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U.N. Says Most Libya Flood Deaths Could Have Been Avoided; Kim Visits Military Aviation Plant In Russia's Far East; U.S. Auto Workers Launch First Simultaneous Strike At Detroit Three; Iranian Hackers Target Secrets Held By Defense, Satellite And Pharmaceutical Firms; Ukraine Intensifies Attacks on Russia In Crimea and Black Sea; Ukraine Stepping Up Attacks in and Around Crimea; E.U., U.S. Firms Scramble to Meet Ukraine's Combat Needs; Cuban Leaders and Envoy to Moscow Send Conflicting Messages on War in Ukraine; Hunter Biden Indicted on Felony Gun Charges; Interview with Taika Waititi. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired September 15, 2023 - 01:00   ET




ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone and welcome. I'm Anna Coren in Hong Kong, ahead on CNN Newsroom. Most of the deaths from catastrophic flooding in Libya could have been avoided. That's the word from the United Nations.

North Korea's Kim Jong Un tours and aircraft plants and other key Russian military sites following his controversial face to face with Vladimir Putin.

And analysts say Iranian backed hackers are targeting satellite defense and pharmaceutical firms in the United States and around the world. What they're hoping to get.

It's 7:00 am in eastern Libya, where authorities are demanding an investigation into this week's catastrophic flooding, which killed more than 5,000 people. The U.N. says most of the deaths could have been avoided with proper warnings and evacuations.

The mayor of the hardest hit city your Derna said the death toll could eventually reach 20,000. Aid group say a seven meter wave swept through the city went to downs collapsed, washing away everything in its path that they discharged.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Then the rain became calmer then at 2:45a.m. exactly. What can I tell you, the major flood came. It was like an imaginary scene. It was like a nightmare. I don't know how to describe it. The water went up to the second floor then to the third floor. I went up to the roof. My neighbors screaming and asking for help. I went down to help them and I saw one of my neighbors dead and being taken by the flood.

I took the kids up and went back up again. The building fence was destroyed. We belong to God and to Him we return.


COREN: Aid is pouring into the city but authorities say they need volunteers to collect and to bury the dead.

Well, UNICEF reports as many as 300,000 children are at risk of disease and displacement. The U.N. is asking for more than $71 million in urgent aid. Workers in Derna spent part of the day sorting through clothes and other items for people in need. And the marine port in Derna is now open to ships delivering suppliers. Well, CNN's Jomana Karadsheh arrived in Derna, Libya a short time ago and filed this report.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It took us more than seven hours to get from Benghazi to the city of Derna. And that is a drive that typically takes about three hours and that is because so many roads, so many bridges around Derna have been destroyed and you can imagine what that means for the aid, for the relief, for the support that would be coming into the city and how difficult it is at this time and driving in at night.

This felt like a ghost town. It is eerily quiet and everywhere you look. You see damage and destruction. It's dark, it's nighttime, but we can still see so much destruction around here. It is just, it feels like a warzone. It feels like a bomb had gone off here. A big bomb had gone off here.

And it's very hard to stand here and not imagine what people in this city went through. Thousands of people lost their lives. More than 10,000 right now accounted for. And everyone you speak to here fears that that death toll is only going to rise in the coming days and all this destruction, the loss of life.

The officials are telling us this all happened in less than two hours, perhaps an hour and a half they believe after those dams burst and the water came sweeping through the city wiping out entire neighborhoods. They say sweeping buildings, infrastructure, cities, homes, families into the sea. It is just unimaginable what has taken place in the city and it has left so many people here in shock.

Libyans tell us they're used to war. They're used to death. They're used to loss, but nothing could have prepared them for this.

On our drive into Derna, we saw so many cars coming in from different parts of the country from the far west from the south. Libyans coming together coming here to deliver aid to volunteers to support the people in this part of the country and the people of Derna.


And it seems that this divided country has come together, that this tragedy this loss has brought them together, at least for now.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Derna, Libya.


COREN: Well, joining me now from Geneva, Switzerland Tommaso Della Longo with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Great to have you with us.

The WHO says the scale of this humanitarian crisis is unprecedented. What is the assessment of your staff on the ground at the moment?

TOMMASO DELLA LONGO, INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF RED CROSS AND RED CRESCENT SOCIETIES: Well, thanks for having me today. Sure, is unprecedented. And the large scale of this disaster, it's really I will say unbelievable as, I mean, I just heard what your reporter was saying from them. And it's exactly what the Libya requesting colleagues are telling us.

I mean, they were using the words, this seems like an earthquake together with a bombardment. And of course, when it's coming to people that knew exactly what does it mean upon bombardment to me it means it means a lot.

