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CNN International: North Korea To "Expel" U.S. Soldier Travis King; Fire At A Wedding Party In Iraq Kills At Least 100 People; Armenia: 47,000 People Have Arrived Since Last Week; Thousands Of Ethnic Armenians Flee Breakaway Region; Azerbaijan Arrests Prominent Nagorno-Karabakh Politician; Judge Finds Trump & Adult Sons Committed Fraud For Years; Judge Orders Removal Of Migrants From New York Shelter; Thousands Bound For U.S. Camped At Mexico-Guatemala Border; US Soldier Travis King Will Be Deported From North Korea; Interview With Australian Strategic Policy Institute Senior Analyst Malcolm Davis; Wagner In Africa; In Central African Republic, Yevgeny Prigozhin's Lieutenant Seems To Be In Charge; Russia's War On Ukraine; Russian Commander Viktor Sokolov's Second Video Released; Advancement Of Ukrainian Unit Near Bakhmut On The Front Line; "Vampire", Drones Made in Ukraine, Target Russians; Funeral for Cosa Nostra Godfather; Writers Get Back to Work; Paralyzed Man Gains Some Movement Thanks To A.I. Brain Implant. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired September 27, 2023 - 08:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: So it's groundbreaking. We'll see where it goes.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: It's groundbreaking. There are several suits that the FTC has brought several defeats or problems --

HARLOW: That's right.

MATTINGLY: -- if they've had with some of them. This is going to set a lot of precedent for the years to come. Very important.

HARLOW: We'll watch it.

MATTINGLY: CNN This Morning continues right now.

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

We have some breaking news for you. The American soldier, Travis King, stay in North Korea, is apparently about to end. State media there say the North will expel the army private, but it hasn't said when that might happen.

You'll recall, King bolted across the border into North Korea during a tour of the demilitarized zone back in July. North Korea says the investigation into the incident is over. According to Pyongyang, Travis King told them he was disillusioned with inequality in U.S. society and racial discrimination in the army.

Let's get the very latest from Paula Hancocks, who's in Seoul. What did you make of the statement from the North and what's right and what might be wrong?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, it's very important to note that this is a statement from North Korea. This is not a statement from Travis King. We haven't heard from Travis King. We haven't seen him at all. No photographic evidence even from the North Koreans.

They admitted just in August, so a month after he had run across the military demarcation line from South Korea into North Korea in the DMZ, and they had finally admitted that they had him, that he had, in their words, illegally intruded into North Korea.

Now, back then, they also said that he had said he had done so because of racial discrimination in the United States, and he was wanting to either stay in North Korea or go to a third country. So now today, this evening, we have heard from North Korea again quoting Travis King, saying that he has said it is an unequal U.S. society that forced him to do what he did and that was his reasoning into running across the border during that civilian tour of the DMZ.

Now, they say that he will be expelled. We don't know when, we don't know where, and those really are some key questions as to when we might see him and where we might see him. Max?

FOSTER: We heard, didn't we, previously from the U.S. administration that, you know, they thought that, obviously, one of the reasons the North would want to keep him is to get information from him in intelligence. So that'll be one of the big questions when he's eventually released about what he told the North Koreans.

HANCOCKS: I don't think anyone doubts that he would have been thoroughly debriefed when he was in North Korea. Now, he was a private. He wouldn't have been privy to any state secrets, for example, but he would certainly have known the inner workings of the U.S. military.

He had been stationed in South Korea. This is all information that North Korea would find extremely interesting. So, there is no doubt that he has been thoroughly debriefed. And potentially, that is why they are able or keen to expel him at this point. That they feel they have all the information possible that they would be able to get from this soldier.

It will be a key question, though, that we won't answered is to where exactly he will end up. Will he, for example, this has happened a couple of times in the past, be expelled to Beijing, to China, and then from there is taken back to the United States. We've certainly seen that before.

We've also seen the situation where there have been VIP guests, including former U.S. presidents going to Pyongyang to bring detainees out. That's highly unlikely in this case, because they have already said that they were going to expel him. So really, the location and the timing are the two key issues.

Now for Travis King himself, he had run across voluntarily. It did appear from eyewitnesses across the border. Just before that, he was being taken back to the United States. He had faced assault charges in South Korea. He'd spent about 50 days in a South Korean facility.

And the U.S. military had then taken him to the airport at Incheon to fly back to the United States, where he was expected to face more consequences. But he was able to leave the airport and then the very next day went on this civilian tour, which is when he went across the border.

So, of course, another question would be what kind of consequences might he face if he does end up in the United States. But there are many questions at the moment, Max, that we simply don't know the answers to. The North Korean statement about this is fairly short.


