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Wagner Claims Eastern Part Of Bakhmut Under Group's Control; Bakhmut Largely Left In Ruins After Months Of Fierce Fighting; Georgians Controversial Foreign Agents Bill; Afghan Women Suffer Loss Of Rights Since Taliban Takeover. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired March 09, 2023 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up this hour on CNN NEWSROOM.

Bakhmut on the brink. Ukrainian forces in retreat, Russian mercenary fighters claiming half the city and Vladimir Putin possibly just days, maybe hours away from a rare military victory.

Another night of violent protests in the Georgian Capitol over a controversial draft law, which critics say was dictated by Moscow and will crush civil dissent.

And the women the world forgot, the U.N. declares Afghanistan the most repressive country on the planet for women and girls.

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

VAUSE: It is 7:00 a.m. in Ukraine where cities across the country have been targeted by an early morning barrage of Russian missiles. Explosions were reported in southwestern Kyiv, so too the southern port city of Odesa, where officials say residential buildings as well as energy infrastructure were hit. In Kharkiv, the mayor says missile strikes have caused power outages. It has been three weeks since Ukraine was targeted by a wave of Russian missiles.

And in eastern Ukraine, what's left of the city of Bakhmut could soon fall to Russian control. The longest and deadliest battle the war so far, has seen a staggering loss of life. And now the head of the mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin says his private army has taken all of Eastern Bakhmut.

And despite promises to defend Bakhmut to the end, Ukrainian forces are believed to have completed a controlled withdrawal from the cities east on Tuesday, and Ukrainian military officials acknowledge Russian troops continue to advance.

Prigozhin appeared in this photograph standing in front of a tank a monument in the same area, which he says is now under the control of his private army. And in a video message, the head of the Wagner group had this chilling message for Ukraine's president.


YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, FOUNDER, WAGNER PRIVATE MILITARY COMPANY (through translator): The only request, take out the elderly, children and sent here normal combat ready units. We need to deal with you here now.


VAUSE: To camera now and Malcolm Davis, senior analyst of defense strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Thanks for being with us.


VAUSE: OK, so the Russians created self-assessments, you know, they now control that half the city, Ukrainian forces are pulling back, I want you to listen to the Secretary General of NATO on his assessment, here he is.


JENS STOLTENBERG, SECRETARY GENERAL, NATO: They have suffered big losses, but at the same time, we cannot rule out that Bakhmut may eventually fall in the coming days.


VAUSE: At this point it may actually be the coming hours it seems. Has the moment finally arrived that Russia can claim a significant military victory here and who gets the credit? The regular military or the Wagner mercenaries?

DAVIS: Well, look, I think it's a significant military victory, because as everyone is saying, Bakhmut is not strategically significant. And I think in terms of who gets the credit, it is probably a combination of Wagner as well as the Russian military.

And there's a political dimension there in terms of Prigozhin's political ambitions as to how he would utilize this victory if you want to call it that against Putin.

But I think in terms of where this leads is that the Ukrainians probably do have to do a fighting withdrawal up to the high ground to the west of Bakhmut. That puts them in a stronger position to counter any further Russian advances which could occur. And I think there's a general consensus that the Russians don't have the ability to really launch further offensives beyond Bakhmut, they'll culminate, and ultimately, they may stay where they are.

VAUSE: Yes, according to an assessment by U.S. intelligence, if Bakhmut falls, Moscow should make the most of it. Because this year coming, it's going to be pretty tough and victories will be scarce. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AVRIL HAINES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We do not foresee the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains. But Putin most likely calculates the time works in his favor. And that prolonging the war, including with potential pauses in the fighting may be his best remaining pathway to eventually securing Russian strategic interests in Ukraine, even if it takes years.


VAUSE: So according to U.S. intelligence, the Russian military is facing shortages ammunition, troops are exhausted, morale is low. And then there's this dysfunctional leadership as well.

