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New Day Sunday
Zelenskyy: U.S. Officials Should Not Come Empty-Handed; U.K. Military Intel: Russia Plans to Conscript Ukrainian Civilians from Occupied Regions; Doctors Compare COVID-19 Natural Immunity against Vaccine; Florida Releases Examples of Rejected Math Textbooks; Oligarchs and Families Die Mysteriously; Rural Communities Using Farmland to Mine for Bitcoin. Aired 5-6a ET
Aired April 24, 2022 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good early morning to you on this Sunday, April 24th. We're so grateful for your company. Thank you for waking up with U.S.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christi, good to be with you.
We begin with the prospect of a high-level U.S. visit to Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says secretary of state Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be visiting Kyiv in the next few hours.
Zelenskyy says he'll welcome them with a request for a specific weapons and assistance. He says leaders, quote, "should not come here with empty hands." So far the Biden administration has not yet confirmed the visit by Blinken and Austin.
PAUL: Russia meanwhile is continuing its attacks. A Ukrainian official says forces, Russian forces are attacking the area around the Mariupol steel plant, where civilians are still trapped.
They also have taken aim at the port city of Odessa. Ukrainian officials say a Russian missile strike there killed at least eight people, including a 3-month-old baby. President Zelenskyy says those responsible will be punished.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will identify all those responsible for this strike, those responsible for Russia's missile terror. No one will be able to hide. No matter how long it takes us, all these bastards will be responsible for every death they caused.
(END VIDEO CLIP) PAUL: President Zelenskyy says any future peace talks will depend on
Vladimir Putin. He reiterated his willingness to meet with Putin as well but he says, if Russia kills civilians sheltering in Mariupol, all negotiations will end.
And an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol says an effort to evacuation 200 Ukrainians from besieged city -- from that besieged city -- was broken up by Russian forces. He says residents who showed up at the evacuation point were told there would be shelling and ordered them to leave.
Others who had already boarded buses were told they would be taken to a city under Russian control. Ukraine's president says the U.S. and other Western allies are responding to his country's request for weapons with a greater sense of urgency.
SANCHEZ: Yes, President Zelenskyy answered questions about Russia's battle plan and other issues in a forceful and, at times, emotional press conference. CNN international correspondent Phil Black has the details.
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are emerging from an extraordinary wartime presidential press conference that was both theatrical and relatively set from Russian missiles.
President Zelenskyy summoned the Ukrainian and international media deep underground to attend a slickly produced event in one of Kyiv's metro stations.
There, on one of the platforms, even with the odd train flying past, took questions on the state of the war for about two hours. At times, he was emotional, especially notably when discussing missile strikes on the city of Odessa on Saturday, that he says killed a 3-month-old child.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENSKYY (through translator): When the war started, this child was a month old. And the child died. Just realize that, grasp it, bastards.
What can I say?
These are just bloody bastards. I have no other words and I'm sorry -- but bastards.
BLACK: Could you please give us your assessment of Russia's plans but also its capabilities for its operations in the east, in the Donbas?
Will Russia or, perhaps more importantly, can Russia launch a large- scale push to break through your defensive lines?
Or is this looming as a slower, longer, grinding military operation?
And, secondly, do you believe your allies are finally getting the message?
Are they sending you the heavy weapons you need?
ZELENSKYY (through translator): If they, God forbid, occupy something, we'll get it back. It will not be a matter of 10 or 20 years, not a war like we had starting from 2014. We've had this for eight years.
Concerning the armaments, if we have enough of it, we'll return it immediately. We'll take our territories back immediately. We see a change. We see this change regarding our Western partners. I can see the change in the speed of response, especially in the United States.
BLACK: President Zelenskyy said getting the right weapons will be a big part of his agenda when he meets with the U.S. secretaries of State and Defense in Kyiv on Sunday -- Phil Black, CNN, Kyiv.
SANCHEZ: Thanks to Phil Black for that report. Let's dig deeper now with CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.
Good to have you on, appreciate your perspective. Let's start where Phil Black left off, asking President Zelenskyy about the Russian effort in the eastern and southern part of Ukraine.
