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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Arrives At G7; Interview With E.U.'s Ursula Van Der Leyen On Ukraine; Russia Bans Hundreds Of Americans In Response To Sanctions; Ukrainians Recount Horror Of Russian Attacks; Dianne Feinstein's Health In Spotlight After Long Absence; U.S. Debt Ceiling Looms Large Over G7 Summit; Turkish President Touts "Positive" Ties With The Kremlin; Historic Floods In Northern Italy Claim 14 Lives. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired May 20, 2023 - 05:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A very warm welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Paula Newton.

Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy arrives at the G7 summit in Japan, where he's holding face to face meetings. We're live with the very latest.

And 12 days until possible economic catastrophe, as the negotiations on the debt ceiling hit snag after snag in Washington.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone is going to see this game today and witness a miracle. She's returned from a Russian jail and she's playing basketball in the WNBA again.

NEWTON (voice-over): Brittney Griner returns to the court. Andy Scholes will break down her first game back since her release from a Russian jail.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Paula Newton.

NEWTON: We begin this hour in Japan as the Ukrainian president begins his in-person appeal for support at the G7 summit. He arrived a short time ago, tweeting that peace will become closer today.

He will be meeting with many of the world leaders gathered there, beginning with Italy's prime minister. Joe Biden has given him a boost, agreeing to support training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets.

The U.S. debt crisis is looming large over the summit, threatening to rock the global economy. Talks appear deadlocked but President Biden says he's confident a deal will be reached.

Republicans and the White House have until June 1st. You see the calendar there, before the U.S. could run out of money to pay its bills. Allies keep asking Biden about the standoff back home.


JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Countries want to have a sense of how these negotiations are going to play out. The president has expressed confidence he believes that we can drive to an outcome where we do avoid default.

Part of the reason he's returning home tomorrow rather than continuing with the rest of the trip is so he can help lead the effort to bring it home.


NEWTON: Marc Stewart and Nada Bashir are live for us.

Marc, a deal was major news on the ground but Zelenskyy has shown up in person. He's there face to face. He's already won quite a crucial reversal on the F-16s.

What more were you expecting as he sits down with these leaders?

MARC STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: First of all, there's just a lot of symbolism by his mere presence here. This is the first time he has been in Asia since the Russian invasion.

And he's here in the region at a time where many nations feel increased vulnerability as China starts and continues to assert its power. As you mentioned, he's already met one-on-one with Italy's prime minister. These face to face meetings are something he's hoped for and is certainly striving for.

I want to go to a tweet that he sent out shortly after arriving on the ground here in Japan. Let's look the at the full context of it.

"Japan, G7, important meetings with partners and friends of Ukraine. Security and enhanced cooperation for our victory. Peace will become closer today."

And as part of this peace mission, not only will he meet with members of the G7 nations but there are other invited leaders and diplomats from Indonesia, India, Brazil, Vietnam and South Korea.

Even though they are not necessarily G7 member nations, they have been invited here. And this is a rare opportunity, as one analyst told me, for President Zelenskyy to have conversations with them, to talk about their approaches, not only from a diplomatic and military standpoint but also from an economic standpoint. There's been a lot of discussion here about sanctions and economic relationships with China. He may very well press some of those leaders about their economic relationships, specifically about trade, imports and exports, to see if they are doing anything, perhaps inadvertently funding the Russian war machine.

NEWTON: And it is notable that he is asking for weapons of war but saying it will get him closer to peace.


NEWTON: That's the issue he will be trying to press in the coming hours. I want to get to the issue of the debt crisis talks. I know how closely you follow these things. It was a chaotic day in D.C. I can only imagine what G7 allies were thinking about all this.

STEWART: If you look at security threats to the world, things that could rock global stability, a debt ceiling default in the United States is certainly at the very top of that list. So it is a point of intrigue. It's become this accidental agenda item, if you will.