It is fairly short on details and it really does repeat what they said back in August that it was because of an unjust U.S. society that he decided to illegally intrude, in their words, into the United States. They say they've done an investigation into it. That investigation is over, and they will now expel him. Max?

FOSTER: OK. Paula, thank you so much for that. We'll have much more on this later on in this program.

Now, a day of happiness in Iraq, ending in absolute horror. A fire ripped through the hall where a wedding was taking place, killing at least 100 people and injuring 150 others. Iraqi officials say the fire was caused by fireworks. Candles and other materials are used during that wedding celebration.

A wedding guest tells local media the bride and groom are safe. They're obviously devastated. Iraq's government has declared a three- day mourning period.

Salma Abdelaziz joins us here in London. I mean, for the fact, you know, there were exits out of this building, but they didn't get to them in time. So it must have really blown up quickly.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's just that building material, that's the issue. That's really what's at question here. According to local officials, building material was used that was highly flammable, cheap and illegal. It violated building codes in Iraq to build out this hall.

So within moments, when this fire broke out, portions of the building were collapsing. Families were being trapped in this inferno. That's why you hear from the health ministry that many of those who died, died due to suffocation. Unable to breathe. Unable to get out. I mean, absolutely horrifying. Again, this huge wedding in this Christian community, this was a Christian wedding in this predominantly Christian community, Qaraqosh in Northern Iraq, gathered more than 1,000 people, 1,300 according to some officials. And in an instant, it turned into a nightmare.

We know now that 100 people are dead. 150 are injured, but take those as preliminary numbers. Those could easily go up and expect, of course, that an investigation is going to look into why was that illegal building material used? Did corruption lead to death in this case?

FOSTER: You've been there. This was an area previously controlled by ISIS, and many of the buildings have been destroyed. So can we read from that? But many of these unregulated buildings are relatively new.

ABDELAZIZ: And that's the really tragic background and context here. Qaraqosh, again, a predominantly Christian town, 60,000 people had lived there when ISIS swept through in 2014, took control of the town. You know how ISIS treated minorities. You know how ISIS treated Christian communities.

All 60,000 of those people virtually had to flee. It was a ghost town. It was decimated, devastated when I saw it in 2016 after it was liberated. And in recent years, there's been efforts to bring people home, bring people back.

Actually, the Pope visited in 2021, a way to celebrate, if you will, that revival of that community. This should have been another chance to rejoice. This should have been another chance to celebrate. But again, a building built post-ISIS, post-liberation 2016, with illegal materials is corruption to blame in the rebuilding of these all important communities in Iraq.

FOSTER: OK. Salma, thank you so much.

That's one of the biggest movements of people in the South Caucasus, that area seen since the fall of the Soviet Union. Armenia says 47,000 ethnic Armenians have fled the Nagorno-Karabakh region, a week after Azerbaijan took control of the breakaway enclave. You can see the mountain roads here from Karabakh towards Armenia choked with long lines of traffic.

The region had been blockaded by Azerbaijan backed activists for nine months, causing shortages of food, medicine and fuel.

CNN's Scott McLean is tracking a story from here in London. The numbers have gone up from 20,000 to 40,000 rapidly. Is the whole community leaving?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems of the people who have left thus far, Max. They have indicated that look, there are very few, if any people that they know who actually want to stay behind. And the numbers seem to indicate that that is true. We're talking about almost 50,000 people.

So more than one-third, well over one-third of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh and approaching half of the 120,000 people who live there at the last census. They are more than 99 percent ethnic Armenians. It is also taking an extraordinarily long time for them to actually reach the border.

People reporting -- reported waits of 24 hours plus. Some people giving up on the journey altogether. They are being assisted once they reach Armenia by officials there who are trying to find them food and shelter.


And the vast majority continue to be women, children, and elderly people. Though, we shouldn't read too much into that, other than the fact that the local officials have tried to prioritize those groups to get out.

The concern right now is those who are still left behind. You mentioned the blockade, food, fuel, supplies. They were scarce already to begin with. The Red Cross is able to get in. They're bringing food and medical supplies as well.

The difficulty is getting the injured out. Some have been airlifted, but obviously the Red Cross says they cannot use that main road, the Lachin Corridor, to get out. And so they're trying to arrange more airlifts, or they're trying to arrange with Azerbaijani officials potential other exit routes.

The international community is also trying to ensure that those who remain in Nagorno-Karabakh, those ethnic Armenians, particularly perhaps those who took up arms, are treated fairly by their Azerbaijani officials. The U.S., Germany, others have called on international observers to be allowed in.