You pointed out early on in this conflict that Russian forces would try to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea. Russian officials admitted to as much late last week.
Do you think Ukrainian forces can hold them off from taking the entire southern part of the country?
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, good morning, Boris. I think it is certainly possible that the Ukrainians can do that. But they have to pivot to each area -- where the Russians are coming in, in other words -- if they are attacking in the southwestern part of the country, let's say, near Odessa.
They have to be ready to move toward that area. And they also have to be careful, though, that they don't get surrounded in the further east; for example, around the town of Izyum, for example, where there is a lot of fighting right now.
They have to be careful not to have their forces encircled by the Russians.
So it is possible for the Ukrainians to hold them off. It is also possible for the Ukrainians to grind the Russian forces to a halt in a slow, deliberate process that, you know, would take probably a lot of time; wouldn't be very satisfactory, you know, from a personal or military perspective.
But it would also serve the purpose of delaying the Russian attacks. So that would be a very key element to do that. So they have challenges. But if they move quickly, if they have the mobility that they need, if they have the weapons that they need, the Ukrainians can hold off the Russians, albeit at great cost.
SANCHEZ: Colonel, I do want to get your thoughts on the potential visit by secretary of state Blinken and Defense Secretary Austin. This is the first high level visit by U.S. officials to Ukraine since the war broke out.
Given that we have seen visits from several European heads of state, does it surprise you that a visit from President Biden or a visit from Vice President Harris hasn't been planned?
LEIGHTON: I think it is -- Boris, it is one of those things where, of course, there are a lot of security concerns that have to be looked at for high-level visits like that.
But I think it would have been a grand gesture if either President Biden or Vice President Harris had made the trip into Kyiv a bit earlier. I think it is important that Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin go there.
I think it is critical from the -- not only the diplomatic support angle but also from the military support angle, because they represent both sides of that.
And it is going to be very important for the Ukrainians to spell out what they need but also for the U.S. to tell them what's possible in terms of weapons, what can be delivered, what is most effective, what would work in situations from a military tactical perspective.
So the U.S. delegation will have to be prepared to help and to answer those questions. I think they will be. But it is a critically important visit. But I hope the president or the vice president make it to Kyiv in the not too distant future.
SANCHEZ: To be clear, the White House has not confirmed the visit by either Secretary Blinken or Secretary Austin. That was from President Zelenskyy. We will, of course, be watching closely to see if they do visit Kyiv and, of course, CNN will bring you very latest from the capital of Ukraine as it unfolds.
Colonel, I wanted to get your thoughts on something that surprised me. According to U.K. intelligence assessments, Russian forces are planning to conscript civilians from certain occupied regions in Ukraine. Essentially they're trying to recruit some Ukrainians to fight other Ukrainians.
What do you make of that?
LEIGHTON: Terrible idea, certainly horrible for the people that are directly involved in it and who are being conscripted. These U.K. intelligence reports are correct -- and the U.K. is pretty
good at assessing things in Ukraine and in Russia. So I lend a lot of credibility to this report.
The -- this is a time-tested technique. These kinds of things have been in other wars that Russia has been involved in. And they try to do this -- they tried to do it in 2014, with some degree of success and trying to do the same thing. They kind of play the old playbook every now and then.
LEIGHTON: And in this particular case they are doing things that are I would say very dangerous from a military perspective, dangerous for them and certainly dangerous for those who are being conscripted.
And it is something that these people will find it very hard to resist, because they will probably be doing this, if not directly at the point of the gun, with a high degree of coercion. And that violates international law.
SANCHEZ: It wouldn't be the first time that international law has apparently been violated in this conflict. Colonel Cedric Leighton, we have to leave the conversation there. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
LEIGHTON: You bet, Boris. Anytime.
Evacuees who left their homes at the beginning of Russia's invasion are now facing the very real possibility they may have to move again in order to find safety.