The president, again, has been asked about this by world leaders. It came up again today during his discussion with Australia's president. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It goes in stages. And what happens is, the first meetings weren't all that productive. The second ones were; the third one was.

And then what happens is the carriers go back to the principals and say, this is what we're thinking about. And then people put down new claims. I still believe we'll be able to avoid a default and we'll get something decent done.


STEWART: So just how is this vulnerability, this debt threat being received by allies?

According to national security adviser Jake Sullivan, he said it's not something that's ringing alarm bells or creating vibration in the room. He felt it was a moment of curiosity. That's what he told my colleague, Phil Mattingly.

So this looms over the president. And it's the reason why he cut his visit short to Australia and New Guinea.

As Jake Sullivan said, everyone is hoping the president will bring it home. Marc Stewart, thank you so much.

We turn now to Nada Bashir in London.

And we had already mentioned that Zelenskyy will be getting those U.S. fighter jets from allies, who have been a little more receptive to this.

What kind of an edge could this give Ukraine in this conflict?

NADA BASHIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For months, President Biden had been clear he didn't view these F-16s as being necessary on the battlefield in Ukraine. He didn't think they would provide any solutions to the violence we are seeing in Ukraine.

This is something that President Zelenskyy has been pushing for, for some time now. Pressure has been mounting on the Biden administration, given that we are seeing the stepping up of those attacks by the Russian armed forces.

Just overnight we saw another drone strikes by the Russian forces over Kyiv. That's the 11th round of drone strikes over the capital in just this month alone. So pressure has been really mounting.

There's a hope from the armed forces this could be a real game changer, particularly as we are hearing the prospect of another counteroffensive by the Ukrainian armed forces. As you mentioned, the U.S. isn't prepared to directly supply these F-16s to Ukraine.

But according to sources familiar with these discussions, they have signaled to allies already, that they were prepared to authorize the export of these jets to Ukraine. Now we are learning from the Biden administration that they have given the green light for a joint coalition to train up Ukrainian pilots. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we have turned to discussions about improving the Ukrainian air force as part of our long-term commitment to Ukraine's self-defense. So as the training unfolds in the coming months, we'll work with our allies to determine when planes will be delivered, who will be delivering them and how many.


BASHIR: There are already a handful of European nations, which already have a supply of those U.S.-made jets, including the Netherlands, which has signaled it would be willing to export these jets to Ukraine.

However, they would need to seek authorization from the United States beforehand, given the sensitive technology involved in these jets. Now we are learning from the State Department and other Biden administration officials that they haven't yet received a full request for that excerpt (ph).

But the focus is shifting to training Ukrainian pilots to operate these jets. We have learned from a spokesperson from the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, that he is in talks with his counterparts in the Netherlands to organize an international coalition to train up these pilots. This could include the United States as well.

NEWTON: Really interesting developments there on the ground in the last 24 hours. Nada Bashir, thank you for bringing it to us. Appreciate it.

Fresh sanctions against Russia have been announced at G7 summit. They include many from the European Union. CNN spoke with European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen about these new measures.



URSULA VAN DER LEYEN, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: If you have sanctions, there are always some who try to do a sanctions circumvention or evasion. And therefore we now issue the 11th package of sanctions that focuses on circumventions.

So we are discussing how to target companies, entities, where we see literally that they buy goods in the European Union and, by a third country, bring them to Russia. But we also target the transit via Russia that might contribute to circumvention of sanctions.

So there's a whole package that looks at these evasion, this sanction evasion, and this is a package we're going to issue in a few days.



NEWTON: For more on this I'm joined by Maria Snegovaya, a senior fellow with the Europe, Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Good to have you here, especially as G7 leaders pledge to sharpen sanctions. They're talking about restricting more industrial exports, tools, tech, metals, diamonds. But at the end of the day, these sanctions need enforcement.

How difficult has that been and do you think it will change?

MARIA SNEGOVAYA, SENIOR FELLOW, EUROPE, RUSSIA AND EURASIA PROGRAM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Yes, thank you for having me. Definitely good to hear that G7 allies are still committed to continuing exercise extra pressure on Russia.

