seen arrests carried out. Max?

FOSTER: OK, Nada in Turkey, thank you.

Police in Michigan have identified the three Michigan State University students who were shot and killed on campus on Monday night. They are sophomore Brian Fraser and juniors Arielle Anderson and Alexandria Verner. Police say the gunman, 43-year-old Anthony Dwayne McRae, had a history of mental health issues and then he took his own life after the shooting. Police haven't yet identified a motive.

Still to come as being described as the end of an era in Scottish politics as Nicola Sturgeon says she'll step down. What this might mean for Scottish independence just ahead.



FOSTER: Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has resigned after eight years in office. At a news conference earlier today, she said that leading Scotland through the COVID pandemic was the toughest thing that she'd ever done and that she felt now was the right time to step down. A leading figure in Scotland's independence movement, Sturgeon says she will stay on as leader of the National Party, the Scottish National Party and First Minister until a successor is chosen.

Let's get some perspective on what all this means. With me now from Edinburgh is Anthony Salamone, political scientist and founder of European Merchants. Thanks for joining us. She was the face, really, wasn't she, of the independence movement. The polls suggest that she's become less popular. Independence has become less popular. So this could be seen, couldn't it, as a signal that it's less likely to happen?

ANTHONY SALAMONE, SCOTTISH POLITICAL SCIENTIST: Well, I think that Nicola Sturgeon's departure, or announcement of departure as First Minister is certainly defining moment both for Scotland and Scottish politics, but indeed also for the Scottish independence movement. I suppose that movement is at a crossroads, not least in terms of potentially falling support for independence, but more the point that there is no obvious route to independence at this stage.

Nicola Sturgeon decided to gamble by taking a case to the Supreme Court on whether or not the Scottish Parliament had the right to legislate for a referendum without the U.K. government's approval. And she lost that gamble. So there is no obvious route to independence. And without that kind of momentum, it's harder to increase support for independence.

FOSTER: Do you think she's conceding that it's less likely to happen by going now, or she is trying to make it more of a possibility because she said she was a polarizing figure?

SALAMONE: I think it's worth paying attention to what she said about the stresses of politics. You know, she has been First Minister for nearly eight years and of course, being in politics at that high level does take its toll. Of course, she's also said that she's going to remain a member of the Scottish Parliament for the time being, so she's not going to disappear from politics.

But I'm sure if you combine the fatigue of being in a high-profile role such as that she has with the fact that there is no clear route to an independence referendum or to independence at this stage, yes, it's possible that a new leader might be able to find a different strategy. But at the same time, it's worth remembering that the strategy that Nicola Sturgeon pursued was entirely of her own choice.

She decided to try to see whether or not she could hold a referendum without the U.K. government's approval, and that route was not successful. And so, in terms of where the Scottish National Party and the Scottish defense would go from here, it is unclear. And yes, perhaps a new leader might be able to find a different direction or answer that she could not.

FOSTER: This really did come out of the blue, didn't it? So who is a likely successor to her? She hasn't made it clear. There isn't an apparent plan.

SALAMONE: So you're right, it is an open field. There is no obvious successor to Nicola Sturgeon. Of course, we can contrast that with Nicola Sturgeon, who set herself, who was the obvious successor to take over from former First Minister Alex Salmond back in 2014 after the end of the last independence referendum.

Names include Kate Forbes, who's the Finance Secretary currently on maternity leave, about to return shortly. Also Angus Robertson who's the External Affairs Secretary. He was the former Deputy leader of the Scottish National Party and former leader of the Scottish National Party at Westminster of the U.K. parliament, or even John Swinney, who's the current Deputy First Minister.

And he was also former leader of the SNP in the early 2000s, back when Alex Salmond took a break from being leader of the party. Another name is also Joanna Cherry, who is an MP and prominent figure and also critic of Nicola Sturgeon. But of course, if you want to be First Minister of Scotland, you need to be a member of the Scottish Parliament, and Joanna Cherry, for instance, is not a member of the Scottish Parliament.

FOSTER: OK, Anthony Salamone, thank you so much for joining us from Scotland with your perspective. We'll be following the runners and riders, as it were, as they appear to replace Nicola Sturgeon.