PAUL: Volunteers and families from a women's shelter in Mariupol were able to escape earlier in the war. But now, with Russia targeting all of southern Ukraine, they may have to move again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We finally left Mariupol when shells were already flying into neighboring houses. The houses collapsed heavily.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Shells constantly flew in the place where we collected water; that is, we understood on a certain day, there may not be water and food. We knew that we needed to leave.
Most of all we certainly are afraid that if the front line could come here, that if this suddenly happens, we understand that we need to take the women and children again and take them somewhere.
We will look for a safe place again. I don't know exactly where. We can't say for now. But we know we will act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Though Ukrainians are on high alert this weekend, we should point out it is actually a holiday, not only for Ukrainians but for many Russians as well. It is the Orthodox Easter holiday that many Christians in Eastern Europe and Asia celebrate. Despite the shadow of war, many communities are finding ways to celebrate.
PAUL: Want to bring in CNN correspondent Isa Soares.
What are you seeing this morning?
Good morning to you.
ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.
Like Boris was saying, this is supposed to be for so many Orthodox Christians a time of reflection and a time of unity. But it has been marred by death and by darkness here.
Of course, as we -- as Russia's war goes on now into its third month, even in the relatively safe city, I should say, of Lviv, that has been a refuge for so many, people I've spoken to have been struggling and fighting very hard to mark this occasion. Have a look.
SOARES (voice-over): As fighting rages on in the east of Ukraine, in Lviv, a city that has mostly been spared by Russia's wrath, parishioners gather for protection and reflection, a somber affair for many this year.
"It is less festive this year," this mother of three says. "But we want to keep our traditions and we want our kids to understand that God is with us. He helps us. We will win and, in this big day, the victory will be ours."
Despite calls to stay home, young and old line up with their adorned food baskets for a blessing from above.
Around the corner, kindness shared with strangers.
SOARES: Very good.
SOARES (voice-over): An opportunity, too, for many Ukrainians to support the troops on the front line, with food donations and prayers.
"We are both sad and joyful in this day because we believe in our soldiers," this parishioner tells me. "We are worried for them. We are praying for them. And we are asking God to help all of us."
Others, though, are still too scared to venture to church this Easter.
So we meet Bilika Fortunes (ph), a young family that today is also feeling thankful.
"I think I've never been this happy in my life," tells me this young mother. Annamaria (ph) says she left Ukraine for Poland when the war started, alone, nine months pregnant and carrying a world of worry on her shoulders.
"When we were separated from each other, it put a huge burden psychologically on us. We were constantly reading the news," she says. "And the situation in Ukraine in general, we were very worried."
Without her husband or family by her side and while her own country was being ripped apart by suffering, the 25-year old in her own agony gave birth to a little miracle, Baby Marita (ph).
SOARES (voice-over): And this gushing father couldn't be happier to have his girls by his side.
"I have realized that my wife is not just a woman, she is a hero," he says, "and that if I was in her shoes, I wouldn't be able to. I would have broken down."
A family finally reunited and counting their blessings this Easter in the long and dark shadow of war.
SOARES: That's a very happy grandmother there, holding her first newborn and her own country. And I should note, Boris and Christi, President Putin rejected an offer for a truce over this holiday period.
And as you can imagine, today, everyone very much on high alert because of shelling, shelling that, may I add, has already started. As you mentioned at the top of the show, we have heard from a Zelenskyy adviser, saying they're being continuously attacked Mariupol, a force in Mariupol being continuously attacked.
So very tragic indeed as we head into the third month of this deadly war -- Boris, Christi.
PAUL: Isa Soares, we so appreciate the report. Thank you so much.
So he was kidnapped by Russians in March. Coming up in our next hour, we're going to speak to the mayor of Melitopol about what more needs to be done by the international community at this point.
SANCHEZ: Also still ahead, COVID confusion over where and when to use a mask.
If no one else around you is wearing one, can they still protect you?
Plus, high gas prices, rising food prices, record inflation, why they could have a major impact on the midterm elections and whether or not Democrats keep control of Congress.
Plus, a coincidence or revenge?
Two Russian oligarchs and their families found dead, just days apart. Some chilling details -- stay with us.
