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Anger In Kyiv As 3 Killed Trying To Get Into Closed Bomb Shelter; Senate Passes Debt Ceiling Deal To Prevent June 5 Default; Eurozone Inflation Sharply Down To 6.1 Percent In May; Nigeria Triples Petrol Prices After President Says To Scrap Subsidy; 30 Drones, Missiles Downed over Kyiv; The Rise of Russia's Licensed Disruptor; Serbia and Kosovo Trading Blame over Regional Crisis; E.U. Neglecting Afghans in Need; Reefs Under Threat by Mass Deaths of Sea Urchins. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired June 02, 2023 - 01:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome coming to you live from Studio 4 at the CNN Center in Atlanta. I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate the company. Coming up here on CNN Newsroom.

Russia says regions near the Ukrainian border are being targeted in mounting attacks, while Ukraine's capital is the target of Russian missile.

A scathing new report says Afghan refugees are being quote, consistently neglected nearly two years after the Taliban takeover and the mysterious pathogen killing off Black Sea urchins and threatening coals in the Red Sea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live from CNN Center. This is CNN Newsroom with Michael Holmes.

HOLMES: It is 9:00 a.m. in Ukraine where air raid sirens and explosions rocked the capital key for Kyiv another day but there is also growing evidence that the war is now on Russia's doorstep.

The governor of the Belgorod region claims Ukraine's military has carried out dozens of artilleries and mortar strikes over the past day, 12 people wounded no one reported killed as of now.

A group of Russian dissidents fighting alongside Ukraine says it destroyed ammunition and rocket launchers. A new assessment from Ukraine's Armed Forces claims Russia has lost more than 200,000 troops since the start of the invasion last February.

Meanwhile, NATO foreign ministers meeting in Norway agreed that Ukraine will join the military alliance eventually, for now the Secretary General insists that Ukraine has the right to defend itself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We need to prepare for what happens when the war ends, because then we need to ensure that history doesn't repeat itself that President Putin just reconstitute and rest the Russian forces regrouped and then attack again because he has attacked Ukraine many times it started not last year, it's not in 2014.

Firstly, in Crimea, then with Eastern Donbas, and then with the full- fledged invasion last year, and this vicious circle cycle has to be stopped.


HOLMES: In Kyiv there is outrage over the death of three people including a nine-year-old girl and her mother, both killed by missile debris as they tried to get into a mocked bomb shelter. CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley has our report.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Grief has struck again in Kyiv overwhelming grief when a loved one is taken. Three people killed here in Russia's latest attack on Ukraine's capital, a 3:00 a.m. civilians ran for cover.

The bunker was inexplicably locked. Debris from a downed missile killed two women and a child, a fatal accident in an awl to deliberate attack. Such events are driving support for Ukraine from NATO, Europe and beyond.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: That is why every European country that borders Russia, and that does not want Russia to tear them apart, should be a full member of the EU and NATO. And there are only two alternatives to this, either an open war or creeping Russian occupation.

KILEY: NATO's weapons are already in use in Ukraine's east. And now Ukraine has launched a campaign inside Russian territory. At least eight people have been injured and hundreds evacuated from what are now frontline villages in Russia.

KILEY (on camera): The original sin of Russia's invasion of Ukraine compounded as it is by their continued targeting of civilians, the absolute brutality of their occupation has ceded Ukraine an unassailable position on the moral high ground, but they've got to hold on to that, even as they prosecute their own campaigns inside Russian territory.

VYACHESLAV GLADKOV, BOLGOROD GOVERNOR (through translator): Massive attack is ongoing. The lives of local people primarily in Shebekino and nearby villages are in danger.

KILEY (voice-over): Anti-Putin Russians in Ukraine's forces claimed to have raided his province a second time and broadcast these warnings.

[01:05:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Stay in your homes don't worry. Soldiers of the Russian Volunteer Corps are not at war with civilians.

KILEY: They claim to have hit Russian ammunition dumps and other military targets. But Russia says the raiders were driven out with heavy casualties. Still, Ukraine now holds the initiative on this front.

Russia continues to rain misery from the sky. Yaroslav lost his wife and nine-year-old daughter in this raid on Kyiv. Nothing matters anymore, he says. There are no more people left. Sam Kiley, CNN, in Kharkiv.


HOLMES: All right, let's go live to Brisbane, Australia and retired Australian Army Major General Mick Ryan. He's also the former commander of the Australian Defense College and the author of "White Sun War: The Campaign for Taiwan." Excellent read, by the way.

Well, good to see you, Mick.

Russia has already had to move troops to try to protect these areas inside its borders, which it hadn't had to worry about too much detail now. How are the cross-border attacks impacting Russia's readiness to combat any Ukrainian counter offensive?