So, huge needs for the people. And an emergency response to that is very complicated for logistical reason, infrastructure reason, and also because we have 1000s of people that need mostly everything.

COREN: Tommaso, do you have people on the ground or making their way to these areas that have been desperately hit hard hit?

DELLA LONGO: Yes. I mean, we have the Libyan Red Crescent colleagues. I mean, they were in there even before, you know, our volunteers, as first our first responders, because they're part of the community, they are trained to respond to every emergency. So then when an emergency slides, they are there, of course, with limited capacities.

And the good news is that in the last days, I mean, the result, the Red Cross Red Crescent network that stood up and immediately started supporting them. So we have search rescue teams coming from Turkey. First aid teams coming from Egypt, different planes of aid coming from United Arab Emirates, Italia Red Cross are supporting.

So it's really a massive support. But then, I mean, what we acknowledge is that the scale of needs is so huge that we are still not responding to hold the needs of (INAUDIBLE) in the field.

COREN: So what are your team's doing? Or what will they be doing? And who will they be helping?

DELLA LONGO: Well, the focus is, of course, on survival. So at the moment is first day taking care of survival's psychological support after such a shock for the people who survived it. And then another important activities is what we call the restoring family links. So you have to think about the fact that the entire families were divided. There are maybe kids alone. And people who don't know where their relatives are. So our colleagues or Libya Red Crescent are now working to reunite

families and put them again together. And then the main priority is shelter. We know that some people are in schools or in public buildings, but then we really need to find together with of course, different stakeholders, appropriate place for these people.

COREN: There has been criticism of the management of this crisis by Libyan authorities. Obviously they say there was no warning no evacuations before these dams burst. But now this crisis situation is a getting to the people in need.

DELLA LONGO: Well, the situation, as I said, is very complex. I think that we'll need time to understand exactly what has happened. I think that, I mean, we knew the leaders and do a very difficult decade, I would say more than a decade of war, division, violence, economic crisis. So it's clear that it was a weakness of the infrastructure and unfortunately, we saw the result of it.

Now, there will be time to investigate the responsibility for the moment, our utmost priority is to deliver as soon as possible and as much as possible the aid that is much needed.

COREN: Tommaso Della Longo in Geneva, Switzerland. We thank you for your time and for what your crews are doing on the ground. Many thanks.

DELLA LONGO: Thank you very much.

COREN: One week after a devastating earthquake ravaged parts of Morocco, international search and rescue teams are staying hopeful as they search for survivors in the rubble. They admit things are not looking good, but say they aren't ready to give up.


JIM CHASTON, OPERATION COMMANDER: We haven't had the success of actually rescuing any people. We have done some first aid and some medical evacuations from southern -- some of the other villages. So that's really played our part. Moving forward, you know, we're going to continue as long as the Moroccan people want us here.



COREN: Roads and many villages in the high Atlas Mountains remain blocked by landslides following the 6.8 quake that killed nearly 3,000 people. The government says it's doing everything it can to help quake victims but some people are taking steps to get what they need on their own.


MOUHAMED ZIDAN, AWFOUR VILLAGE RESIDENT (through translator): We use donkeys to transport aid and goods because the roads do not exist. And we live in the mountains. People were greatly affected by this earthquake, and they have nothing. We live in the open and we have nothing.


COREN: The September 8 earthquake was the deadliest to strike Morocco since 1960 and the most powerful in more than a century.

Kim Jong Un is pushing ahead with his visit to far eastern Russia following his face to face talks with the Russian president. The North Korean leader's movements since Wednesday have been somewhat mysterious, but Russian state media says he's been touring an aircraft plant that builds and develops fighter jets.

He's also expected to view Russia's Pacific fleet in Vladivostok. His heavy military focus will do little to alleviate concerns about a possible weapons deal between these two heavily sanctioned states, and weapons were the gift of choice at the summit. According to the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un both gave each other firearms. They were locally made short barreled rifles.

Well, the other key player in this regional dynamic is China, which has so far said very little about the summit. CNN's Paula Hancocks picks up the story.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): It is Kim Jong Un's first known trip outside of North Korea in more than four years, not to China, a country that's propped his country up for decades. But Russia, historically North Korea's second closest ally,

ANDREI LANKOV, PROFESSOR, KOOKMIN UNIVERSITY: He is basically hedging against possible change in Chinese position. China might make a deal behind his back with Americans. China might get in a serious economic trouble.

HANCOCKS: Beijing has said the Putin, Kim meeting is a matter for those two countries but in recent years has made a clear move towards Russia as relations with the United States worsen. Xi Jinping has met Vladimir Putin 40 times in 10 years. That's according to U.S. think tank CSIS in bilateral and multilateral settings. The Kremlin says another meeting is upcoming.