SANCHEZ: Ahead of Congress returning from Easter recess, the Biden administration is already saying it is going to renew its push for another round of COVID-19 funding.
PAUL: Republicans blocked the last attempt to pass a COVID relief package after demanding a vote to restore Title 42, a pandemic-era immigration rule that allowed immigrants to be returned immediately to their home countries due to a public health emergency.
SANCHEZ: The White House insists that the additional funding is needed now for things like more vaccines and investments in testing and treatments.
PAUL: The lifting of these mandates has made masking a matter of personal choice. But it is also left people wondering if they're protected, if other people are not wearing a mask. CNN's Jacqueline Howard has more for us.
JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: The short answer here is yes. Wearing a mask can still give you some protection, even if you're the only one masked. But how much protection depends on the mask type.
In one study released by the CDC earlier this year, wearing a cloth mask was associated with 56 percent lower odds of testing positive for COVID-19. Wearing a surgical mask was associated with 66 percent lower odds.
But for the most protection, wearing an N-95 or KN-95 was associated with 83 percent lower odds.
And that's compared with wearing no mask.
Now I spoke with an expert on aerosol particles about this, Chris Cappa. And he tells me that if everyone else is unmasked, those percentages could go down. That's because more particles from the unmasked people could release into the air.
But the bottom line, if your mask is on, that mask can still filter particles offering some protection -- Boris, Christi?
SANCHEZ: Jacqueline Howard, thank you for that.
A new study from Providence health care system shows unvaccinated people who tested positive for COVID-19 developed roughly the same amount of protection against reinfection as those who have been vaccinated.
PAUL: But as CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains, it is not actually that simple.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this lab at Emory University, scientists like Mehur Suthar are working to answer one of the most common questions of the pandemic.
How much protection does a previous COVID infection provide?
DR. MEHUL SUTHAR, VIRAL IMMUNOLOGIST, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Whereas a vaccine response, you may have all individuals that got the vaccine have high antibodies that sort of wane over time. With infections, you'll have lots of individuals that have very low and individuals that have very high antibody responses.
GUPTA (voice-over): Take a look at this graph of people who have immunity from a prior infection.
See how varied the blue dots and lines are?
They represent the antibody response. It's all over the place.
It is proof, Suthar says, that not all infections are the same. But with vaccines, a much more predictable, consistent antibody response.
But how do you use this data to make decisions in the real world?
Especially now that states have loosened measures like masks and vaccine mandates?
GUPTA: If I were to get my antibodies checked, could I then get some sort of measure of just how protected I am?
SUTHAR: There aren't good correlates of protection. Something that says that this is the measurement that one needs to know how well they are protected. And now with these variants, we're seeing how the antibody responses sort of take a hit.
GUPTA: Let's say you're in a situation where someone essentially doesn't have antibodies anymore. If you were to measure their antibodies but you don't see them. Does that mean they no longer have protection?
SUTHAR: Not necessarily. So there's several aspects to one's immune system that can drive protection.
GUPTA (voice-over): Like B-cells, which can make more antibodies if the virus comes back, and T-cells, which help activate the immune system and get rid of infected cells, antibodies in your blood naturally wane over time. Think of it like security lights at your home. When there's an intruder nearby, they should turn on. But when there's no more threat you want them to turn back off.
GUPTA: Why do we focus so much on antibodies?
SUTHAR: One aspect is that antibodies are probably one of the easiest to measure in the laboratory.
DR. DORRY SEGEV, PROFESSOR OF SURGERY, NYU LANGONE HEALTH: The immunity you get from prior COVID infection has become way more politicized than anything I've ever seen in medicine. But it's still a very important medical question.
GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Dorry Segev is a transplant surgeon who says antibody tests should be used in some cases to understand how protected people are. In February, he published research on hundreds of unvaccinated Americans who had COVID.
SEGEV: Almost every single one of them had detectable antibodies.
GUPTA (voice-over): And the science says if those people then later got vaccinated, they will have even more robust immunity than infection alone. It's something Segev thinks we do need to take into consideration.
