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Ukraine On The Brink; Brutal Winter Storm; Show of Might from North Korea; "Blade Runner" Murder Trial

Aired March 3, 2014 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, the crisis in Ukraine. Russian troops invading. The world is picking sides, and global markets are reacting. This morning, how the U.S. is responding and what major military power may now be siding with Moscow. We are live.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now, millions waking up to a brutal winter storm. Schools closed, power knocked out, people told to stay off the roads. We are all so over this, folks. Indra Petersons is tracking the dangerous conditions across the country.

ROMANS: While you were sleeping, history was made at the Oscars. We're bringing you the landmark wins and the brightest moments of Hollywood's biggest and longest night.

BERMAN: Ending just seconds ago, just wrapped up the Oscars right now. We're here to bring you all the news. Stayed up way later than I should. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 31 minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: And the breaking news we are watching very, very closely, Ukraine on the brink of disaster this morning. Those words from the country's acting prime minister, this, as U.S. Officials confirm that Russian forces have now seized complete operational control of the Crimean Peninsula. Ukraine's new government accusing Russia of committing an act of war, putting its own military on high alert this morning.

Secretary of state, John Kerry, announcing that he is heading to Kiev to show support for Ukraine's new leadership. He'll have meetings there tomorrow. He calls Russia's invasion of Crimea an incredible act of aggression.

Let's get right to Diana Magnay. She is live on the ground live in Crimea this morning, in the Ukraine, although, now under occupation, apparently, by Russian troops. Diana, give us the latest.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Occupation in Simferopol where I am, which is basically the capital. It doesn't really feel like that. You don't have many troops on the streets, although, they are patrolling, for example, the main regional administration building still. But around military bases here in Crimea, there are hundreds more troops who've been trying to get Ukrainian military there to surrender their weapons.

And along the border posts, most importantly, and on the east of Crimea, we're hearing from the Ukrainian government that there were attacks on those border posts overnight by what the guards have described as Russian Special Forces. We need to note, John, that all of these troops, Special Forces, whoever they are, are still not wearing any kind of military insignia, but I think it's safe to assume that they are Russian, even though Russia has not acknowledged that it has troops on the ground here now.

But it does feel like an annexation of this area, this part of Ukraine. And of course, if you get large numbers of troops coming in from the east across the border, they can bring in military, they can bring in armaments, and then they can move from Crimea. And the big question is whether they will then move into Eastern Ukraine also.

BERMAN: Huge, huge question. You used the word annexation, which is an incredible word to use when you're dealing with diplomacy and international relations. President Obama has been working the phones with European allies all weekend overnight. The Russians also trying to line up some support. I understand they had conversations with China --

MAGNAY: I'm not hearing you.

BERMAN: I think we just lost Diana Magnay who is in Crimea right now where she says it feels very much like an annexation with Russian troops on the ground there. We should say that Russia had been talking to China overnight.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: Instead, this is according to the Russian foreign minister, that China's views coincide with the Russian views. So, we're trying to learn more about that.

ROMANS: And meantime, you have Dow futures down 100 points. Why does an economy of $175 billion, a relatively small economy in the Ukraine, why does it matter to markets? Because it is a chess piece for the export of oil and gas from Russia. Very, very important, strategic situation. And one economist or analyst I follow said this is the biggest geopolitical, seismic event since 9/11. So, that's a really --

BERMAN: A definition of instability. Crazy day in the markets.

ROMANS: Yes. Expect Dow futures down 116 points right now.

So, now, to the winter that just won't let up. My goodness, look at this! At this hour, nearly 100 million Americans are coping with ice, snow, and severe storms. There's a state of emergency in Tennessee, Alabama and Texas. About 2,000 flights, mostly in the northeast, have already been canceled today.

BERMAN: In parts of Kansas, the wind chill overnight made it feel like 20 below. There were six inches of snow there sending cars skidding off of interstate 135. That there is a mess in Wichita.

ROMANS: More winter misery for Missouri. Dozens of accidents reported on snow-covered roadways in St. Louis. Police forced to rescue, look at that, dozens of drivers who were stranded on icy Interstate 70. They were there for hours.

BERMAN: Schools shut down, travel treacherous in Southwest Illinois. Wind chills below zero there. The highways choked with ice and snow. Look at that. That looks like Fargo. I always think about the movie "Fargo" when I see a scene like this. Officials say there does not appear to be a single major roadway in the state that is not iced over.

ROMANS: All right. Parts of I-275 shut down for two hours in both directions In Northern Kentucky. Drivers are being warned to stay off the roads. Parts of the state socked with up to seven inches of snow.

All right. Two deaths being blamed on the storm, one in Arkansas, the other in Oklahoma, and the mid-Atlantic states getting socked again right now. Indra Petersons, she's tracking the extreme weather for us. We've got her in the nation's capital this morning. Hi, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. Once again, things are changing so quickly out here. Just a few hours ago, we had nothing. Then we saw some rain. Then it was freezing rain, the worst thing of all. Good news there, that icing did not last long. The D.C. area has quickly switched over to sleet and now really mostly just snow is all we're seeing. The really interesting thing about this storm, though, guys, it's so dynamic, is that it is going from warm to colder and colder, right, as that cold air moves in.