While China is not believed to have provided arms to Russia, an unclassified report by U.S. intelligence says it has given technology that is helping Moscow in its war on Ukraine. Xi's no show at the recent G20 in India also points to his diplomatic priorities.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's actually gone beyond just this meeting, the meeting that China held of the BRIC nations, bringing in Iran and other countries was an effort to show that China could organize an alternative block to the west. And of course Russia is a part of that.

HANCOCKS: South Korean intelligence assesses the idea of bilateral military drills between Russia and North Korea was pitched by Russian defense minister Sergey Shoigu when he was in Pyongyang in July. Interaction Pyongyang is not generally party to but could learn a lot from military cooperation, which experts believe I could then include China.

LANKOV: I think it's possible and then get highly unlikely because it will be seen as a kind of symmetric answer to the recent joint military exercises near the Korean Peninsula by the Americans, Japanese and South Koreans.

HANCOCKS (on camera): Nothing unites more than a common enemy. And Russia, China and North Korea would all like to see an alternative world order, a world where the U.S. is less powerful, and where United Nations sanctions have little if any bite. Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


COREN: Well, let's cross over to CNN Beijing bureau chief Steven Jiang. Steven any reaction from Beijing to the visit and suppose it military deal?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Anna, nothing too much so far. They of course have reiterated their long standing talking points such as both countries are China's friendly neighbors and Beijing maintain strong ties with both governments.

But as Paula kind of mentioned, they are indeed all three of them natural allies ideologically. They are all very much bonded over their grievances over what they perceive as a containment strategy by the U.S. and its allies to suppress their interests and their rise their rightful place on the global stage.

And indeed, China has been working along with Russia at the United comes -- United Nations Security Council where both are permanent members with veto powers to block a U.S. led effort in recent months to strengthen and impose sanctions on North Korea because of its recent missile testing activities.

And Putin of course is also coming today June next month to attend the Belt and Road forum.


So they are definitely, in terms of Chinese officials, they're monitoring what's going on in Russia's Far East. But they're not concerned as far as what Moscow and Pyongyang may say or do at least in public because they don't think they're going to cross China at a time when both regimes have become more and more isolated from the west.

They do need an increasing amount of support from China on the international stage, both politically and economically. And of course, you have just shown our viewers new videos of Kim Jong Il -- Kim Jong Un touring facilities in that Russian city in terms of manufacture of aeroplanes, that of course not coincidental because what Kim wants mostly from Russia are these advanced capabilities and technologies that could advance North Korea's army and made it to a that of course, particularly including the spy satellites for the military, intercontinental ballistic missiles, but also, of course, nuclear powered submarines, which is why his next stop in the in the region is Russia's Pacific naval fleet. Anna.

COREN: And no announcements, but it's there for all to see. Steven Jiang joining us from Beijing. Good to see you. Thank you.

Well, Ukraine has long complained it doesn't have enough artillery shells despite billions in military aid from allies. Coming up, we'll take a closer look at how Western weapons factories are trying to fill the gap.

Plus, a major strike against the three big automakers in the US. We'll take a look at the major impact it could have on the U.S. economy.


COREN: We're following breaking news that could have a major impact on the U.S. economy. Members of the United Auto Workers Union are on strike at three plants after they failed to agree on a new contract with the Big Three automakers.

It's the first ever simultaneous strike at Ford General Motors and Stellantis. The union's main demand is an immediate 20 percent pay rise, followed by 5 percent raises each of the next four years. Ford CEO says that would bankrupt the company.


JIM FARLEY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, FORD MOTOR COMPANY: We put four great offers on the table and we get little pieces of paper about one aspect or the other. We've never gotten a really serious counteroffer.

SHAWN FAIN, UAW PRESIDENT: I say more never made a subsequent counteroffer until the last week. You know what they've had or they've had our demands for five to six weeks now. They've done nothing. None of the Big Three did anything. We had to file a ULP unfair labor charges against two companies just to get a move.


COREN: Let's head now to Los Angeles and Ryan Patel senior fellow at the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. Ryan, great to have you with us.

I mean, this is about sharing the wealth. The Big Three automakers have made something like $20 billion in profits over the first six months of this year and roughly a quarter of a trillion dollars in North America over the last decade.


The UAW obviously has these very aggressive demands. But as the union boss, Shawn Fain said, this is about going after the billionaire class, what is your read of what is taking place right now?

RYAN PATEL, SENIOR FELLOW, DRUCKER SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT: I mean, the leverage has changed, right? I mean, this is more than just going after the CEO pay, in my opinion, right. They're trying to, you know, find ways to make a better case for the employees and for the Union. And I think that they know the union strike.