And in some ways what we see is that the major part of the sanctions has already been passed, right. The important next steps that are being done right now, they're closing smaller sort of areas, rather than essentially targeting the key issue, which is ultimately what (INAUDIBLE) Russia.

And while this is much needed, it's important to remember unfortunately that sanctions are very flexible. It's a tool that's flexible on the side of the party that imposes them but also on the recipient side.

Over time, the target country learns how to adjust. This is what you see with Russia, especially given the Russian business men long-term experience of getting around the certain wars. They really well adapt (INAUDIBLE) sanctions.

And once we figure out at the G7 countries (INAUDIBLE) like in Europe a way to tack on restrictions --


SNEGOVAYA: -- usually in a couple of weeks, months, the Russian side figures out a the way to get around them.

NEWTON: And a recent report that you and your organization coauthored came to the conclusion that the Kremlin still possesses a significant degree of adaptability to Western sanctions.

Can they ever play a decisive role in the conflict or really make a difference to what's going on?

SNEGOVAYA: Sanctions are an out of weakness (ph) tool. This is something that we use when we don't want to fight. We don't want the U.S. troops on the ground to fight.

But the Russians instead are using the sanctions. So by default, this is a tool that's inferior to other options that are out there. Having said that, sanctions, when used effectively, can be extremely successful. I think they are underappreciated.

We have a number of instances in cases like Iran or South Africa, where sanctions have been able to contribute to domestic dissatisfaction. And I think that's not impossible in the case of Russia as well.

NEWTON: There's a huge debate going on as to whether or not sanctions have been effective so far.

SNEGOVAYA: I mean, they have certainly been effective. It's impossible to say they haven't worked. The problem is that they haven't worked well enough to stop Russia from fighting this war against Ukraine, unfortunately.

And we are learning. That's the upside of the story. One thing that became clear after last year is that (INAUDIBLE) countries, they only -- the sanctions only work when the sanctions target (INAUDIBLE) revenues.

And I think the West is now adjusting to sanctions designed in order to more effectively target that particular areas. We have seen Russian (INAUDIBLE) deficits started to grow since earlier this year precisely because of the E.U. oil embargo and the oil price cap.

So as long as that's maintained and reinforced by (INAUDIBLE) for example, I think actually sanctions can become quite effective.

NEWTON: Many were skeptical that idea led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen would work. But the price cap has started to work in the last few months. Before I let you go, I wanted to ask you about these so-called nonallied nations. We can point to countries like perhaps India. [05:15:00]

NEWTON: Whether overtly or covertly, they have helped Russia adapt to these sanctions.

Do you think they need to put more pressure on those countries?

Zelenskyy was just at the Arab League. He knows a lot of those countries are still doing business with Russia.

SNEGOVAYA: Absolutely. I think that's one of the reasons why Russia is so adaptable to the sanctions. It has a lot of fellow travelers willing to assist in doing so. India is one of these countries.

But also all of the (INAUDIBLE) every single country Russia has aligned (INAUDIBLE) with is going to one way or another directly or indirectly assisting Russia in circumventing sanctions. We just see that by looking at the customs data. Suddenly, Armenia (ph) started to afford of, I don't know, cheap (INAUDIBLE) that Russia probably needs for its military purposes among (INAUDIBLE).

And certainly (INAUDIBLE) sanctions might needed instrument (ph) (INAUDIBLE). And until the Western policymakers still understand that, we see that the U.S. administration officials for example are traveling across central Asian countries, talking to the policymakers there.

Last but not least, though, it's important to keep in mind that, as long as the Kremlin has the money, it probably will be able to find countries willing enough to make some good money out of this participation in this (INAUDIBLE) deals (INAUDIBLE) Russia to circumvent sanctions.

So ultimately, it all gets down, back to this range of revenues question.

Will Russia have a lot, enough money to be able to incentivize other countries to contribute?

That's the big question.