The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Azerbaijani president has promised that they would, and he expects them to keep their word. And one of the thing to mention, Max, and that is that we have also gotten word this morning of the arrest of a Armenian man named Ruben Vardanyan. He is the former state minister, in other words, the prime minister, effectively, of Nagorno-Karabakh.

He was arrested this morning on his way towards Armenia at the border as he was trying to get to Armenian territory. The only accusation against him thus far that we know of is that he entered Azerbaijani territory illegally.

Interestingly enough as well, he is a businessman, quite a wealthy one who held Russian citizenship up until December of last year when he renounced it. And it seems like he was also particularly disliked by authorities in Baku in Azerbaijan. Case in point in February of this year when there were talks between Azerbaijani and Armenian officials, U.S. mediated talks in Germany to discuss the situation in Nagorno- Karabakh.

The Azerbaijani delegation agreed to this meeting only on the condition that Vardanyan would not be part of the delegation and it was a few days later that he actually ended up leaving his post. So, there are still plenty of question marks at this point as to what else, if anything, he may be accused of here and of course plenty of concern about the treatment of other ethnic Armenians who remain in Nagorno-Karabakh, Max.

FOSTER: OK. Scott, thank you.

Still to come, a judge finds that Donald Trump fraudulently inflated his wealth to get cheaper loans. Those details and what it could mean for the former president coming up.



FOSTER: Another legal loss for Donald Trump. A New York judge has found the former U.S. president and his adult sons liable for fraud after providing false financial statements for roughly a decade. The accused are inflating the value of multiple properties, including Trump's apartment in Trump Tower by up to $207 million.

The judge has also canceled the Trump organization's business certification in the state. New York's Attorney General is seeking $250 million in damages and wants to ban the Trumps from serving as officers of a New York business. She's also trying to stop them from doing business of five years.

In this ruling, the judge said, quote, "A discrepancy of this order of magnitude by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of decades can only be considered fraud". Here's what one CNN legal analyst had to say about that decision.


ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This was a summary judgment motion, which was in effect the judge saying there is no reasonable question of fact, even viewing the facts of this case in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. So let's just assess the case from Trump's perspective, and that's what the judge is doing, the summary judgment motion, and saying even under those circumstances, there's just no question of fact.

It's not out of the question that this, when it gets appealed, gets affirmed, exactly as, you know, in the form that it was written here.


FOSTER: Well, CNN's Kara Scannell has more details now on the ruling.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: This is a huge loss for Donald Trump, for his family and his family business. The judge finding that he engaged in fraud for a decade by inflating the value of some of his marquee properties on financial statements that were provided in a number of business transactions.

The judge saying that the -- Donald Trump's explanation for how he came up with the values for some of his assets, they -- he called it a fantasy world, not the real world. Specifically, he singled out Trump's triplex apartment at Trump Tower here in Manhattan. Trump had inflated the value of that property, including just the mere square footage by three times, meaning that he did acknowledge and the judge saying that that massive discrepancy could only mean fraud.

Now, he also said that he was ordering that certificates of business to operate in New York State be canceled and that he would put in place a receiver to dissolve the business. Exactly what that will look like. Remains unclear at this point.

There's a lot of confusion, even among the parties, about how that will play out. But it could significantly reshape what the Trump Organization looks like and whether it has a footprint in New York City.

His son, Eric Trump, who essentially leads the company on a day to day basis, said that both the judge and the attorney general are trying to destroy their company. Now, Trump's attorney, Chris Kise, who's representing him in this action said, "Today's outrageous decision is completely disconnected from the facts and governing law. While the full impact of the decision remains unclear, what is clear is that President Trump and his family will seek all available appellate remedies to rectify this miscarriage of justice".

They are already appealing before the appeals court, the start of this trial because they think the judge has not implemented correctly what claims would actually be covered by this. So they are hoping that the appellate court will narrow even the scope of what the judge overseeing this case could look at, saying that certain claims fell outside of the statute of limitations.

We're expecting the appellate court to rule this week on that. But as of now, this trial is still in limbo, but is currently scheduled to start on Monday.

FOSTER: Donald Trump posted his own response to the judge's ruling online. He's accusing the judge of, quote, doing the bidding of the New York Attorney General. Trump says his company has been slandered and maligned by what he calls a politically motivated witch hunt. Trump is also calling on help from the highest courts in New York and at the federal level for help.

Michael Cohen, his former attorney, says the ruling was effective because it hit Donald Trump where it hurts the most, and that is his wallet.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY OF DONALD TRUMO: If you really want to get to Donald, the way to do it is through his bank book. Not by saying, oh, he's a narcissistic sociopath or, you know, look at he's definitely --


COHEN: -- not 6'3" and he's not 215 pounds, you go after the wallet. Once you start hitting that bank book, that's what really gets to him.