They know that this is going to cost these three companies and estimated, you know, billion dollar loss and sales, if they hold on to a strike for you know, more than 10 days, 11 days, and it's still starting slowly. We are starting to see you as, you know, three plants and what they're focusing on, but there's kind of sending a message. So they're not putting their foot on the pedal yet. I'm talking about the strike and the union, to these three companies to see if they can budge to get what they want.

But right now, we're at a standstill, and each other side is trying to figure out who's going to come to and compromise.

COREN: And this, of course, is the first time the union has gone up against the three major car companies at the same time, the UAW represents nearly 150,000 workers. And as we heard from Fain, and I'm going to quote him, he says, this is a well-organized and pissed off workforce. What does this United Front signal?

PATEL: It's emotional. I mean, we just came through the pandemic, I think, part of this too, one of the variables, inflation costs are rising, you know, from the average, you know, average, you know, worker at the product line is around $30, $34, or asking for $45. I mean, I think that's one piece of it, the life balance.

But I also think that the coming together, they also understand the value of disruption, right. There's going to be a product disruption. There's going to be supply disruption. And don't get me wrong on the Ford side, and from the Big Three, an increase of have that kind of GNA, or cost to the bottom line will cause a loss and many of these product lines. And I think that is where the balance is, this is where the negotiations are starting to come is like, what is going to be a long term, you know, value proposition for both sides.

And so I don't see either blinking right now. But we're playing with a lot of fire on both sides. And it is kind of dangerous, because for the overall economy. This could lead to a disastrous fallout for especially regional, maybe national,

COREN: You talk about the damage to those three big brands, but the strike could further open the door to China, Japan, Korea, even Vietnam, who are really making headways in the U.S. market in the auto industry, they are becoming more and more competitive.

PATEL: That's a great point. It's sometimes you -- there's a push or disruption that happens in certain industries. We saw that with the pandemic when it came to supply chain specifically of moving quicker. I mean, you think about the impact of dealerships and auto service centers here in the U.S., it hasn't always been the greatest experience. And it's a way to technology was continued disrupted. And you see what Tesla has done in disrupting that market electric market.

And then you talk about global international markets where they're getting the cost further down, they're not having as much supply chain issues. And that can make them a lot more competitive coming into the U.S. now, because things have gotten more expensive for the Big Three. And that is where the revenue loss kind of come plays in hand and they need to stay competitive. These companies want to stay long term here in the US.

COREN: Ryan, finally, how long do you think this will go on for and who will blink first?

PATEL: Oh, I hope this goes really short. Because I don't think we as an economy, even global economy can have more of this because I think it does make an impact in the recovery here in the US who will blink first. I will think if I had to get my crystal ball, I would hope both come to the table because I think maybe they don't get the wages that they want. But they strike a deal to put everyone back to work. And the Big Three actually pay a lot more than they currently have. That is my hope.

But as of right now, after the strike, you know, I think we're going to see the three plants. See that stages to see how that affects the big three and then see, the union tried to potentially put more of a wrinkle in some of these plants that have certain parts in the supply chain that could cause more damage. That will be interesting to see what the second move will be by the Union.

COREN: I think it's very hard for these workers to look at the profits and the multi, multimillion dollars that the CEOs earn and then they look at their paycheck at the end of the week. Ryan Patel, great to get your insights. Thank you so much for joining us.

The European Central Bank has raised interest rates to the highest level since the launch of the euro currency over 20 years ago. It increased its benchmark rate by a quarter percentage point to 4 percent.


ECB president Christine Lagarde signaled the central bank was likely done with its protracted campaign of rate hikes to tame stubborn inflation.


CHRISTINE LAGARDE, EUROPEAN CENTRAL BANK PRESIDENT: Based on our current assessment, we consider that the key ECB interest rates have reached levels that maintain for a sufficiently long duration will make a substantial contribution to the timely return of inflation to our target. Our future decisions will ensure that the key ECB interest rates will be set at sufficiently restrictive levels for as long as necessary.


COREN: Earlier this week, the European Commission downgraded its economic forecast for this year and next, it now expects you economy to grow by point 8 percent in 2023. Well, Microsoft says Iranian state backed hackers are targeting

specific industries in the U.S. and around the world. It says hackers are hitting satellite, defense and pharmaceutical firms. The goal likely to help build up Iran's domestic production in those industries.

Microsoft's director of intelligence strategy tells CNN, well, it's difficult to know exactly why Iran may be targeting these sectors. He suspects Iran may have difficulty generating things in house from these industries, with the sanctions in place.

According to analysts, the hackers have broken into a few dozen of the thousands of organizations they've targeted since February.