So, if they hunker down in Bakhmut, how long -- I mean, we're talking about years here before they actually regroup in a position to, you know, launch another counter offensive or where does this all go from here?


DAVIS: Look, I think they are planning on a protracted long war as your clip then said, you know, a long war is in Putin's plans. It's in his interest because it gives him time to build up forces. And he's banking on obviously, the resolve of the West in terms of supporting Ukraine weathering.

So, a protracted war is clearly where Putin is going. I think what plays into this, obviously, is his assistance that he's getting from the likes of Iran, North Korea, and ultimately, potentially China in terms of military assistance from China.

If that happens, then what you could see is the Russians recover fairly quickly, and be able to then search forward in terms of additional offensives.

But I think absent that Chinese support, is more likely to bog down into a stalemate for a while and then see further fighting later in the year.

VAUSE: Well, the -- for the last month or so for the Ukrainians, it's always been about holding those defensive lines as best they can, or waiting for Western military aid to arrive. Here's what the Ukrainian defense minister says is needed to begin Ukrainian counter-offensive, here he is.


OLEKSII REZNIKOV, UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: One million ammunitions for 155-millimeter, artillery systems, and exactly more troops for that, and infantry fighting vehicles for Iron Fist, more things like Leopard, and other things of the distinct (PH) coalition. And we will be ready for counter offensive.


VAUSE: The tanks may take a little time, but the rest of it seems pretty easily secured and shipped. So, what timeline are we looking at here for the Ukrainians to begin their counter offensive?

DAVIS: It really does depend on just how quickly Western arms manufacturers can start producing those one million rounds of ammunition.

One of the key facts that we've realized with Ukraine is that modern warfare burns through ammunition at a ferocious pace. And the Ukrainian military are using that ammunition faster than Western arms manufacturers can supply it.

So, there needs to be a step change in manufacturing in Western countries in terms of this sort of ammunition, these sorts of capabilities if we want to be able to sustain that Ukrainian defensive capability, let alone counter offensive capability. And I think that's really critical going forward.

VAUSE: Malcolm, thanks for being with us. We really appreciate your insights.

DAVIS: Thank you very much.

VAUSE: Take care. Well, Bakhmut was once a city of 70,000 known mostly as the center of Ukraine's salt industry. But months of Putin's meat grinder tactics is laid waste to this once picturesque city, it seems thousands were sent to die in a fight over piles of rubble.

CNN's Melissa Bell reports now on life before and life after the battle for Bakhmut.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bakhmut, now a byword for horror and death.

Before the war, Bakhmut was about life. It's sculptured hedges and Rose Gardens regularly Instagrammed, a picture of peace.

And, one of the oldest cities in the Donbas, it's genteel facades builds on the prosperity of salt mines.

Maryna Zhvaniia is the fourth generation of her family born and raised in the city. Now she and the people she taught have had to flee, her life, she says, lies in ruins. Like the old theater in which she had her wedding photos taken.

MARYNA ZHVANIIA, BAKHMUT SCHOOL TEACHER (through translator): They started by destroying the buildings that would be hard to rebuild, the priceless historical heritage of our city. Because I think they want to erase our nation.

BELL: A history celebrated only recently for the 450th anniversary of the founding of Bakhmut.

Its grand buildings proud reminders of better times. Seven months of Russian artillery have pulverized it, driving more than 90 percent of its people out, and those left to the edge of sanity.

HANNA HOLUBTSOVA, BAKHMUT HUMANITARIAN WORKER (through translator): It's not living, it is surviving. People can get used to living without heat, water, you can never get used to explosions.

Before the war, Bakhmut was famous for the winery built in its all salt mines and for its bubbles. A tourist attraction, now plundered by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group. His men closing in on the center of the city, and making it harder for civilians to get in and out.

This is the so-called Road of Life, one of the last arteries into the town center, bogged down and muddied, usable only now by armored vehicles.

Home in Bakhmut is no more. The view from above, from heaven to hell.

How would you describe what's been lost?


