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CNN International: Russia: New Attacks In Belgorod, Krasnodar Regions; U.S. Announces Measures Against Kosovo Following Clashes; Launch Of First North Korean Spy Satellite Fails; U.S. & China At Odds Over "Aggressive" Intercept Of Spy Plane; U.S. House To Vote On Debt Ceiling Bill Amid Criticism; Dozens Of A.I. Leaders Warn Of Human Extinction Risk; Beluga Thought To Be Russian "Spy" Now In Swedish Waters. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 31, 2023 - 08:00   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and welcome to CNN Newsroom. I'm Max Foster in London.

Just ahead, the war on Ukraine once again reaches Russia's doorstep as its border regions are hit by multiple drone strikes. Then, air raid sirens heard across South Korea and Japan after North Korea failed to launch its spy satellite. We'll get a live update from Seoul.

Plus, an unnecessarily aggressive encounter. This alarming altercation over the South China Sea is ratcheting up tensions between the U.S. and China.

The Kremlin says the situation in the Russian region of Belgorod is rather alarming after what's been described as a massive strike on a town there. The region's governor, four people were injured and a power line, residential buildings, and a school were damaged. Drones crashed into two oil refineries in Russia's Krasnodar region. One caused a fire, but there were no injuries there.

Meanwhile, a day after drones hit three residential buildings in Moscow, the Kremlin says Russia's air defense system worked, but there's room for improvement. Russian President Vladimir Putin blames Ukraine, but Kyiv denies direct involvement, at least.

CNN's Clare Sebastian monitoring developments joins us now. So many different dynamics now, new dynamics playing out.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that's really what we've seen in sharp focus today. We've seen a variety of different incidents, some in Russian occupied areas of Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, where Russian-backed officials there reporting Ukrainian strikes, and some across the border, but over a really wide area.

So you have Belgorod up towards the sort of north. Up there, you can see just beyond Kyiv. Up in the far north as well, we've seen incidents, the Russians accusing Ukraine of shelling in the Bryansk region, which is just north over the border of Kyiv. And we got this dramatic video, which we can show you as well, Max, of an explosion on the road. There you see it there. That monument on the right is the Three Sisters Monument. It's on the border of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, where the sort of three borders intersect.

The Ukrainian state border guard saying that was Russian forces blowing up the road so that Ukraine then couldn't launch an attack on the Bryansk region. We haven't had any comment from Russia or Belarus on that, but that along with way down south, those oil refineries in Krasnodar just underscores the wide area that we're seeing the spillover of this war now covering.

FOSTER: OK, Clare, thanks for the update.

The U.S. has announced new measures against Kosovo after it says the country ignored advice to avoid raising tensions in northern areas where Serbs are the majority. It says Kosovo can no longer participate in American led joint NATO exercises.

It comes as NATO deploys hundreds of additional forces to Kosovo following violent clashes with Serbian protesters. On Monday, 30 peacekeepers from NATO's Kosovo force known as KFOR were injured.

And we're hearing reports from Serbian state media that demonstrators are gathering in northern Kosovo right now. It comes just days after violence broke out in the town.

CNN's Scott McLean is covering all of these developments for us, joins us here in London. Obviously, the complexities here and the history that plays into this are very deep, but talk about the latest, what the Americans would call mishandling of the situation.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So first off, Max, when it comes to the protest today, what we're seeing is protesters carrying a 250- meter long Serbian flag through Svechin, the place where you saw those violent protests break out on Monday. They're also putting Serbian flags on some of the barriers that have been erected. So far, no violence.

What you need to understand here is that in 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. It is widely recognized around the world, but not by the Serbs. The vast majority of people in Kosovo are ethnic Albanians, but there are some municipalities, particularly in the north, that are majority Serb.

And they boycotted municipal elections last month, in part, because they are upset that agreements that have been made between Kosovo and Serbia to give those municipalities greater autonomy have not been actually implemented. So they boycotted the elections.

And what they ended up with was ethnic Albanian mayors and the protesters that we saw beginning last week tried to prevent those ethnic Albanian mayors from actually taking their office -- their offices, places where they were elected to with 3 percent or barely 3 percent of the vote. We're talking about 100 -- a little over 100 votes in some cases. And so the U.S., though, is not actually blaming those Serb protesters. The U.S. is pointing the blame squarely at Kosovo, saying that its advice has been ignored. And in particular, its advice not to send heavily armed police into those areas to prevent protesters from preventing the mayors from getting into the building.


So the U.S. ambassador to Kosovo said this yesterday, "This was a crisis that from our perspective was unnecessary. The operation that took place on Friday to obtain access to municipal buildings through forcible means was not coordinated with the United States. When we became aware of it, we advised strongly against it because we anticipated consequences that we are now seeing".

