Return to Transcripts main page

Isa Soares Tonight

Ukraine Marks 2-Year Anniversary Of Russia's Invasion; Ukrainians Urge U.S. Lawmakers To Pass Foreign Aid Bill; Zelenskyy Urges More Aid, Says Putin Wants Eastern Europe; U.S. Imposes New Russia Sanctions On 500+ Targets; Biden Slams U.S. Congress For Not Passing Ukraine Aid; Blinken: "Size Of Gaza's Territory Should Not Be Reduced." Aired 2-3p ET

Aired February 23, 2024 - 14:00   ET



ISA SOARES, HOST, ISA SOARES TONIGHT: Good evening, and welcome to a special edition of the show, I'm Isa Soares in London. Two years ago,

Russian troops marched across the border into Ukraine, beginning the full- scale invasion that had been feared for so long, February 24th, 2022, was really a day that shook West to its very core, ripping up decades of

relative peace in Europe and reshaping the modern balance of power.

Few would have predicted it would last this long, but two years into the war, we are seeing an emboldened Vladimir Putin; the Russian leader shows

no signs he will back away from this conflict. And recent Russian gains on the battlefield suggests Ukraine may be on the back-foot.

Tonight, as we mark the sober anniversary, we will take a step back from the daily news cycle to look at the political challenges, the military

realities as well as the enduring impact this war has had on Ukrainians, for those who are still there, and of course, for those who've had to flee.


ANDRII MAIBORODA, UKRAINIAN REFUGEE: Lots of people, lots of friends, lots of places that I haven't even seen my whole childhood was there.


SOARES: And civilians, of course, are rarely spread abroad(ph), and this conflict, well, it's no different. Nearly two years into this invasion,

cities and towns are devastated and soldiers are left fighting over rubble. Our Clare Sebastian looks at where things stand on those frontlines.



CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was once Avdiivka's main hospital filmed in the final days before Ukraine's withdrawal. "People

used to get medical treatment here", says this Ukrainian journalist, now a total ruin.

Satellite imagery taken the day Ukraine pulled out, revealing the extent of the damage to the hospital and surrounding area. Compare that to just a few

months before Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

(on camera): Well, in the context of this 1,000 kilometer frontline of Avdiivka doesn't actually change much. In fact, the whole second year of

the war barely changed this picture.

Russia, of course, captured Bakhmut up in May and Ukraine, you can see here in yellow, that's string of villages that it managed to take in western

Zaporizhzhia as part of this counteroffensive. But this was ultimately a year when neither side was able to gain an advantage.

(voice-over): Russia now might be. This video posted on February 12th, which CNN has geo-located to the area around that Avdiivka hospital

purportedly shows Russian strikes using massive half-ton glide bombs. These are known to be increasingly and used on the battlefield and capable of

evading Ukrainian air defenses.

The satellite image shows several very large craters near the hospital, unlikely to be the result of artillery strikes, weapons experts say. F-16

fighter jets would help combat these bombs, but Ukraine's pilots are not yet ready to fly them.

OLEKSANDRA USTINOVA, PARLIAMENT MEMBER, UKRAINE: There is no political will, I would say, in the United States to train more pilots. It seems

right now that we're going to have more chats than actually the trained pilots.

SEBASTIAN: Russia is seizing the moment and is now on the offensive in multiple locations up here around Bakhmut, again, up north in the Kharkiv

region near the town of Kupiansk and down in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. And these are mostly, it should be said, not new battlefields, but areas it

previously occupied and then lost as Ukraine counter-attacked. Case-in- point, if we zoom in on the southern front, is the town of Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region.

(on camera): Ukraine raised the flag here last August, now, its forces on alert again as Russia ramps up attacks.

USTINOVA: So, unfortunately, we paid a lot of lives was the counter- offensive last year to get those territories, we basically have to pray for the United States Congress to understand how important it is to pass the

bill no matter what happens. If they're not passing it in March, Ukraine is going to be screwed.

SEBASTIAN (voice-over): Ukraine's resistance is fierce. It's continuing to wreak havoc on Russia's Black Sea fleet. And on the frontlines, it's

digging in. The Ministry of Defense publishing new images this week of extensive construction of fortifications. The only hope now is to hold on.

Clare Sebastian, CNN, London.


SOARES: And our thanks to Clare Sebastian for that report. Well, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is hoping to change the minds of U.S.

Republicans holding back that foreign aid package in Congress.


Here's what he said in an interview with right-wing outlet "Fox News".