ZHVANIIA: It's as if my heart has been pulled out and thrown away. And I'm trying to pick up the pieces and put it together again. I don't know how else to describe it. Absolutely everything is lost.

BELL: And, soon, most likely in Russian hands.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Kyiv.


VAUSE: A third day now protests against Georgia's controversial foreign agents bill. In the capital Tbilisi, tens of thousands have rallied against the political law which would force groups like charities and news organizations to register with the government, if more than 20 percent of their funding comes from overseas.

Protesters compared it to a law in Russia, which is used to stifle the freedom of the press and expression.

Police have used water cannons and tear gas to break up the crowd. Dozens of protesters have been arrested. Georgia's president on a visit to the United States says she opposes the bill.

SALOME ZOURABICHVILI, PRESIDENT OF GEORGIA: There is no need for this law, it comes from nowhere. Nobody has asked for it. There is no need to have more registration of the non-governmental organizations. And the presentation of this law calling these people including myself, by the way, foreign agents, is something that looks very much like Russian politics.


VAUSE: The turmoil in Tbilisi echoes a familiar theme, should Georgia embrace its former Soviet status and ties to Moscow, or has the time come to join the European Union and form an alliance with the West. More now from CNN's Matthew Chance.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Georgia, another former Soviet state now plunging it seems into anarchy. Recent days witnessing these pitched battles in the capital Tbilisi, between riot police using tear gas and water cannon and pro- Western demonstrators, some clinging desperately to European flags.

With war raging in nearby Ukraine, a Russian style foreign agent law being debated here is unleashing this anti Moscow outrage.

The Russian version has been used to crack down on independent aid agencies and media in the country.

BORIS GOGOLAVA, PROTESTER: The law is Russian as we all know, it has been implemented in Russia. It has been implemented in Belorussia. And we don't want to be part of ex-Soviet Union. We want to be part of European Union, we want to be pro-West.

CHANCE: But that's a dangerous aspiration in a region where Russia seems hell bent on tightening its grip. It is Ukraine's Western leanings, behind the current bloodshed there, and its neighbors like Georgia are on a knife's edge.

And it's not just in the streets where anger is pouring out. This was the Georgian parliament on the day that controversial foreign agent bill was debated. Lawmakers actually slapping each other and its scuffles forcing the session to end.

GIVI MIKANADZE, GEORGIAN DREAM-DEMOCRATIC GEORGIA MP (through translator): Georgian society absolutely deserves to know which organizations are being financed from which source and how that money is being spent. We are talking about accountability and transparency.

CHANCE: But Georgia has bitter experience of Moscow's meddling.

Well, there's been a lot of speculation about where the Russian troops are. Well, here they are. Well, inside Georgian territory.

Losing territory in a brief conflict with Russia back in 2008 now seen as a precursor of Russia's Ukrainian war.

The big question is, how far will they go?

It's a similar concern plaguing many Georgians now that they're tiny former Soviet state is still very much a battleground between Russia and the West.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.


VAUSE: In Greece public anger over last week's deadly train collision appears to be growing with more protesters taking to the streets to demand answers. In places there were clashes with police. Overall though, about 60,000 people protested nationwide on Wednesday. 15,000 at this protest alone, some were smashing store windows, marking buildings with red paint.

Train workers have also been staging rolling strikes, demanding safety improvements for the country's much outdated rail network.

Well, still to come, the U.N. chief says gender equality is vanishing before our eyes. And nowhere is that more apparent than in Afghanistan. The fight for Afghan women's rights that's up next.



VAUSE: Around the world, demonstrators marched on International Women's Day to denounce discrimination and demand gender equality.

In Mexico City, large crowds were up against the violence against women, as well as femicides, which is the killing of females on the basis of gender.

Demonstrators in Paris braved the rain and joined the nationwide pension reform protests. They're demanding better retirement options for part time workers and many of whom are women.

In Tokyo, many activists held up signs promoting transgender rights. U.N. Secretary General said Monday that gender equality could take 300 years to achieve.