DeSantis In a setback for New York's mayor, a judge has ordered the city to remove migrants from a shelter on Staten Island that was once a private school. The judge says Mayor Eric Adams administration violated local laws on zoning regulations and public comment requirements.

The decision comes after a lawsuit filed by a local resident whose property is adjacent to the former school. The Preliminary Order is effective immediately and bans the use of the site to house migrants. The city started moving them there in August amid a record number of asylum seekers.

That record breaking surge is affecting countries besides the U.S. The Mexico-Guatemala border is facing its own crisis as thousands of desperate migrants stop there on their journey to the U.S.


But as David -- CNN's David Culver shows us, they have to survive dire situations before having any chance at a better life.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As you touch down in southern Mexico, be ready to share the road with migrants. We spot group after group marching north. Many of those who just illegally crossed into Mexico head here. This outdoor park turned a migration processing center.

We met folks camping out for days, some weeks waiting to claim asylum in Mexico or to get transit documents so as to pass through legally or to sign up for, well, some aren't quite sure what they're signing up for, but they do it anyways.

Rafael Torres Marty (ph) from outside Havana, Cuba, at 26, he sold his house, left behind a six-year-old son. And is traveling north with his dad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Foreign Language)

CULVER (on-camera): He wants to go legally into the U.S., so he wants to go through this process here, get his documentation, and then get to the northern border and eventually cross.

(voice-over): He wants to pave the way for the rest of his family to follow. Haido Duarte (ph) traveled from Honduras with his wife and their two young boys. He's done this before.

(Speaking Foreign Language)

CULVER (on-camera): Four years ago, he lived in Minnesota. Says he was painting water towers, water tanks. And he said he was deported from Minnesota to Honduras and is now making the trek again. (voice-over): In the already impoverished state of Chiapas, Tapachula feels the migrant strain. It is overflowing.

(on-camera): A lot of it is just waiting to get into an office and processed eventually. But you've got people from all over. I mean, we've met people from Haiti, from Cuba, from Honduras. And they're here for many of them an unknown period of time.

(voice-over): Last year, Mexico says some 77,000 migrants applied for asylum in Mexico. More than half of them do it in Tapachula. This year, on track to be nearly double that, a record high. Not everyone sees it as a burden.

(on-camera): And for some of the Mexican locals, all these people who are not from Mexico, are a business opportunity too. Look over here, you can see some of the stands that are set up to sell food, vendors.

(voice-over): To get to Tapachula, it's an hour's drive or a day's walk from the Suchiate River. Guatemala on one side, Mexico on the other.

(voice-over): And in the shadows of the official crossing between the two countries, an armada of rafts casually ferrying group after group.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Foreign Language)

CULVER (on-camera): She says it's a really, really hard track. Do we host anyone? You can tell they just have such a rush of emotion when they get to this side. And some of them come ready to just continue on.

(voice-over): Others, like Mikele Marchan (ph) and her husband, Javier Guillen (ph), using this as a moment to catch their breath.

(Speaking Foreign Language)

(on-camera): And so, well, they're having their first child. She's five months pregnant.

(voice-over): Days earlier, they crossed the treacherous jungle terrain of the Darien Gap, connecting Colombia and Panama. All they own now fits in this small bag. They were robbed and held at gunpoint for hours. But that does not compare, they say with what they saw.

(Speaking Foreign Language)

CULVER (on-camera): Oh, my God. I mean, they're just describing passing through the Darien Gap, and they said several people who had already passed away, a lot of kids, they saw their remains, and he says children who were abandoned.

(voice-over): Those images haunt Susana Aleman (ph). Describing the journey she made with her four young kids. But even amidst her tear filled pain, little ones lighten the load.

(on-camera): Get a little shampoo left in his hand. (voice-over): His 12-year-old sister, Sofia (ph), helping clean it out, as Joandri (ph) then turns the questions on me.

(Speaking Foreign Language)

CULVER (on-camera): Oh, she says I'm older than her dad.

(voice-over): Curiosity brings their siblings and cousins. And Joandri (ph) takes over the mic, telling me why they left Venezuela.

(Speaking Foreign Language)

CULVER (on-camera): Six years old, he even speaks of -- Venezuelan economy is bad. But as they share, disturbing memories surface.

(Speaking Foreign Language)

CULVER (on-camera): They're talking about -- these are children, mind you, having gone through the very end of the bodies that they saw. He's describing seeing a blonde woman. Sofia's (ph) pain as she remembers saying goodbye to loved ones.

(Speaking Foreign Language)


CULVER (on-camera): Her little heartbreaking, the friendships that she's lost.

(voice-over): So much behind them, yet far from over. More than 1,000 miles until the U.S. border.