MAJ. MICK RYAN (RET.), AUSTRALIAN ARMY: Well, get on, Michael, it's good to be with you again. Well, it's having an impact. The Russian offensives of the last six months have failed, that's degraded their capability and the main power available.

And now Ukraine is engaging in all these small actions, whether it's here, whether it's drone attacks in Moscow, or reconnaissance in force in the south to distract the Russians to deceive them about the main effort of where the Ukrainian counter offensives will fall.

HOLMES: Yes, of course, at least some of these attacks are being carried out by Russian fighters who are working with the Ukrainian military and their speculation, you know, some of the other attacks could be Russians operating inside the country.

How does that dynamic of Russians fighting their motherland playing to the whole situation and certainly the messaging within Russia?

You still got me, Mick? He does not. Mick Ryan does not have me. We'll try to get that line reconnected and continue our conversation.

All right. Meanwhile, only President Biden's signature is needed now to end the long political fight to suspend the nation's debt ceiling and avoid the first ever default in U.S. history.

Late Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted 63 to 36 to pass the critical legislation after it cleared the U.S. House the day before. Following the vote, the president publicly thanked the leaders of both parties for making it happen.

Mr. Biden is expected to address the nation from the Oval Office on Friday evening to explain more about it. We get the latest from now from CNN Melanie Zanona on Capitol Hill.


MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER (on camera): Well, after weeks of intense negotiations, and with just days to go before the default deadline, Congress has averted an economic disaster.

The Senate on Thursday night passed a bill that would raise the debt ceiling until 2025. And also limit future spending. And the final vote tally in the Senate was 63 to 36. They needed 60 Republicans and Democrats to come together to pass this bill and they did. Take a listen to Chuck Schumer talking about this bill after the vote.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): So many of the destructive provisions in the Republican bill are gone. Because we persist it. And we kept insisting that default is off the table. We will not be defaulting. And we will not be passing the hard rights extreme agenda, virtually no part of it. And that is thanks to the Senate and House Democrats and to President Biden.

ZANONA: And the bill now heads to President Biden's desk for his signature. But it was not always an easy road to get here. First of all, they had to hammer out the deal, which took weeks though usually they tried to do these things in a matter of months. It was a very complicated fiscal agreement. There were blow ups. There were points where it looked like it was going to go completely off the rails.

And then the other half of the battle is that they had to sell this deal to their members and there was opposition from both Republicans and Democrats. Democrats don't like the stricter work requirements for food stamp recipients. They don't like some of the energy permitting reforms, and Republicans thought the bill does not go far enough to cut spending. They also don't like that it's going to take the debt ceiling for two years until after the next presidential election.

But ultimately, a coalition of members came together in the middle to get this done and avoid what would have been the first ever default. Melanie Zanona, CNN, Capitol Hill.



HOLMES: Let's talk more about all of this joining us from Los Angeles political analyst Michael Genovese, who's the president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University. Thanks for sticking around and good to see you again.

There was too much political rhetoric over the last couple of weeks. But, you know, now you've got leaders on both sides lauding the averting of catastrophe. Is there enough for both sides to claim a win or at least not a loss? MICHAEL GENOVESE, POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's the inevitable part of politics is that you claim victory no matter what. I think President Biden has reason to be pleased. He basically was able to protect most of the accomplishments he's achieved in the first couple of years.

But more than that, he got a two-year reprise. We will not have to face this until after the 2024 election. And that's big for Biden, because a lot of Republicans wanted to use that issue in the '24 election as a sledgehammer to beat up President Biden. So he got some good things.

I think Kevin McCarthy also needs to be praised. He held his party together long enough and well enough. And so both Biden and McCarthy did their jobs. Biden had a problem with the left wing of his party and McCarthy with the right wing of his party.

HOLMES: You mentioned, you know, we're going to be doing this again in 2025. But I guess, you know, do you see the whole process as just being unnecessary? The U.S. is one of two countries with this kind of debt ceiling. The other is Denmark, and its upper limit will never be reached. So it's kind of pointless.

So why habit? And can you see it going away, since it really is just a political football.

GENOVESE: This is something that's baked into the American system, it's part of every year, it's like the calendar. Every year we face this. And so I think there's a natural conservatism and a reluctance to change things, even when they're not going well. And this is what an unnecessary thing. The debt ceiling is really -- every year they go through this pretty much and it's unnecessary.

I don't think we're going to do anything about it because every year we seem to muddle through. We seem to do as we did this year. We woke up to the 11th hour. We say it's going to be a catastrophe. And then we somehow make a deal.

This year was a little bit tighter, a little bit tougher, but I don't think anything is going to change in terms of the debt ceiling.