So, we weren't really able to salt a lot of the roads because the rain came first, so it will wash everything away. So, that's the concern. Even though it's now starting to snow, the crews will now have to come out this morning and salt these roads ahead of the heavier snow that's still expected to fall throughout the day. And what a system. This is a system that no one escaped this time. It is the same one, guys, that was on the west coast.

It's the one that brought that heavy rain just before the Oscars in California. There's actually an EF-0 tornado reported from the system. Then, it made its way across the country. Then we saw horrible icing conditions out towards Tennessee, even Kentucky, and now, the system has made its way into the mid-Atlantic. Philly already seeing the snow, D.C. seeing the snow, but the bull's eye, guys, has shifted a little bit farther to the south.

We did know we're going to have to watch where the track of this was, and we do now know that it will be farther to the south. The bull's eye good anywhere up to 10 inches of snow, can be seen in D.C., in portions of Virginia. And keep in mind, we just had up to a foot of snow here a few weeks ago, so it's unbelievable. We're talking about this again. It should exit out by tonight, but cold air is lasting, guys.

BERMAN: Yes. We're over it, Indra. Thank you very much. This weather needs to go --

PETERSONS: Are you inside?

BERMAN: I'm just so over it. We're inside, you're outside. But there was a disturbing report in our last half hour that Christine Romans has run out of gloves this winter. Can we get a second source?


ROMANS: It's true. I have run out of gloves.

PETERSONS: You and I are going to go shopping for her for some.

ROMANS: I have two right gloves that don't match and that's what you'll be see me wearing until apparently until Easter.


BERMAN: All right. Indra, thanks very much.

PETERSONS: Set trends, Christine. Set trends.

BERMAN: Some other news this morning, the White House is calling on Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to seize the moment and work toward a Middle East peace agreement. The prime minister will meet with President Obama at the White House this afternoon.

The president is already warning it will be difficult to defend Israel from international isolation if Israel fails to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians. He is also calling on the Israelis to give nuclear talks with Iran more time to succeed.

ROMANS: Developing this morning, Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, slamming the U.S. for its role in his nation's 12-year-old war.

He tells the "Washington Post" the common cause the U.S. shared with his country has deteriorated because of civilian casualties. He insists U.S. forces, they should have focused more on hitting Taliban havens in Pakistan, less focus on Afghan villages.

Karzai has refused to sign a security pact with Washington that would keep some U.S. Troops in his country beyond 2014.

BERMAN: A show of might from North Korea, firing two short-range missiles into the sea Monday after similar rocket launches last week. This is part of a now yearly routine with the South Koreans as they carry out joint military exercises with the U.S. The annual drills began last week and were immediately condemned by the north as preparations for war. The North Korean missiles had been identified as scuds with the capability of reaching Japan.

ROMANS: All right. Political and economic instability in Ukraine, increased tension between Russia and the west, that sends shivers through global markets. Stocks in Asia closed lower. London, France, and Germany all losing ground right now. And early indications are the selling persists when U.S. stock markets open four hours from now. Futures down more than 100 points right now. The big concern is Russia and its relationship with the rest of the world. This weekend, secretary of state, John Kerry, said the U.S. is, quote, "absolutely willing to consider sanctions" against Russia. And President Obama added the U.S. is considering all options. Major oil pipelines run from Russia through the Ukraine.

The country one of the world's top exporters of corn and wheat, the Ukraine is. Prices could rise if exports are disrupted. And the Ukraine is economically unstable. It owes $13 billion in debt. It could face default if help isn't given soon. A very dangerous situation there. It's why such a small economy really, really matters in the global market.

BERMAN: Unstable may be, you know, overstating it.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: It could be nearly insolvent at this point.

ROMANS: That's right.

BERMAN: All right. Forty minutes after the hour. New this morning, history being made at the academy awards. And in case you missed it, here are the big winners. As expected, Cate Blanchett won her second Oscar Sunday night. She won Best Actress for playing a socialite who suffers a breakdown in "Blue Jasmine." She did thank Woody Allen in her acceptance speech.

On the men's side, Matthew McConaughey won his first Oscar, named Best Actor for his role as a rodeo cowboy diagnosed with AIDS in the "Dallas Buyers Club." getting a kiss and a statue. What a night for Matthew McConaughey.

ROMANS: He and Jared Leto both wearing white suits.

BERMAN: You know, it's hard to wear a white suit.


BERMAN: Best Director went to that man right there, Alfonso Cuaron for his gripping sci-fi drama "Gravity." What a (INAUDIBLE) of force as the director there. He's the first Latin-American director to take the prize. And then, he also, by the way, won the film with the most Oscars. That was "Gravity," mostly for technical. It did not win Best Picture, though. That film was? Will smith will say it right now. Stay with him. Stay with him. Here it comes. And -

WILL SMITH, ACTOR: "Twelve Years A Slave!"

BERMAN: "Twelve Years A Slave" by director, Steve McQueen. "12 Years A Slave" won for the first film with a Black director. Lupita Nyong'o, best supporting actress last night.