The U.S., France and Germany say they will not lift sanctions on Iran that are set to expire next month. They say Tehran is not meeting its obligations under the 2015 landmark nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Josep Borrell, the European Union's top diplomat and coordinator of the plan, said in a statement, quote, the foreign ministers state that Iran is in non-compliance since 2019, and consider that this has not been resolved through the JCPOA is dispute resolution mechanism.

The U.S. withdrew from the agreement during the Trump presidency, but the E.U. is still party to the deal. Ukraine is claiming a series of successful strikes on Russian targets in Crimea, including a Russian warship that Ukraine says is now damaged beyond repair. Those details when we return.


COREN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN Newsroom, I'm Anna Coren. Ukraine's counter-offensive against Russia may be slow going on land but its naval operations in the Black Sea have stepped up considerably in recent weeks.


Ukraine claims it hit two Russian patrol boats with sea drones early Thursday, a claim partially confirmed by Russia.

New video appears to show a damaged Russian ship that was hit by a Ukrainian strike early wednesday in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, home of Russia's Black Sea fleet. A Ukrainian official said the ship, identified as Minsk, was destroyed along with a Russian sub.

CNN cannot independently verify the claim. And in one of its boldest strikes yet on the peninsula, Ukraine said it took out a Russian air defense system in western Crimea early Thursday. In his nightly address, Ukrainian president praised those who carried out the attack.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): A special mention should be made to the entire personnel of the security service of Ukraine, as well as our naval forces. I thank you for today's triumph.

The invaders' air defense system on the Crimean land was destroyed. Very significant, well done.


COREN: One reason Ukraine says its counteroffensive is advancing slowly is a shortage of artillery shells. Frontline commanders say for every artillery round fired by Ukraine, Russia answers with two or three.

CNN's Clare Sebastian visited an ammunition trade show in London to find out how weapon suppliers are scrambling to meet Ukraine's demand.


ARMIN PAPPERGER, RHEINMETALI CEO: Yes, this is ammunition, but without power, you cannot fire this ammunition.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Amid the high tech displays of this sprawling International Defense Expo, the head of Germany's top weapons producer has a much less futuristic battle on his hands, to keep up supplies of this NATO standard 155 millimeter artillery rounds, the lifeblood of Ukraine's defense, and now its counteroffensive.

PAPPERGER: We doubled or tripled our resources, our capacities. We are able now to produce next year 600,000 artillery rounds.

SEBASTIAN: He says that's more than six times their prewar output. Not yet enough though to clear a multi order backlog.

PAPPERGER: Three years ago, we thought we could do everything with air force. It's not possible. Yes, we need strong land forces, and this is exactly what we produce.

SEBASTIAN: Are governments, and is the E.U. doing enough? Do you think they woke up quick enough to this production crisis, you could call it?

PAPPERGER: The E.U. made decisions. And we said, ok, we want to invest. There are -- we are still waiting at the moment for the final decision.

SEBASTIAN: Ukraine can't afford to wait. The government tells us they're firing 5,000 to 6,000 of these rounds a day, but would like to be firing more than 10,000 -- much more than is currently being produced by its NATO allies. Russia meanwhile, is firing 40,000 rounds a day, Ukraine says.

Manufacturers in the U.S., Ukraine's biggest backer, have also rapidly scaled up, not fast enough though to avoid having to sub in controversial cluster munitions this summer. JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURTY ADVISER: We would provide cluster munitions, because the alternative to providing cluster munitions was them not having enough bullets.

BRIG. GEN. JOHN T. REIM, U.S. ARMY: We were at 14,000. We were at 24,000 today. Next month we'll be at 28,000. So we've doubled our monthly output. You know, that's quite significant.

Some of these more longer terms investments, you know, beginning next year, will start realizing additional capacity.

MORTEN BRANDTZAEG, NAMMO CEO: I think we are in a phase right now of industrial war where capacity is the big issue.

SEBASTIAN: Norwegian co-owned Nammo and other major ammunition producer in Europe says has gone from making just a few thousand rounds a year to a rate of 80,000 a year.

BRANDTZAEG: This is totally changing our company. We are investing at some sites 15 to 20 times more than we normally do in order to be at capacity.

SEBASTIAN: When you look at what's happening now with the counteroffensive moving relatively slowly, the fact that it had started later than planned, President Zelenskyy says it's because weapons deliveries were delayed. Did that concern you?

BRANDTZAEG: To me, it's a major concern, of course. We see the consequence in the battlefield. So I think we all in the Western society have a common responsibility to step up these capacities.

SEBASTIAN: Clare Sebastian, CNN -- London.



COREN: Well, joining me now from London is defense analyst Stuart Crawford. He's a retired lieutenant colonel in the British Royal Tank Regimen.

Great to have you with us.