HOLMES: Yes, heaven forbid more dysfunction. You mentioned Kevin McCarthy. I want to get back to that the final vote in the Senate was 63-46. Just five Democrats voted against it. Most of the opposition came from the Republican side, same in the House. Does that Republican opposition in the final votes wound speaker Kevin McCarthy politically?

GENOVESE: Potentially it could because as, you know, when he was running for the speakership, he promised the members of his caucus that if any one voter in this caucus wanted to have him vacate, leave the speakership that he would have another vote.

I'm not sure that after this, that his -- the right wing of his party, which is still upset with him, has the stomach for a battle. And I'm not sure that they really have the appetite for a battle. I think that this was a big enough win for Speaker McCarthy. And I think he's going to be able to weather any storm on the right wing of his party.

HOLMES: Always great to get your thoughts. Michael Genovese, really appreciate it. Thanks so much.

GENOVESE: Thank you, Michael.

HOLMES: Good to see you. Now just have a look at this. In the wake of the suspension of the debt ceiling, green arrows, stock futures, all pointing up on Wall Street in the wake of the Senate's historic vote. The Dow of course, has been on a roller coaster for the last several weeks with all of the uncertainty over the debt limit.

And let's have a look at Asia. Same story, green arrows all across the board. The major indices have been bullish since that vote was announced Hang Seng up nearly 4 percent.

Now, inflation higher in Europe has fallen to its lowest number since Russia invaded Ukraine. Consumer prices in the Eurozone Rose 6.1 percent in May compared with a year ago. That's down from 7 percent in April. CNN's Anna Stewart with more.


ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER (on camera): Prices are still rising in the Eurozone but month on month they are heading in the right direction with a fall in inflation across a broad range of categories. Food inflation dropped by one percentage point in May compared to April, although it remains high at 12 and a half percent. And at this early stage, it's unlikely households and consumers across the block are feeling much benefit from this improvement.

While the glimmer of good news caused some economists to question whether the European Central Bank might ease up on its rate hikes. The general consensus is there'll be a rate rise this month and another to come this year. Not least after ECB president Christine Lagarde spoke about the bank's determination to bring inflation down to 2 percent in a speech and Hanover Thursday, adding, we've made clear that we still have ground to cover to bring interest rates to sufficiently restricted levels.


One of the headwinds for the ECB is wage growth in the Eurozone. Unsurprisingly, given just how costly life has become thanks to inflation, workers have demanded higher wages. Wage growth in the Eurozone was 5.1 percent year on year in the last quarter of 2022.

Now, that is not enough to offset the cost of living, but it does contribute to inflation. So, the ECB will no doubt be watching that indicator as well as CPI before considering a new phase for interest rates. Anna Stewart, CNN, London.


HOLMES: Now, Joe Biden's ego might have been bruised a little bit, but the White House says the U.S. president was fine after taking a tumble on stage at the U.S. Air Force Academy on Thursday. Mr. Biden had just handed out diplomas a lot of them to the graduating cadets and he was heading back to his seat when you see it there.

He tripped but he tripped over a sandbag that was in his way. It wasn't some random stumbled. The 80-year-old President didn't appear to be hurt quickly back up on his feet.

Later at the White House, Mr. Biden attempted to make light of his mishap and even did a quick jig for reporters to show he was all right.

All right, a Mount Everest Sherpa guide convinces his clients to abandon their climb to do something even more dangerous than going up the mountain. Their heroic actions after the break.


HOLMES: 12 people died during the 2023 spring climbing season on Mount Everest making it one of the deadliest on the mountain in years. Five others are still missing in fact, and we're learning details about a climber who might have died if not for the heroic actions of one Sherpa guide CNN's Brian Todd with the story.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a season of horrific casualties on Mount Everest, a dramatic desperate effort to prevent one more a Nepali Sherpa guide finds a stranded climber shivering and clinging to a rope and hauls him down a treacherous portion of the range some 1,900 feet in about six hours to save him.

GELJI SHERPA, NEPALI SHERPA (through translator): In places where it was rockier, we could not drag him. We had to carry on our backs with difficulty.

TODD: New details of the rescue which occurred on May 18 or just coming to light. The rescuer 30-year-old Gelje Sherpa says he was ascending Everest toward the summit with a Chinese client when he came upon the stranded climber after midnight. He said he convinced his client to abandon their quest to reach the summit in order to save the man.

SHERPA (through translator): It was important for us to rescue him even from the summit. Money can be earned anytime. Left like that he could have died. We have saved his life by quitting the summit.


TODD: After Gelje Sherpa hauled the man alone for those six hours. Another guy joined the rescue, then a helicopter airlifted him down to Basecamp.