SEGEV: COVID is a high-risk, high-consequence way of getting immunity. But if you had COVID and you went through that and you have immunity, that is something we need to respect and we need to incorporate in the ways we draw the sort of the new social contract of COVID.
GUPTA: So there's no doubt that being previously infected can provide significant protection. The issue more is how consistent is it, how predictable is it.
An older person who didn't get that ill from the original infection, they may not generate as many antibodies as a young person who got very ill. That's the sort of issue you can't predict that.
And obviously getting infected comes with the risk of getting sick. Developing long COVID symptoms.
As things stand now, about 95 percent of the country probably has some degree of immunity, that is a combination of being both vaccinated and infected. But again, it's the vaccinated immunity that is going to be far safer.
PAUL: All right, still to come, Florida's rejected textbooks: 40 percent of the state's math textbooks tossed over what the state is calling, quote, "prohibited topics." We have some examples for you to explain -- next. (MUSIC PLAYING)
SANCHEZ: Some sad news to share with you this morning. Former Utah senator Orrin Hatch passed away in Salt Lake City yesterday at the age of 88. Hatch was the longest serving Republican senator in history, serving in the chamber for 42 years, through seven different presidential administrations.
PAUL: In a statement, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell remembered his former colleague as, quote, "warm, deeply kind and exceptionally funny," and praised his legislative record, including massive Trump era tax cuts. Senator Hatch retired in 2019 and senator Mitt Romney won his seat.
So inflation is turning out to be one of the hot topics facing people on the campaign trail this midterm.
SANCHEZ: Yes, it is a concern for all Americans, who are feeling the pinch of rising prices. It could, of course, make or break Democrats' midterm chances. CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more.
MARIAMA DAVIS, OWNER, THE BEEHIVE: When you go to the grocery store, it feels like you're shopping in Hawaii.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But Mariama Davis lives in Georgia and feels the sting of inflation for herself and customers at her boutique, The Beehive.
DAVIS: The idea that eggs are $3 now, is that's a lot. And people have their families to feed. So if they have an option between buying a gift or putting food on the table, I'm going to expect folks to put food on the table.
ZELENY (voice-over): Six months before voters decide if Democrats maintain control of Congress, a sour mood is hanging over the economy. As inflation looms as a major issue in a national election for the first time since 1980. Some blame President Biden.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ever since Mr. Biden took office, everything has been going up.
ZELENY (voice-over): Others do not.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a number of things. I wouldn't just blame President Biden solely.
ZELENY (voice-over): Yet it's a problem he owns. And one of the biggest challenges facing the White House. At Daddy D'z Barbecue, owner Christianah Coker-Jackson sees inflation
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love that.
ZELENY (voice-over): From paper goods, to the cost of meat, to how often people are dining out.
CHRISTIANAH COKER-JACKSON, OWNER, DADDY D'Z BARBECUE: We're not seeing the same amount of traffic that we normally do. And I think that's a fear of just spending with the talk of inflation, inflation, inflation. Customers are scared.
ZELENY (voice-over): And as a Democrat, she's scared of the consequences come November.
COKER-JACKSON: If we can't get out and vote for the midterms, then all the work that we did in 2020 is not really going to matter, because then we're going to have a handicap president.
ZELENY (voice-over): Georgia is also a hot political battleground, which Biden narrowly won in 2020. This year, it will help determine whether Democrats hold the Senate by re-electing Raphael Warnock. His early campaign ads trying to redirect any economic blame.
RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): What if I told you shipping container companies have been making record profits, while prices have been skyrocketing on you?
That's why I'm pushing to hold them accountable.
ZELENY (voice-over): But that message is competing with loud Republican criticism.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden's ruining our country.
ZELENY (voice-over): Jen Jordan, a state senator who turned a suburban district from red to blue and is now running for Attorney General knows that Democrats face headwinds but she said Republicans have not offered a positive alternative.
JEN JORDAN (D), GEORGIA STATE SENATOR: We're still in the middle of a pandemic, right?
And so what people do is they respond to, you know, how are they feeling?
How are their lives, right?
And they're always going to tag the president for that. But look, we have got a million miles to go before November.