Coming up, the downing of a suspected spy balloon off the U.S. coast has put a spotlight on several Chinese businesses. Our Selina Wang has a closer look at one aerospace company that has been blacklisted by the U.S.



FOSTER: In New Zealand, police say the cyclone that lashed the east coast of North Island left at least four people dead, including a child. More than 1,400 others have been reported as uncontactable. Officials are now assessing the widespread damage. Cyclone Gabrielle caused major flooding, landslides, and high winds. Thousands of people are displaced.

New Zealand's Climate Change Minister says this disaster follows years of interaction on climate.


JAMES SHAW, NEW ZEALAND CLIMATE CHANGE MINISTER: And I have to say that as I stand here today, I struggle to find words to express what I am thinking and feeling about this particular crisis. I don't think I've ever felt as sad or as angry about the lost decades that we spent bickering and arguing about whether climate change was real or not, whether it was caused by humans or not, whether it was bad or not, whether we should do something about it or not. Because it is clearly here now. And if we do not act, it will get worse.


FOSTER: China vowed to retaliate against the U.S., saying it'll take countermeasures against U.S. entities for violating its sovereignty. This is in response to the U.S. shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon and slapping six Chinese entities with sanctions.

Selina Wang takes a closer look at one of those blacklisted companies supplying China's balloon fleet.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're hoisting the balloon up for a big moment. It's a maiden flight for China's first high tech giant balloon. State TV says it's for both military and civilian use. If we can master this technology, the narrator says in this 2015 state media documentary, it might become the killer move in global competition.

Fast forward to 2023 --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy crap. They just shot it.

WANG (voice-over): Now the world's attention is on China's balloons. The U.S. Commerce Department has blacklisted six entities tied to China's military aerospace programs from obtaining U.S. technology without government authorization. And the balloon launched in this documentary was made by one of the blacklisted entities, Beijing Nanjiang Aerospace Technology. We try to find the place. We've geolocated a possible address for one of its factories.

(on-camera): According to state media, they've got a balloon factory on the outskirts of Beijing, so we should be getting close now.

This appears to be the exact spot from the State TV documentary. You can even see the same view of the mountain ranges behind me. But if you look here, it looks like there used to be buildings here, but now it's just this empty space. And there is this metal gate and barrier over this area.

We actually spoke to multiple villagers around here. None of them have heard of a balloon factory in specific. But when we showed them the State TV documentary, they said it was definitely filmed to this area. And two of them said that they know several of the factories in recent years have been torn down.

(voice-over): We don't know if the balloon that was spotted over the U.S. this time around has anything to do with the six blacklisted companies. But Beijing Nanjiang Aerospace Technologies balloon has flown over the U.S. before, according to state media.


In this 2019 state media video, a co-founder of the company, Scientist Wu Zhe, points to a computer screen showing the trajectory of an unmanned airship flying around the world.

He says, look, this is the United States. Beijing claims the balloon that intruded U.S. airspace earlier this month was only for civilian research purposes. But U.S. intelligence officials claim the balloon is part of a fleet of Chinese surveillance balloons.

The general manager of the Beijing based balloon company told state media in 2015 that the balloons can be used for military purposes if they carry telecommunication or surveillance equipment on board.

Scientist Wu Zhe also founded Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group, or EMAST, another balloon maker on the U.S. blacklist. In this 2017 state media report on EMAST, the anchor touts that these airships can carry a large number of detectors and communication equipment for surveillance or reconnaissance for both military and civilian use.

CNN has reached out to all six Chinese entities for comment, but none have responded.

DREW THOMPSON, SR. RESEARCH FELLOW, LEE KUAN YEW SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY: This balloon program is not just for surveillance, but also for strike and the potential for dropping warheads, including hypersonic glide vehicles from high altitudes.

WANG (voice-over): This week, Beijing has made accusations of its own, saying the U.S. has illegally flown balloons over Chinese airspace more than 10 times since last May, a claim the White House immediately denied.

JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NSC COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: There is no U.S. surveillance aircraft over Chinese -- in Chinese airspace.

WANG (voice-over): The U.S. is now on high alert for airborne objects in its airspace, putting China's near space ambitions on the world stage.

Selina Wang, CNN, Beijing.


FOSTER: Thanks for joining me here on CNN Newsroom. I'm Max Foster in London. World Sport with Amanda is up next.