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CNN International: Ukraine's Embattled Army Chief: Design Of War Has Changed; Gas Explosion Ignites Fire In Nairobi; At Least Three Killed, 271 Hurt; U.S. Imposes Sanctions On Four Israelis Over Violence In W. Bank. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 02, 2024 - 08:00   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNN HOST: Hello. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Max Foster in London. Just ahead, a CNN exclusive from Ukraine's embattled army chief. He says his forces have to adapt to less military aid from key allies like America, as his own future is uncertain. The death toll may rise after a large gas explosion in Kenya's capital. Hundreds have been injured. We live in Nairobi for the latest. And taking the stand, the mother of a U.S. school shooter is being cross-examined about ignoring her son's state of mind prior to the attack.

The embattled leader of Ukraine's army has laid out his strategy for defeating Russia and the challenges holding his country back. However, someone else may be putting those plans into action. As we reported yesterday, sources say Ukraine's President has already fired Valerii Zaluzhnyi, with an official announcement expected by the end of the week, as he prepares for his likely exit. Zaluzhnyi has written an OpEd for, outlining how he sees the way forward. He writes that Ukraine must be less dependent on foreign aid and focus on a new military technology process. He adds, the challenge is to create a completely new state system of technological rearmament. He says such a system could be done in five months.

Fred Pleitgen joins us from Kyiv with a closer look at the situation, and an extraordinary -- I mean, someone suggested it's a manifesto, I've got it written down here, and he says it can be achieved in five months.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know what? I think -- you're absolutely right. It is definitely extraordinary and it is certainly something that I think is very well worth reading. I would urge everybody to go to our website and our app and to actually read this, because Valerii Zaluzhnyi, of course, right now is the top general here in Ukraine, even though as you've noted, he is very much embattled, and of course, he has been fighting this war, the biggest war, if you will, of our time against an overwhelming enemy for the past almost two years. And he obviously has some lessons learned from that, some of which he has been using in -- or he has been outlining in this OpEd that he wrote.

And I think there is two things that they're predicated on, two things that are sinking in for the Ukrainians, and that that they are outgunned and they are out manned. And the fact that they are outgunned is something that he believes will continue. One of the things that he pointed out, Max, is he said, look, there might be waning military supplies coming from Ukraine's allies because of the political situations that they themselves face at home. Of course, the U.S. right now where the aid to Ukraine is very much in the balance. And essentially what Valerii Zaluzhnyi is saying is he said the only way that the Ukrainians can mitigate those disadvantages is to rely on modern technology on unmanned systems on land, at sea, and in the air.

I want to read you one quote of what he said, because he also said some of these operations that we've recently been seeing from the Ukrainians where they've been hitting targets inside Russia or Russian warship just the other day that that is something that will continue. He says quote -- or he writes, "Attack operations can have psychological objectives. And here, technology boasts an undoubted superiority over tradition. The remote control of these assets mean fewer soldiers in harm's way, thus reducing the level of human losses." Of course, Max, the other thing that the Ukrainians have been dealing with is a distinct lack of soldiers on the front lines. They do say that they need to rotate through, but they're having trouble mobilizing enough people.

I want to read you another quote from Valerii Zaluzhnyi. He says, "In 2024, we must focus our main efforts in three areas, introducing a new philosophy of training and warfare which takes account of restrictions in assets, how they can be deployed, and mastering new combat capabilities as soon as possible." And otherwise -- in other words, developing new technologies, bringing them to the battlefield as fast as possible.

And I think one of the key things that we've found that I've drawn from reading Valerii Zaluzhnyi's essay is he needs those new technologies to be integrated into that traditional form of warfare, because on the other hand, of course, what we have here on the Russian side but also on the Ukrainian side is still the use of massive firepower in the form of artillery. He thinks that that can be all the more effective if it's coupled with modern technology, Max.

FOSTER: Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv, thank you for bringing us that extraordinary report. You can read the entire article by the Ukrainian army chief on our website

To Kenya now, at least three people have died and hundreds are injured after a huge fireball engulfed multiple houses and businesses in the capital city Nairobi.


Authorities say a truck loaded with gas exploded in a residential area late on Thursday night. They're warning people to stay back, whilst rescuers work at the scenes.

CNN's Larry Madowo live for us, actually from the scene. What's it like there? It looks -- I mean, it looks horrific.