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT, UKRAINE: Will Ukrainians survive without Congress' support? Of course, but not all of us. Putin will never stay,

will never stop. He will go through eastern Europe because she wants it, because this is his goal.


SOARES: And while the U.S. stalls on aid as you heard Mr. Zelenskyy calling for more military hardware support from the EU becomes even more

crucial. President Zelenskyy's Foreign Minister early, telling CNN that Avdiivka would not have been lost if of course, ammunition had been


Earlier, I spoke to Josep Borrell; the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, I began by asking him if he agreed with that very statement.



certainly true that we have to increase our support, our military support to Ukraine.

At the same time that I say, we have done a lot. I have to insist on the fact that we have to do more and quicker. And yesterday, I sent him a

letter to offering a first and Defense Ministers of the European Union, explaining where we are from our military support, and insisting that they

have to increase the funding in order to deliver more ammunition to Ukraine.

I can give figures to you, but the important thing is the political will in order to increase this already important support, certainly important, but

certainly not enough.

SOARES: And I wonder whether we can talk about the criticism that we have heard from former President Trump who said recently, of course, that Russia

could do whatever they want to any NATO country that doesn't pay enough.

On my show yesterday, the Foreign Minister of Estonia told me that while he didn't agree with what he called Trump's vocabulary, that Trump had a point

that some countries aren't spending enough. What do you say to that, sir?

BORRELL: Well, first of all, it's clear that NATO cannot be -- in a kept agenda. It's an alliance that covers all members of the alliance. And I

think it's doing certainly a very bad service to the alliance. If someone says that it will depend on the circumstances, will depend on how much do

they spend or not.

An alliance is an alliance. And Article 5 is being implemented in any occasion for any country that could be attacked. That being said, it's

clear that the member states of European Union have unequal levels of military spending. But since 2014, when Putin invaded Ukraine, this

military spending has been increasing quite quickly.

It's still not where it should be, but you know, you cannot do it overnight. From 2014, the Europeans have restarted the process of re-

armament at different page, different space by different members. And we have to continue with that.

And me as high representative for the security and defense policy of the European Union, I am doing everything I could in order to push for member

states altogether to spend better. But to spend more on better means to spend together in order --

SOARES: Yes --

BORRELL: To avoid duplications, in order to have holes, in order to have gaps, we are in this process, but what is completely unacceptable is to

say, yes, we will defend you or not, depending on my human, those days.

SOARES: According to a calculation, sir, of international aid by the Germany Kiel Institute, France, one of Europe's major military powers, has

been somewhat lackluster in its commitments, both financial and military. What do you say then? I mean, you were talking about aid just a moment ago.

What do you say to those countries that are not stepping up, because like you said recently, doing nothing is not an option.

BORRELL: Well, we are not talking about doing nothing. Doing more -- we have to do more. Look, my job as high representative for the European Union

is not to name and shame and say, you do, you don't do. I am talking about the European Union as a whole trying to push everybody.

And some of these data that you have mentioned, maybe they're not fully accurate. Because, you know, they have to tell you the truth. I don't have

100 percent knowledge of each member state is doing, because some of them don't give exact and precise and complete information.


So, if I don't know, I doubt that someone else can do -- can know better than me.

SOARES: Look, I want to ask you about what the U.S.' stance here, because Ukraine is also critically waiting, hoping for funding from the U.S., which

is being held up by this MAGA wing --

BORRELL: Excellent --

SOARES: Of the Republican Party. If this doesn't come through, does Europe have a plan B here?

BORRELL: Well, first of all, you allow me to say that I am very much disappointed by these internal politics of the U.S., trying to lay in

what's happening in the Mexico border, with the war in Ukraine. I don't understand it, and certainly, is not a well -- the best way of

contributing to the strength of the Trans-Atlantic agenda.

What's happening in Ukraine and the support given to the Ukrainian people to defend themselves from the Russia aggression depends on the migratory

policy at the Mexican border. I think it's a very bad approach. And as President Zelenskyy has said, and many other members of the European Union,

this is highly regrettable, this game of politics among the Republicans and the Democrats.

And I am strongly -- criticism of this saying of, oh, I compare what's happening at the Mexican border, which at the end is the migration pressure

with what's happened in Ukraine, which is military aggression by one of the most powerful countries in the world against its neighbor. It has nothing

to do one thing with the other. It should have nothing to do -- one thing with the other.


SOARES: And our thanks to Josep Borrell. Well, let's take a closer look now at how this war has evolved in those two years. And to help us do that,

I want to bring in Neil Melvin; the director of International Security Studies at the think-tank, RUSI. Neil, great to have you back on the show.

