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Isa Soares Tonight

U.S. Fed Raises Interest Rates By A Quarter Point; More Than 1,000 Fires Burn Across Canada; Israel's Supreme Court Declines To Issue Injunction To Temporarily Block Controversial New Law; Sinead O'Connor Dies At Age 56; Hunter Biden's Hearing Ends With Plea Deal On Hold; Ukrainian Troops Advance South Of Bakhmut; U.S. House Oversight Committee Holds Hearing On UFOs. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired July 26, 2023 - 14:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, and a very warm welcome, I'm Isa Soares. Tonight, we begin in the United States because any moment now, the

U.S. Federal Reserve is set to hand down its decision on interest rates. Investors expecting 25 basis point hike. I want to go straight to Matt Egan

in New York. And Matt, we -- I'm sure you're keeping a close eye on the decision. What are you seeing?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Isa, the Federal Reserve is resuming its fight against inflation. The Fed just announced a quarter of a point

interest rate hike. Now, this move from the Fed lifts interest rates to the highest levels in 22 years. The Fed has now raised interest rates 11 times

since this fight against inflation began back in March of 2022.

In fact, the Fed has raised interest rates every single meeting except for the last one. Now, this move from the Fed was widely expected, officials

had telegraphed this pretty clearly. So investors should not be surprised here. The real drama though comes in just about 25 minutes as Fed Chair

Jerome Powell takes questions from reporters.

Investors are hoping that Powell drops some clues on what the Fed will do next, because we know inflation has cooled off. The question is whether it

has cooled enough in the eyes of Powell and his colleagues at the Fed to justify the Fed stopping its interest rate hikes. Maybe this is the last

interest rate hike, that's what investors have been pricing in. The question is whether or not Fed officials are satisfied with the progress so

far. Isa?

SOARES: Yes, and I mean, it begs the question, if they're hiking 25 basis points, Matt, why did they pause in June, what was the point of that? What

does the -- how much did the data change from June to now?

EGAN: Well, that's a good question, I think the data has improved, right, inflation has continued to cool off, which is exactly what the Fed and

really all of us want to see. I don't think the situation has changed dramatically, Fed officials have said the reason why they wanted to pause

was to basically buy time. Because this war on inflation has featured a lot of interest rate hikes.

I mean, they haven't seen anything like this in 40-plus years from the Fed. And we know that it hits the economy with a lot. So, the risk all along has

been that they would go too far, they would slow the economy so much that it would cause a recession and which they don't want to do. So the thinking

was pause in June, get some more incoming data to get a better sense for what's happening in the economy, and then decide what to do in July, and

they have decided to go ahead and raise interest rates.

You know, as far as what Powell will say at this press conference, you know, if I were Jerome Powell, which I'm not, of course, but if I were, I

wouldn't want to get boxed in here, right? I mean, I don't think that he should really over-extend himself in terms of committing one way or another

into raising interest rates again or stopping altogether.

Because we know this economy has been so unpredictable, in particular, commodity prices, energy prices are rising here in the United States and

around the world, agriculture commodities are ticking higher, that's going to play a role here in what the Fed does next. Isa?

SOARES: And well, listening in of course, to Jerome Powell, when he speaks in less than 25 minutes or so, we'll bring that to you, we're keeping a

close eye also on the Dow Jones. Matt, appreciate it, thank you very much. Now, the world is quite literally burning, the scene just behind me as you

can see here, deadly flames and smothering smoke are happening not just in multiple countries, but on multiple continents.

In North America, more than 1,000 fires are burning across Canada. Hundreds of those are out of control. It's already Canada's worst wildfire season on

record, and we're not even in August yet. Meanwhile, more than 120 million people in the U.S. are under heat alert, and many are dealing with

wildfires of their own. China and Japan too, remember, both struck by powerful heat waves over the last week.

And here in Europe, we are seeing some of the worst devastation. In Italy, fires have killed at least four people.


And in Greece, thousands have been forced to evacuate, we've been showing you the scenes here on the show all this week. Some residents even taking

matters into their own hands, moving trees and bushes, and in my home country, Portugal, just outside of Lisbon, in fact, firefighters worked

through the night to bring these flames in Cascais under control.