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is horrific, Max. This is what's left on the scenes. Some of this is still burning. This is a long time since this happened, just after 11 p.m. last night. This was liquefied petroleum gas filling plant and station. The regulator (ph) in Kenya says they applied for licenses three times and they were denied, in March, in June, and in July, but they still went ahead filling cooking gas here, which is used by a lot of people to cook in Kenya. And so, there is already a blame game about how this was allowed to happen. But, he said the impact here -- this is in the immediate vicinity. But, we've been walking around here, and the impact of the fire and the flames were seen last night spread for several hundred meters in every direction here.

There is a building over on the other side of that street. This is almost maybe 300, 400 yards across. And there is the body of a car that was lifted all the way up there. That is just how serious the impact of the flames and this gas explosion was here. The reason why they were denied so many times is because this is a residential place. There are so many people that live so close to here. It's a densely populated area. And that's why the government is saying they shouldn't have been allowed to happen in the first place.

I want you to listen to this one individual who survived the flames from last night.


EDWIN MACHIO, NAIROBI EXPLOSION SURVIVOR (through translator): The fire caught up with me from almost one kilometer away as I was escaping. The flames from the explosion knocked me down, burnt me on my neck and back, as you can see. I decided to use my own means and take myself to the hospital at Mama Lucy where I got first aid. They injected me to prevent tetanus and alleviate the pain.


MADOWO: Having been here and seeing the impact of this damage, it's almost a miracle that only three people died here. There is 271 who are in hospital, who are being treated at various hospitals in the city. But, think about the fact that a car that was in this location was flying almost 300, 500 yards away to the sixth floor rooftop. So, anybody within the vicinity of this area was in the line of danger. And yet, so many people survived, this people who have 60 percent burns, but many of them might make it the final count of the impact, and especially the casualties will take a few days to really come to terms with. But, Max, having been here and seen just how many people live around here, it's truly extraordinary that more people did not die from here.

FOSTER: Absolutely, being burned from that distance as well. Extraordinary. Larry Madowo, thank you for bringing us that from the scene.

Now, after weeks of pressuring Israel to scale back its military tactics in Gaza, the U.S. is now turning its attention to the West Bank. The Biden administration has issued sanctions against four Israeli men, it says, who carried out violent attacks in the West Bank. The move is aimed at stopping growing settler violence against Palestinians. The State Department says one of the men that was named initiated a riot with cars and buildings set on fire, resulting in the death of a Palestinian civilian.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disputed the need for sanctions, saying "Israel acts against all lawbreakers everywhere, so there is no room for exceptional measures in this regard." He went on to say, the absolute majority of the settlers are law-abiding citizens.

Let's get more citizens from CNN's Jeremy Diamond in Tel Aviv. It is an exceptional move, isn't it, by the U.S. Probably won't have a huge amount of effect, presumably though, unless these people travel a lot.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Well, and up until now, it is quite narrow. I mean, we're talking about four settlers who are being acted upon as the first in this -- using this new authority under this executive order. But, basically this is about making a significant point that the U.S. effectively feels like these settlers who have committed acts of violence or carried out threats against Palestinians in the West Bank have not faced sufficient accountability. And it is also, of course, a message by President Biden to parts of his progressive base, notably Arab Americans who have been frustrated with his position on the war in Gaza, to try and show that he is trying to hold Israelis who commit acts of violence against Palestinians, accountable to a certain account with respect.

So, this executive order would cut off Israeli settlers who commit those acts of violence from the U.S. financial system, also banning them from traveling to the United States. Four Israeli settlers have been acted upon in this initial round. They are David Chai Chasdai, who the State Department says initiated and led that riot at the Huwara -- in Huwara in the West Bank.


He has been -- he was the only one of these four who has actually been convicted of anything in Israel, based on our records. He was convicted of assault in 2017. But, these three other individuals, some of them were indeed charged with crimes related to their activities in the West Bank, but none of them, it appears, have actually been convicted. One of them was involved in assaulting Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists, another assaulted Israeli activists and their vehicles in the West Bank, and another has been accused of engaging in acts that "create an atmosphere of fear in the West Bank", including leading groups of settlers that threaten and assault Palestinians.