NEWTON: Yes, a sobering reminder there of all that's at stake, especially given Russia's vast energy resources. Maria Snegovaya, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

SNEGOVAYA: Thank you.



NEWTON: Ukraine says Russia has launched another massive drone attack on Kyiv, marking the 11th air raid in the capital this month alone. It comes hours after Ukrainian officials reported several explosions at a Russian base in the occupied city of Mariupol.

The city council says the occupiers, quote, "should have suffered significant losses."

More fighting was also reported in and around Bakhmut. Ukrainian officials say their forces still control parts of the city and continue to conduct counterattacks. But they acknowledge Russian forces have made advances.

Ukrainian civilians around Bakhmut say Russian attacks have utterly devastated their homes and upended their lives. Many have lost their loved ones and are struggling to cope with the trauma of war. CNN's Nic Robertson has their story.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Twenty miles from the Bakhmut front line, a house erased from this tiny village. Its fate sealed by a random Russian rocket three days ago. Luckily, no one in it at the time.

Next door, Olena (ph) and Serhei (ph) salvaging what they can, also luckily not at home. They had evacuated hundreds of miles away to Kyiv last year but even there they don't feel safe.

The bombers there too, Serhei says, the night before coming here we didn't sleep. Six missiles were shot down over us.

Both want to come back to the village but flinch at the bang.

Both say yes. Olena adding I just hope they're not coming here.

But all too often, Russian munitions do. This house on the edge of the village hit three weeks ago.

Everything scorched and scattered in the ferocity of the explosion.

And over here, a piece of the drone that blew up the house. Iranian made, fired by the Russians, a Shahed. Look at all that.

Olena (ph), a 52-year-old nurse. Alisa (ph), a 16-year-old school girl both terribly burned. Mother and daughter died days later in hospital.

Nataliya (ph), a close relative, escape through a window.

I am left alone. I buried everybody, she says.

Her last memories of her in-laws cannot be unseen.

I heard a thunderous explosion and a firestorm. They were running out, windows were shattering, glass flying. Their feet were sticking to the floor, because the floor was on fire. They could not save them, she says.

What she could save were the pets. The cats come running out, as she takes us back to the house.

You can see the whiskers on the cat there, they're all burnt. She is struggling with survivor's guilt. [05:20:00]

ROBERTSON (voice-over): I spoke to my relatives before I buried her daughter and before she died, Nataliya says.

She was at the hospital. She told me, it's not your fault, it's just random. I'm just happy she forgave me and her son forgave me and my soul is calm.

She loved to go someplace safer but promised her relatives she look after the pets. More days, risking Russia's ugly roulette -- Nic Robertson, CNN, Eastern Ukraine.


NEWTON: Still ahead for us, a judge says a U.S. airman put countless people at risk when he allegedly leaked classified documents. We have more details on the suspect's court hearing next.

Plus a veteran of the U.S. Senate returns after a long absence but some are worried she's no longer up to the job. A report from Washington.

And later, CNN's exclusive interview with Turkiye's president as he faces the biggest challenge yet in his 20 years in power.





NEWTON: Dianne Feinstein's return to the U.S. Senate after a lengthy medical absence should have been a happy homecoming but some of her colleagues are now openly wondering if the 89-year-old senator from California is just too frail to work. Brian Todd has that report.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator Dianne Feinstein's positions on crucial committees, like the Judiciary, Select Intelligence and Appropriations panels remain intact, despite growing pressure for her to resign because of her declining health.

A resoluteness that has been more than four decades in the making, November 27th, 1978, the moment that catapulted Feinstein as a national political figure.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed.

TODD: As leader of San Francisco's board of supervisors, Feinstein had to announce the assassination of the city's mayor, George Moscone and a popular fellow board member, Harvey Milk, at the hands of a disgruntled former board member.

Her suit stained with Milk's blood after she tried to administer aid to him, a moment that changed the trajectory of Feinstein's own life.