And that's just a snapshot. You have, Spain, you have Croatia and Turkey, all struggling with their own blistering temperatures as well as wildfires.

I want to get more from our Nada Bashir who joins us this hour from Rome. And Nada, we have heard in the last 30 minutes or so from Prime Minister

Giorgia Meloni who said the fires and the weather disasters we've seen has been putting the country to the test.

But she did stop short of announcing a state of emergency, which was what some of the regions wanted, really here, Nada.

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: It is, many of the regions in the southern parts of Italy have been calling for the state of emergency procedures to be put

in place, in order to give them the resources they need in order to continue to tackle these wildfires taking place across parts of the

southern region. But also to support those who have been impacted.

Now, Giorgia Meloni; prime minister hasn't announced just yet, but it is still under consideration. So we are waiting to see whether that decision

is taken later today. But now, of course, in Italy, we are learning from civil protection agency, there are still ten wildfires across the southern

regions, that the authorities, the emergency services are still battling, particularly in the areas of Sicily and Palermo, we saw those dramatic

images of people attempting to flee the island and trying to head to Palermo airport yesterday.

That airport itself was brought to a standstill with the flames edging dangerously close to the tarmac. So, of course, this is a huge concern,

we've seen thousands of people across Italy already evacuate. However, authorities are saying now that the vast majority of them have been told

they can return home. And we're in Rome here, this is the city which has seen extreme heat over the last couple of weeks.

Although, the temperatures are a lot milder now, you can see behind me that people are taking advantage of that mild weather. But of course, across the

Mediterranean, we are seeing this dramatic images of devastation, not least in Greece where there continues to be wildfires across the country. In

fact, we are seeing new wildfires.

The authorities there say, they have reported 61 new fires in just the last day, they bring the total number of wildfires there recorded to 90 now. And

the authorities there are battling the blazes across the country. They have support from teens from overseas who have been helping with that effort.

But of course, authorities have called for further evacuations in other areas in parts, in central parts of the country, particularly in

agriculture areas as a precaution.

They say it's a huge concern, of course. However, temperatures are expected to improve from tomorrow. So that will give some much-needed rest, in fact,

to a country that really has been feeling the worst of this extreme heat. And the message that we are hearing from experts is that this extreme heat

that we're seeing across the Mediterranean is only going to become more frequent and more severe. Isa?

SOARES: Yes, it is the new normal. Nada Bashir for us in Rome this hour, thanks very much, Nada. As we've just seen the impacts of the climate

crisis already in full swing on land, and sadly, the same goes for our oceans. The U.S. State of Florida recorded what's believed to be its

highest ocean temperature ever on Monday. And as water temperatures continue to rise, coral reefs are taking a hit. CNN's chief climate

correspondent Bill Weir has more from Catargena in Colombia.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, here in Cartagena, locals and tourists are used to bathtub warm waters in the

Caribbean, but nothing like the numbers scientists are seeing now. North of us in Florida, around Florida bay, triple-digit temperatures Fahrenheit,

101 degrees, that's the sea surface highest ever recorded, 38 degrees Celsius.

And as a result of that, some scientists are already seeing complete total coral reef lost, 100 percent bleaching in some areas. There's no telling

how much of Florida's reef system, what's left of it will survive, because we still have the two hottest months yet to go, all of this is a result of

course, of generations of heat trapping gas in the atmosphere, holding down as much extra heat every second as ten Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.

The depths of the ocean, that cold water has masked a lot of that obvious heat, but this year, obviously, you can't ignore it anymore. And this is

just the beginning of a trend that scientists worry could have half of the planet's surface in a marine heat wave. That puts enormous stresses on

corals systems which are not just pretty for snorkelers and scuba divers, but are the cradles of the sea, the nurseries of so much sea life.

And on top of that, if you add acidification from all that carbon going in, sea creatures are facing stresses that are just off the charts right now.

There is new science about a big circulation system in the Atlantic, known as the A-Mark(ph). This is a triangular sort of shaped conveyor belt that

takes warm water from the Caribbean here and up to Canada, and even to the U.K. and across, that has been weakening as a result of Greenland shedding

so much freshwater.