Now, the Secretary of State for his part said that Israel must do more to stop violence against civilians in the West Bank. As you read before, the Israeli Prime Minister's Office is basically calling this measure wholly unnecessary. And Israel's Finance Minister, a settler himself, who has defended and backed up many of these types of individuals, said that this is an antisemitic lie, the notion that there is some kind of a settler violence campaign. But, of course, the facts don't lie. And since October 7, there certainly has been a significant rise in the number of settler attacks against Palestinians with, according to the United Nations, eight Palestinians killed by West Bank settlers since October 7. Max.

FOSTER: Jeremy Diamond in Tel Aviv, thank you for that update.

Now, in just a few hours, the remains the three U.S. soldiers killed in a drone attack in Jordan over the weekend will arrive on American soil, and President Joe Biden will be there to witness their dignified transfer back to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will also be there. It's the first time he'll be seen with the President since his hospitalization. On Thursday, Secretary Austin said the U.S. is preparing a multi-tiered response to the Jordan attack.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins me now live from Abu Dhabi. You obviously don't have any of the detail here. But, what are you reading into what they're talking about in terms of a counterattack?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, what we also heard from the Secretary of Defense is that he wanted to make sure that these militia had less capability than they had before. He acknowledged the fact that U.S. military has already struck back against some of these pro-Iran, Iran-funded and trained groups in Iraq and Syria before. But, they haven't done enough. So, this coupled with the fact he is talking about a multi-tiered response would lead you to believe that this could well be a number of targets that they're looking at, at this point, potentially over multiple days rather than the individual targets they've been carrying out before.

Now, it is interesting, because we've -- CNN has spoken to a number of individuals who have access to certain U.S. intelligence, which shows that they believe that Iran's leadership was actually taken by surprise by this attack last weekend, and the fact that they are concerned, according to this intelligence, that some of these proxy groups that Iran funds are doing what they want to do at this point. And there is potential concern that there is less control over these proxy groups than might have previously been thought.

Now, it's interesting to point out that these multiple people speaking to CNN also point out they don't think that Iran will change their calculus or their strategy in any way because of these concerns. But, certainly, what we're looking at and what we have been seeing since October is more than 160 attacks by these militia against U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq and in Syria, missile, drone, rocket attacks, there have been injuries. But, of course, the attack last weekend was the first time that we saw a loss of life on the U.S. military side.

So, we have been expecting for some days now that there would be some kind of retaliation, some kind of response by the United States. It has been telegraphed. It has been flagged by the military and by the Biden administration. In fact, it's led at least one of these militia to highlight the fact that they are now pulling back. Kata'ib Hezbollah, which is part of the umbrella group Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which the U.S. blames for this deadly drone attack, they have said that they will be pulling back from attacks on the United States at this point. So, potentially pointing to the fact that even threatening this retaliation does have some kind of deterrence power. Max.

FOSTER: Yeah. It was interesting. Wasn't it? Paula Hancocks, thank you.

Still to come, the mother of a convicted high school shooter tells the jury she wished that her son had killed her and her husband instead of four fellow students. What we learnt from Jennifer Crumbley's emotional testimony, just ahead.





JENNIFER CRUMBLEY, MOTHER OF CONVICTED SCHOOL SHOOTER: I've asked myself if I would have done anything differently, and I wouldn't have.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you could change what happened, would you?

CRUMBLEY: Oh absolutely. I wish he would have killed us instead.


FOSTER: That's Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of convicted high school shooter Ethan Crumbley, taking the stand in her own defense. She and her husband, James, are facing involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with the Oxford High School shooting that killed four students in November 2021. Prosecutors are accusing the couple of making it too easy for their son Ethan to access a gun, and ignoring warning signs about his mental health. The defense finished its direct examination of Crumbley on Thursday. Prosecutors are expected to begin their cross-examination this morning.

CNN's Jean Casarez joins me now. And it's really captured the nation, not just because of the horror of what happened, but because of the precedent it might set.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. In her direct examination yesterday, I mean, one pivotal point is Ethan had written some text saying the bowls are flying off the shelves, the toilets flushing, but I'm alone. Help me. I'm scared. She had said that that was a running joke in the house that the home was built in 1920. He had always thought the house was haunted. And they would -- he named the ghost Boris Johnson. Her husband named the ghost Victoria. And that's what that text was about.

But, I think her knowledge or lack of knowledge of any mental issues is front and foremost in this trial. She -- in her defense, she said that, I didn't see any serious mental issues. I lived with him. I didn't see that. But, she talks about one thing that was a bit concerning to her. Take a listen.