David Culver, CNN, Tapachula, Mexico.


FOSTER: Coming up, a medical breakthrough in the treatment of paralysis. How artificial intelligence is helping patients move once again?


FOSTER: By now to our top story, North Korea says it will expel U.S. soldier Travis King, who sprinted across the border into the North from South Korea during a tour in July. State media reported that King had entered their territory illegally, adding that he claimed racial discrimination within the U.S. Army and that he was disillusioned about the unequal U.S. society. CNN can't verify any of those comments actually being King's words, though.

Malcolm Davis is a senior analyst of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He joins us from Canberra. Thank you so much for joining us. First of all, what did you make --

MALCOLM DAVIS, SENIOR ANALYST, AUSTRALIAN STRATEGIC POLICY INSTITUTE.: My pleasure. FOSTER: -- what did you make of the language in the North Korean statement the word expel, for example, when a lot of people are suspecting some sort of deal was done here?

DAVIS: Well, it's possible that the North Koreans have decided that really Travis King has no value for them, in terms of them keeping him in North Korea, so they're going to make a show of expelling him, removing him from the country. We don't know the details yet, but clearly they've decided he has absolutely no value whatsoever.

FOSTER: Which could mean that he didn't tell them anything, any useful intelligence, or that they got everything that they think they could have got from him.


DAVIS, SENIOR: I think probably the latter. I mean, remember he was a fairly low-ranking soldier. He wasn't an officer. He didn't really have access to any classified information. So, there's not much he could have told them.

Also, he had a fairly dodgy record in terms of behavior in the U.S. Army. You know, he was up on a number of charges. So, he was probably not that valuable to them as a -- as, possibly, someone who would defect to the North Korean side.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: He was very valuable to the U.S. though. Surely there's something that they would have asked for in return -- for returning him?

DAVIS: It's hard to say. There are no any details about -- out about that aspect of the story at this point in time. It's possible that the U.S. could have approach the North Koreans through an intermediary. I don't believe there is any direct communication between Pyongyang and Washington at this point to ask for something. It's basically -- get this individual back.

But just -- what the Americans could have given North Korea is really hard to imagine because North Korea are, after all, has shown absolutely no interest in returning to arms control negotiations and is proceeding full speed ahead with nuclearization and missile development. So, I'm not sure what the Americans could have given the North Koreans in return for this soldier being returned to them.

FOSTER: They'll be concerned though, won't they, the American military and intelligence services about anything that he could have given up. They also would want to get their own intelligence and what he experienced in North Korea.

DAVIS: Certainly, they will want to do a full debrief of him once he -- they get him back to find out who spoke to him. What was he interrogated about? You know, obviously, they want to do a full medical exam to make sure that, you know, he hasn't been damaged or interfered with anyway. I would imagine they'll do a full psychological makeup to basically determine if he's been brainwashed in any way shape or form. There have been a number of incidents in the past. We have American citizens being returned from North Korean in a very bad state.

So, I do think that the Americans will take all careful precautions to make sure that Travis King is in actual fact in good health when he is returned.

FOSTER: OK. I appreciate your time today. You're talking in Canberra. I know it's late there. Thank you for joining us.

DAVIS: Thank you.

FOSTER: Now, a senior U.S. defense official says it's not seeing a withdrawal of Wagner forces from Africa in any substantial meaningful numbers after former Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin died type in a plane crash last month. But as the Kremlin tries to get its arms around Wagner's sprawling commercial network on the continent, still unclear who is heading the operations there.

CNN's Clarissa Ward reports on the man who may be the new Wagner leader in the Central African Republic.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Behind this door, we are expecting to find Dmitry Syty, one of Wagner's bosses in the Central African Republic. Access strictly forbidden to all people who don't work here, a sign warns. Our knock goes unanswered. And shortly after we are told to leave the building.

We came back to the heart of Yevgeny Prigozhin's empire in Africa to see how his death had changed things, and found two of his lieutenants still running the show. Vitali Perfilev is in charge of the security piece, while Syty runs the commercial side. Syty likes to keep a low profile these days, which is not surprising given that he's survived a mail bomb attack here in December 2022. After the attack, locals began to wear t-shirts in support of him, a sign of Wagner's entrenched popularity here.

We first met Syty back in 2019. Officially, he was acting as a translator. But documents showed he was the head of a now defunct Wagner-owned company called Lobaye Invest, and that he had started working with Prigozhin to influence U.S. elections in the so-called troll factory back in 2016. Educated in Paris and fluent in French, English, and Spanish, Syty later created the Russian Cultural Center in Bangui, which investigative group the century says Wagner uses as a front to sell its gold and diamonds to VIPs and manage its timber and alcohol operations.