If that shuts down, it's sort of an apocalyptic scenario, we've seen in movies like "The Day After Tomorrow", there is some debate as to when that

tipping point could happen, a new paper has it as early as 2025, but this latest 2090. But either way, all the latest science points to warnings that

we're heading towards to that key vital tipping point that must be avoided to preserve life as we know it on the planet.

So, in the meantime, some scientists even in Miami are desperately trying to save what corals they can, bringing them into laboratories, a futile

effort given the scope of the problem right now, but again, we are just heading into the two hottest months of the year. Bill Weir, CNN, Catargena,



SOARES: And still to come tonight, Israel's Supreme Court is getting involved in the government's controversial effort to weaken judicial

powers, but it won't happen right away. That story after this short break.


SOARES: Israel's Supreme Court has agreed to take up one of the most contentious laws in the country's history, setting up a major legal battle

between the hard-line government and opponents who warn the democracy itself is at stake. The law now in effect weakens the Supreme Court's

oversight of government decisions, stripping its ability to block those it deems unreasonable.

The court will hear petitions to overturn that law in September, essentially ruling on its own powers. But it declined to freeze the

legislation until that time. The government's broader effort to push through a package of judicial overhaul bills has deeply divided Israel --

as we're showing you here on the show triggering months of mass protests that are certain to continue.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the legislation is needed to correct judicial overreach. I want to bring in Fred Pleitgen who is at the heart of

some of those protests that we have seen this week, and he joins me now from Jerusalem. And Fred, now that this law has entered into force, what

exactly does that mean, and what happens next here?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that means on the face of it, Isa, right now. The government did put forward some sort

of controversial legislation or some sort of push to do something controversial that right now the constitutional court could not shoot that

down on the terms of it being by the court deeming it to be so unreasonable.

So that, at this point in time would not be the case. It's quite interesting because CNN did speak to a law professor here in Israel, and he

says the fact that there isn't an injunction doesn't really make that much of a difference because right now the court is actually in recess until

September, when the court says that it will hear that case.


In fact, the judges of the Israeli Supreme Court had to be brought back to Israel to make that decision today, that they will hear the case in

September because they were in Germany at the time and were then brought back. Now, the organizations that filed the petitions against the

reasonableness law, they said that they are actually happy with the decision that was made today by the Supreme Court.

In fact, one of them, the Israeli Bar Association came out and said, they had actually never asked for an injunction. They say they want to be able

to plead their case against this law in front of the Supreme Court. In September, they want that to be done as a whole, rather than necessarily

there being an injunction now.

Another group also came out and said they are also looking forward to their day in court, but they also said that as long as the law is not repealed or

shot down by the Supreme Court, they want to continue going out on the streets. And one of the things that we've heard today from one of the

organizers of protests, is they say that the next protest is actually already scheduled to happen tomorrow night.

And that we expect that there are going to be more on the weekend. So, certainly, the political turmoil that we've been seeing here in Israel is

something that continues right now, however, legally, that law is in force until the court goes back into session in September and then makes a

decision about whether or not to shoot down that law as a whole.

And of course, if it does so, Isa, that's something that we've been talking about on your show, quite a bit, if it does so, that of course, could lead

to a crisis that many other countries would be calling constitutional crisis, but we know Israel doesn't have a formal written constitution, but

that would certainly, almost certainly lead to even more political turmoil here in this country, Isa.

SOARES: Indeed, Fred Pleitgen for us in Jerusalem this hour. Thanks very much, Fred. Well, the warnings of one former Israeli prime minister

couldn't be stronger. Ehud Olmert says this crisis is pushing the country into civil war. Mr. Olmert joins us now from Tel Aviv. Mr. Olmert, thank

you very much for joining us this hour.

I mean, those words that Israel is entering a civil war, that sounds very ominous. Some may even say perhaps a bit alarmist. What exactly do you mean

by that? How worried are you about what is unfolding in Israel?

EHUD OLMERT, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Well, let me be very worried, because what we see is a government, which is governed entirely by the most

messianic, extreme, radical people. They want to push the government and the country much further than just the present legislation. They basically

are determined to push Israel to annex all the territories of the West Bank, and get rid of all the Arabs living there, and to make Israel into an

apartheid country.