ZELENY (voice-over): Back at The Beehive where we first met Davis a year ago, she then urged people to give Biden time.
DAVIS: Just be patient, like it's coming. Everything doesn't happen overnight. Folks know that.
ZELENY (voice-over): Now she adds this caveat.
DAVIS: Patient or just frustrated, just frustrated. Just would like to get the relief that we need so we can start operating how we used to.
ZELENY: Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Atlanta.
SANCHEZ: Thanks, Jeff.
Florida education officials are claiming that elementary school math books are being used to indoctrinate students.
PAUL: The state recently rejected about 41 percent of the textbook submissions, claiming they referenced critical race theory or other so-called, quote, "prohibited topics." Here is CNN's Leyla Santiago.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These are the images released by Florida's Department of Education, examples of what it finds too objectionable to be included in public school math books.
One of the images which the Department of Education said were sent to them by the public shows a bar graph measuring racial prejudice by political identification.
SANTIAGO: Another adding and subtracting a section that begins with, "What, me, racist?" It goes on to talk about racial prejudice and measuring bias.
Public school textbooks just the latest battleground in a culture war waged by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): There's really outrageous things going on about what they're doing by basically using critical race theory to bring ideology and political activism as a sort of forefront of education.
SANTIAGO: Florida's Department of Education says it's rejecting publishers' attempts to indoctrinate students. The overwhelming majority of materials they deemed problematic were for students K through 5th grade.
Some of the books, according to the department, did not meet state standards. Others incorporated prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies including critical race theory.
SUMI CHO, DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC INITIATIVES, AFRICAN AMERICAN POLICY FORUM: It's kind of interesting to see this ever-expanding umbrella under this fear-mongering campaign that is, you know, using critical race theory as the sort of Trojan Horse in education.
SANTIAGO: Another reason textbooks were rejected references to social-emotional learning in math. It's a practice that supports the social side of learning and emotional needs of children as described by the Collaborative for Academics, Social and Emotional Learning.
TIM SHRIVER, BOARD CHAIRMAN, COLLABORATIVE FOR ACADEMICS, SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING: This is a fight about honestly next to nothing. A lot of this is inspired by political disputes and by political advantage.
There's a vast industry in this country that uses contempt and hatred to divide us politically. And I think sometimes that industry of division and contempt uses schools to advance its own aims.
A "New York Times" review of 21 of the rejected books found many of the textbooks included social-emotional content but found little that touched on race or critical theory.
Perhaps not a focus in the textbooks but a focus for the political playbook of a potential 2024 presidential candidate.
DESANTIS: Nobody wants this crap. They're trying to shove it down the throats of the American people. You're not doing that here in the state of Florida.
SANTIAGO: And we should mention that the Department of Education, Florida's Department of Education, released these images that they received from the public. When I asked the press secretary for exact textbooks that these images came from, we never heard back.
I have been talking quite a bit to Florida math teachers, a handful of them, and many of them tell me that they're worried this will set them back, that they're worried that this will now become a back-and-forth in an appeals process for the publishers with the state.
And they really just want to get their hands on the materials so they can start planning for the next school year -- Leyla Santiago, CNN, Miami.
PAUL: Leyla, thank you so much.
Coming up, two Russian oligarchs found dead just one day apart.
Is something more happening here?
What the investigation is telling us. Latest report coming up. Stay close.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [05:40:00]
PAUL: This week, two Russian oligarchs and their families were found dead within 24 hours of each other.
SANCHEZ: Yes, investigators are trying to piece together whether this was just a coincidence or perhaps something nefarious was afoot. CNN's Nic Robertson has the details.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Coincidence or Kremlin revenge: 55-year-old Sergey Protosenya and his wife and daughter found dead in their home in Spain Tuesday.
And Vladislav Avayev, a 51-year-old former VP at Gazprombank, and his wife and daughter found dead in their Moscow apartment Monday.
Russia's state news agency says Moscow police are investigating the deaths of Avayev and his family as a murder-suicide; tantamount to saying, "nothing suspicious here."