ANNIE KARNI, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": She was actually stepping away from politics at that moment but she ended up being elected mayor of San Francisco's and it vaulted her into that position.

TODD: She was San Francisco's first female mayor, a position she held for nearly a decade. Then another first: Feinstein and fellow Democrat Barbara Boxer were elected as California's first female senators.

Feinstein proved crucial in getting an assault weapons ban passed in 1994. Years after that ban expired, she tried and failed to get it passed again after the Sandy Hook school massacre.

FEINSTEIN: I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in, I saw people shot. I've looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons.

TODD: Feinstein became the first woman seated on the Senate Judiciary Committee. As the first to lead the Senate Intelligence Committee, many believe her crowning achievement was a 6,700-page report in 2014 on the CIA's role in torturing terror suspects, the subject of the movie, "The Report," Feinstein played by Annette Bening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you need to do it 183 times?

TODD: More recently, Feinstein was criticized by fellow Democrats for praising Republican Senator Lindsey Graham's handling of the Judiciary Committee's 2020 confirmation hearings for Conservative Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Feinstein remained tenacious through that, just as she is now with this controversy surrounding her health, the kind of grit, some say stubbornness, that's led to multiple accounts that Feinstein is demanding of her own staff.

KARNI: She's very, very tough person to work for. I mean, again, this is a person who doesn't take vacations, whose whole life is devoted to work. I think people like that expect the same of the people who work for them.

TODD: Annie Karni of "The New York Times" says this current swirling controversy over Senator Feinstein's cognitive ability and her fitness to serve could hurt Feinstein's legacy.

But Karni believes that if Feinstein can still help Senate Democrats push through the nominations of progressive judges where they're trying to place on the bench, her legacy will be harmed a little bit less -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


NEWTON: There's a new twist in the saga of embattled U.S. Congress man George Santos. In a filing with the Federal Election Commission late Friday, Santos named himself as treasurer of his reelection campaign committee.

While this is not illegal, it is rare for candidates to do that.

The latest move comes more than a week after federal prosecutors unveiled a 13 count criminal indictment against Santos, including charges of wire fraud and lying about his personal finances. The New York Republican Congress man has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

A federal judge has ruled the U.S. airman accused of leaking classified documents will be detained while he awaits trial. The suspect, Jack Teixeira, appeared in court Friday.

In his ruling, the judge said the 21-year-old showed a lack of integrity. The judge also said that Teixeira posed a flight risk. He was arrested in April and charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly removing a trove of classified military documents and posting them on social media.

Now the judge said Teixeira's alleged actions put countless people in the U.S. and abroad at risk. The suspect's family said they were disappointed with the outcome of the hearing. Teixeira's not entered a formal plea as of yet.

The U.S. debt ceiling standoff looms over the G7 summit in Japan. We'll bring you the latest on the progress or the lack thereof on averting a possible financial catastrophe.

And Florida governor Ron DeSantis is dismissing the influence of Disney dollars. We'll have the story of what happened when the mouse roared. Stay with us.





NEWTON: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Paula Newton. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

We want to get straight back to our top story. U.S. President Joe Biden is at the G7 summit in Japan, where he's currently meeting with some of the leaders from nonmember countries. He will also be meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who just arrived at the summit a short time ago.

Zelenskyy is making an appeal for more aid ahead of his country's expected counteroffensive.

Allies keep asking President Biden about the debt ceiling standoff back in the United States. Talks to avoid an economic catastrophe hit a snag on Friday. President Biden says he still believes they will reach a deal. Now something else that might not be as productive is the battle

between Florida's governor and the House of Mouse. On Friday, Ron DeSantis doubled down, saying there's zero chance he's backing off of this feud with Disney.

The latest political skirmish took another turn after Disney announced they are scrapping plans for a billion-dollar development in Florida. The change will cost the state about 2,000 jobs. This all comes as the 2024 Republican field is growing. CNN has learned DeSantis is planning to make it official next week.