The center is one of the last places Prigozhin was photographed alive, seen here with Syty standing by him. We filmed covertly at the cultural center where a woman who called herself Nafisa Kiryanova told us that Prigozhin's death has not changed the status quo.

NAFISA KIRYANOVA, HEAD OF RUSSIAN CULTURAL CENTER, BANGUI: So, the mission continue to be, the Russian cultural house continue to be. WARD: And so, Dmitry doesn't have that job anymore?

KIRYANOVA: Why not? He is responsible for the whole mission. So, if he runs this job, he runs some other directions going on.


WARD: OK. OK, OK, OK. So, it's all the same people, basically?

KIRYANOVA: Basically, yes.


WARD (voiceover): In a rare and recent interview with Russian media, Syty says he hopes the mission will not change.

DMITRY SYTY, WAGNER DIRECTOR (through translator): If we start to retreat, then everything that has been built will also to crumble. This is our chance. We're now looking for new friends, partners, new markets. Africa is a chance for Russia.

WARD (voiceover): Over the weekend, video emerged of a ceremony to commemorate the death of Prigozhin. Prigozhin, best friend of Central Africans, a banner reads. As Wagner security chief, Vitali Perfilev looks on. One month after his death, Prigozhin's lieutenants are still standing, watching over his empire.

Clarissa Ward, CNN, Bangui.


FOSTER: Dead or alive, the mystery surrounding the fate of Russia's Black Sea fleet commander deepens after another video of Viktor Sokolov is released. Details just ahead.

And mourning a murderer. The notorious last godfather of the Sicilian mafia is laid to rest.


FOSTER: The fate of Russia's Black Sea fleet commander is still unclear four days after Ukraine claimed to have killed him. Now, for the second time in as many days Viktor Sokolov has appeared in a video of this one posted by Russia's state-run military channel. CNN can't independently confirm when or where the video was recorded. It was released a day after Ukraine said it was clarifying the information regarding Sokolov's status.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us live in eastern Ukraine. I mean, it's difficult to verify these videos, when they were filmed. It's also pretty difficult to figure out what Ukraine is now saying on this.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Ukraine is saying that they're still verifying the information that they have, which of course was that Sokolov had been killed in that strike in Sevastopol that happened this past Friday. They say they are re-evaluating all of that. Of course, also, in light of the fact that these videos are now surfacing.

One of the do -- one of the things that we do have now which is actually new is that for the first time the Kremlin now seems to strongly indicate that Admiral Viktor Sokolov is indeed still alive.


You recall that yesterday there was that video of the Russian general staff with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu speaking to some of his top commanders, and there Sokolov was present. Well, today, the Kremlin did say that yes, he was present at that meeting. However, they did refuse to comment any further.

And now we have this new video of him there, handing out medals for a sports championship of the military. There was a short interview with him as well. And there was one nugget that was pretty interesting in that interview when he was asked, you know, why these awards couldn't have been handed out earlier. And the people there said it was because of the events in Sevastopol. And he said, what's going on in Sevastopol? The Black Sea fleet is still operating as usual, paraphrasing here. But he did seem to make remarks that could indicate some of the events of the past days.

Now, as all of this is going on and all of these hints seem to be indicating he is still alive, of course, the war here, Max, in Ukraine is still in full swing. We were able to latch onto a drone unit here in Eastern Ukraine that uses sophisticated Ukrainian made drone called the Vampire, and they were part of a big battle that happened, and we were right in the middle. Here's what happened.


PLEITGEN (voiceover): Rolling into battle as night falls, Ukraine's army attacking in the east around Bakhmut.

PLEITGEN: For the Ukrainians this is an extremely important but also very complicated and potentially very dangerous mission. And we're going to be located very close to where the Russians are.

PLEITGEN (voiceover): We're with a frontline drone unit called Code 9.2. Their drone, the Ukraine made Vampire. The crew attaching the bombs as artillery whistles our overhead. The Vampire is fully night mission capable and place a soundtrack showing it means business.

The team leaders call sign is Groove (ph), and he confirmed because Ukraine doesn't have a modern air force, tonight, they are the air force.

The drones see in the night like in daylight, he says. We see the infantry, we hit the vehicles, cannons, everything we need to destroy. Groove (ph) also says, Russians from Wagner private military company have returned to the battlefield around Bakhmut.

Yes, there is Wagner here too. They swiftly change their commanders and have returned here, he says. We're breaking through their line of defense and hitting them well. As the drone takes off, the battle is already well underway. The Ukrainians using western extended range artillery shells and cluster munitions to attack Russian ground forces. Groove (ph) is already busy targeting the Russians.

Oh, something is burning, he says.