CONRAD ANKER, PROFESSIONAL MOUNTAIN CLIMBER: Pretty extraordinary. The body isn't doing well at that altitude and to carry another person down 2,000 feet of steep and treacherous terrain requires confidence. Sure footing and lots of skill. TODD: The particular area Gelje Sherpa traverse during the rescue is known as the death zone because temperatures can dip to minus 86 degrees Fahrenheit. One Nepali government officials said it's almost impossible to rescue climbers at that altitude. Even the experienced Sherpa experts say was at serious risk.

ANKER: He could have died on that rescue. It's steep enough that if you were to fall, you will not be able to (INAUDIBLE).

TODD: The injured climber has not been identified but CNN is told he's now back home in Malaysia. The climbing season on Mount Everest is short, extending only from March to May.

But in this season alone Nepali officials tell CNN 12 people have died and five are missing, making it one of the deadliest climbing seasons on record. The Nepali government says a record number of permits to climb were issued this season, 478. Veteran climber Conrad Anker says there needs to be a capacity study done to determine how many people can be on the mountain safely at a given time.

ANKER: Currently, there are too many climbers on Everest they can limit the amount of climbers by experience by a lot (INAUDIBLE) which should be as random as one can be able they can do it financially.

TODD (on camera): How much did Gelje Sherpa and his client give up to conduct this rescue? Climber Conrad Anker says clients pay between 40 and $250,000 for a guided climb up Mount Everest. The Sherpas get a bonus of about $4,000 he says plus possible tips. But Anker points out after this rescue, Gelje Sherpa should do just fine financially because he'll be in demand. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: Talks between Sudan's rival factions have been suspended after repeated ceasefire violations. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia had been mediating talks in Jeddah, but Sudan's Armed Forces suspended its participation on Wednesday. Sudan's military and the rival Rapid Support Forces had agreed on Monday to a five-day ceasefire.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia saved the violations have hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid and essential services, which was the main purpose of the ceasefire in the first place.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We'll continue to be engaged at the same time. We're also looking at steps that we can take to make clear our views on any leaders who are moving Sudan in the wrong direction, including by perpetuating the violence, and by violating the ceasefires that they've actually committed to.


HOLMES: The warring parties have continuously violated several agreed upon ceasefire since the fighting began back in April. The Nigerian government is clarifying its plans to end fuel subsidies after a seemingly off the cuff remark from the new president triggered panic buying at the pump and prices nearly tripled.

During his inauguration speech, the President declared that the critical fuel subsidy is gone. Well now his office says it will end by the end of June. So a little while left. CNN's Stephanie Busari reports from Lagos.


STEPHANIE BUSARI, CNN SENIOR EDITOR, AFRICA (on camera): Nigeria's new president Bola Tinubu is heading for short honeymoon after sending shockwaves around the country by announcing the end of the fuel subsidy at his inauguration.

Long queues immediately formed at gas stations as people desperately tried to secure gas for their vehicles and generators. Prices at the pump nearly tripled, and some places stopped selling fuel altogether. That's what citizens are now waiting for hours, hoping to fill up their tanks before prices skyrocket even further.

The country's largest trade union says the new president has brought quote, tears and sorrow to millions of Nigerians instead of hope. Previous governments have also tried to remove the fuel subsidy in Africa's largest oil producing country without any luck.

In 2012, the country was brought to a standstill with the Occupy Nigerian protests, which then opposition leader Tinubu also took part in.

The removal of fuel subsidies is aimed at reducing the financial burden on the government, which has been grappling with a struggling economy. Nigeria has debt of more than $100 billion and is spending $867 million a monthly on the subsidies.


The President has said that this is unsustainable. There have also been widespread corruption and mismanagement in the country's oil sector. This has led to the loss of substantial amount of desperately needed revenue. Many Nigerians are struggling to afford the soaring fuel prices. And this has had a ripple effect on transportation costs and the prices of essential commodities.

Amnesty International has urged the Nigerian authorities to protect the people most affected by its removal of fuel subsidy. Stephanie Busrai, CNN, Lagos.


HOLMES: In Jordan, a lavish ceremony for the wedding of Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, he married Rajwa Al Saif, a member of Saudi Arabia's most prominent business families. It was a celebration of love and also a joining of two Middle East and powerhouses. Becky Anderson with a story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A major Royal Wedding Jordanian style.

Crown Prince Hussein and his Saudi bride, Rajwa Al Saif, tying the knots in a lavish ceremony in Amman.

Crowds of Jordanians waved flags along the 10-kilometer motorcade route across the Capitol. The star-studded event attended by world leaders by celebrities and by royalty, including the Prince and Princess of Wales, the First Lady of the United States Joe Biden also in attendance.

The ceremony taking place at Zahran Palace, where King Abdullah and Queen Rania were married in 1993. The royal couple expected to greet more than 1,700 guests at their son's reception.