So the U.S. wants two things in particular. It wants the police withdrawn and it wants the mayors, the elected mayors, to work from elsewhere to try to de-escalate things for the time being. But the cost of our prime minister, Albin Kurti, has so far taken no steps to actually do that, at least from the U.S. perspective.

And last night, Kurti was on CNN, where he remained defiant saying that, yes, those mayors don't have a lot of legitimacy, but they have more legitimacy than anyone else at this point. And when he was asked about U.S. and E.U. calls to de-escalate the situation, he said this. Listen.


ALBIN KURTI, KOSOVO'S PRIME MINISTER: I'm working closely with international factors, especially with United States and European Union. We consider both of them indispensable allies, friends and partners, and we will do our best. But I am not surrendering democratic republic to fascist militia.


MCLEAN: So the U.S. ambassador yesterday in a roundtable with journalist really seemed at his wits end. You mentioned already, Max, that the Kosovars are being booted out from a NATO military exercise taking place right now in Romania.

The U.S. also made clear that it's not going to lobby on Kosovo's behalf to have other countries recognize their independence. And they are also mulling what more they can do to get Kosovo to turn down the temperature, Max.

FOSTER: OK. Scott, thank you.

And Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will be joining my colleague Isa Soares later today. That interview will air at 07:00 p.m. here in London, that's 02:00 p.m. in New York.

Now, what was supposed to be a moment of triumph for North Korea instead turned into an apparent embarrassment. North Korea's attempt to launch its first ever spy satellite failed on Wednesday, as the rocket carrying the satellite crashed into the sea. South Korea says it recovered a piece of the wreckage. Pyongyang vowed to try to launch again as soon as possible.

The launch set off warning sirens in both South Korea and Japan. Both countries condemned the launch as a violation of U.N. resolutions. CNN's Paula Hancocks has been tracking this story from Seoul. It does allow them to study the wreckage, though, and get some intel.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, we do know that it is fairly unusual for North Korea to admit failure, but it has done in this case. And it did so quite quickly as well, saying that this launch had failed, saying that there was an engine problem in the second stage. But they're not deterred.

They have said that they will try again as soon as possible. Now, the spy agency here in Seoul has been briefing lawmakers about what has happened. They say they believe that Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, was at the launch about just over 1 kilometer away watching.

And they believe that it may have failed due to Pyongyang rushing or changing the flight path. But that is just from the South Korean side. We're not hearing that from the North Korean side. But what it means is that we should expect another launch.

Because what North Korea has said is that they need to have a military satellite so that they can monitor and track what they call the, quote, "dangerous military acts of the U.S." They've been condemning the U.S.-South Korean military drills over recent months.

For their side, the U.S., South Korea and Japan have condemned this launch by Pyongyang, saying that it violates U.N. Security Council resolutions which say they are not allowed to use this ballistic missile technology to try and get the satellite into orbit.

There's also been some political fallout here in Seoul as that air raid siren sounded early this morning, followed by an emergency alert telling residents of Seoul to evacuate. And then just 20 minutes later, another emergency alert saying it had been sent out in error.

So there has been criticism here in Seoul as to what happened with the emergency alert system. Certainly, eroding some of the trust that residents have here in that system. A key system for a country that's still technically at war with its northern neighbor. Max?

FOSTER: Paula Hancocks, thank you.

Tensions are rising again in the South China Sea. This after a Chinese fighter jet intercepted an American spy plane. The U.S. military says China carried out an unnecessarily aggressive of maneuver during this incident.


The U.S. says the Chinese jet flew by the nose of the jet, causing turbulence. You can see the reaction in the cockpit. China defending the action. Marc Stewart joins us from Tokyo with the details. Has this happened before, Marc?

MARC STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Max, there's no question. This is gripping video, but it is certainly not novel. In fact, for months now, the U.S. military has been very concerned about the airspace in and around the South China Sea. It is very fragile.

In fact, if we look back in the calendar, in December of last year, there was an incident where a Chinese fighter jet came within about 20 feet of an American aircraft. Just in February of this year, CNN flew with the U.S. Navy and had a close encounter.

Again, China is maintaining its sovereignty. The United States the same. Earlier today in Beijing, this was an issue that came up in conversation during the Ministry of Foreign Affairs daily briefing. Take a listen to the remarks from there.


MAO NING, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY (through translator): For a long time, the United States has frequently sent warships and planes to conduct close in reconnaissance against China, which has seriously endangered China's national sovereignty and security.

Such provocative and dangerous actions are the root cause of maritime security issues. The United States should immediately stop such dangerous, provocative actions. China will continue to take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and security.


STEWART: So the political tension that we are seeing on the ground also extends into the air. Max, according to U.S. military officials, they have seen an increase in these kind of confrontations in recent months.

FOSTER: Marc Stewart in Tokyo., thank you.