Now, this is not something that the majority of Israelis would tolerate, will accept, or will acquiesce with. So, right now, this is narrowed

down to the issue of reasonableness of the government decisions, but as an almost inevitable outcome of this legislation, the government can tomorrow

fire the attorney general without any overriding authority of the Supreme Court about the legality of this.

And then they can appoint all the key position in the administration, in the bureaucracy of the state of Israel, members of the central committee of

Likud, and basically change the democratic nature of the state of Israel, and then using the powers that they have accumulated, in order to change

the policies which they are already now declaring in order to settle more in the territories in order to continue the harassment of Palestinians

living in the territories, lynching their villages, as the Minister of Finance officially said that the government ought to do.

I mean, this is something that is entirely outlined to the nature, to the values, to the principles that we have lived with from the creation of the

state of Israel. We will not tolerate it, so at some point, it can reach the point of confrontations in the streets.

SOARES: Yes --

OLMERT: And that can lead to all kinds of, you know, consequences, which I prefer even not to have at this point.

SOARES: And you mentioned -- Mr. Olmert, you mentioned the attorney general, and there are reports circulating that Benjamin Netanyahu may fire

the attorney general. This new law will certainly like you're saying make that easier, and it's important to note to our viewers here, the attorney

general obviously serves as this check on this overreach, and she's also overseeing the ongoing corruption cases against Netanyahu.


What would be the impact of such a move, if it were to happen?

OLMERT: Well, I believe that if the attorney general would be fired -- by the way, many ministers and senior ministers in the cabinet, openly and

explicitly talked about the need to fire the attorney general. So, this is not just, you know, some kind of fear of suspicion that they may want to

do. They say that they want to do it.

They say that this must be done. One of the senior minister says the attorney general is the most dangerous person in the state of Israel. I

mean, I don't want to think what may be the possible outcome in terms of the personal security of the attorney general when a senior minister says

that she's the most dangerous person to the security, to the well-being of the state of Israel.

Now, to answer specifically your question, I don't want -- I trust the legal system in Israel, presently, of course, considering all the

circumstances, and I don't want to pass any opinion about the legal case because we are in the middle of a legal case, and we have to wait and see

what will be the outcome of this case.

But if the attorney general will be fired, then one can rightly, I mean, assume that the reason for wanting to fire the attorney general is perhaps

to somehow affect the legal case. So it remains to be seen. I think that if the attorney general of Israel will be fired, you will see millions of

Israelis in the streets, this will bring about the collapse of this government.

And then, let me be very clear about it, because you know, I reached a point where I think we, in Israel, need to spell it out in the most

accurate way. Our aim now is to bring down this government, now, of course, in a democratic manner. In a democratic manner. But within the framework of

democracy, we are allowed to demonstrate, we are allowed to go to the streets.

We can manifest civil disobedience if necessary. We'll do everything within the confinement of law, without violence, that will help bring down this

government because this government has declared war on the people of Israel. This government has declared war on the state of Israel. And I take

this opportunity and appeal to President Biden, whom I personally know, I've worked with for many years.

And I think that he's a great friend of the state of Israel and the Jewish people, has always been for Israel. I say to President Biden now, if you

love Israel, you'll have to be against this government, and the Israelis will thank you for it, and the Jewish people will thank you for it because

they know that this is possibly one of the ways in which to stop this government from exercising policies which may destroy the moral fabric of

what Israel was and needs to be.

SOARES: I mean, we have heard on numerous occasions, Mr. Olmert, from President Biden, from the White House, and as he called it, unfortunate.

What would you like to see from President Biden here?

OLMERT: I'll tell you, following the footsteps of Tom Friedman who just, I think last Sunday said in his column in the "New York Times", that he calls

the president to do something more explicit and more powerful. I will suggest to President Biden -- and again, I have to remind you, I am a

former prime minister of Israel, I was 40 years in the center of national life in the state of Israel. I was -- I was taking very important decisions

in the context of the security of the state of Israel and our fight against terror. So, I am not indifferent to the possible ramifications.

But I think that at this point, if one wants to help Israel, then the president of the United States has to say, publicly, explicitly,

officially, that America is reassessing its relations with the state of Israel on matters, on economic matters, on foreign aid, on everything, so

that the significance of the warning of Americans, that they will not tolerate a change in the fundamental nature of the moral of the state of


The morality of the state of Israel would be understood correctly by the government which seems to be entirely out of place and out of touch with

their real dimensions of what they are doing right now.


