Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

CNN International: Ukraine's Defense Intel: Russian Pilot Who Defected is Dead; IDF Troops Post Videos from Gaza on Social Media; Former Haitian First Lady Among 51 Indicted in Husband's Killing; Christie's Auctioning Off Items from Elton John's Atlanta Home. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 04:30   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, Putin is calling Ukraine's withdrawal from Avdiivka an unconditional success, but he says his forces can't stop there, and he says they need to push further into Ukraine.

According to Ukrainian defense intelligence, the Russian helicopter pilot who made headlines last year by defecting to Ukraine is now dead. One source says the body of Maxim Kuzminov was found in Spain, shot to death a week ago.

CNN's Melissa Bell has that story.


SERGEI ZENI, RUSSIA 1 TV CORRESPONDENT (through translated text): They speak calmly about Kuzminov's fate. The order has already been received. Ant its fulfilment is a matter of time.

MELISSA BELL, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An eerie warning, just months before police cordoned off this crime scene.

A Russian state media journalist claiming last October that Russian special forces were seeking to retaliate against helicopter pilot Maxim Kuzminov, who defected to Ukraine last year.

Kuzminov, now discovered, fatally shot in Spain, Ukrainian defense intelligence sources confirmed to CNN. His body found in a parking garage, according to Spanish authorities. Asked whether Russia had any knowledge of the death, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow had no information on the matter at all.

Despite Russia's foreign intelligence chief speaking indirectly, saying that Kuzminov became a moral corpse the moment he'd planned his, quote, terrible crime.

The crime in question, a daring operation last September that saw him fly his helicopter across the Russian border and into Ukraine. A decision Kuzminov explained to journalists just after arriving in Kyiv. MAXIM KUZMINOV, RUSSIAN HELICOPTER PILOT WHO DEFECTED TO UKRAINE (through translator): If I had one question, why would my beloved homeland need such a war? I went to church. I lit candles with one wish that it would end as soon as possible. I realized that this is evil, horror and crime. Any war is a crime.

BELL (voice-over): Maxim Kuzminov said the trip took six months to plan. Then, once out of Russia, he used his voice to encourage more of his countrymen to do the same.

KUZMINOV (through translator): Of course, if you commit what I've committed, you will not regret at all. You will be provided for with everything for the rest of your life. You will be offered jobs everywhere, everywhere you would want and whatever you would want to do. You will discover a world of colors for yourself.

BELL (voice-over): That world of colors, however, cast in the Kremlin's shadow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translated text): Of course we will find him. We can reach them all, our arms are long.

BELL (voice-over): BELL (voice-over): The warnings on state television reminding dissidents that Moscow's grip extends far beyond Russia's borders.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


FOSTER: An American journalist detained in Russia has lost his appeal to get out of jail and Moscow's city court as upheld an extension. The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's detention through the end of March. Gershkovich was arrested in March of last year whilst on a reporting trip. Russia's main security service accused him of trying to obtain state secrets, but Gershkovich and his employer deny those allegations. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

A woman with dual U.S.-Russian citizenship has been arrested for treason in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg. The Russian state security service says Ksenia Karelina was arrested for allegedly collecting funds for Ukrainian organizations and openly supporting Ukraine's government.

A State Department spokesperson says U.S. officials are actively trying to make contact with the 33-year-old.


MATTHEW MILLER, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Russia, when it comes to dual citizens of the United States and Russia or dual citizens of any other country in Russia -- Russia does not recognize dual citizenship -- considers them to be Russian citizens first and foremost, and so often times we have a difficult time getting consular assistance, but we will pursue it in all matters where a U.S. citizen is detained. (END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: Russian officials say funds collected by Karelina were subsequently used to purchase medicine, weapons and ammunition for the Ukrainian armed forces.

The White House Middle East coordinator travelling to the region to continue a push for a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas. Israel believes that 130 hostages remain in Gaza, 101 alive and 29 dead. Despite some progress in those talks, wide gaps remain in securing a final agreement.