Rajwa is the daughter of a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia, and with a sent to the Jordanian throne comes hopes of a new era of stability between two of the most important countries in the Middle East.

This wedding coming at a crucial time for Jordan. For the past two years, a former Crown Prince Hamza bin Al Hussein, half-brother of the current king has been under house arrest, accused of trying to destabilize the kingdom. And Jordan is home to a huge refugee population. And it's dire economic situation means it needs vital investment and aid.

The wedding, raising hopes that improved relations between Saudi Arabia and Jordan could usher in more economic benefits. For now, though, the wedding is a day for the country to come together and celebrate the emergence of a new Middle Eastern power couple. Becky Anderson, CNN.


HOLMES: Well, it's a story of so close yet so far with a heartbreaking ending in Ukraine. Still to come, three people killed during a Russian missile strike while they were just meters from safety. We'll be right back.




30 Russian drones and missiles have been shot down over the Ukrainian capital overnight, that's according to a statement from city officials on Friday morning. They said it was the sixth wave of Russian attacks in Kyiv in six days.

Meanwhile a locked door made the difference between life and death for three people killed in an earlier strike on Thursday morning. Officials say a nine-year-old girl died just outside a bomb shelter along with her mother and another woman. They were trying to get inside, but the shelter was locked and they were killed by falling missile debris which also left 14 other people wounded.

Ukraine has opened an investigation into possible negligence over the shelter door being locked.

I want to go back now to the retired Australian Army Major General Mick Ryan, also former commander of the Australian Defense College. And let's give his book a plug again, "White Sun War: the campaign for Taiwan". As I said last time, a good read.

Mick, we put $1 in the machine, and hopefully we got the signal up and running now. But before we did lose it earlier in the program, I was asking you about the fact that at least some of these attacks inside Russia are being carried out by Russian fighters working with the Ukrainian military.

And the speculation of some of the drone attacks could be Russians inside the country operating. How does that dynamic -- Russians fighting the motherland play into the whole situation?

MAJ. GEN. MICK RYAN, AUSTRALIAN ARMY: Well, Michael it is a huge political headache for Putin at the end of the day whether it's Ukrainians or Russians that are operating on Russian soil.

This is a political disaster for Putin because Russians finally are waking up to what's going on in this war and they are saying that the Russian government is unable to protect their homeland.

HOLMES: And when it comes to those long answers by the counteroffensive, what do you expect it to look like in a tactical sense. I mean I guess people are expecting some sort of massive day when it all launches up. They're probably going to be wrong, aren't they.

RYHAN: No, I think so. We're going to see lots of different activities by the Ukrainians to confuse, to deceive and to surprise the Russians in the way the main effort is likely to be.

But it will be different from Kharkiv and Kherson, because we're going to see a different Ukrainian force with different equipment using probably different tactics to what they used before. And they'll be fighting a Russian army, that's different -- very heavily defended zones in the south and the east of Ukraine.

HOLMES: Yes, of course in the initial invasion the military was decimated. And the Ukrainians are saying now 200,000 Russians have died.

What is your read on the Russian chain of command and its effectiveness, or either, wise right now are you seeing any signs of disarray or disorganization?

RYAN: Well certainly, we have seen Prigozhin make all kinds of accusations about the Russian leadership and frankly their performance this year has been for the Russian offensive of 2023 has (INAUDIBLE), they haven't gained a lot of ground but certainly lost a lot of Russian soldiers. And their performance in this offensive will compromise their ability to respond effectively to the Ukrainian offensives to come.

HOLMES: I wanted to ask you too about what you thought about the withdrawal of Yevgeny Prigozhin's Wagner forces, and how it might or might not impact the battlefield. The Chechen leader Kadyrov, his fighters are making some offensive moves in the Donetsk region, but do you think Wagner's absence is going to mean much in a tangible sense?

RYAN: No, I don't think so although the Wagner group wasn't all (INAUDIBLE) it had some leading edge troops for the Russian. They will probably miss them.

But Russia now owns the rubble that used to be Bakhmut and defending it, as they will find, will be pretty difficult. So they are going to take even more casualties in seeking to hold on to that location. And I doubt whether the (INAUDIBLE) are really going to make a significant impact once --


HOLMES: We lost Mick again -- oh no, you're back. Great. I wanted to get one more in. You froze but just for a second.

You've often talked about the importance of momentum and morale in war. How do you see those factors right now?

RYAN: Well I think we could argue that Ukrainians have already seized a strategic initiative, given how poorly the Russians have performed this year. Certainly on a diplomatic front, an information front, they're ahead of the Russians.

And I think as you'll see in the coming offensives, they will seize the initiative and they will want to maintain the tactical and operational momentum for the remainder of this year.