SOARES: Sir, really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us, Mr. Olmert, thank you very much, sir.

OLMERT: Thank you very much, Isa. Thank you.

SOARES: And some breaking news just into CNN, legendary Irish singer, Sinead O'Connor has died at the age of 56, that is according to Ireland's

public broadcaster, "RTE". The musician found worldwide fame as you know with her hit single, "Nothing Compares to You", back in 1990.




SOARES: And "RTE" shared a family statement which shares -- and I want to read it here. "It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our

beloved Sinead, her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time." And we'll of course have more on the

story as it develops and bring you all the reaction.

Breaking news this hour, legendary Irish singer Sinead O'Connor has died at the age of 56. We'll be back after this short break.



SOARES: If you're just joining us this hour, we're bringing you up-to-date with breaking news we had the last few moments. Irish singer Sinead

O'Connor has died at the age of 56. That is according to Ireland's public broadcaster "RTE". Stephanie Elam looks back at the life and the legacy of

the hit singer.



STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sinead O'Connor obliterated the image of a female music star in the late 1980s with a shaved head,

stirring performances and a mouthful of controversial opinions.

O'Connor topped the music charts in 1990 with her version of "Nothing Compares 2 U," written by Prince.

She won MTV's Video of the Year award. "Rolling Stone" named her Artist of the Year in 1991. She earned four Grammy nominations for the song and the

album it was. On but accolades and awards seemed to be nothing compared to O'Connor's drive to provoke thought.

SINEAD O'CONNOR, SINGER: Fight the real. Enemy

ELAM (voice-over): When O'Connor ripped up this photo of pope John Paul II on national television, backlash reverberated around the globe.

Weeks later, a New York crowd booed the singer loudly and incessantly when she took her turn on stage at a Bob Dylan tribute.

O'Connor repeatedly defended herself, calling herself Catholic and spiritual. And in 1999 she became the first priestess of a dissident Roman

Catholic, group. When the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal exploded, she called for the pope to tell the truth.

O'CONNOR: We have the documents and we have the. Proof that tell us that we were being lied, to and we are being lied to by people who are supposed to

represent Jesus. Christ

ELAM (voice-over): O'Connor lashed out at other, celebrities once called YouTube's music, bombastic, started a war of words with Miley Cyrus, when

O'Connor publicly urged the young performer not to, quote, "let the music business make a prostitute of you," and accused Arsenio Hall of being a

drug supplier for Prince. After the superstar's death.

O'Connor's personal life was tabloid fodder. Divorce, custody, battles the singer married four times, was mother to four children. Tormented,

talented, O'Connor attempted suicide in the late 1990s.

In early 2022, she checked into a hospital while grieving the death of her third son, Shane. At 51, O'Connor converted to Islam, covering her

trademark shaved head with a hijab. But she continued performing her music, reflecting upon a lifetime of struggle.



SOARES: Remembering the life and legacy of Sinead O'Connor who died at the age of 56.

Now to the United States. Hunter Biden's hearing in Delaware took a dramatic turn, a short while ago, when his initial plea deal fell apart. It

was supposed to let the U.S. President's son avoid jail time over two tax misdemeanors and a felony gun. Charge

This was the first time in history that the son of a sitting U.S. President (INAUDIBLE) walked into, court saying he intended to plead guilty to a

crime. But during the, hearing the judge says she thought the investigation was lacking, with Hunter Biden and prosecutors then agreeing to a more

limited plea deal.

The hearing is now over, putting this new plea deal on hold. Let's get more on all of, this. Evan Perez joins me now.

Evan, good to see. You this was supposed to be a boilerplate hearing.

What exactly has happened here?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SR. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I can't even explain it at this point. You, know we have a hearing that was supposed to last about

20 or 25, minutes they are usually perfunctory.

In this case it went on for, hours and in part because this judge began asking questions that the two sides both, Hunter Biden's attorneys and the

prosecution, simply couldn't answer.

They could not agree exactly what they had agreed to. And so that is where the trouble began. And it only got worse from there. So in the end, the

judge said she simply could not accept the plea deal.