On Capitol Hill, the U.S. House is set to vote on a critical bill meant to prevent the nation from defaulting on trillions of dollars of debt. It comes after the legislation cleared a key hurdle on Tuesday when the powerful House Rules Committee voted to advance it to the House floor.

Despite backlash from both sides, Democratic and Republican sources tell CNN they believe the bill will pass the House today. When confronted with complaints about concessions, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told critics, if you think I failed, I think you're wrong.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I am confident we will pass the bill. I've talked to many about whether they're for or against the bill. I'm not sure what in the bill people are concerned about. Everybody has an opportunity to read it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: CNN's Arlette Saenz is covering the story and joins us live from the White House. From the people you're speaking to, how do you think it looks tonight, Arlette?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, sources on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, are confident that this agreement will ultimately pass the House later this evening. That vote expected to take place around 08:00 here in Washington, D.C.

But this all comes, as you have heard some consternation from both Republicans and Democrats about various elements of the bill. Yes, this agreement got through the Rules Committee yesterday, but you still have heard Republicans who have expressed concerns that this did not go far enough when it comes to cutting spending.

Now, sources have said that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is confident he's going to get well past the majority of his conference to support this legislation. Democrats say that they think that Republicans need to provide about 150 votes, and then they are hoping to make up the remainder of that as this vote takes place later this evening.

But on the Democratic side, there is still some frustration from progressives and others in the Democratic Party over both work requirements for food stamp programs and then also permitting reform for energy products.

This morning, in just the next hour, top White House officials, including the OMB Director and Counselor to the President, Steve Ricchetti, they will be up on Capitol Hill huddling with House Democrats, trying to shore up that last minute support as they're heading into tonight's vote.

But even if this measure does clear the House, it still needs to go over to the Senate, where any one senator could stop proceedings. There have already been some senators, Republican senators say they want to see amendments to this bill before they agree to hold a vote. So all eyes are on that House vote tonight and then those next steps forward in the Senate as they're hoping to get this passed before that June 5 deadline outlined by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

FOSTER: Arlette, thank you.

Now, some of the top minds working on artificial intelligence warn that if A.I. is left unchecked, there's a risk of human extinction. Dozens of tech leaders signed on to the joint statement published by the Center for A.I. Safety which says, quote, "Mitigating the risk of extinction from A.I. should be a global priority alongside other societal scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war".

It was signed by top executives and researchers at OpenAI, Google and Microsoft, amongst others. The center's director spoke to CNN about why A.I. poses such a threat to humanity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [08:15:08]

DAN HENDRYCKS, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR A.I. SAFETY: So, A.I. could be thought of as being somewhat similar to nuclear weapons. Right now, A.I. companies are locked in an A.I. arms race. So they're racing to develop increasingly powerful systems and they're putting that priority ahead of safety.

What this means is that we don't really know how to control these systems reliably, nor do we really understand their inner workings at all. So that means that we have an extremely powerful technology which could be potentially a loose cannon. So that's one possible risk, and that could possibly, like the nuclear arms race, lead to humanity's extinction.

A more typical concern someone could have is, if we have advanced A.I. systems, someone could repurpose them, maliciously use it for harm. They could use it to develop a bioweapon, or they could use it to develop a rogue A.I. agent and have that try and take over.

Somebody tried to do that already. But, fortunately, current A.I. technologies are not powerful enough to pose the risk of extinction. But given the extremely rapid pace in this A.I. arms race, we may arrive at that point much more quickly than most people are expecting.


FOSTER: It's a big warning.

Still to come, anti-Putin Russian fighters are recruiting drone pilots for their campaigns, but an end to the war in Ukraine. We'll discuss their military tactics.


FOSTER: What are the military tactics of the Russian resistance? Anti- war Russian citizens fighting in Ukraine have begun a recruitment campaign to join their ranks. This is what the Freedom of Russia Legion has posted on its Telegram channel, an invitation to join a recruitment program to become drone pilots.

Amongst the skills taught in the program, setting up the fighter controller and auxiliary systems, the creation of combat parts of the drone at home, controlling flights under the influence of electronic warfare and flying the drone in difficult weather and urban conditions.

This comes just a day after both the Ukrainian and Russian capitals were hit by drone strikes. Ukraine has denied any direct responsibility for Moscow's attack.

Let's bring in CNN's Fred Pleitgen, who's in Kyiv for us. What did you make of this when you first saw it, Fred, and how it feeds into the conflict?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that there's sort of two parts to this. I think on the one hand, they probably really are recruiting people to try and fly drones. It certainly has been one of the tactics that the Freedom of Russia Legion and other anti-Putin Russian fighters who are fighting on the side of the Ukrainians have been using.