HOLMES: Yes. Yes. Always great analysis, retired Australian Army Major General Mick Ryan. We normally have a great signal to you there in Brisbane (ph). I think we probably need to pay our bill or something like that.

We'll see you again soon, Mick. Thanks.

RYAN: I look forward to it. Thank you.

HOLMES: All right. Well, we're talking about Russia's Wagner mercenaries, they are expected to be out of Bakhmut in the coming days, according to their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. But he's showing no intention of giving up the spotlight, that is for sure, as he keeps publicly lashing out at Russia's top military brass.

Melissa Bell looks into the rise of who some called Russia's licensed disruptor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For months now Yevgeny Prigozhin has been leading the charge in Ukraine and stealing the limelight.

YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, HEAD, WAGNER GROUP (through translator): Guys, don't bully the Russian military.

BELL: The taunt typical as he announced the withdrawal of his Wagner mercenaries last week after claiming the first Russian advance in Ukraine in months.

Power on the ground that has translated into far more open political confrontation with Moscow. Long known by his nickname as Putin's chef, the oligarch shared the Russian president's humble beginnings in the tougher neighborhood of St. Petersburg.

Reportedly a former convict, he used Putin's rise to build a vast catering empire. As Putin set his sights on Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, Prigozhin's forces were there. The Wagner mercenary group that he founded, became known as Putin's private army operating on his behalf, but in the shadows across the Middle East and Africa for years.

But it took the chaos of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine for Prigozhin to take center stage himself.

Flexing his power and his voice --

Which he raised a loudly again this week against Russia's top military brass after drone attacks on Moscow brought the war far too close to home for comfort.

PRIGOZHIN: You are the ministry of defense. You didn't do a damn thing to stamp this out. Why are you allowing these drones to fly to Moscow?

BELL: Because propaganda is arguably what Yevgeny Prigozhin does best, setting up this notorious troll farm in St. Petersburg, which was blamed for pumping out disinformation around the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Prigozhin was sanctioned by the U.S. despite denying any involvement.

Now he is personally taking his propaganda machine on the road and across Russia turning his attention to what he calls, the enemy at home, with increasingly obvious political ambitions of his own.

ABBAS GALLYAMOV, RUSSIAN POLITICAL ANALYST: : While the system was stable, there was no place for him and he was waiting and waiting.

And then the system started collapsing and he found an opening and he burst into the system.

BELL: And Russia's political system, just like its history, appears to be something Prigozhin is very aware of.

PRIGOZHIN: All these divisions can end up in a revolution, just like in 1917. First, the soldiers will stand out. And after that, their loved ones will rise up.

BELL: With Prigozhin's very thinly-veiled threats, he is also now clearly hoping that Russian society may be ready for a message, even more hardline than that of the man who helped make him.

Melissa Bell, CNN -- Paris.


HOLMES: The European Union is pressuring the governments of Serbia and Kosovo to help in the crisis in the region after dozens of NATO peacekeepers and protesters were injured in clashes earlier this week.

The key players met on the sideline of the European political summit in Moldova on Thursday, and according to the French president, the Serbian and Kosovo (ph) leaders have accepted a plan to resolve the ongoing tension, a plan that includes new election.

CNN's Scott McLean picks up the story.



SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For now, things are calm. Wednesday, we saw peaceful protests in Serb majority areas. Thursday, there were peaceful protests in ethnic Albanian areas of northern Kosovo.

Those communities are now divided by NATO peacekeeping forces. Now the U.S., which is one of Kosovo's most important allies has pointed the blame squarely at Pristine for the violence over the past week by sending in police to ensure that the ethnic Albanian mayor to take their offices despite widespread boycotts of local elections from ethnic Serbs.

Now, the U.S. wants the police withdrawn from local town halls and mayors to work from alternate locations, but the Kosovo prime minister Albin Kurti has made clear he has no plans to do that.

ALBIN KURTI, KOSOVO PRIME MINISTER: Mayors should go and work in their offices. There is no need for parallelism. We need to have normality, to have a republic for democracy and for a municipality that will serve its citizens.

What is the meaning of having public buildings for state officials if they are not used?

MCLEAN: Now Kurti also said that he will withdraw the police only when the protesters, he calls them criminal gangs, go either to Serbia or to jail.

The Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic accused Kurti of falsely labeling ordinary citizens as criminals. He says he has no direct control over protesters but has called for them to be calm He is calling for the ethic Albanian mayors to be withdrawn and for Kosovo to implement previous agreements, which would give the Serb majority areas some level of economy. But he says that Kosovo has to play along.

ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will try and do our best for things to return to normal, for the situation to de-escalate. But whatever that will happen or not, it takes two to tango. And it's not just up to us.

