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CNN International: Belgorod Governor: 8 Injured in Thursday Shelling; Kyiv: At Least Three Dead in Russian Strikes; Trump Caught on Tape Talking about Classified Docs; What's Behind the Recent Violence in Kosovo; Muslim Defy Beijing to Defend Mosque. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired June 01, 2023 - 08:00   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNNI HOST: Hello, you're watching CNN "Newsroom", I'm Max Foster in London. Just ahead, a Russian missile strike in Kyiv kills three people after the bomb shelter they were trying to hide in failed to open. Then wipe tensions further up between Kosovo and Serbia.

We're taking a closer look at where the conflict originates and what might happen next. And fears of a religious crackdown are growing in Southern China, as an ethnic Muslim minority, has defied the government's attempt to a stop to demolish the dome of a centuries old mosque.

Ukraine says it's launching an investigation into whether a bomb shelter was opened during Russian missiles strikes. On the capital overnight Kyiv says three people including a mother and a child were killed in the attacks as they were trying to get into a close shelter.

The Governor of Russia's Belgorod region, meanwhile, says at least eight people were injured in uninterrupted shelling on Thursday. But he's denying claims or anti-Putin nationalists aligned with the Ukrainian army that its members are now fighting on Russian territory. CNN Sam Kiley joins me live in Eastern Ukraine to clarify some of this, Sam.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max first on the Russian so called dissidents, these are people who are elements within the Russian security forces carry Ukraine sorry, they're part of the Ukrainian security forces. They are Russians. And they have in the past just over the last week or so crossed into Russia and conducted operations.

They're claiming that they're now operational, again, inside Russian territory, putting out messages to Russians to go into bomb shelters that stay out of the way, insisting that they are not targeting civilians. But the Russian authorities are saying that eight people have been injured.

They're moving many hundreds out of they say the border villages, southeast and southwest of Belgorod, which is just north of Kharkiv very close to the northern border between Ukraine and Russia. And this I think should be seen as part of essentially, the Ukrainian moves on the counter offensive that they've been much promising. This is a new dynamic inside Russian territory. But the old dynamic continues to affect Kyiv with the deaths of three people and there are tragic scenes in which people were left outside of a Soviet era bomb shelter because the doors were locked.

More than a year into this war when people have got very used to going into and out of bomb shelters and frankly, very often ignore sirens in cities like cave because life has goes on in many ways as normal because the new normal is to live with the danger of these missile attacks.

But on this occasion, the family was families plural were trying to get into a bomb shelter couldn't and then debris from one of nearly a dozen missiles being downed by the anti-missile, missile unit surrounding cave. And protecting the capital brought down debris and sadly killed some civilians including child.

The tragic events that the Ukrainians are investigating, but indicates to the extent to which people have got so used to the threat to their lives here in Ukraine. And that is something clearly with the drone attacks against Moscow and these border incursions and cross border shelling operations.

The Ukrainians are now turning back on the Russians. Hopefully, from their perspective, they want to draw Russian manpower back into Russia to defend Russian territory away from the frontlines here in the occupied territories of Ukraine, Max.


FOSTER: OK, Sam Kiley in Eastern Ukraine, thank you. Volodymyr Zelenskyy is making the case for Ukraine's membership into both NATO and the EU at European summit in Moldova. The Ukrainian President of the European Commission President and dozens of other leaders who have gathered that this year is for decisions and he said there should be no place for frozen conflicts or hot wars on the European continent.

NATO Secretary General says Foreign Ministers meeting and Oslo, Norway all agree that Ukraine should eventually join the alliance. Jens Stoltenberg says it's just a matter of when Stoltenberg and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with reporters a short while ago.

Some members are wary of any move that could bring the Alliance closer to war with Russia. Clare Sebastian joins me now. Basically, this isn't, you know, a matter for Russia. That's NATO's view, right?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're saying Russia should not have a veto over, you know how and when NATO enlarges in the future. And I think like it's been clear all along, this was reiterated by the German Foreign Minister today that Ukraine cannot join. While it's in the middle of a war that would of course, that triggers Article Five and bring the Alliance into an all-out war with Russia. Of course, you could argue on the flip side that had they joined before this, it might have been a deterrent against Russian aggression. But the frustration for Ukraine right now is that really, officially their relationship with NATO has not advanced beyond where we were, frankly, in 2008, when the alliance agreed to support the sort of future membership path for Ukraine.