But nowhere does that goal seem further away than in Afghanistan, which the U.N. has named the most repressive country in the world for women. Despite threats of beatings and arrests, a small group of women dared to demonstrate Wednesday in Kabul, and protest the harsh methodical removal of their rights.

After the Taliban took over in August of 2021, they suspend a secondary and university education for girls and women, despite public promises to the contrary, and that makes females more susceptible to suicide, child marriage, poverty, sexual exploitation.

The U.N. says the Taliban have pushed women out of the public sphere.


ROZA OTUNBAYEVA, U.N. ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN: At the moment when Afghanistan needs all of its human capital to recover from the curse of war, half of the country's potential doctors, scientists, journalists, and politicians are shut in their homes, their dreams crushed, and their talents confiscated.

Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most repressive country in the world regarding women's rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: For two decades before the Taliban returned to power, Afghanistan was in relative terms, a progressive hub of women's rights, generation of Afghan women who grew up during those years of American occupation, enjoyed freedoms, rights and liberties, like none before, and none since.

But even the so-called good old days in reality weren't so great. In 2016 for example, more than 40 percent of Afghan girls were married off before they turned 18. A cultural tradition where fathers receive a dowry in exchange for their daughters.

Sonita Alizadeh was born in Herat, and was just 10 years old when her parents tried to sell her into marriage. But that arrangement ultimately fell through.

Years later, after fleeing Afghanistan and living in Iran. Another marriage offer. This time $9,000 for a 16-year-old Sonita.


And while she had watched most of her friends slowly disappear into arranged weddings, Sonita wrote formed and recorded a protest rap song instead, daughters for sale, it went viral on YouTube, and Sonita did not get married.

With us now from New York is Sonita Alizadeh, who has been a loud advocate for women's rights in Afghanistan, ever since that first big hit. Thank you for taking the time to be with us.

SONITA ALIZADEH, AFGHAN RAPPER AND ACTIVIST (on camera): Thank you for having me.

VAUSE: You know, it seems as if the world has been sort of, OK, just sitting back and passively watching as the Taliban roll back 20 years of progress on women's rights.

I'm wondering, do you think could other countries have done more to stop the Taliban? Could they have stepped in and prevented this from happening? Or was this sort of just how was always going to be?

ALIZADEH: You know, I think for sure, other countries could do a lot by putting sanctions on the Taliban by making strict laws. But instead, some of countries they invited them to the table where decisions are made for Afghan people.

And I think international community could do a lot by just listening to Afghan woman. Seeing them, listening their voices being screamed for asking for help.

And it seems like the world is being blind but not seeing them. And as you know, they are banned from work. They are banned from education. Where else in the world you see human rights being violated this much that it's being in Afghanistan?

VAUSE: You said if only we could listen to what Afghan women would say at this point in time. What are they saying? What do women want the most right now?

ALIZADEH: What do they want? They just want to have their basic rights respected. The right to have to be able to go to school, the right to have a job so they don't starve to death. Because the Taliban, they don't really recognize some of woman who are all by themselves and have kids and their husbands been killed in the explosions by the Taliban, they have to feed a family.

And if they don't go to work, who's going to pay for their expenses? So, this is just the basic rights they're asking for. And they hope that the world can hear them, can see them.

VAUSE: With regards to education, we saw universities reopening in Afghanistan over the last couple of days after the winter break, but only male students are actually allowed to attend because of this decision, which came down in December.

This represents so much to Afghan women because an education is a future. This is their hope of a better life. So, when women are denied this opportunity, what are they feeling? What are they going through right now?

ALIZADEH: I honestly can't describe the feeling or what they're going through, because whoever I talk to, they just end the whole thing that one sentence, that I'm dying, my dreams are shattered. This is the whole story they give you, just answer. Because they have -- they are feeling like left alone, they feel like they're invisible to the world. And this is the most of people in order to continue to fight for their rights, they need a simple hope, they need a simple dream. And that can come from seeing other people supporting you.