According to U.S. officials, the ratio of hostages to Palestinian prisoners who will be released is a key sticking point.

Negotiations continue as Gaza's residents face an increasingly dire humanitarian crisis.


Many hospitals have stopped functioning and supplies of food, water, electricity and life-saving medical care are running perilously low.

Meanwhile, Israel says it will expand its ground operations into Rafah if hostages aren't returned by the start of Ramadan. The holy month starts next month and there is growing concern that about 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering there will have nowhere to go.

The negotiations come as the United States vetoed a U.N. resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Earlier we heard from Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, who said this veto sends the wrong message to the Israeli government.


DANIEL LEVY, FORMER ISRAELI PEACE NEGOTIATOR: I think that at the very moment that the administration is apparently trying to send a different signal to Israel, that really don't do Rafah, this has to change, the signal that it actually sent in New York was keep doing your worst.

Ship And I think that's exactly how it's interpreted in the Israeli government, especially because at the very same time as it's doing that, we have had further reports that the munitions, the weapons that allow this to continue are still flowing from the U.S. to Israel. The Wall Street Journal reported 19 weeks more worth of munitions of weaponry. That's going to send a very different signal.


FOSTER: As the war grinds on, a growing number of Israeli soldiers are sharing their military experience in Gaza on social media. The videos and content shared across TikTok and elsewhere often cast the troops in a less than noble light. CNN's Jeremy Diamond has those details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a how-to video on how to blow up a mosque in Gaza. Format is internet fluent the content is very real, filmed, edited and posted on Instagram by an Israeli soldier. It's one of dozens reviewed by CNN.

For many in 2024, social media is everyday life. Israeli soldiers are no different. Except they're fighting Israel's largest and most brutal war in decades.

In video, after video, after video, soldiers document the destruction of Gaza and rejoice. A film that nations use as wedding invitations.

Among them are would-be comedians whose video satirizing the war showed the devastation in Gaza.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translated text): This was the University. The IDF helped them -- it became The Open University.

AVNER GVARYAHU, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BREAKING THE SILENCE: Soldiers have always documented themselves. It could be in journals, it could be with, you know, taking pictures.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Avner Gvaryahu, who served in the IDF during the Second Intifada. He leads the group Breaking the Silence which encourages soldiers to speak out about the realities of occupation.

GVARYAHU: Even if we do find, you know, the why we went to this war, important significance and necessity, we have to ask ourselves how we're conducting ourselves in wartime.

DIAMOND (voice-over): The videos often end up on the social media channels of right-wing political commentators, they boast to the Israeli public of the tactics used to defend them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translated text): Do you want Hamas? Don't say you are not Hamas.

DIAMOND (voice-over): The IDF told CNN that it has acted and continues to act to identify unusual cases that deviate from what is expected of IDF soldiers. Those cases will be arbitrated, and significant command measures will be taken against the soldiers involved.

Images from Gaza of Israel's war injured are rare on Israeli television, but they're there on TikTok.

ERAN HALPERIN, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM: The overarching theme is that, you know, we're here, we're going to win. We're powerful enough.

And we think that what these soldiers are doing on these clips that we see on social media is part of an attempt to regain a sense of agency, regain a sense of power, regain, you know, the sense of positive self- image the way we talk about ourselves before October 7.

DIAMOND (voice-over): At times, they openly defy their military's message about protecting civilians. CROWD CHANTING (through translated text): We know our motto. There are no "uninvolved" (civilians).

DIAMOND (voice-over): And film themselves destroying civilian shops.

Israel is under increasing scrutiny over the war in Gaza. These videos may well be adding fuel to that criticism.


Jeremy Diamond, CNN, Tel Aviv.


FOSTER: The widow of Haiti's former president, among dozens of people indicted in his assassination. Jovenel Moise was killed in the presidential residence in 2021, when more than two dozen armed men swarmed the compound and shot him 12 times.