I believe that you were at that military trade show. Can you explain to us why the shortage of artillery shells for the Ukraine military, considering the billions of dollars from the U.S. and its allies for the war effort?

STUART CRAWFORD, DEFENSE ANALYST: Yes, good morning. I was indeed down at the defense exhibition in London. I just came back home to Edinburgh last night.

And it is, I believe, the biggest defense trade exhibition in the world. And it happens every second year. Obviously, the elephant in the room during the whole exhibition was the Russia-Ukraine war. And the topic of ammunition, or lack of ammunition, was on everybody's lips.

The truth of the matter is that in the West, we have predicated our defense planning on a certain level of ammunition expenditure, which the Ukraine war has shown to be completely misplaced. And everybody is struggling to ramp up the production, because the Ukrainian and Russian expenditures way above what everyone currently expected on past performance.

COREN: Well, let's talk about what's happening in the war. Ukraine has accelerated the pace of its strikes in and around the Crimean peninsula, but is this having much of an impact on the Russians?

CRAWFORD: I think it is having an impact on the Russians, but in terms of the overall counteroffensive, we are basically almost at a stalemate. There are little bites being taken here, little counterattacks there, but nothing as dramatic as people like me thought would happen when the counteroffensive was launched.

And much of that has to do with the fact that the Ukrainians are trying to do something which no Western NATO country or NATO itself would try to do, which is breach a serious defense line without at least local air superiority.

And we can argue whether President Biden's eventual release of the F- 16 fighter planes, had that happened earlier, that the air cover would've been there to allow the Ukrainians to make greater progress.

But that aircraft don't look as if they're going to be available until next year at the earliest. So at the moment, it's stalemate with the Russian logistics and communications are being targeted and interdicted by the Ukrainians using Western supplied weapons.

COREN: So you say that this is a stalemate. Tell us more about your assessment of this grinding Ukrainian counteroffensive because, as you say, there have been no major breakthroughs from the Ukrainian side.

CRAWFORD: Yes, that's absolutely right. And I think that whilst there has been much guffawing and laughter at the inept performance of the Russian army in particular and offensive operations, they have proved to be much more adept in defensive operations.

And they've had plenty of time to prepare their defense lines, particularly in the south of Ukraine, the occupied part of Ukraine immediately to the north of Crimea. And going through those things is tough going, and we've all seen that in our television screens -- multiple concrete emplacements, multiple minefields, multiple tank ditches and so on and so forth. And to bridge that depth, up to 30 kilometers of defenses, to breach that in the face of enemy resistance is a major undertaking, which would be challenging for any western army, including the U.S., the U.K. and France, and Germany.

And the Ukrainians, of course, don't have quite the same level of training as we are lucky to have to do these sorts of things.

COREN: So much fighting, so much bloodshed for not many gains. Tell me, what do you make of this supposed arms deal between Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin? And will this have an impact on Russia's offensive?

CRAWFORD: Yes, indeed. I mean basically, you've got two pariah states, if you like, with two pariah leaders who have met up because they're isolated internationally. It just so happens that the North Koreans produce ammunition in the same caliber as Russian weapons systems because their military arsenals derived from Russian designs. So it's very convenient for North Korea to be able to supply ammunition to Russia.


CRAWFORD: In return, I think, the Koreans are looking for -- North Koreans are looking help with their satellite program, particularly their military satellite program, which has failed to take off, no pun intended, so far.

But space is the new frontier, the new domain of military confrontation. And the big defense conference that I was at in London was very aware of that, and space was a major aspect of the presentations made by the international firms to our president.

COREN: We certainly appreciate you sharing your expertise and insights. Stuart Crawford in Edinburgh. Many thanks for your time.

CRAWFORD: My great pleasure, thank you.

COREN: In Cuba, conflicting messages from the country's leaders and its ambassador to Moscow about whether Cubans should join Russia in its fight against Ukraine.

The Cuban foreign minister says his government opposes it, but Havana's envoy to Moscow says Cuba's government is ok with legal participation in the conflict.

As CNN's Patrick Oppmann reports, families whose loved ones are fighting with Russia are confused and caught in the middle.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As Putin's invasion of Ukraine grinds on, the Russian war machine desperately needs to replace soldiers lost on the battlefield and is increasingly casting a wider net to places like Santa Clara, Cuba, with a stagnating economy drives young Cubans to enlist.

This woman says her teenage son left in July to help Russia rebuild infrastructure damaged by the war but was instead sent to fight. She fears reprisals from Russia for speaking to the media and asked us not to show her face and use a pseudonym.

"He has seen what you see in a war," she says. He said he has seen the wounded, at the hospitals people arrive missing arms and legs. He isn't used to seeing that. But Cubans traveling to Russia are running a risk back home. Cuban prosecutors said in September that police had arrested 17 people for alleged human trafficking and planning to fight as mercenaries for Russia.