Spanish police are now guarding Protosenya's luxury house north of Barcelona. An official source close to the investigation says the bodies of his wife and daughter, which showed signs of violence, were found inside the home and Protosenya's body was found outside in the garden.
The neighbors described them as wealthy but often traveling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He had nice cars. I thought they were Romanian from what I understood. And besides, you could see they were people with money.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): The investigative source says Spanish police have sealed their probe into the deaths, no leaks that might prejudge their case; two different investigations, two very different jurisdictions.
Historically, Spain's judiciary significantly more transparent than Russia's. Russia's investigators releasing this ultra-short four- second video of the crime scene inside the Avayevs' apartment. The family's employees reportedly alerted a relative that parents and daughter weren't answering calls from within their locked apartment.
Police found all three dead from gunshot wounds.
Suspicious deaths of Russians overseas and at home are nothing new. Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned and killed in London 2006.
A British coroner questioned the apparent suicide in his locked bathroom of oligarch and Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky near London in 2013. In 2018, the attempted murder by deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok of former spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter.
So, too, in Russia: Putin critic Alexei Navalny poisoned, nearly killed with Novichok in 2020.
But one Russian death in particular has uncanny parallels with Avayev's, death inside a locked apartment, not entirely dissimilar to Boris Berezovsky's death. In 2018, aspiring journalist and occasional Kremlin critic Maxim Borodin fell from his fifth floor balcony in Yekaterinburg, 1,000 miles from Moscow.
ROBERTSON: His neighbors found his body here, crumpled in the street, his death is a mystery.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): I covered Borodin's death. When officials spoke, many felt there was a cover-up.
ROBERTSON: A spokesman for the regional interior ministry tells us that Borodin's apartment was locked from the inside, a fact, he says, that indicates no one left the apartment. Most likely, he says, there were no strangers in there.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Borodin's journalist colleagues didn't buy the official line, either.
EKATERINA ORSEEVA, DEPUTY EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "NOVY DEN" (through translator): According to our sources, this is obviously not verified. But they're saying that it was a targeted action on someone's order.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): There is no evidence Protosenya or Avayev were Putin critics. There is evidence, however, that, despite Kremlin demands for loyalty among the elite, some previously silent Putin allies are coming out against him.
Today, as Putin's war polarizes Russians for and against, suspicions of shady Kremlin killings will likely linger long after Moscow's investigators close Avayev's case -- Nic Robertson, CNN, Brussels.
SANCHEZ: Nic Robertson, thank you.
They are called the butchers of Bucha. This week Russian president Vladimir Putin honored the group that Ukrainian officials say is behind some of the most horrific images we have seen since the war in Ukraine began.
PAUL: Yes, CNN's Brian Todd has a look at how Putin is normalizing these atrocities.
And, listen, I want to give you a head's up here, some of the images in this story are really hard to digest, stomach turning. I want you to be ready for that because it does show the brutality of what happened in Bucha.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putin.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russia's Vladimir Putin has bestowed a prestigious award on a military unit allegedly involved in the brutality of Bucha near Kyiv, awarding the title of guards to the 64th separate guards motor rifle brigade.
That unit is accused by Ukraine's defense ministry of committed cold- blooded murders; civilians summarily executed, found on the streets of Bucha after the Russians withdrew; mass graves full of murdered civilians, observed by CNN teams which visited the area.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is very outrageous, most of the world sees the butchers of Bucha, being awarded by the president of Russia, who thinks this kind of conduct is what he wants is normal, he's normalizing it, it is completely contrary to international humanitarian law.
TODD (voice-over): In a letter, Putin congrats the 64th for its, quote, "great heroism and courage."
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMETT, U.S. ARMY (RET.): This unit was an ill disciplined mob that shot civilians. Nobody needs to be trained in the military to avoid that type of contact. So this notion that they have been awarded the guards designation is an embarrassment to the Russian army.
TODD (voice-over): According to globalsecurity.org, the guards motor rifle brigade has snipers. One volunteer who helped collect bodies describes some people being shot by snipers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You can see they're all civilians. And snipers shot them all in the head. This is how they were having fun.