His wife, Martine Moise, was also shot repeatedly, but survived. The indictment accuses the former First Lady and the former Haitian Prime Minister of conspiring with 49 other people to replace President Moise. The law firm representing the former First Lady insists she is innocent and had no motivation for the attack.

What might the prosecution of the former First Lady and her dozens of co- -- well, alleged co-conspirators look like? Well, we spoke earlier with a Haiti-Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald about just what is happening.


JACQUELINE CHARLES, MIAMI HERALD HAITI/CARIBBEAN CORRESPONDENT: Former First Lady Martine Moise is basically being accused of being complicit in her husband's assassination. She's charged along with about 49 other individuals, actually 50 others.

But there's a group that are former allies and government officials in former President Jovenel Moise's administration who are being charged with this as a result of their behavior in the days leading up to his assassination.

Both the former First Lady and Claude Joseph, as well as the former police chief, have all denied any involvement in this.

So when you look at the judge's indictment, what you see, though, is that a lot of it is circumstantial. I mean, for instance, you know, the Haitian banks did not cooperate, but we don't really know how much money on the part of Haiti was spent on this. We don't have a ballistic report.

But what the judge is saying is that, based on the testimonies of witnesses and some of the suspects, that their behavior is very suspect in this. For instance, the former First Lady, two days after the assassination, according to the administrator of the palace, you know, basically said, hey, open the president's office because former prime minister -- or at the time prime minister, Claude Joseph, wanted to have a meeting so that he can organize an election and, quote- unquote, I can be president in three months.

Two days prior to her husband's assassination, according to this administrator, she went in and she cleaned out the office. I will also have to add is that she has refused two invitations by the investigative judge in Haiti to go before him and to talk about what happened on the night that her husband was assassinated and she was home and wounded.


FOSTER: The U.K. High Court in London will hear arguments today, very soon, on whether Julian Assange has the right to appeal his extradition to the U.S. The WikiLeaks founder is wanted by the U.S. on 18 criminal charges related to sharing classified material.

The two-judge panel are deciding whether the government violated Assange's rights when it approved that extradition. His supporters have been protesting outside the courthouse. If the judges make that decision today, that extradition process could continue.

What we heard yesterday in those arguments was concerns that his human rights would be breached if he was sent to the U.S. He said there was a risk he could take his own life because of his mental health state. A risk that the CIA could try to assassinate him. He said there was a plan for that when he was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy. Also arguing that this is all politically motivated, so that isn't a reason to approve the extradition. So he might hear today whether or not he will be extradited, although there could be further hearings if those two judges actually uphold any of the complaints that he's made. We'll wait to see and bring it to you, live.

Still to come, Elton John says goodbye. Peachtree Road, as pieces of his personal collection from his Atlanta home, hit the auction.



FOSTER: Pieces of the Rocket Man's personal collection up for auction today if you're interested.

Christie's will be selling many items from Elton John's former home in Atlanta on the city's famous Peachtree Road, which he sold last year for more than $7 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Our Julia Chatterley spoke with the president of Christie's auction house in the Americas about the sale.


BONNIE BRENNAN, PRESIDENT, CHRISTIE'S AMERICAS: Christie's really defines ourselves and differentiates ourselves as a house that celebrates collections, celebrates collectors' stories and their journeys. And, you know, Elton John, as you know, is a global superstar who has forever defined both music and popular culture. He's audacious, he's poignant, and his collection is no different. And what a better story for us to celebrate than somebody like Elton John.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN ANCHOR, FIRST MOVE: OK, so just so that everybody knows who's watching, everything's going to be on display now until, I believe, the 21st of this month. And then you have a week-long series of eight different sales, some in person, some online. Just give us a sense of what's going to be available because I've looked online and I did do a sneak peek into Christie's. It's a really eclectic mix. As you would expect.