NEWTON: With us now from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is Thomas Gift. He's the director of the Centre on U.S. Politics at University College London.

Good to see you. We'll get to that DeSantis story in a moment. But I want to start with the debt ceiling. It is hard, time and time again, not to be cynical about this. They are going to come right up to the deadline.


NEWTON: They almost always do.

Do you worry that the risk here involved, especially given that this in the days proceeding, could rattle the world economy?

THOMAS GIFT, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON: It's great to be with you. Thank you for having me.

And absolutely. For a long time, we have been hearing about this June 1st deadline. And the notion from both Democrats and Republicans has been, even if we kind of bring these talks up to the brink, as long as we get it done before that time, everything will be OK.

But evidence history suggests that's really not the case. And just the fact that this brinkmanship is occurring, we're getting closer and closer to this meteoric size impact. I think that in and of itself could really raise jitters in financial markets.

We know the one thing the economy doesn't like is uncertainty. It's a real problem. Just bringing it up to this point has the potential to be problematic.

NEWTON: People have the right to be jittery.

Can you game this out for us politically?

Which side is looking to get what out of this debt crisis?

GIFT: It's a great question. With negotiations, there's just so much reading between the lines. It's hard to know how far apart the sides are. It's also hard to know the main sticking point. I think right now we have to be looking at this issue of work

requirements. That's to qualify for food stamps and other entitlements. I think Biden would be open to this, given that he's reported these requirements before.

But progressives are probably lighting up and saying this is a nonstarter, especially on Medicaid. At the same time, Medicaid is one of the biggest savings that would be made, $100 billion over the next decade or so. I think that's really one place to look.

NEWTON: A huge one there.

I want to turn to the GOP race. Ron DeSantis perhaps getting in. He took on Mickey Mouse. I think he's prepared to take on Donald Trump. Yet he stumbled a bit. He told voters, I'm the guy to beat Biden.

What do you make of this?

GIFT: DeSantis has leaned into this notion that Trump has fostered a culture of losing within the Republican Party. Trump is damaged goods. And by all accounts, DeSantis is probably more electable in key swing states.

It's a rational argument. It's one you make to donors, to elite circles. I'm not sure it's one that totally resonates with a conservative base for basically two reasons. One is a nontrivial portion of rank and file Republicans don't think Trump is a loser. They cling to this idea that the last presidential election was rigged.

And second, there's going to be skepticism from the Right when you hear from the "Beltway Establishment." Voters will say we went with electability in 2008 with John McCain. We lost.

We did the same in 2012 with Mitt Romney. When we trusted our instincts and went with a guy we were told couldn't win, he got us to the White House. So for a lot of Republicans, their thinking is, let's hitch ourselves to Trump again and take our chances.

NEWTON: It's going to be an extraordinary race. It is May and we're already in full swing. Thank you so much for your perspective. Appreciate it.

GIFT: Thank you.



NEWTON: While Western allies continue to ratchet up sanctions aimed at isolating Russia, one NATO member, Turkiye, has been pursuing closer ties with the Kremlin. As that country heads to a crucial runoff election, Becky Anderson sat town for an exclusive interview with Turkiye's president.

He vigorously defended what he called a positive relationship with Moscow and said he feels no obligation to impose sanctions. Here's more of what the Turkish president had to say.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST: Do you genuinely believe, as you suggested last Saturday, that Joe Biden wants to topple you?

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, PRESIDENT OF TURKIYE (through translator): How could someone who is going into a runoff election, instead of completing the election in the first round, be a dictator?

That is the reality. We have an alliance with 322 MPs in parliament and the leader of this alliance is going to go for the runoffs in the first position.

What kind of a dictator is that?


ANDERSON: So if re-elected, are you saying that you will work with the Biden administration, you can work with the Biden administration?

ERDOGAN: Without a doubt, I will work with Mr. Biden. And if Biden goes then I will work with whoever replaces him as well.