I think it's important that we show viewers really where we are on where we started really in the last two years. So, this is where we are right now in

terms of the Russian troop presence and what has been re-gained by Ukraine. You see some of the yellow dots here.

This is regained by Ukraine. If we take a step back and look at Ukraine in 2022, this is what the Russian troop presence here was. As we can outline

here, it seems that Ukraine has taken back or recouped all these areas here at the top, right? But the south critically is really where we have seen

the biggest push by Russia -- if I just outline here the key areas, this is where we've seen in the eastern, in the Donetsk, the whole Donetsk


It's where I've seen the biggest push really. I was reading today that former U.S. Defense Secretary told the "Washington Post" that this is no

longer a stalemate, this moment here. That Russia has the momentum. I'm going to go closer here, the eastern front. Do you believe that?! Does it

have the momentum right now?

NEIL MELVIN, DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, RUSI: Well, the war's end to the -- two years into the war has gone through a variety of

phases. You know, in the most recent phase, we saw this effort by Ukraine to break through. They launched this large counteroffensive, these are the

yellow areas here --

SOARES: Yes --

MELVIN: This is what they managed to take back. I mean, everyone was hoping it will be much bigger, that they'd be able to push down here and

maybe even break this dam corridor, that didn't happen. Now, things are swinging back towards the Russians.

I mean, the Ukrainians are exhausted that they've lost quite a bit of equipment. So, the Russians are now on the counteroffensive themselves, so,

they're trying to take back all these areas that the Ukrainians seized last year. So, we just seen Avdiivka fall on --

SOARES: Yes, just this week --

MELVIN: Huge effort, maybe --

SOARES: How significant is that, Neil? Because one of the NATO Generals who I spoke to this week, said, well, it's just rubble. How significant is


MELVIN: Well, what's happened is that the battle has moved from -- in the first map you saw there with me --

SOARES: Yes, I'll bring it up --

MELVIN: That was -- the Russians sought to sweep in from four or five different directions to seize Kyiv most of all --

SOARES: So, just a -- it was --

MELVIN: To break through, to try and take Kharkiv early on to come up through Crimea and come into Kherson, Ukrainians pushed them back in many

areas. Then we've gone through these other phases, and it's not really a territorial war anymore. It's an attritional war.

SOARES: Yes --

MELVIN: So, even when the Russians take Avdiivka, this is not a strategic town. It's a 30,000 population before the war --

SOARES: The symbolism is important.

MELVIN: The symbolism is --

SOARES: Yes --

MELVIN: Important. They've taken a few 100 meters, but actually, what is really important is how many soldiers each side is losing on it --

SOARES: Do we have a sense of that?

MELVIN: Well, estimates are that the Russians lost between 15,000 and 20,000 just to take Avdiivka up to 600 armored vehicles. So, they paid a

huge price, but of course, they're much bigger. The worry is that their war economy is now starting to really churn up.

And that these attrition rates that maybe they can sustain them. And this is why the discussion that's taking place now about supplying Ukraine is so

important, because they --


SOARES: Yes --

MELVIN: The reason the Russians can move forward in these areas and push back is because the Ukrainians are running out of shells, they're running

out of drones and these kind of critical technologies.

SOARES: And on that point, we heard from Dmytro Kuleba speaking to our Christiane Amanpour in the week saying that, you know, if they had that

ammunition, that really Avdiivka would not have been retaken. Where do you stand on that? Do you believe that's true?

MELVIN: I mean, I think the Russians are fully committed to taking Avdiivka --

SOARES: We were talking about this here, this town --

MELVIN: They would have paid almost any price, but it is clear, I think that the Ukrainians could have extracted a much higher price if they'd had

the ammunition. You know, there's a shell famine, they call it on the frontline. They're deciding between units --

SOARES: Yes --

MELVIN: You can have five, you can have two, it's really come down to that --

SOARES: And we have really seen that with our teams on the ground and the reports have been sending in. Look, there's a push here we know from Putin,

he's always wanted to take the Luhansk Oblast and the Donetsk Oblast.

The focus is this area here, but there's also the southern front. We are seeing several pushes. This is the southern part. Just talk us through what

the goal is here, how you see the movement from the Russian forces, and how Ukraine can stop them, given we don't have the U.S. funding at the moment.

MELVIN: Yes, so, I mean, having -- with the fall of Avdiivka, the Russians have begun to move some of their forces south.