They want to see some kind of concrete action President Zelenskyy really laid it on pretty thick in a speech today in Moldova saying, you know, if Ukraine is paying, he said, for freedom for European values and blood, and still there's no concrete answer, what hope is there for anyone else who wants to join these alliances, and he laid out exactly what he wants to see going forward. Take a listen.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: This is the sort point I would like to emphasize. In summer in Vilnius at the NATO summit, the clear invitation to membership for Ukraine is needed. And the security guarantees on the way to NATO membership are needed, in fall on our accession to the EU clear positive decision is needed. And we are also preparing for peace summit, which will guide the world majority to implement the joint Peace Formula.


SEBASTIAN: So he wants to see actual action security guarantees from NATO a path towards EU membership, a clear path and he also says he wants this peace summit. We don't know exactly what format that would take one of his advisors told The Wall Street Journal earlier this week that it wouldn't include Russia that this would be about looking at peace on Ukraine's terms.

So here we have look demands for security guarantees a potential peace summit and the counter offensive, which we're still waiting for.

FOSTER: Yes, exactly. Thank you, Clare. The race to avoid a catastrophic U.S. default is now in the hands of the Senate. -- , the House lawmakers voted to raise the government debt ceiling by comfortable, bipartisan margin. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says the vote marked one of his best nights and put U.S. citizens first.

Senate leaders that want to move ahead with their vote later today, but it's not clear yet if that will happen. The deadline to pass the bill and get it signed into law is extremely tight. It's just days away now. CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill, what's the dynamic in the Senate as opposed to the House, Lauren?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a lot of momentum coming out of the House of Representatives after that strong vote yesterday in which Kevin McCarthy, the House Speaker got not just the votes he needed, but got more than a majority of his Republican majority.

That's important for quelling some of the consternation that was coming from his right flank. Now this fight moves over to the U.S. Senate where we do expect it will eventually pass that chamber. The big question is how quickly you have a number of members who are expressing concerns.

You have a number of members who want to hold amendment votes. But the reality is none of those amendments are going to be able to pass because if they passed, they'd have to send it back over to the House of Representatives. And you would likely then fly past that June 5 deadline.

They are going to need to get some kind of time agreement in the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was optimistic that they could do that today or tomorrow. But obviously, we are watching very closely because any one Senator can object to that time agreement and really delay this process pushing you right up against that deadline, coming up on Monday, Max.

FOSTER: Lauren on Capitol Hill, thank you, now two potentially significant developments in the investigation as to Donald Trump's handling of classified documents after he left the White House. Multiple sources tell CNN that federal prosecutors have an audio tape that confirms Trump new documents in his possession were classified and that he could not declassify them.


The tape would refute many of Trump's arguments that he did nothing wrong with the documents CNN's Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid has been tracking this story for us. How important is this to the case then, Paula?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Incredibly important, but let's set the scene for exactly what happened here. This was a meeting or Trump was speaking at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey in front of some visitors. Among the people at this meeting were several of his aides and at least two people who working on an auto biography of Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Now, Meadows wasn't there. But that's significant detail because at this time, Trump was in the habit of having his aide's record any conversations that he had with journalists, writers, people working on books, so he was aware that he was being recorded. And well, we have not heard this audio multiple sources have described it to us.

And we're told that on the audio he can be heard I discussing that he have a classified Pentagon document discussing a possible attack on Iran. Now we're told that you can hear a little bit of laughter on the tape. You can even hear paper wrestling, but it's unclear if he's actually waving that document or waving another piece of paper for theatrical effect.

But this all came about because he was frustrated with comments made by General Mark Milley about Trump and things that he wanted to do militarily, and Trump was trying to use this document to refute those comments. Now, we also learned perhaps most importantly, for investigators that in this recording, Trump acknowledges that he had limits on his ability to declassify documents once he left office.

And that's so important because publicly he and his lawyers have argued that he could declassify things with his mind that they were declassified automatically as a Former President. They've also tried to argue that he had no idea there was classified material among his possessions, because it was so chaotic when they were packing at the end of his administration. But what is heard on this audio, according to our sources, undercuts all of those public defenses.