And so she asked for the two sides to provide briefs to the court to explain what they are trying to agree to. Here is the terms that at least

at the beginning of the day and even later after they had taken a break and came back to the judge and said, OK, we have a deal.

Here is what Hunter Biden was prepared to admit to. He said he was pleading guilty to two counts of misdemeanor, tax charges which have to do with his

failure to pay taxes in 2017 and 2018, at least not paying them on time.

And that, as part of the agreement, it would cover everything related to the tax, charges related to his drug issues and a gun charge. Everything

related to that from 2014 to 2019. Now the gun issue is where things also seemed to go off the rails.


PEREZ: The judge was asking questions about the propriety of the deal, whether it was something that she could even sanction because of the

constitutionality of it. It is a very unusual question for the judge.

But you know, she did raise these questions. Hunter Biden bought a firearm during the time that he says he was drug addicted. That is against the law

here in the United States. It is also a very serious legal violation. It's something that can get you 10 years in prison.

So that is where it appears some of this really came on to -- got into some trouble with the judge. So now we are in -- we're on hold. The judge says

that she can come back to this at a later, time.

At the end of the day, Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty. He was processed there at the courthouse and then left. I think we have video of him leaving

the courthouse later on. And then we expect that the two sides are going to have to come to some agreement that will pass muster with this judge. It is

certainly a very unusual day, to say the least.

SOARES: We saw him entering and then leaving. I suspect he has not spoken as of yet.

What does this mean for him and what has been the reaction from the White House, from his father?

PEREZ: Right now, from the White House, they are saying, you know, Hunter Biden is a private, citizen they're not talking about. It they're trying to

keep a distance from, this obviously the political ramifications of this are quite large.

Because Republicans want to make this an issue in the presidential campaign. They have promised to bring hearings, whether this deal was

approved or not. They were going to drag the prosecutors to Capitol Hill to explain aspects of this. They believe there is more here that wasn't

properly investigated.

They have whistleblowers who are investigators, who are part of this, who raised some questions about. It so this is not the end of. This it's

certainly is not the end by a long shot now as a result of the politics and, of course now, the legal part of this.

SOARES: Indeed, I know you will stay on top of. It Evan Perez, good to see you, my friend. Thank you very much.

PEREZ: You, too, thanks.

A jury here in London has found actor, Kevin Spacey, not guilty in his criminal sexual assault trial. Four men accused him of sexual offenses in

and around London between 2004 and 2013. In a short statement, after today's, verdict Spacey thanked the jury and said he was humbled by the


We will be back after this short break.





SOARES: Ukrainian forces are reporting major advances this week on the southern as well as eastern fronts. It could be the jump-start Ukraine

needs for its stalled counteroffensive.

A Russian-backed official says Kyiv has committed at least 100 armored vehicles to the fight.


SOARES (voice-over): And this video, you can see, geolocated to the southern Donetsk region, appears to show a Russian retreat there. Nic

Robertson is keeping an eye on. This he joins us, now,


SOARES: Nic, I think it's fair to say this is the first few weeks that we have seen movement in terms of Ukrainians on that counteroffensive.

How significant are these gains?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It depends where they get to. They feel significant because there has been this talk of a push and

nothing too much has happened on the. Ground

Now we're getting both Russians and Ukrainians saying the same thing. And they are saying it around this front here in the southern, front along,

here south of Zaporizhzhya, you see the town of Orikhiv there.

You have both Russians and I've drawn a line showing where the Ukrainians intend to go. You have both Russian journalists and Ukrainian officials

saying that there has been heavy shelling there, that there has been an intensification --


SOARES: And that's what they want to break through, right, to go to the Sea of Azov?

Is that the goal?

ROBERTSON: If they can get here to Melitopol here and link up to the border, there what they have done -- and just to mess this up even more --

is cut off Russia from -- let's try another color, blue.

Cut off Russia from getting into Crimea. And also Russia to be able to supply the front lines from their ammunition bases and weapons bases down

there in Crimea. So, yes, that is the, key but then I think we have to stress here what has happened today is nowhere near that.

But it seems to be there is a greater level of momentum. So that is why I, say let's see what happens over the next couple of days.