SOARES: Yes --

MELVIN: So, you've seen this pressure now coming out --

SOARES: And south --

MELVIN: On Robotyne, which is just down -- well, just here --

SOARES: Yes --

MELVIN: But also they've been -- this was a bridgehead that Ukrainians managed to take up in the Autumn. They put some troops across. They were

holding a village on this side of the Dnipro River. Russia is claiming they've taken back this small village here, and this of course, means that

their clothes out-front again.

So, they are taking important points along the battlefront, but I think there's also some limits on what Russia can do, frankly. I mean, this is a

1,000 kilometer front --

SOARES: Kilometer, isn't it?


SOARES: Sprawling frontline.

MELVIN: To actually have the number of troops to significantly occupy large territory, it's just not there at the moment. So, one of the big

questions I think in 2024 is, will Russia, after the presidential elections in March --

SOARES: Yes --

MELVIN: Have to go for another big mobilization so they can start to push much further to the West. The sort of the ambitions that they have, haven't

really changed just yesterday. Former President Medvedev was talking about Odessa down here --

SOARES: Yes --

MELVIN: And Kyiv being Russian cities that they want to take back --



SOARES: Pushing on this direction, pushing on this -- but really kind of - - we're looking at kind of five fronts, but this here, the Donetsk Oblast, still one of the vital parts of the aim here.

MELVIN: And I think that's because President Putin wants to claim victories in Donbas simply before he goes in for the re-election process

next month. They'll make a lot about Avdiivka for falling about any other settlements that fall -- as we said, these aren't hugely important

strategically, but a lot --

SOARES: Yes --

MELVIN: Of political rhetoric will be invested --

SOARES: Indeed --

MELVIN: Into these --

SOARES: Yes, especially when there's election just around the corner. Neil, as always, great to see you --

MELVIN: Thank you so much.

SOARES: Thank you very much. Still to come tonight --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't come back to Ukraine, and I don't have a home and I don't have a job, I don't have anything in Ukraine. And my son needs

to have a safe life.


SOARES: Dozens of Ukrainian refugees have fled their homes to find new homes in what's been dubbed as Britain's kindest village. We travel to the

village two years on, from the start of the war and meet the families who still dream of returning to Ukraine. That story after this break.




KRISJANIS KARINS, FOREIGN MINISTER, LATVIA: We have to realize collectively in the West that we have to help Ukraine stop Russia. It's

very clear that Russia will not stop by itself. It can only be stopped. And it must be stopped in it just in our collective power to do this.

TANJA FAJON, FOREIGN MINISTER, SLOVENIA: We are feeling all the consequences, but we do stand with Ukraine in its fight for territorial

sovereignty, territorial sovereignty and integrity. And that is why we'll always help not only militarily, but also humanitarian and material to

Ukraine in its endeavors to get peace and stability.


SOARES: Well, at the U.N. today, Ukraine took center stage, world leaders warned of the consequences of withdrawing support for Ukraine on the second

anniversary of Russia's invasion. Foreign Ministers from the U.S., Poland and Germany were among the speakers.

U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron cautioned that we must recognize the cost of giving up support for Ukraine. This is what he said. "Now, having

tried and failed to conquer all of Ukraine, the lesson of this history is clear. If we do not stand up to Putin, he'll be back for more."

And you'll remember when the war broke out in 2022, the U.K. was one of the few countries that opened their doors to refugees, welcoming hundreds of

thousands of people. The residents of North Moreton in Oxfordshire opened their homes to dozens of these refugees.

And while many settled into life in the village, they still have one eye on the horizon. I traveled to North Moreton, dubbed "Britain's kindest

village" and met the families who dream of one day returning home.


SOARES (voice-over): This is the tiny English village of North Moreton, dubbed, "Britain's kindest village". Picture perfect with traditional

thatched cottages, one pup, and a cricket club at the heart of the community. But what you don't see is that it's also been home to some 50

Ukrainian refugees over the past two years.

In 2022, after Russia invaded Ukraine, the residents here threw-open their homes to welcome families fleeing the war.

POLLY VACHER, NORTH MORETON RESIDENT: We had 17 offers of hosting straight off, just like that.

SOARES: Multiple families still remain.

PO. VACHER: You know, imagine a bomb falling on a house next door or on your house, man --

SOARES: Polly and Peter Vacher were instrumental in organizing it all themselves, hosting two different families.

PO. VACHER: You just think if this happened to me, I'd want somebody to help look after us.

PETER VACHER, NORTH MORETON RESIDENT: It's actually everyone, not everyone in the village. And so when a shout like this comes, you know, we need

help. It wasn't a matter of one person putting up their hand, 15, 17 families put their hands up straight away, and as a result, we had 50

refugees arrive within a couple of months.