If you see that you're not alone, someone else in a different part of the world is talking on behalf of you. They recognize you exist, they recognize your rights are violated, you get a feeling of being supported not being alone, and you continue to risk, you continue to participate in to protest and doing other things, using other platforms to raise your voice. And right now, they are really feeling left alone.

VAUSE: We're also hearing that from the United Nations, unless the Taliban actually reverse course, and allow women and girls to have an education to attend high school and university, then there's this possibility the entire country will suffer. Here's the U.N. Special Representative for Afghanistan.


OTUNBAYEVA: Funding for Afghanistan is likely to drop if women were not allowed to work. NGOs run by women, for example, have had to cease activities. If the amount of assistance is reduced, then the amount of U.S. dollar cash shipments required to support that assistance will also decline.


VAUSE: Yes, it's a pretty basic calculation they're making there. But the last thing Afghanistan needs right now is a cut in funding from donor countries. And if this does happen, will the biggest impact beyond women and girls?


ALIZADEH: So, that cutting funds, they think this is going to stop the Taliban from doing activities or making strict laws against woman, but it's mostly the actual people suffering because if there is no money circling in Afghanistan, no business is happening. Who is going to be affected mostly? It's the people, it's the children, it's the woman that are going to be affected mostly.

VAUSE: Sonita, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate your time and trying to shed some light on what's happening inside Afghanistan, and to the women and girls in that country. Thank you. We appreciate it.

ALIZADEH: Thank you.

VAUSE: Still ahead here on CNN, the long and bloody battle for Bakhmut, the Ukrainian president speaks exclusively to CNN about why Ukrainian forces stood their ground and went toe to toe with the Russians.


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

A short time ago came word from Ukrainian authorities of a wave of Russian missile strikes on cities across the country. Explosions were reported in the capital Kyiv. Officials in Odesa and Kharkiv say Russian missiles again appeared to be targeting civilian infrastructure.

Meantime in the Donetsk region, as Russia claims to control the eastern half of Bakhmut, Ukraine's military says defenders are holding off Russian advances in several other areas in and around this battered city.

Kyiv says Russian forces have not stopped stalling Bakhmut despite seeing heavy losses. Ukraine's second highest ranking military commander went to the city Wednesday, the third time in less than a week.

He says Ukrainian troops are doing everything they can to ensure Russian forces make the wrong move. NATO Secretary General describe the significance of Bakhmut if it was to fall to the Russians.


STOLTENBERG: This does not necessarily reflect any turning point of the war. And it just highlights that we should not underestimate Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Ukraine's president says Moscow wants Bakhmut as a symbolic victory to rally the nation around Vladimir Putin's war of choice.

In an exclusive interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Volodymyr Zelenskyy explained why Ukrainian fighters were told to stand their ground and why the order to fallback was not made sooner.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: As you know, Mr. President, some of your own Ukrainian commanders have actually questioned holding on to Bakhmut, as their forces are suffering very heavy casualties, right now. Amid worries that could hurt Ukraine's ability to launch a spring offensive, what do you say to those commanders?


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Firstly, it's not belated. So our official position of both commanders. That's why we're having the meetings of the chief of staff when everyone is talking openly about things which are basically closed to everyone else.

So, we're waiting for the information to come in. More than 20 people are present at this meeting from the intelligence services and the security services.

We also have the national guards commanders and every single commander. That's why I never heard anything like that for many of those commanders.

How can I treat this? It means that someone has his own opinions. But it does look like a fake, and created in Russian Federation, that would have -- that our troops should be retreating.

BLITZER: How much do you believe, Mr. President, that the battle for Bakhmut has actually weakened Putin's forces? How many men has he lost in this fight for Bakhmut? Do you know?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): We know every name who is being lost there. We're treating it very seriously. We lost, at times (ph) , less than Russia lost there. They're not -- they don't care about their people. They just, like, throw them under the bullets.