They do have drones in their arsenal. Some of them obviously crowdfunded. A lot of them are sort of quadro, octocopters that they use on the front line for intelligence gathering to scope out enemy troops, as they call it. Russian troops, obviously, but then also to drop munitions as well.


And at the same time, of course, there does seem to be a propaganda element to this also. We know that the Freedom of Russia Legion has been part of those cross border raids into the territory around Belgorod. So they have crossed the border before.

And so if you look at some of the things that they put on that telegram post that they put out today, one of the things that we noticed is that they were talking about fixed-wing drones. Those, of course, are drones that can fly longer distances. They're basically unmanned little airplanes, propeller driven airplanes. That's exactly what was used in those attacks on Moscow, the Russians say.

Now, of course, Freedom of Russia Legion is not saying they had anything to do with that, but certainly the timing of that does seem a little bit anonymous. The other thing that we were looking at as well is that part of those instructions were also putting these things together at home and turning them into weapons, arming them at home themselves.

Obviously, doing this autonomously, possibly doing this while hidden on the territory of the Russian Federation, it seems or it could be from these instructions that were sent out, or what is advertised as part of this recruitment, what would be part of that course, what people would learn.

So there's certainly does appear to be a very real element to that. We do know that the Freedom of Russia Legion very often has drones as part of the battles that they're doing on the ground with their forces. They have drone operators as well that they use, but of course, at the same time, they have been poking the Russians as well.

One of the things that, of course, one of the heads of the Freedom of Russia Legion told our own Sam Kiley a couple of days ago after they had crossed the border and come back is they said that that was a big success because it was something that international media was talking about for several days, and that really topped the news for several days.

So that's also, of course, very important to them as they obviously have not only battlefield operations, but information operations going on as well, Max.

FOSTER: How in control are the Ukrainian military of these units? Because there's obviously a concern outside the area here in the west, for example, that, you know -- any conflict that goes into Russia is a very precarious situation. But that does appear whether, you know, a lot of people suggesting that if there are, you know, incursions into Russia, it will be these Russian soldiers that carry out those operations.

PLEITGEN: Yes. And so far that seems to be what has happened so far. And of course, you're absolutely right. There is a lot of concerns in the U.S. We heard that once again yesterday when they said, for instance, that drone attacks onto Russian territory is not something that the U.S. would condone.

At the same time, as far as the control is concerned, the Ukrainians are being very clear about this. They are saying, yes, these fighters are fighting for Ukraine as part of the Ukrainian security forces when they fight on Ukrainian territory. However, when they cross the border, when they go into Russia and conduct things there, they are completely on their own and fighting independently.

Of course, in reality, things aren't that easy. One of the things that we were told by sources within Ukrainian military intelligence is that they said, of course, they did get a heads up the last time there was a cross border attack by the Freedom of Russia Legion and another anti-Putin Russian group as well.

And one of the other things, of course, that we also saw strong indications was that they did use American supplied military equipment that would have been supplied to the Ukrainians and then given to these units. That, of course, also a cause of concern as well, Max.

FOSTER: OK, Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv, thank you.

Coming up, a whale of a spy tale. A beluga, once suspected of being a Russian secret agent swims his way to Sweden. But there are now concerns for his safety.



FOSTER: A beluga whale that some believe was used as a spy for Russia has entered new territory is now in Swedish waters, where volunteers are tracking his movements to help -- to keep him safe. CNN's Melissa Bell has the story.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The alleged Russian spy was first spotted off the waters of Norway in 2019. A beluga whale apparently seeking human attention, it quickly received. Nicknamed Hvaldimir, a pun on the Norwegian for whale and its alleged Russian origin, the whale was found to be wearing a harness with mounts for a camera branded "Equipment of St. Petersburg".

Experts believe it may have been trained by the Russian military, which Moscow denies. Dolphins have long been used by Russian and the U.S. Navy, patrolling and detecting explosives beside humans.

Since his arrival in Norway, Hvaldimir has been tracked by volunteers who want to protect him.

SEBASTIAN STRAND, ONEWHALE VOLUNTEER: We fear that if he did enough damage to a salmon farm, they may be forced into considering the option of euthanizing him, as we've seen with other cetaceans in Norway. But by all means, this does not mean that we think the salmon farmers have anything but goodwill towards Hvaldimir.

BELL (voice-over): And Hvaldimir has been capturing Scandinavian hearts, a whale that appears more accustomed to humans than his own kind and now much further south than he should be. Far from heading back to Arctic waters, where he might have found some of his own kind, he's headed south, all the way to the coast of Sweden, according to the NGO OneWhale, where waters are too warm and too populated for a whale who may have been used to spy, but is now being very carefully watched himself.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


FOSTER: Thanks for joining me here on CNN Newsroom. I'm Max Foster in London.

World Sport with Andy Scholes is up next.