SOARES: Oleksandr(ph), his wife, Olena(ph), and their two sons, Gregory(ph) and Andrii, were one of the families who were welcomed into the


HRYHORII MAIBORODA, UKRAINIAN REFUGEE: When we just arrived, we were a really strong community, basically united with the idea of better future

for Ukraine.

SOARES: They settled into life in the U.K., both boys are at school and Oleksandr(ph) and Olena(ph) are both busy working.

H. MAIBORODA: I'm currently studying and planning to continue my studies in higher education to have a chance at rebuilding everything that we've


SOARES: His brother Andrii, who has seen war for most of his life, still has fond memories of home.

A. MAIBORODA: A lot of those things were very close to my heart. Lots of people, lots of friends, and lots of places that I haven't even seen. My

whole childhood was there.


SOARES: But the reality soon sets in.

A. MAIBORODA: I'm not even sure that the house that I lived in the last seven years will be there when I come back.

SOARES (on camera): But you would like to go back?

A. MAIBORODA: I would love to go.

SOARES (voice-over): For mother and son Oksana and Evan(ph) returning home just isn't an option.


SOARES (on camera): Look at that.

(voice-over): They show me a video of what's left of their apartment in Lyman in eastern Ukraine.

METELYTSYA: I'm counting when I'll come back to Ukraine. And I don't have a home and I don't have a job, I don't have anything in Ukraine. And my son

needs to have a safe life.

SOARES: But one's life in North Moreton has provided much needed safety for this mother and son, it can't ever feel complete.





SOARES: Evan's(ph) father is still in Ukraine working as a doctor and unable to leave.

METELYTSYA: I want my family living together.

SOARES (on camera): You want your family to get that? Like any family, right?

METELYTSYA: Yes, of course --

SOARES: But your husband can't go, can't come.


SOARES: And you need to protect your son?

METELYTSYA: Yes, of course.

SOARES: And as a mother, that is a priority.

(voice-over): Two long years of separation and desperately hoping the end is in sight.


SOARES: And our thanks to everyone in North Moreton. And you can see more of our special coverage of Russia's war on Ukraine on my Instagram at

Isasoarescnn, and on X @Isacnn. And for more impactful stories on the two- year anniversary of Russia's invasion, you can visit our website at

Thank you for joining us for our two-year Ukraine anniversary special. Our commitment of course to this story continues, and those conversations will

not stop, and our coverage, of course, will continue next week. My interview with the president of the European Council, Charles Michel airs

on Monday, and news continues on CNN after this very short break.



SOARES: Welcome back, everyone. U.S. President Joe Biden says he's speaking with top U.S. allies today about Russia's war on Ukraine, marking two years

since the initial invasion. Biden announced more than 500 sanctions against Russia. And these sanctions are just really the start of the U.S.'s

response to Alexei Navalny's reported death.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby says that more can be expected to hold the Kremlin accountable. Here is part of Biden's

message from earlier today. Have a listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: In response to Putin's brutal war of conquest, in response to Alexei Navalny's death, because make no mistake, Putin is

responsible for Alexei's death.


SOARES: And President Biden is also slamming the U.S. Congress for not passing new aid to Ukraine despite Russia's recent battleground gains.

CNN's Lauren Fox joins us now in life from our Washington DC Bureau. And we saw Lauren, didn't we, just in the last 24 hours or so, President Volodymyr

Zelenskyy speaking to Fox News about making this push, this plea for more support, for more ammunition. How was that received by some of the MAGA

wing of the Republican Party?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it seems like that wing of the party is completely unmovable at this point. And really the only

hope for Ukraine or getting more aid to that country, through the United States Congress is the Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, whether or not

he would be willing to make a decision to potentially hurt his own political career in order to put that funding on the floor of the House.

But so far, everything that he has telegraphed is that the Senate bill, which was passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support, you had 20

Republicans backing it, that that bill is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives. And that has really raised the question, is more aid ever

going to get to Ukraine? I think right now that's still really an open question and potentially not going to happen, given the dynamics within the

Republican Conference, given the fact that Johnson has such a narrow majority, and any one Republican member at any point, if they are

frustrated with the Speaker of the House, can bring emotion to try and get him out of that job to take away the Speaker's gavel.