FOSTER: OK, CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid, thank you. It capsized boat on Italian Lake has left four people dead and the mystery in its wake. Officials say all 21 passengers have current or former links to Italian and Israeli intelligence agencies.

Barbie Nadeau is following the story for us from Rome. I mean, you're trying to get what information you can. We're not going to get the full story though, are we?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, we are not going to get the full story certainly not the full story of what these 21 agents and former agents were doing on the boat in the middle of a lake on a Sunday afternoon in Northern Italy. What we are finding out there was a little bit more information about the boat itself and the fact that the captain who is under investigation for culpable manslaughter.

The boat was advertised 2000 Euro a day for 15 passengers. We know there were 21 passengers plus the captain and his Russian girlfriend who did die who did tragically die and drown in this incident. They've also told us they're not going to be doing autopsies on the people who died they're assuming that they died from drowning.

Those are two Italian current officers and one retired Israeli defense worker. His body has been repatriated back to Israel as well as the other Israeli agents, they were ferried out of Italy on a private plane shortly after they reached land, Max, but we're not going to know a lot about what was going on that boat.

We may know how it went down in the storm. We may know other details, but I don't know that we'll ever know what they were out there for, Max.

FOSTER: It's a tricky one. Barbie, thank you. In Australia, a judge has dismissed the multimillion dollar defamation lawsuit brought by a highly decorated war veteran against several newspapers. The judge ruled the news articles established substantial truth in a number of claims where they accused Ben Robert Smith of committing war crimes in Afghanistan.

Robert Smith was not in court to hear the verdict. The judge's decision brings a dramatic end to the high profile case in Australia. Still to come, tensions boiled over in Kosovo over who can hold certain offices. But the animosity goes much deeper than that. We'll explain just ahead.



FOSTER: NATO says it's ready to deploy even more peacekeepers to Kosovo on top of the 700 already on their way. Violence spiked this week, when Serbian protesters clashed with NATO peacekeepers, injuring 30 soldiers. The incident happened in Kosovo's North it's a Serb majority area.

The protesters were trying to block ethnic Albanian mares from taking office after disputed elections. But the roots of this conflict run much deeper. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. But Serbs have ever recognized Kosovo's independence.

CNN's Scott McLean is with me now to break some of this down for us. Just take us through the basic elements, Scott. So we understand where all this has come from.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, yes. So what's important to understand is that Kosovo, the vast majority of it more than 90 percent is ethnic Albanian, with the exception of a handful of municipalities, most of them, as you mentioned in the north, and that is where we've seen these protests break out.

And it's all because of local elections that were held in April in which ethnic Serbs boycott and so the voter turnout all told was 3.4 percent, one of the local Mayors, one of the four local Mayors was elected with 141 votes only. And so most of the protests happened in the town of Zvecan, which is where you're seeing this video from when ethnic Serbs tried to block the Mayor's from getting into the buildings.

Kosovo police responded with force to make sure that they could enter and then things escalated to what we saw on Monday. Things are calm for the moment. We have seen nonviolent protests, carrying flags one of them was 250 meters paraded through town yesterday, but nothing like we saw on Monday.

Kosovo has called these protesters fascist militias, egged on by Belgrade, the Serbian President for his part says he has no direct control over these protesters, though he has for the record called for calm, Max.

FOSTER: In terms of broadly what each side wants out of this ultimately, how would you describe that?

MCLEAN: Yes, so Kosovo's President says she wants really two things she wants Belgrade to stop encouraging and supporting those protests are something that Belgrade denies right off the ban. She also wants Serbia to recognize Kosovo's independence. And what's interesting is our colleague Isa Soares interviewed the Serbian President yesterday.

And while he didn't say it in plain language, he did say this when asked what it would take for Serbia to recognize Kosovo's independence. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT: It's not any more even a question, because if you noticed what we were speaking about, through Franco German plan, what we were speaking about inaccurate, it's about normalization.


MCLEAN: So when he talks about no normalization, the Franco German plan, the ultimate plan, and also the Brussels agreement are the many things that Kosovo and Serbia have agreed on, at least on paper, getting them implemented in practice is much more difficult.