BRENNAN: It is. And, you know, Christie's, really, in this sale, Julia, has something for everyone. We have works in our online sales with bids as low as $100. We have great works of fine art that are valued as much as a million dollars.

We're going to kick off this series of sales on Wednesday night, the 21st, at 5 p.m. Everybody can watch from home if you want to do so. We have two sessions of a day sale, live on Thursday and Friday. And then we have six online sales, Julia, each really celebrating different aspects of Elton John's collection.

CHATTERLEY: Yes, I mean, we're showing our viewers some of the images now. There are some really spectacular, one-of-a-kind pieces. A grand piano, which is incredible.

A Damien Hirst picture as well. I'm a huge favorite or fan of some of the photography. And he's got some beautiful, very expensive, relatively expensive photographs as well.

I mean, there are some really iconic pieces in this sale, as well as you mentioned, some very accessible pieces for super fans as well.

BRENNAN: Well, you know, a lot of people recognize Elton John for his contributions to the music world, but he really is a remarkable collector with just impeccable taste. He and his husband, David Furnish, amassed an amazing collection of photography. They're one of the largest photography collectors in the world. They've amassed over 7,000 photos, Julia. We're selling just over 350 photographs in this sale.

And it was really in Atlanta. Most of the property -- all of the property in this sale at Christie's is coming from their Atlanta home on Peachtree Road. And it was Atlanta where he really developed his passion for photography in the early 90s and hasn't stopped since.



FOSTER: Well, there's also a veritable feast for fans of the Fab Four, as the stories of the Beatles, told from their own point of view, are coming to a theater near you. Details after the break.


FOSTER: The Major League Soccer season kicks off tonight in Miami, but it could be officiated by replacement referees. Lionel Messi and Inter Miami are set to host Real Salt Lake, but the professional referee organization has locked out unionized MLS match officials after they rejected a new labor agreement. The Players' Association urging a quick resolution to that lockout.

Tennis, where world number two, Carlos Alcaraz, has been pushed out of the Rio Open. The 20-year-old Spaniard needed medical attention after he twisted his ankle on the second point of that match. He returned briefly but had to leave the court soon after. Alcaraz won the Rio Open in 2022 and was a finalist last year. Earlier on Tuesday, he announced he'll play in the Queen's Cup Championship in London before defending his Wimbledon title.

Stories in the Spotlight.



THE BEATLES: It's been a hard day's night And I've been working like a dog

It's been a hard day's night I should be sleeping like a log

But when I get home to you I'll find the things that you do Will make me feel all right


FOSTER: That was back in 1964, the first ever movie starring the Beatles, A Hard Day's Night. Now, fantastic news for those fans as four films of the fab four will be coming to a big screen in the near future.

According to Sony Pictures Entertainment, each of the four feature- length biopics will tell the story of the Beatles from the perspectives of each band member. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, also Ringo Starr. The movies will be released separately sometime in 2027 and are set to be directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes.

Bitcoin back with a bang, it seems. A recent surge in investors has pushed the cryptocurrency's market value above a trillion dollars for the first time since 2021. One bitcoin will cost you around $51,000, but that's not even close to its record high of $69,000.

The recent nudge has been thanks to the launch of exchange-traded funds allowing more investors to put money into the risky asset. Industry experts say Bitcoin could keep climbing in value and even reach a new peak this year.

For nearly 100 years, it was thought to be a well-preserved specimen of an ancient reptile, but new research reveals the 280-million-year- old fossil is mostly a forgery.

The lizard-like body was discovered in the Italian Alps in 1931. Scientists thought the dark, deep outline of the body encased in rock was skin and soft tissue, but it turns out the dark coloring is black paint covering a couple of bones and carved rock. Scientists say it's an unusual specimen for a forgery and they really aren't sure if it was done on purpose.

Thank you for joining me here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Max Foster in London. "EARLY START" with the real Kasie is up next here on CNN.