MCLEAN: The most recent normalization agreement between Serbia and Kosovo was reached earlier this year, though most of it has yet to actually be implemented.

Scott McLean, CNN -- London.


HOLMES: A scathing ne report accuses the European Union of neglecting Afghans in need of protection.

We will hear from the International Rescue Committee when we come back.


HOLMES: A new report from the International Rescue Committee accuses the European Union of consistently neglecting the needs of Afghan refugees. The organization says as of last year the bloc resettled only 271 of the more than 270,000 Afghans in need of permanent protection. That is a staggeringly low 0.1 of 1 percent.


HOLMES: The report says Afghan refugees face hurdles in Europe that include the threat of forcible returns and long stretches in detention-like centers.

Now, we are told that inside Afghanistan, some two-thirds of the population is in need of humanitarian aid.

Olivia Sundberg is a senior policy officer with the International Rescue Committee. She is with me now from Brussels.

I mean, these are frankly shocking numbers -- 271 of 270,000. Why is that number so low? What is the reason?

OLIVIA SUNDBERG, SENIOR POLICY OFFICER, INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: Thank you Michael. Indeed, it's really disappointing low commitments. And unfortunately we have seen a disappointingly low level of commitment from European Union states to welcoming Afghans already in the past ten years. But indeed 270 is very low.

There's political reasons for this and there's practical reasons. On one hand, politically, there's been many consecutive emergencies in recent years in Europe including a forced de-escalation of the war in Ukraine, COVID-19, the cost of living crisis, all of these have dealt with the European government's willingness to invest and sustain their resettlement commitment. And also to open up pathways to other regions.

And of course, these challenges are understandable, but there will always be some crisis, and this had to mean that those most vulnerable are left behind.

HOLMES: You mentioned -- promises. Are some countries doing better or worse than others. I mean what sort of promises have been made which haven't been kept.

SUNDBERG: Absolutely. So on one hand there is the figure you mentioned, the very low resettlement commitment, fewer than 300 Afghan refugees have arrived in Europe last year and this compares to around 1,100 Afghan refugees that the E.U. have promised to welcome as a bloc.

So just under a quarter of those (INAUDIBLE) which are already quite low. But besides this, many schemes (ph) have also been announced since 2021 to help urgently bring Afghans to safety through its humanitarian admissions, through (INAUDIBLE) reunifications through other routes.

And here we have really seen some real efforts made around 40,000 Afghans have arrive din Europe since then. Many through urgent evacuations but many of the initiatives that were promised have failed to materialize (INAUDIBLE) or are facing very serious --

So for example in Germany, they set up a federal admission scheme to welcome a thousand Afghans for months over three years. But not one Afghan refugee has a ride for this passage. Similar --


HOLMES: I read that in the report and that I mean that is just head shaking stuff, not one. What needs to change structurally to unblock this log jam?

SUNDBERG: Well, the IRC has been calling on European governments to do three things, both to address the most urgent immediate issues and to put in place a longer term plan that is be2tter aligned with the E.U.'s capacity to welcome.

On one hand governments need to urgently scale up these routes. They need to reinvest into expanding and future proofing the resettlement program, so that they're less vulnerable when crises appear. Also creating new pathways to help bring Afghan refugees to safety like humanitarian admissions, human pathways, labor mobility pathways, family reunification.

There's a very broad range of tools available. But regarding the schemes in place, governments should take a lot more steps to make them more flexible, more accessible, and more transparent.

And besides that of course, governments need to uphold access to asylum and dignified reception for those who arrive in the E.U. territory. And also start drawing the lessons from this response, to build a better system for all of them in the future, to have a better system in place to respond faster, more humanely, and more effectively to future humanitarian emergencies and protection needs --


HOLMES: Yes. How much of this particular problem do you think is about visibility and priority? I mean, let's be realistic, Ukrainians and Ukraine and its refugee crisis has taken precedent and frankly, they're Europeans. I mean but that does not mean Afghans should be forgotten, of course. And they so often are.

SUNDBE2RG: I think what is needed in many countries is political leadership, is to move to a politics of protection where governments take pride in welcoming refugees and expanding safe routes, rather than this race to the bottom that we see now where it's made ever harder for people to reach a safe haven and to be treated with dignity when they do so.

So certainly at the end, (INAUDIBLE) response to refugees from Ukraine across Europe. We have been, you know, operational in many European countries. Seeing how civil society has rallied together. How citizens have stepped in, how governments have very quickly granted a durable and clear legal status for temporary protection, how the E.U. has coordinated their response.

Now this is not to say that the response was without problems. There have been many challenges but it does show what is possible when the political decision is made to welcome.

So certainly, we think that all people fleeing conflict, or persecution at home deserve to have this welcome offered to them.