TODD (voice-over): Relatives of those killed, said victims were also tortured and mutilated. Human rights and war crimes experts say Vladimir Putin is likely aware of what this military unit is accused of.
STEPHEN RAPP, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR AT LARGE, WAR CRIMES ISSUES: I believe that he knew it. And I believe this is part of the way in which he sends the signal. It is part of the campaign of intimidation and humiliation.
TODD (voice-over): And a key question: what kind of message does Putin's award to this brigade send to other Russian military units in Ukraine?
RAPP: It is OK when you commit rape and acts of torture, when you kill children, when you kill families, when you kill 80-year-old women, tending in their gardens.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anything goes. There is no law. There is no law of war for the Russian military. It is terrifying.
TODD: The Kremlin denied any involvement in the killings of civilians in Bucha and has made the baseless claim that the images of civilian bodies on the streets of Bucha are fake.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court went to Bucha and said there were grounds to believe that crimes in the court's jurisdiction were committed there.
But he also said it would be a challenge to serve justice for those crimes, since Russia does not recognize the court's authority -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.
PAUL: Brian, thank you so much.
So it is the unbelievable true story of the man who took on Putin and lived to expose the truth. The Sundance Award-winning CNN film "Navalny" airs tonight at 9:00 pm here on CNN. We'll be back.
SANCHEZ: It could be the future of currency as we know it. Cryptocurrency, like bitcoin, that is said to be unhackable.
PAUL: Rural communities are making some serious cash off mining for bitcoin. CNN's Nick Watt takes a look at the very tangible impacts of extracting something completely virtual.
NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cool, damp, bucolic: this place is perfect for apples and perfect for bitcoin mining. Plenty of land for mining farms. Servers don't need as much AC to cool them. All that water means cheap, green, hydro electricity and --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Electricity is about 65 percent of our total cost.
WATT (voice-over): -- 8,000 servers right here, all these about 15 grand each.
WATT: You're pouring in a lot of money.
WATT (voice-over): A quarter of all the electricity generated here in Douglas County now powers bitcoin mining, many locals still trying to wrap their heads around it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We understand the process of growing fruit. And you see it and you progress. You don't see the bitcoin.
WATT (voice-over): Here is how bitcoin mining works. Hundreds of bitcoin transactions are bundled into a block. Computers like these all over the world race to solve a complex math problem. The winner gets to upload that block to the blockchain, a vast ledger, now more than 700,000 blocks long.
WATT (voice-over): A new block is uploaded every 10 minutes. Mine a block and you earn 6.25 bitcoin, worth, at the moment, more than $250,000. This one farm earns about 200 grand every week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This location is one of seven locations that we built and operated.
WATT (voice-over): China was the global bitcoin mining capital but last year the Communist Party cracked down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of it migrated to the U.S. and it happened really quickly. As of right now, the estimates are that 35 percent of the world's bitcoin mining is now in the U.S.
WATT (voice-over): It creates some jobs, not many, and the industry is now trying to be green. This farm, in an old apple juice factory, is, they say, 99.5 percent hydro powered. But still --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They take up huge amounts of electricity.
WATT (voice-over): Globally, mining uses more electricity than some entire countries, small ones, like Norway.
WATT: Is there any way of achieving this without using quite so much power?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
WATT (voice-over): The price worth paying, he says, for an unhackable currency in this digital age and perhaps a future for places like East Wenatchee, Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It gives us diversity. We're now not just an ag- based community.
WATT: You sound like you're pretty much on board?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm enthusiastically optimistic, let's say.
WATT: Boris and Christi, the utility on this side of the river in the county, they're kind of bitcoin ambivalent at this point. More miners can come; no more miners can come -- ah, whatever, that's fine.
But across the river in Douglas County, where 25 percent of the electricity they're generating is now going to mining, they say no more miners; not now, not yet, anyway. They say their first priority has to be making sure there is still enough electricity for regular folk -- Boris and Christi?
PAUL: Thank you so much.
So President Zelenskyy says top U.S. officials, Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin, will visit Ukraine today. What we know about that expected visit now. Stay close.