And that really is looming large in these dynamics as he makes a decision moving forward. Now there's a government funding deadline next week. It's

potentially possible that after that, Republicans will come to some kind of place where they may be willing to move some package that looks different

than that Senate package. But right now it's really hard to imagine what that formula looks like that enables Mike Johnson to both keep his job and

put additional Ukraine aid on the floor, because there are so many members in the Republican Party who have warned him that this could be a fireable

offense if he decides to move forward.

SOARES: And I wonder, and give us -- give our viewers around the world a sense of really the mood on Capitol Hill, Lauren, following, of course,

from the death of Alexei Navalny, how much has his death moved the needle or moved the conversation in this regard in terms of getting those

sanctions through?

FOX: Yes, I think what's so important to keep in mind here is for national security Republicans, for defense hawks, for people who serve on the

intelligence committees, the armed services committees, they always were being supportive of more aid to Ukraine. Perhaps they wanted different

safeguards, perhaps they want to limit humanitarian aid and focus more on the military aid, but largely they were supportive.

But it feels like even after the death of Alexei Navalny, there has been no movement among people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Byron

Donalds, members who are extremely outspoken and are opposed to getting more aid, and voting against it isn't good enough for them. They don't even

want the speaker of the House to put it on the floor. And we should note, it's not unusual, right, that Republicans would have disagreements among


What makes this moment so unusual is that you have Republicans who don't even want this issue to be brought to the floor. They want to block it

because they know that if it did come to the floor, the votes would be there.


I mean, there is still overwhelming support within the Congress to actually pass that. And you see an example of that in the United States Senate

where, yes, a majority of the Republican conference in the Senate didn't back the package, but it still passed overwhelmingly. So I think that that

is why this dynamic is so different right now on Capitol Hill.

SOARES: Lauren Fox, thanks for breaking it all down for us. I appreciate it. Good to see you.

Now, according to Navalny's team, Russian officials are only allowing one of two options for the late opposition leader, Alexei Navalny to be buried.

Navalny's mother was reportedly given an ultimatum, if you agree to a secret funeral, or your son will be buried at a penal colony. One of

Navalny's team members described the choice as hell on Earth, incurring in journalists to cover it.

Still to come tonight, Israel's Prime Minister has formally unveiled his post-war plan for Gaza. Why Palestinian leaders in the West Bank are

rejecting it as reoccupation.

And their new hopes for a hostage deal. We'll have the very latest in a new round of ceasefire talks for Gaza. We're live in Paris next.


SOARES: Well, Israel's war in Hamas has no end in sight, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has now formally unveiled a plan for the future of Gaza.

It calls for Israel to retain indefinite security control over the demilitarized strip and for the continuation of a new buffer zone carved

out along the Israeli border.

Gaza's civil administration would run by local Palestinians, not linked to, "countries or entities that support terrorism." The Palestinian authorities

say the plan amounts to reoccupation, demanding an independent Palestinian state instead.

And the idea of a buffer zone contradicts U.S. warnings that Israel must not shrink Palestinian land. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, addressed

this point earlier today. Have a listen.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There are certain basic principles that we set out many months ago that we feel are very important when it

comes to Gaza's future, including that it cannot be a platform for terrorism. There should be no Israeli reoccupation of Gaza. The size of

Gaza's territory should not be reduced. So, we want to make sure that any plan that emerges is consistent with those principles.


SOARES: And we're joined now by Nic Robertson, who's live for us in Tel Aviv.

And Nic, as Blinken said there, not only does it contradict the position, the U.S. position.


But also speaking in the last hour or so to E.U.'s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, who was at the G20 in Rio de Janeiro and he said that this was

completely far from what was discussed at the G20. Have a listen to what he said.


JOSEP BORRELL, E.U. FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF: Yesterday at the G20 meeting in, everybody sitting around the table, everybody, U.S., U.K., European, Union,

Member States, Arab world, African people, Latin American people, everybody was insisting on the only possible, peaceful solution that could provide

Israel to live in peace and security is the two-state solution. I didn't hear a single voice against it.


SOARES: So Nic, talk us through then this plan that CNN has seen, the Netanyahu plan, and reaction from the region really.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, on the specific issue of an independent Palestinian state, the Prime Minister in his plan

says that there will be Israel rejects the idea of an independent acceptance of an independent Palestinian state. And that clearly flies in

the face of everything that we've been hearing from the European Union, from the United States, who've been saying part of the day after situation

in Gaza has to be one that embraces that concept, gives it a real pathway forward.

And that's the way to get buy-in from other parties in the region. And principal -- one of the principal players of that would be Saudi Arabia.