And we're standing strong. We have a defensive mission there. Very much like in different directions. Russia is trying to attack. But it's in vain.

BLITZER: As you know, Mr. President, a very disturbing video has emerged in recent days, appearing to show the execution of a Ukrainian prisoner of war by the Russians. The soldier has now been identified. He was fighting, as you know, near Bakhmut.

And I want to warn our viewers right now. We'll play a little clip. This is graphic. Watch this.



GRAPHIC: Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine).


GRAPHIC: You son of a --




BLITZER: His last words were "Glory to Ukraine." What goes through your mind, Mr. President, watching that truly horrific execution of one of your soldiers?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): This is the show of the Russian attitude towards P.O.W.s. They don't have any laws of war or international law or any conventions.

It's a question that these people -- they don't respect anything. They don't fight like soldiers. It's -- for us, it's war, for our freedom, for democracy, for our values. For them, it's a terrorism. That's their attitude. And they post these videos.

They've just killed a guy who refused to surrender. And he said, "Glory to Ukraine." That's what you've got. This is the face of this war. This is a face of the Russian Federation.

BLITZER: The White House expects Russia will aim to go on the offensive, the military offensive, on multiple fronts this spring. What are you preparing for, Mr. President? Do you anticipate Russia will attack on multiple fronts in the Donbas? Or does Putin have broader ambitions across Ukraine?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): Intelligence works every day with our partners' intelligence. The U.S., the U.K., the European Union countries. We're constantly exchanging information. And we don't have any secrets from each other. We're all on the same side of information.

And we think that in the Donbas direction, Russia started its offensive. This is their offensive. This is what it looks like, a slow aggression. Because they don't have enough strength and forces.

On the other hand, we see the concentration of force by Russians. We are ready for this. We're getting ready for this. We are getting the information from our partners. We understand that we have to be ready for everything, and we have to concentrate, strengthen forces, and new weaponry from our partners in order to conduct our counteroffensive operation.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VAUSE: We'll have a lot more from this exclusive interview next hour, including where everything now stands on President Zelenskyy's monthlong efforts to secure fighter jets from the West.

Well, the U.S. director of national intelligence is describing Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a grinding attritional war, with neither side having a decisive military advantage right now.

Avril Haines offered that official analysis as she and other senior intelligence officials testified before senators on the U.S. annual report of global threats.


Well, the war in Ukraine commanded a lot of attention on Wednesday's hearing. Haines made clear China remains America's top intelligence concern, as Beijing attempts to exert more and more influence around the world.

CNN's Oren Liebermann has our report.



OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A look at worldwide threats that keep coming back to China. The heads of U.S. intelligence agencies telling senators that Beijing is modernizing its military, expanding its influence, and working to control supply chains as it tries to replace the U.S. as the global leader.

AVRIL HAINES, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Chinese Communist Party or CCP under President Xi Jinping will continue efforts to achieve Xi's vision of making China the preeminent power in East Asia.

The CCP is increasingly convinced that it can only do so at the expense of U.S. power and influence.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): China using its economic force and its tech to spy on adversaries.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Could they use TikTok to control data on millions of users?


RUBIO: Could they use it to control the software on millions of devices, given the opportunity to do so?

WRAY: Yes.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Senators push for a consensus on the origins of COVID-19. The FBI believes it leaked from a lab in Wuhan. But there is no smoking gun and no definitive answer. HAINES: The Department of Energy has changed its view slightly. With

low confidence, it says that a lab leak is most likely. But they do so for different reasons than the FBI does, and their assessments are not identical.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Relations between Beijing and Moscow came under scrutiny, with the U.S. watching closely for any signs that China is considering providing weapons to Russia.

HAINES: We do see them providing assistance to Russia in the context of the conflict, and we see them in a situation in which they have become increasingly uncomfortable about the level of assistance and not looking to do it as publicly as might otherwise occur. And given the reputational costs associated with it.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): One year into the war in Ukraine, Russia's manpower is spread thin, its military resources strained. But President Vladimir Putin is playing for time, not for short-term victory.