HOLMES: And just sort of more personal touch, I mean Afghans, I think are the third largest refugee group in the world. What sorts of conditions are they facing when they're waiting often in camps and so on. I mean I think that people forget that these are people.


SUNDBERG: Well, many Afghans displaced (INAUDIBLE) country find themselves indeed in very devastating, very precarious situations for their livelihoods, for their ability to plan for the future, for their mental health.

So for example 1.6 million Afghan refugees have arrived in the region since 2021, 99 percent of them in Iran and Pakistan. And these are countries that have long hosted the vast majority, about 90 percent of Afghan refugees, worldwide, many more Afghans with other legal status also.

And these are also countries that are facing severe domestic challenges. Such as the tragic floods in Pakistan last year, very severe inflation in Iran which also limit their ability to offer lasting protection. So what this means is that Afghans in the region face a lot of

difficulties to access basic services, affordable housing with the rising rents, employment. And the situation can last years while they wait for these applications to be processed and eventually hopefully be accepted.

HOLMES: It's a dreadful situation.

Appreciate the work that your organization is doing. Olivia Sundberg in Brussels, thanks so much for taking the time.

SUNDBERG: Thank you for having me.

HOLMES: And we're going to take a quick break. We will be right back.


HOLMES: One of the world's most delicate ecosystems is in danger. Now scientists are saying that the coral reefs of the Red Sea are under threat after nearly all of the black sea urchins died off in a matter of days.

CNN's Hadas Gold with the story.


HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The pristine waters of the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, reefs teaming with colorful fish. But something is missing. And it's threatening this entire ecosystem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the very short time, we experienced a massive catastrophe or failure, talking about losing a species which used to live there forever.

GOLD: In January, black sea urchins here started dying en masse. Within days an populations of thousands were getting sick and literally disappearing.

OMRI BRONSTEIN, FACULTY OF LIFE SCIENCE, TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY: We've never seen any fluctuations of that magnitude and now to say that sea urchins were completely gone, that whatever is killing them is still defined as a water borne pathogen. We know that it is transmitted through the water. You don't need direct contact, that it takes 48 hours for an individual to go from a live healthy individual, to basically a bare skeleton.

GOLD: Vital to keep the delicate balance of life here, these urchins consume the algae that can choke reefs already stressed by human activity and the effects of climate change.

Dr. Bronstein and his team of researchers from Tel Aviv University, show us how the beauty and health of the reefs are under attack. We do not spot a single black sea urchins.

BRONSTEIN: The thought that we might be seeing something that is going to be radically-changed is simply very sad thought. And it is probably the most unique coral reef in the world. It is our responsibility to make sure that they will remain here for future generations.

GOLD: This coral reef is unique in the world, because of its ability to withstand high temperatures, making it more resistant to the effects of climate change. And that is why this reef is so ecologically important to the globe.


These tanks at the Inter (ph) University Institute for Marine Sciences in Alat, Israel were once filled with the jet black urchins. Now, they are covered in algae, a small scale example of what scientists say is happening in the sea.

BRONSTEIN: Without external regulation that the sea urchins provide, corals do not really stand a chance in this competition with algae, because the great -- the growth rate of algae is order of magnitude higher than those of coral.

GOLD: Only a few have survived this epidemic, like this young juvenile. He seems rather lonely.

BRONSTEIN: Oh yes, a few individuals. Even when they survive, that is not enough to sustain a population.

GOLD: A similar pathogen, wiped the urchins out in the Caribbean in the 1980s, and reared its head again last year. Dr. Bronstein said it's likely spread by ships and possibly helped along by climate change. And it's spreading.

Researchers are using DNA technology to make a difference.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So basically just establishing a new monitoring method, a higher (INAUDIBLE), one it's allowing us to follow processes in the water of different species.

GOLD: So, in a way, you're trying to predict the future --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More less. Without going for the water. Yes.

GOLD: But the time to save these black sea urchins is running out, Dr. Bronstein says. Governments need to move within weeks.

BRONSTEIN: And decision makers need to understand that the window of opportunity to take action is very, very narrow and it's closing rapidly.

If we don't move quickly to create the brood stock population, based on the Mediterranean population, the remaining population. If we don't take extra care about what we pump into this environment, we may find ourselves in a huge problem, in a huge situation.

GOLD: Israel shares this gulf and this problem with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia which you could see just behind me. And with which Israel has no official relations. But under the water, there are no boundaries and no politics and international cooperation will be a key to fixing this problem. These fragile reefs where everything plays its part in the cycle

desperately waiting for help.

Hadas Gold, CNN -- Alat, Israel.


HOLMES: Well thanks for spending part of your day with me.

I'm Michael Holmes. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @HolmesCNN.

Stick around everyone's favorite Canadian, Paula Newton picks it up after a break.