SOARES: And we have also seen some movement, minor movement, I should add, in Bakhmut. Of course, we saw the most intense fighting at the beginning of

the year.

How significant is that, what we've seen around Bakhmut?

ROBERTSON: So let's make it easier to see Bakhmut and bring it up on this map.

SOARES: The closest --


ROBERTSON: So you have the north of the south. So what the Ukrainians are trying to do here is to come around Bakhmut from the south to the north,

pincer. Because it is so hard fighting in the city.

And the evidence was, what we've seen, it took the Russians almost a year to take the whole city, street, almost house by house by house. So that is

what the Ukrainians are trying to do.

However, where I would caution again on the speed, if I put my finger on this and mark that spot there, that is where I was in May, the -- on the

front line with Ukrainian troops. The distance of that line I've just drawn to there, that's about two miles.

So it's taken more than two months to take that territory. And another part, very quickly.


ROBERTSON: -- this bit here, the Ukrainians have -- took that back from the Russians several months ago. They changed units. They lost it back to the

Russians. So they have now retaken it again.

So it can yoyo again. But this, again, it is significant compared to how slow it has been going.

SOARES: Yes, and this here, the example you've given from May to how much they've gained, speaks to some of the comments we've seen, maybe we should

say frustrations that the counteroffensive has not gone as well as many people were suggesting.

ROBERTSON: And what we've heard people say is, look the artillery barrages have not been able to keep up or stay in pace with the advancing troops.

What you really want to do on a major push is send a lot of artillery and immediately come in on the ground behind. It

But because the Russians have left so many mines, it slows up those troops coming in. And they can't make these gains. That is one of the reasons we

are being told.

SOARES: Can you bring up the wider, map very quickly?

So you think the focus will continue to be on the south here in that push?

Is that what your expectations are?


ROBERTSON: If they can make gains here and get through what these dragon's teeth defenses, these three segregated and separated big front line

trenches that the Russians have dug, along with the mines, that are precisely is designed to slow the Ukrainians down.

If they can penetrate that, then that is a place to push their troops through. And the gamble, the military gamble here is, when you do that, the

Russians will be overwhelmed.

And they will do what they've done before, which is run away rather than stand and fight. If they don't have the trenches, if they don't have that

backup -- and just one other quick thing, here what we know the Ukrainians have been doing here in Crimea, big sludge (ph) but they've been hitting

the ammunition dumps there, by artillery or cruise missile fire.


ROBERTSON: That makes it harder for the Russians to sustain the battle if they punch through.

SOARES: Nic, we appreciate it, thank you very much.

British lawmakers are slamming their government for the way they say it has handled Russia's Wagner Group. A report by the Parliament's Foreign Affairs

Committee says the government underestimated the mercenary network.

It says sanctions have been underwhelming and authorities fail to see Wagner as a threat beyond Europe and Ukraine before last year. Wagner has

had a presence, as we've shown you in several countries, including parts of Africa.

The report comes as Russia gears up for a summit of African leaders in St. Petersburg. South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is among those set to

attend. He was filmed leaving for Russia earlier today. Let's get the very latest. Our David McKenzie is live in Johannesburg for us.

David, let's start with that damning report, criticizing that U.K. government. Basically saying they were asleep at the wheel when it came to

countering the risk from Wagner.

What stood out to you from that report?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What really stands out, that this is from the U.K. Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. It

is a scathing report.

Let's just read the key line.

"For nearly 10 years, the government has underplayed and underestimated the Wagner network's activities, as well as the security implications of its

significant expansion."

Now that is pretty hard-hitting words and it's an admission that the U.K. government was focusing, according to the report, too much on activities of

Wagner in Europe -- we can read there Ukraine -- and not enough on other parts of the world, where Wagner was operating, including in Syria, Central

African Republic, more recently Mali, parts of Mozambique, where they are now vacated.

But it does speak to the fact that -- I don't think just the U.K. officials but others were not paying full attention necessarily to the larger

implications of the funding streams, the official backing from African governments, in particular of this group.

It is worth remembering that, up until quite recently, the Wagner Group was fully understood in terms of its connections to the Kremlin and to Vladimir

Putin. We have seen those connections firmed up in a big way.