His unit also managing to take out a Russian main battle tank by dropping several bombs on it. The Ukrainian army now starting to push forward. Our photojournalist, Dan Hodge, films powerful explosions as armored vehicles advance in the moonlit night.

PLEITGEN: We're now hearing a lot of fire, a lot of outgoing fire. A lot of incoming fire, actually, also as well as Ukrainians are trying to move forward. And they say they want to take a key road away from the Russians.

PLEITGEN (voiceover): But the Russians are fighting back, firing flares to unmask the Ukrainian's advance and hit Kyiv's forces. Groove remains unfazed, hunting a Russian tactical vehicle before destroying it. The Code 9.2 drone team often hunts Russian armor here, recently even destroying a modern T-90 tank in a highly complex operation. After more than a half dozen missions the drone returns a final time. But as we try to get away from the battlefield, a tire bursts on our Humvee. No time for spare, we push on.

PLEITGEN: We just went with an extremely tough battle between the Russians and the Ukrainians, both sides going at it for hours with very heavy weapons. And the area where we were, shells landed close to there on various occasions. Now, we're heading back to base.

PLEITGEN (voiceover): Hobbled but rolling, after a long night on one Ukraine's most dangerous front line.


PLEITGEN (on camera): So, as you can see there, Max, it was quite an eventful night. There were two key takeaways that we had from all that. First of all, the Ukrainians increasingly using those drones and also in expanded roles, they are becoming ever more important. And second of all, the Ukrainians are going to need a lot of ammunition if they are going to sustain the kinds of operations that we saw that night. Max.


FOSTER: Fred Pleitgen on the ground in Eastern Ukraine, appreciate that. Thank you so much.

Now, the man known as the last godfather of the Sicilian Mafia was laid to rest just hours ago. Matteo Messina Denaro had once bragged that he had murdered enough people to fill a cemetery. On Wednesday he was buried in a relatively small funeral, attended only by family members. Police escorted his hearse to the cemetery, and prevented media and onlookers from watching the funeral. Messina Denaro died on Monday after a battle with cancer. Barbie Nadeau is tracking the story for us from Rome in Italy. I mean, how are Italians are viewing this? Because it seems as though he received the burial that he wanted when many of his victims didn't.

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's exactly right. And that's, you know, what really needs to be underscored here. There's been mention of the 26 known victims, of course, countless others for which he was serving 20 life sentences. When he died, he was captured in January after 30 years on the run. But right alongside this mention of the victims is the speculation about who the next boss of bosses is going to be.

You know, with various newspapers even using the same terms they used when they were determined who the next pope is going to be which really, kind of, underscores the -- how normalized organized crime sometimes is in this country. And the fact that he was allowed this funeral, that -- family chapel alongside his father who was also a convicted mobster is really -- you know, causes a lot of pain to the families of the victims.

And, you know, it's quite distressing to just, sort of, watch it because whoever the next boss of bosses will be, he's probably already in hiding, he's probably already killed countless people. And, you know, it's not -- you know, it's not an episode of "The Sopranos" or "The Godfather" movie. This is real life here, you know. The organized crime destroys families, and it takes, you know, takes money from the state. And it's a real contrast here, you know, how these mobsters become sort of celebrities, Max.

FOSTER: OK. And in terms of how he's going to be remembered, I mean -- you know, there's a lot -- it's funny, the optics here, isn't it? Because for some people they -- there's a glamour around him, isn't there? And he's part of Italian history. So, how is he being remembered? How would you articulate the feeling in this right now?

NADEAU: Well, you know, he's been called the last of the godfathers of his kind. Now, you know, the mafia all across this country, there are five major mafia organizations. The Cosa Nostra in Sicily which he was a leader of, you know, is one of the oldest and affiliated with the American organized crime syndicates. You know, he's thought of as the last godfather of his kind which means the mafia is changing.

You know, they're not as bloody as they used to be. They don't kill us many people as they used to. But they continue to use every force they can to destroy legitimate businesses, you know. So often it says that the GDP of the organized crime syndicates equals that of the legalized economy here.

And he is being remembered as, you know, the boss of bosses. He was on the run for 30 years. They finally found him. It's -- there's a strange cult following both inside and outside of Italy. Of course, Italians are not proud of the rampant organized crime in this country but they're also -- you know, we have normalized it to such an extent that we're watching the funeral of a mobster.

FOSTER: Yes. Absolutely. Barbie, thank you. Up next on "CNN Newsroom", after months of quiet, Hollywood is ready for some new buzz. The latest on the writers and actors strike in just a moment.