In Santa Clara, this Cuban father tells me he hasn't heard from one of his son since he left for Russia over a month ago. Another son contacted by shadowy online recruiters was arrested by Cuban police in September on suspicions he was also about to fly to Russia.

He was deceived, he says. I hope they take that into account and evaluate that because like him, there are many more.

Cuba has not accused its ally Russia of being directly involved. It is not clear who these recruiters work for. Russia's ministry of defense did not respond to CNN's request for comment on allegations that Russia is using Cuban mercenaries to fight in Ukraine.

But families of Cuban recruits tells CNN hundreds more were enticed by promises of high payouts and fast-tracked Russian citizenship into taking up arms in a war on the other side of the world.

Small cities and towns on Cuba's economically hard-hit provinces have proven to be fertile recruiting grounds for Russia's war in Ukraine. A Cuban soldier fighting the war there can make more in a month than a doctor makes here in an entire year.

But the families of the Cuban soldiers tell us they're not only worried about the relatives getting out of the war alive, but what charges they could face if they return home.

A week after news of the arrest, an apparent reversal, perhaps indicative of the enormous influence Russia still wields in Cuba. Havana's ambassador to Russia now saying that Cubans have to first sign a contract to quote, legally take part in its operations with the Russian army.

It's unclear where that leaves Cubans already on the battlefield or those who want to return home.

This mother says her son's fate may already be sealed.

He said "Mama, I'm on the front line in Ukraine." He's there, where it's dangerous, she says. They're there to shield the Russian troops. They are cannon fodder.

Instead of improving their lives, the fate of the Cuban recruits now appears to be tied to the evermore bloody struggle for Ukraine.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN -- Santa Clara, Cuba.


COREN: Still to come, Hollywood star Taika Waititi's new rugby documentary and what team the New Zealander thinks will win the World Cup. Perhaps no surprises there. That interview, coming up.



COREN: For the first time in U.S. history the Justice Department has indicted the son of a sitting president. Well now, Hunter Biden's attorney is vowing to fight the new felony gun charges and is blasting the indictment as politically motivated.

CNN's Kara Scannell has more on the story.


KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hunter Biden, indicted on three felony gun charges related to his 2018 purchase of a fire arm. The president son is facing one count of lying on an ATF form when he said he wasn't using or addicted to illegal drugs, another count of lying to a gun dealer who received the form and one count of possession of a firearm while using or being addicted to a controlled substance.

The charges come after Hunter Biden's deal to waive prosecution on the gun charge evaporated this summer, the Republicans criticized the deal and a plea deal involving late payments to (INAUDIBLE) calling them a sweetheart deal. Both then fell apart under a federal judge's scrutiny.

And after failing to work out a new arrangement, U.S. attorney David Weiss, a Trump appointee, asked to be elevated to special counsel status resulting in the charges announced Thursday.

Hunter Biden's attorney Abby Lowell, slammed the indictment saying "The evidence in this matter has not changed but the law has and so has MAGA Republicans improper and partisan interference in this process. Hunter Biden possessing an unloaded gun for 11 days was not a threat to public safety. But a prosecutor with all the power imaginable bending to political pressure presents a great threat to our system of justice."

We will vow to fight the case saying he believes the initial gun deal is still valid and he questioned whether the gun statute was constitutional.

Also, still looming, the possibility of felony tax charges. A date has not yet been set for Hunter Biden to be arraigned on the gun charges but Biden could be on trial next year as his father is in the middle of a presidential campaign.

Kara Scannell, CNN -- New York.


COREN: Well Spain's former football chief Luis Rubiales is due to appear in a Madrid courtroom in the coming hours. Well, that's after prosecutors submitted a complaint against him for sexual assault and coercion over his unwanted kiss on the lips of player Jennifer Hermoso at the Women's World Cup final last month. After weeks of pressure, Rubiales resigned as president of Spain's football federation on Sunday.

Well, Hollywood star Taika Waititi is apparently more comfortable holding an Academy award than the Rugby World Cup. The New Zealand actor, writer and director won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for "Jojo Rabbit" back in 2020. He got the chance to live the famed William Webb Ellis trophy as part of this new documentary series, "Tour de Rugby" (ph).

Here is his conversation with CNN's Amanda Davies.


AMANDA DAVIES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: What are your favorite World Cup memories? Have you been to other world cup?

TAIKA WAITITI, DIRECTOR: The only other World Cup I've been to is the (INAUDIBLE) in 1987 with my father. And it was a very special moment. And also went to see John Cohen, the great John Cohen run the entire length of the field against (INAUDIBLE).