One of the main things that the Brussels agreement, which was signed 10 years ago, stipulates is that the Serb majority region should have some level of autonomy the difficulty is that's never actually been implemented. So President Vucic says that he is asking for two things that what he calls the alleged Mayors should be withdrawn.

And number two that Kosovo actually go and implement the Brussels agreement most of the burden of which falls on them. The difficulty is that even though Kosovo has in principle agreed to this, the Kosovo Prime Minister on Tuesday, well, he didn't seem all that enthused to go along with the Brussels plan that his country has already agreed to. Listen.



ALBIN KURTI, PRIME MINISTER OF KOSOVO: We cannot have a privileged minority because Belgrade is lamenting for loss of Kosovo in 1999. We need to intervene to stop the genocide of regime of Milosevic. So Kosovo is a success story of NATO intervention. That is what bothers both Belgrade and Kremlin.


MCLEAN: So you can see there are a lot of complexities here. The U.S. and the EU are undoubtedly Kosovo's most important allies, most important partners, but Kosovo has not been heeding their calls to deescalate the situation lately. The U.S. Ambassador was pretty blunt about that this week saying that look Kosovo needs to withdraw the police forces from those town halls in the north.

And it also needs to make sure that those Mayors, which is used as sort of administrators at this stage, since they don't have a lot of electoral legitimacy ought to work from alternate locations, though the U.S. Ambassador also expressed his frustration that at the moment the Kosovo Prime Minister has been non responsive to the U.S. requests, Max.

FOSTER: OK. Scott McLean. Thank you very much indeed for summarizing that, Now, a Muslim majority Muslim minority rather in China defiantly defends their mosque from partial demolition by the government. Coming up why many fear a harsh crackdown is imminent?


FOSTER: Fears are growing of another religious crackdown in Southern China, a Muslim minority is being defined government attempts to demolish the dome and minarets have its mosque. They say they are the latest victims of Beijing's campaign to remove religious symbols from places of worship. CNN's Ivan Watson has the details.


IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A rare confrontation between law enforcement and the faithful. Chinese Muslims clashed with police outside a mosque in Southwestern China. For two days last weekend, residents of the village of Najiaying tried to protect their mosque from a Chinese government reconstruction plan.

They want to demolish the roof of our mosques and emotional local protester tells CNN speaking on condition of anonymity. This is our last bit of dignity, the protester says. It's like someone going to your house and demolishing it.

CNN reached out to Chinese authorities for comment but the only official acknowledgement of the incident comes from this local government statement urging protesters to turn themselves in after disrupting social order and causing severe adverse impact.

WATSON (on camera): Is it safe to be a Muslim in China today?


WATSON (voice over): Ma Ju is an Imam and activist from the Hui Muslim ethnic minority living in exile in the U.S.

JU: No Muslim is safe in China. My people, the Hui people, everyone is trembling, scared and living in fear.

WATSON (voice over): He claims the Chinese government has targeted hundreds of Hui mosques across the country, demolishing their Arabic inspired domes and minarets, and replacing them with Chinese styled architecture.


CNN has independently verified before and after images of several of these cases. Part of Chinese Leader Xi Jinping's policy of -- instructing religions to basically look more Chinese.

JAMES LEIBOLD, PROFESSOR OF CHINA STUDIES AT LA TROBE UNIVERSITY: The logic of what China is trying to do is about social reengineering. It's by remolding people.

WATSON (voice over): Academics and activists say since Xi came to power, there have been crackdowns on expressions of religious, ethnic and linguistic identity.

JU: Xi Jinping's policies are aimed at all socially organized groups, including Christians, Buddhists, and even some civil organizations, including LGBTQ.

WATSON (voice over): CNN extensively reported on the detention of more than a million ethnic Uyghurs and other minorities in China's Xinjiang region in internment camps. And CNN reported on clashes around churches in Eastern China, where authorities chopped the crosses off the top of Christian places of worship those scenes in 2015 remarkably similar to the images of protesters trying to protect their mosques today in Najiaying.

Today they'll change our mosque tomorrow they'll ban us from going to mosques the local protester tells CNN. A last ditch effort to protect deeply personal concepts of faith and identity from being defined by the Chinese state. Ivan Watson CNN, Hong Kong.


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