Now, in that plan, Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to think that there will be countries in the region who will step in and help pay for and help

support setting up whatever this authority or individuals or groups of individuals who will run Gaza in essence.

But again, that flies in the face of everything that we've been hearing, that -- for that to happen, for those countries to have buy-in, they have

to see a pathway to a Palestinian state, and the Prime Minister seems to reject that. There are other things there within his plan about de-

radicalizing in the welfare system and in the schools and the universities inside Gaza. That's something Prime Minister Netanyahu said would have to

happen before the situation in Gaza could go back to anything like it was before, for any kind of independent, if you will, Palestinian

administration, whatever that may look like, and the details are really very, very scant there.

That -- when Israel says that it wants to dictate that there should be de- radicalization within these institutions, that does not sound, to Palestinians or people in the region, that there is, in any sense here, an

independent Palestinian state, that the people of Gaza could aspire to even get on a pathway to. So I think there's a lot here that's going to cause

consternation. It feels like a maximalist position from a Prime Minister speaking to a hard -- his hardline cabinet and government, and it feels

like potentially a negotiating position for moving forward, a very tough line.

SOARES: Yes. And I wonder, because also as part of this envisioned plan, it includes Israel, Nic, closing off Gazan southern border with Egypt,

basically leaving Israel, complete in control of entry and the exit from the enclave. So, I wonder how much Egypt has signed off on that plan. And

do we have any response from the United States? Because an Israeli official says that the plan was aligned with the U.S.

ROBERTSON: Yes, Secretary Blinken, when he was speaking, didn't get into detail about that. So, it's not clear what kind of discussions have been

had there. And we haven't heard from Egyptian authorities either. We do know that along that border, that sort of six or seven-mile border with

Egypt to the southern end of Gaza, about a mile width of it, more than a kilometer or so width has been developed as a sort of a buffer zone over

the past couple of weeks, whether that's to try to prevent an influx of Palestinians from Rafah, if there is an Israeli incursion or to give them

somewhere to go to to get safety, or this is a recognition of what Israel is trying to do.

But I think there's going to be strong pushback in the region here that Israel should take over Egypt's role as providing one of the borders to

Gaza. It's hard to imagine how that would sit in this region. I've spoken with intelligence officials in this region. And when we discussed this

idea, that was one of the things they said would be very difficult to negotiate. So, it's not clear how that's going to go down or what the

United States is going to say about it.


SOARES: Nic Robertson for us in Tel Aviv. Good to see you, Nic. Thanks very much.

Well, the post-war plan for Gaza comes amid a new push for a hostage deal as well as ceasefire. The Israeli government is under huge pressure at home

to secure the hostages' release. It's sent a delegation to Paris today led by Mossad chief to meet with negotiators from the U.S., from Egypt, as well

as Qatar. Before those talks got on the way, a senior Hamas official told CNN that his side's demands have not changed.

Let's get more now from CNN's Melissa Bell live in Paris. And Melissa, the Biden administration has been pushing, I think it's fair to say, for quick

progress in these ceasefire talks. Where do things stand now? How much progress is being made?

MELISSA BELL, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the fact that these talks are happening at all is encouraging, Isa, although,

of course, as you mentioned, we heard earlier from a senior official within Hamas. They remain determined on their side. And the Israelis had said only

last week in response to the latest Hamas plan over a 4 1/2 month pause in the fighting with the possibility of exchanges of hostages for prisoners,

the Israelis had described their plan as delusional.

So, they are still vastly opposed in terms of the concrete steps that each are requiring that progress can be made. And yet here they all are in

Paris. So, you have the CIA head Bill Burns, he's here. You have the director of Mossad. You have the heads of the heads of Egyptian and Qatari

intelligence as well. And they've gathered here in the hope that some progress can be made on that question of a pause in the hostilities and

some kind of exchange of at least a few of the hostage in -- hostages in return for the prisoners.

Now, I think what has changed over the course of the last week when the talks last collapsed in Cairo is what you've just been hearing about with

Nic there, the fact of this maximalist proposal being put on the table by Israelis. And of course, they're going to be seeking buy-in to any talks

that might follow with regard to that plan. Despite its controversy, their hope will be that talks can begin along the basis of that.

And I think the other thing that mattered from the point of view of the Israelis was that the French initiative to get the medication to the most

chronically ill hostages appear to have borne fruit and it was only once they'd received note, word, that the medication had reached those Israeli

hostages that they agreed to get back around the table.