DAVIES: And you have it as part of your series we were able to get your hands I know, on the William Webb Ellis trophy. What were you picturing in that moment?


WAITITI: I was picturing dropping it because the tourist me clumsy and I've seen -- I break everything. So yes, I was very nervous

about holding it. I think held it for about seven seconds and gave it back.

DAVIES: Who's your money on for actually lifting the trophy at the end of October?

WAITITI: I have to say New Zealand because I'm sure that all of New Zealand around me are watching it and I think we have to win. We are going to win.

DAVIES: How much has the winnings -- I love it, I'm not sure. Are you entirely --

WAITITI: It seemed very confident, didn't it?

DAVIES: Are you entirely convinced by what you just said? It doesn't seem like it?

WAITITI: Listen I'm just trying to give people a false sense of security. I think we might win.

DAVIES: But the women did win last year and how much has their success cranked up the pressure on this all male side, do you think? WAITITI: I think that the women winning the World Cup last year is

just great for New Zealand and great for women's rugby. And I for one as the father of two daughters I'm really stoked and really just happy that we actually have a really World Cup with a great turnout, a lot of crowds coming to see it and it was just -- that was beautiful. And I think it helps the game no matter what you did.

DAVIES: We've just seen the football women's World Cup though take place as well. I mean what terms do you think your girls might now be swayed in the football direction rather than rugby?

WAITITI: Yes. If I could get them off the couch, I wouldn't mind what sport they played.

DAVIES: And I know you have been involved in all or nothing. You have also released a football movie. What are your thoughts on directing a rugby movie?

WAITITI: I think it's quite a difficult sport. Most sports are quite difficult to capture and in a really exciting way and I think the last rugby movie would've been what -- "Invictus", maybe?

And I think that you had to have played rugby to really understand how to capture. And then have a right to film it. So I don't know, I never really played soccer, football a lot better (INAUDIBLE) just coming out in a couple of months which is about, you know, one of the biggest losing football teams in the world. True story of American Samoa and how they rode to success.

That was my first foray into shooting that game and I was very nervous about it. seeing football films in the past, and it is just a hard game to really make look exciting on film. But I think we're doing a good job.


COREN: Many thanks to Amanda Davies for that conversation.

Well, sorry to disappoint, two mysterious videos like this one remain unexplained. Just ahead, what experts working for NASA have to say now about space alien visitors.


COREN: Welcome back.

The American caver rescued more than a week after he became seriously ill, deep below ground says he has no plans to stop exploring. Mark Dickey even says he hopes to go back inside the cave in southern Turkey where he was stuck for so long.



MARK DICKEY, RESCUED AMERICAN CAVER: I will definitely continue to explore caves. There is risk in all of life. And in this case, the medical emergency that occurred was completely unpredicted, unknown and it was a one-off but you can get into a car accident. You can -- countless people get injured in their own bathrooms, in their own bathtubs and showers. Why would I stop exploring? Like honestly, caving is one of the safer sports that's out there.


COREN: Well, Dickey was exploring the mocha (ph) cave in Turkey's tourist mountain range when he began suffering from gastro intestinal bleeding, and became too frail to make his way out. A massive rescue effort involving teams of cavers from around the world worked to bring Dickey back to the surface.

U.S. aviation authorities say they may grant a launch license for the SpaceX Starship by the end of October. Elon Musk's Starship is the most powerful rocket ever built, meant for lunar and Mars missions.

But it was grounded after exploding on the Gulf of Mexico during a test launch in April. The rocket almost damaged the launchpad and started a large fire in a nearby park raising environmental concerns. Last week the FAA said it had completed its safety investigation. It required SpaceX to make some corrections, which is subject to environmental review.

Well, you could call it a lunar blast from the past. According to a new study, the lunar lander from the Apollo 17 moon mission is apparently causing small quakes on the lunar surface. They are known as moon quakes.

The moon has massive temperature swings throughout the day. And these temperature swings make the lunar lander expand and contract causing small moon quakes. Researchers have known about this phenomenon for a while. But didn't know why it was happening, so how did they figure it out? By analyzing Apollo era data using modern algorithms.

Video from the U.S. military of strange flying objects have had a lot of people scratching their heads. Well now an independent group of experts and scientists are saying, no, there is still no proof those unexplained occurrences come from intelligent alien life.

The group has been trying to create a roadmap for the U.S. space agency, NASA, into so-called unidentified anomalous phenomenon. The 33-page report relies only on unclassified data. Still, they make it clear their opinion is not the final word and research is ongoing. NASA even says it's appointing its first director of research into UFOs.

There you go. Who would've thought that would happen?

I'm Anna Coren. Thank you so much for your company.

CNN NEWSROOM continues with Kim Brunhuber coming up next.