And of course the current fallout between Prigozhin, the leader of Wagner, and Putin after that attempted insurrection in Russia. But it is a scathing

report. Isa.

SOARES: In the meantime, African leaders making their way to Moscow.

What can we expect to come out of this meeting?

Is there any chance here, David, that these African leaders can bring Russia back to the table when it comes to the grain deal?

This is something that I've been asking my guests on the show for the last few weeks.

MCKENZIE: If you look at Vladimir Putin's comments before this even started, I think it's highly unlikely because Putin slammed the grain deal,

blamed Europe for the failures of the grain deal and Ukraine, saying that while it was supposed to be for humanitarian purposes, in the Russian

leader's words, it had been used to enrich European companies and countries.

That, of, course does not look at the fact that the overall wheat process surged since that grain deal collapsed. And that does affect African

countries. So it will be on the topic of conversation at this meeting, 17 African leaders, according to multiple sources, are going to the St.

Petersburg conference.

That is far less than in 2019, at the first Russia-Africa, summit the Kremlin blames this in part on propaganda they say is coming from the U.S.

and European diplomats. Brazen attempts at smearing the conference, they call it.

But it is still significant that, after the start of the invasion and after being indicted by the International Criminal Court, Putin will be able to

stand on the stage with multiple leaders, on the world, stage to show he's not entirely isolated, even though as the war drags, on he certainly is.

SOARES: David McKenzie for us in Johannesburg. Thank you very, much. David

In Niger, an attempted coup is underway. That is according to regional leaders responding to reports that the country's president has been seized

by his guards. Those reports also say president Mohamed Bazoum is inside his palace in the capital, Niamey.

The Economic Community of West African States and the African Union are condemning the move. The group also called on the coup leaders to free the

democratically elected president.

A statement on the president's social media channels say he is doing well but CNN cannot verify that. Niger has had four separate coups since gaining

independence from France in 1916. We will stay on top of that and be back after the short break.





SOARES: As the world burns, many U.S. lawmakers still argue manmade climate change isn't real. If you want to talk UFOs, they will listen. A panel of

the House Oversight Committee is holding a public hearing today on identified anomalous phenomena.

Military veterans testified on what they call a very real national security threat and whether UFOs come from Earth or somewhere else. There are

bipartisan calls for the government to share more about what it knows. For the latest, CNN's Tom Foreman is live in Washington.

Tom, it's been going for several hours.

What has come out of it so far?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you are conspiracy theorists or somebody who really believes something is out, there this has been

Christmas and New Year's and your birthday all rolled up into. One because an awful lot of things have come out.

Testimony about things that have been seen by these witnesses, who were former military men while they were flying, craft were performing tricks

that they say no thing on Earth can. Do flying straight up into the, air flying straight back down, accelerating in a hurricane-force wind.

Past the speed of sound, with no effort at all, no sense of propulsion, one story after another like. That beyond, that beyond that, they went even

further to say that some of them have been told, have been told, they haven't seen themselves, that there have been craft like this captured by

the U.S. government and being kept somewhere, along with the bodies of non human pilots who were aboard.

But again, (INAUDIBLE) was told, as I haven't actually, seen it I believe to be there. So again, for conspiracy theorists, it's all they could ever

want. For the more skeptical members of the committee, it was, yes, a lot of talk about the fact that there are some things that we don't have

explanations for.

Maybe they're advanced weapon systems, maybe there's something the government is testing, maybe something another government is testing. But

all, around people are saying we should have more transparency about what is going on.

SOARES: Right, some more transparency from the government, we don't know what the government knows. But like you said, it is a day for those who

like conspiracy theories to get the popcorn. Thanks very much, Tom, Foreman we appreciate it.

More now on our breaking news that we brought you throughout this hour. Reactions now pouring in to the death of the legendary Irish singer, Sinead

O'Connor. She has died at the age of 56, that is according to Ireland's public broadcaster, RTE.


SOARES: The Irish prime minister tweeted, quote, "Really sorry to hear of the passing of Sinead O'Connor. Her music was loved around the world and

her talent was unmatched and beyond compare. Condolences to her family, her, friends and all who loved her music."

That does it for, us "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is next. I will see you in the next few minutes.