FOSTER: After 140 days of walking the picket lines, Hollywood writers are returning to work. The leaders of the Writers Guild of America unanimously voted to end their strike after reaching a deal with big studios. It boosts pay and benefits whilst offering new protections to writers on streaming shows. It also creates new rules around the use of A.I. in writing.

Natasha Chen is in Los Angeles for us. Initially, we didn't know all the details but the deal that was reached. What do you think is the most significant about it, and what it'll make -- what difference would it actually make to the production process?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, the people I've been talking to, the rank in file writers are very excited about this. They feel that there are strong protections regarding artificial intelligence. And streaming residuals was a big deal as well. As well as the size of writers' rooms.

Let's walk through a few of the things that they got in this deal. Starting with pay increases of five percent immediately followed by four percent the year after that, three and a half percent the year following. Slight increase in health fund contributions. As far as the limitations on artificial intelligence goes, the company must disclose to a writer whether they're handing the writer anything that's been used or generated by A.I. The writer can use A.I. if they so choose, but they don't have to. They're not forced to use that.

You see that there are success-based streaming residuals listed there, that is a big deal because this requires companies, studios to be a little more transparent to the guild about the viewership on streaming platforms. And writers can take home a bigger bonus depending on how popular that content is. The minimum writers' room staffing means that people can be guaranteed work on a show for a bit longer duration as well. Here's one person we talked to on the picket line yesterday, very excited about the streaming residual part of this deal.


CYLIN BUSBY, WGA MEMBER: Streaming has just restructured our whole payment for our writing. And just meeting some parameters around that, some rules around how we as writers are getting paid for our content. The things we create in our heads and Netflix puts on streaming, there is -- it's a new model. And so, we just need to make sure people are being fairly compensated for that. That's what's most important to me.


CHEN: She also mentioned that the writers can't do a whole lot more without the actors on set to say the lines that they've created. And the SAG-AFTRA Union is still on strike. So, Hollywood really is waiting for that second union to get back to the negotiating table before productions really restart, Max.

FOSTER: OK. Natasha Chen in Los Angeles, thank you.

A 46-year-old Swiss man who was paralyzed after a devastating fall is now regaining some movement thanks to artificial intelligence. Our Nick Watt shows us how brain implant is providing new hope.


DAVE MARVER, CEO, ONWARD: If you talk to people with paralysis, it's their number one priority. They want to restore hand and arm function, even above -- they prioritize that above the ability to stand and walk.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Here's how it works, an implant is placed on the brain above the motor cortex. A.I. in that implant deciphers intent to move arms, hands, fingers, then relays that information, wirelessly, to another implant in the body. So, bypassing the damaged spine. A.I. in that implant triggers the right muscles to actually make those movements. They call this thought driven movement. Dr. Jocelyn Bloch performed the surgery.

DR. JOCELYN BLOCH, NEUROSURGEON, LAUSANNE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: We remove a little bit of bone, we replace this piece of bone by these set of electrodes, and then we close the skin. This implant is going to work wirelessly and activate the spinal cord stimulation.


WATT (voiceover): Her partner, a neuroscientist first had this sci-fi idea years ago then waited for tech to catch up.

GREGOIRE COURTINE, NEUROSCIENTIST: If you are paralyzed with your hand, and you can just open and close, it's a huge change. So, then you can eat. You are gaining independence. The change in the activity of daily living is dramatic. This is why this new product is so exciting.

WATT (voiceover): We met Block and Gregoire Courtine in July to discuss their previous project, another world first fitting a similar device to this man who lost the use of his legs after a bicycle accident.

GERT-JAN OSKAM, PARALYZED IN A CYCLING ACCIDENT: Now, the implants are able to capture my thoughts of walking and able to transfer to the stimulator my lower back.

WATT (voiceover): But they say, restoring arm and hand function is actually harder.

MARVER: It's more refined, especially if you want to extend the restoration of movement to the fingers, and not just the arms. So, help them grasp something or help them use individual digits. WATT (voiceover): While it is still too early to provide full results, Onward told us, we are pleased to report that the technology works as expected and appears to successfully re-animate his paralyzed arms, hands, and fingers.

MARVER: We'll learn a lot from that first person, then we'll expand it four or five people. And then if that goes well, we will conduct a global pivotal trial, and hopefully get FDA approval and make it available.


WATT (on camera): A lot of work still to be done for sure, but they, with these trial surgeries, have proved this can be done. Something many people thought was impossible. Restoring movement after a spinal cord injury. One legal ethicist told me, so many people could benefit from this. That we have an ethical imperative to continue this research. We looked into this and so much more for an episode of "The Whole Story," airing here on CNN next month. Back to you.

FOSTER: Thanks for joining me here on "CNN Newsroom". In the meantime, I'm Max Foster in London. "Connect the World with Becky Anderson" is up next.