It also mattered, of course, that the talks that took place in Cairo over the course of the last couple of days with their political head of Hamas,

Ismail Haniyeh might have led to indications from Egyptian negotiators that there might be some room for compromise. And so at the very least, here

they all are in Paris, Isa, to talk about the possibility of what kind of pause in the fighting there might be and what kind of exchange between

hostages and prisoners they might be. And of course, that is something, even if they remain very far apart.

And for now, the French have been very tight-lipped about what is likely to emerge or what is even happening within these negotiations. We've been

given no access, and the Quai d'Orsay, the French Foreign Ministry, being cautiously optimistic about the fact that these talks are happening, but

very unwilling to give any further access or comment as to the likelihood that they will succeed, Isa.

SOARES: Well, like you said, they're talking. Let's see what that leads to. I know you'll stay across that, Melissa. Thank you very much.

And still to come tonight, a deadly fire engulfs an apartment building in Valencia and Spain. We'll have fresh reporting from the scene. That is just




SOARES: I'll take it to New York now because Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba's speaking at the United Nations. Let's listen in.

DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Today, we gathered to reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Ukraine, pay tribute to all those who

have sacrificed their lives in the defense of the freedom and independence of Ukraine, and express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the

families of the victims of the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine.

We demand from Russia to complete exchange of prisoners of war, as well as the release of all unlawfully detained persons and the return of all

internees and of civilians, forcibly transferred or deported, including children.

We will continue working on ensuring accountability for serious crimes and international law committed on the territory of Ukraine during the Russian

aggression. We reiterate our demand to Russia to stop its war of aggression against Ukraine and to ensure the full, immediate and unconditional

withdrawal of all Russian forces and military equipment from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.

We remain committed to the vision of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace for Ukraine in line with the principles of the U.N. Charter. In this

regard, we are encouraged by the meeting of national security advisors and foreign --

SOARES: You've been listening there to Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, speaking at the United Nations, where Ukraine has been front and

center, of course, in the eve of the two-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine.

You can see Mr. Kuleba there surrounded by other European Foreign Ministers where you heard him there, tribute --- paying tribute to the people of

Ukraine, talking about the ongoing Russian aggression, reiterating to President Putin the unconditional -- that they leave unconditionally the

Russian forces, of course.

So, clear to hear right now from Mr. Kuleba, we heard him, obviously, on CNN earlier this week, saying -- calling for more support, not just from

Europe, but also from the United States, for that continued aid, saying that the town of Avdiivka will not have been taken, not been captured, had

that support had been there.

We'll leave New York now and return to Spain because there's been tragedy in Valencia. According to the city's mayor, at least 10 people are dead

after a large fire ripped through a residential high-rise building in Valencia. Authorities say several other people remain missing. The mayor

has declared three days of official mourning, saying the city is an enormous pain.

Atika Shubert has been covering all of this story for us all day, and she joins us now from Valencia with the latest. And Atika, do we know, first of

all, what happened here?

ATIKA SHUBERT, JOURNALIST: Well, we don't know what caused the fire. Investigators were finally able to access the building only this afternoon.

It was simply too hot, too unsafe, structurally unsound per firefighters or investigators to get in this morning. They were using drones to try and see

inside the building, but investigators were finally able to go in, and they're looking for what started it. It's a gas-free building, so there's

some -- they're looking as to see whether or not this might have been an electrical fire.

But the other thing they're looking at is why and how the fire spread so quickly. In under 30 minutes, it went from one balcony and it engulfed the

entire facade of the building. Ten minutes later, it had jumped to the adjoining tower.


That is incredibly fast. And you can see, actually, on the video how the flames climbed the facade. So, they're looking at the materials that were

used in the facade of this building, a kind of aluminum cladding. They're also looking to see how the building was constructed, whether some air

vents behind may have helped to have a chimney effect and pull the flames upward.

Either way, it's going to take some time before they know exactly, but investigation work is continuing. In the meantime, they are trying to find

victims. As you mentioned, the mayor has said that there were at least ten. There were some missing earlier in the day. We're waiting for updates to

see whether or not they've found all the people that were unaccounted for, Isa.

SOARES: And several other people have also been taken to hospital. Do we know very briefly, Atika, how they're doing?

SHUBERT: They're doing fine. Many of them had smoke inhalation. One was a firefighter who actually broke his wrists, having to jump from the balcony,

but they were all doing much better.

SOARES: Atika Shubert there for us in Valencia. Great to see you, Atika. Thank you very much.

And that does it for us for this evening. Thank you very much for watching. Do stay right here. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is up next. Have a wonderful

weekend. And we will, of course, see you on Monday. Bye-bye.