HAINES: We do not foresee the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains. But Putin most likely calculates that time works in his favor, even if it takes years.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): There was bipartisan outrage on the investigations of classified documents found at former President Donald Trump's home at Mar-a-Lago and the offices of President Joe Biden and former vice president Mike Pence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still have unfinished business regarding the classified documents that we need to see in order for this Intelligence Committee to effectively oversee its job on intelligence oversights.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Members of the committee pressing the intelligence leaders to provide the documents or even just to characterize what's in them.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-): Our patience is starting to run out. And at least some of us are prepared to start putting our foot down if we don't get better answers and the stone wall doesn't stop.

LIEBERMANN: One of the other issues that kept coming up in this hearing was the drug fentanyl, responsible for many of the more than 100,000 annual drug overdose deaths in the United States.

And although the finished product, the drug itself, often comes from Mexican cartels, the intelligence chiefs said the raw material -- that chemicals used to make fentanyl -- often comes from China.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, at the Pentagon.


VAUSE: When we come back, rebellion within the Israeli Defense Forces, with air force fighter pilots refusing to serve, claiming judicial reform will make Israel a dictatorship, a dictatorship they will not serve.



VAUSE: This just into CNN. The chairman of an Indonesian football club has been sentenced to one and a half years in prison over last year's deadly stampede by fans at the stadium.

More than 130 people were killed in the crush after police deployed tear gas during the match last October.

Now the chairman of the arena football club has been sentenced for negligence. Officials say that's partly because he was responsible for selling more tickets to the game then the stadium had capacity.

Earlier investigators put most of the blame on police because of the use of tear gas, which is banned by world football.

Weeks of angry street protests in Israel have failed to stop the government's plans there to overhaul the nation's judicial system. Now another group is during the protesters, a group that Israel depends on for security, for its very survival.

Elliott Gotkine has details from Tel Aviv.


ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1991 and regularly hit Iranian targets in Syria.

But even some of Israel's revered combat pilots are now firing warning shots, with reservists from one squadron skipping a training session and suggesting they may not heed the call of duty if the government rams through its judicial overhaul. In this country, that's a very big deal.

COL. NERI YARKONI (RET.), ISRAELI AIR FORCE PILOT: The existence of Israel is based on the Israeli air force. Simple as that.

GOTKINE (voice-over): Neri Yarkoni was an Israeli combat pilot for 30. Years he's also a lawyer, who is that if the government continues with plans to neuter the supreme court and give itself sweeping powers, the country may be in trouble.

YARKONI: Since we're talking only about a few hundreds of people, then if you lose some of them, the mere existence of Israel is essentially, degraded. That is why the government and all the people in Israel are very concerned about the protest of the Israeli fighter pilots.

Israel's defense minister, seen here meeting reservist commanders from the combined services on Tuesday, says he is listening.

GOTKINE: The street protests in Israel have thus far failed to persuade the government to even pause judicial reform plans. Could this morning, from some of Israel's air force pilots, the very people whose job it is to defend Israel's existence -- could they have any more luck? Given the --

This analyst thinks they will.

YOHANAN PLESNER, PRESIDENT, ISRAEL DEMOCRACY INSTITUTE: I think what we are seeing now from the fighter pilots is a new ball game altogether. It's an escalation of the protest and it comes alongside with other measures of escalation. And it seems like a snowball that is just gaining more and more momentum. I think that it will bring the government to the table.

GOTKINE (voice-over): On the ground, though, a little appears to be changing. The government's judicial overhaul remains on track. And another day of mass protests, perhaps with a few pilots among the crowd, is planned for Thursday.

Elliott Gotkine, CNN, Tel Aviv.


VAUSE: Thanks for watching. I'm John Vause. I'll be back at the top of the hour with more of CNN NEWSROOM at the top of the hour. But first, WORLD SPORT starts after a very short break. See you back here in 17 minutes.