ANDERSON: You've said that you don't agree with the attitude of the West toward Russia with regard the Ukraine conflict, that the West follows a policy based on provocation. I just want you to explain a little more what you mean there.

Do you believe, for example, that the massive military and financial aid going to Ukraine is a provocation?

ERDOGAN (through translator): The West is not leading a very balanced approach. You need a balanced approach toward a country such as Russia, which would have been a much more fortunate approach.

For example, the Black Sea grain corridor initiative; we are not only considering the interests and the needs of the Western countries but also that of the African nations.

This grain corridor initiative has been extended for another two months beginning on the 18th of May.

How do you think it was possible?

It was possible because of our special relationship with President Putin.


NEWTON: Tens of thousands of people marched in Serbia Friday in the country's largest antiviolence demonstration to date. They have been demanding change in the wake of two deadly mass shootings earlier this month, when 18 people were killed, many of them children. And 21 people were injured.

Since then, candlelight vigils have swelled in protests. The president proposed new measures.

Still ahead for us, more misery for people in already flooded northern Italy, where more than a dozen people have been killed. They are under threat Saturday for more heavy rainfall. A live report from Rome, when we come back.





NEWTON: Northwest Italy is under an orange level warning for heavy rainfall on Saturday, troubling news for people in the region already struggling with what experts call a once in a century flood. On Friday, the death toll from the flooding rose to 14 and up to 20,000 people have been forced to leave their homes because of rising waters.

Now according to researchers, the intense flooding is a sign of the accelerating climate crisis, with rising temperatures intensifying years of severe drought in the region. For more, we want to go straight to Barbie Nadeau in Rome.

The pictures have been just devastating.

To think this is going to continue, what more are they saying about the rain to come?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is raining there now. It's not as hard. We got six months of rain in 36 hours, which caused drastic flooding. The big problem now is the logistic issue. The roads are out, 500 roads are out, which has isolated a number of towns.

The mayor of a small town called Russi, where two people, an elderly couple, were found dead in their home, warned people they can't get out. They have to find higher ground. Let's hear what she had to say.


MAYOR VALENTINA PALLI, RUSSI, ITALY (through translator): We have staff who have decided that you must go to the upper floor of your home. I repeat, go to the upper floor. Only those who don't have an upper floor must evacuate their home.


NADEAU: Can you image if you have small children, elderly parents, livestock or pets?

This is a really difficult situation. And the rain is still coming down.

NEWTON: The fact that that's the only safe option at this point, to get on your roof as opposed to trying to evacuate. What more are you learning from those who are evacuating from these


NADEAU: A lot of people are traumatized by the experience. This is an area that was undergoing a severe drought for more than a year. And so the people were not expecting something like this. One man did get out safely. Let's hear what he had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I feel bad. I'm among the luckiest maybe because I don't know how I still have a home. But there are people who lost everything. They don't know what to do to make us feel good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I have never seen the story of floods in a flooding river. So the situation is really bad.


NADEAU: People are just coming to terms with what they left behind because, once that water recedes, the mud, what's left of their belongings, what's left of their farms, that's going to be when the real toll is counted.

NEWTON: So tough hours and days ahead from that region. Barbie Nadeau, thank you for the update.

Still ahead for us, the battle on the court is heating up as the NBA playoffs inch closer to those finals. Andy Scholes joins me live with all the highlights.








NEWTON: Now before we go, Jim Brown, the former NFL star and prominent civil rights activist, has died at 87 years old. According to his former team, the Cleveland Browns, he set a number of football records before abruptly retiring at the age 30 to focus on the civil rights movement and an acting career.

He started in the 1967 World War II movie, "The Dirty Dozen" before going on to appear in more than 50 films. Brown also made his mark as a civil rights activist. He was honored in a tweet by the NFL.

"One of the greatest players in NFL history, a true pioneer and activist. Jim Brown's legacy will live on forever."

And our thoughts go out to his family and friends. Jim Brown there.

I'm Paula Newton. Thank you for your company. "CNN THIS MORNING" is next.