CRUMBLEY: There was a couple of times where Ethan expressed anxiety over taking tests, anxiety about what he was going to do after high school, whether it was college, military. So, he expressed those concerns to me, but not to a level where I felt he needed to go see a psychiatrist or a mental health professional.


CASAREZ: She also said in recent months that his grandmother had died. His dog had died, and his best friend had been taken out of school and moved to another state very quickly. She thought he was sad. She could see that, and she tried to do more at home with board games and just having more family activities. But then the focus became his bedroom, because in his bedroom, he had his journal that he wrote all about what he was going to do with the mass shooting. He texted that friend that had moved out of town all about gunning down the school. He was going to take the prettiest girl and kill her first, all texted to the friends.


There is no evidence at this point that she knew about that, but she admitted that she would clean his room, and she said when she saw the pictures of his room in court, she had a reaction. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We saw pictures of your house.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did you feel about seeing those pictures?

CRUMBLEY: Horrible.


CRUMBLEY: Because my son has a very messy room. And it was right after Thanksgiving, like, right after Thanksgiving, and we hosted Thanksgiving. And it was pretty messy. It was kind of embarrassing.


CASAREZ: But, she admitted that she was the one that would clean his room, not the 15-year-old boy. So, that shows she had access to that room, obviously.

FOSTER: Yeah. We'll be following it very closely. It's really interesting. Jean Casarez, thank you so much for joining us.

Still to come, China taking dramatic new steps to raise criticism online. That investigation, when we come back.


FOSTER: China suggests its economy was strong in 2023. But, was it really? Beijing is cracking down on any suggestion. To the contrary, it's raising internet posts that underscore problems in several key areas, including the stock market and the real estate industry. CNN's Ivan Watson has that story.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The world's second largest economy had a tough year in 2023. Now, one of Beijing's answers to the challenge, ban and erase criticism of it. In December, China's Ministry of State Security issued this order, resolutely crackdown and punish illegal criminal activities that endanger national security in the economic security field. Apparently, that includes disappearing negative commentary from the already heavily censored Chinese internet.

On December 1, this prominent economic professor, Liu Jipeng, advised people not to invest in the falling Chinese stock market.

WATSON: Now, all of Professor Liu's social media accounts are frozen. And when you click to follow him, you get this message, which translates "It is forbidden to follow this user due to their violation of relevant rules."

WATSON (voice-over): CNN found similar freezes temporarily imposed on at least five other Chinese economic analysts. Also removed from the internet this documentary highlighting economic hardship among Chinese migrant workers.

PROF. STEVE TSANG, AUTHOR, "POLITICAL THOUGHT OF XI JINPING": I think the Chinese economy is at a critical patch at the moment. I don't think it has started falling off the cliff yet, but it's getting to a point where things can get much more difficult.

WATSON (voice-over): Officially, the Chinese economy grew by more than five percent last year, but the country's youth unemployment rate keeps hitting record-highs. Then, there is China's all important real estate sector which along with related industries used to make up 30 percent of the Chinese economy.


This is the Hong Kong office of the biggest symbol of China's real estate crisis, Evergrande. Until two years ago, this company was the largest home builder in China, employing some 200,000 people. Then, the company defaulted on its debt. And now, a court here in Hong Kong has ordered the liquidation of Evergrande.

WATSON (voice-over): Across the country, protests as angry new homebuyers demand completion of unfinished homes that they've already paid for. Perhaps the only other sector gloomier is the country's stock market. In the past three years, the combined Chinese stock market lost more than $6 trillion.

MR. TANG, BEIJING RESIDENT (through translator): I haven't made any money out of the stock market. So, I sold all my stocks.

WATSON (voice-over): The Chinese economy is strong and it will be stronger, says this Beijing resident. Perhaps, she got the message from this recent meeting of the country's top propaganda officials, their order, amplify bright prospects of the economy, as China heads into 2024. Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


FOSTER: Finally, here is something you don't see every day. Police in Australia were called to help bust a toddler out of a claw machine, he was able to crawl into, somehow. Authorities say that three-year-old Ethan climbed through the machine's dispenser to get his hands on a price. He seems to be having the time of his life, though, play with all the stuffed animals. A Queensland Police officer has asked him to move to the back of the bin, cover his eyes, so they could break the glass and set little Ethan free, and getting back into the arms of his family. Of course, there is no word if he was able to get a prize.

Thanks for joining me here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Max Foster in London. World Sport with Amanda is next.