The show last night made, the Oscars, Twitter history.


BERMAN: Why? Because of a selfie. Ellen Degeneres inspired it right there. You see every major actor on Earth in that Selfie right there. It was re-tweeted more than two million times. That more than doubled President Obama's re-election tweet. It also crashed Twitter for about 20 minutes right there. The thing that I hate about this is that an impromptu moment, right, with all the most famous people, they all look so darn good anyway!

ROMANS: Because they spent all day getting pampered before they went there.

BERMAN: I take a selfie like that, I look, you know, my face is all distorted and everything.

ROMANS: Oh come on.

BERMAN: Look at them.

BERMAN: You're just as cute as Bradley Cooper.


ROMANS: Says your wife.


BERMAN: She doesn't, though! No one says that! All right, we digress.

ROMANS: All right. Happening right now, an Olympic hero on trial for the murder of his girlfriend. Did he kill her in cold blood or was this all a tragic mistake? We have new details this morning on just what this defense is going to look like. That story next.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to EARLY START. All eyes are on South Africa this morning as the Oscar Pistorius trial gets under way in Pretoria. The "Blade Runner" faces 25 years or more behind bars for the shooting death of his fashion model girlfriend. It happened last Valentine's Day. The former Olympian claims he mistook her for an intruder. Prosecutors call it a clear case of premeditated murder.

Senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, live from Pretoria, South Africa for us this morning. What are we learning today new about the defense?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're getting some interesting details from the defense and unusual as well. The defense would really lay out its case at this stage, we're told, but the defense giving evidence that Oscar Pistorius talked with Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend, in bed shortly before that shooting took place. There have been many questions before. why didn't he call out to her before? How did he -- why didn't he check that she wasn't in the bathroom? He'd said the room was pitch dark, but now, we get an indication that he believed she was in bed because he had talked to her there shortly before. We have now just heard from the first witness, a near neighbor, who says that she was awoken by a woman screaming. Her husband was woken as well, she says. And then, the woman's screaming became more intense.

She became really worried because she thought that something terrible was about to happen. And then she said she heard four shots, and they went like this, bang, pause, bang, bang, bang. That's how she described it. So, one shot, a bit of a pause, then the following three shots. And this is a neighbor. This is the prosecution beginning to lay out their case.

And they have argued in the past that there was an argument in the house. The defense saying that is not true. More of this to come through these coming days -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Nic Robertson for us in Pretoria. Thank you, Nic.

Time to figure out what's going on on "NEW DAY" this morning, coming up.

BERMAN: All right. Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan both here with us?

ROMANS: Hey, guys!

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": You're not that lucky.

ROMANS: It's Cuomo. And then there's grif (ph) behind you.


BERMAN: That's right. Chris, a lot going on today.

CUOMO: The man -- behind every man is another man. So, this morning, we're going to be talking more about Ukraine. The country is saying it is on the brink of war, so obviously, our attention has to be there. Talk has proven cheap for the U.S. and the western allies as Russia has moved in. We hear reports of small attacks being launched on the border. It's always a little unclear who's doing the attacking. We're trying to figure it out.

Can we avoid an all-out conflict there? What can the U.S. do? The secretary of state is going. We have a ton of experts coming on this morning who understand the region to kind of take us through why Russia is where they are, what the reasonable expectations are going forward and what is it at this point that Vladimir Putin fears about the west or the United States, if anything?

On a lighter note, of course, we're going to be talking the Oscars, the best of the best of the academy awards last night. It was an evening marked with major milestones. Mich is in Beverly Hills with all the highlights for you. We're going to bring you the moments everyone's talking about this morning. Can you believe Ellen broke Twitter? What a headline.

BERMAN: She broke Twitter, right? I mean --

CUOMO: If only it would stay that way.


BERMAN: No, man. You control all the people who will (ph) write you then, Chris. It would shut you down completely. Take away half your hobbies.


BERMAN: Great to see you this morning. We will be watching "New Day," if only to find out about Ukraine. A great panel of experts coming in there.

ROMANS: Yes. All right. We're going to be right back.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. The terrorist in trial of Osama Bin Laden's son-in-law gets under way today in New York. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the former al Qaeda spokesman, is charged with conspiring to kill Americans. He's one of the highest al Qaeda figures to be tried in the United States, just blocks away from ground zero.

The case is being seen as a major test of the federal court system here. Many critics argue that it should be tried in a military court instead.

ROMANS: It is deadline day for two former top Chris Christie staffers involved in the Bridgegate investigation. Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien, both now fired, have refused to comply with subpoenas. Today, their lawyers have to explain why they shouldn't have to turn over documents. Christie cut ties with Kelly after her infamous e- mail, quote, "time for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee," went public.

BERMAN: Listen to this, parents. Sound machines designed to help infants sleep could be damaging their hearing. Researchers say some products are capable of delivering noise levels that are unsafe even for full-grown adults. The machines can be built into stuffed animals, placed dangerously close to infants' ears. Experts advise parents keep the devices further away from children, keep them at lower volumes, and keep them on for shorter lengths of time.

ROMANS: And if it's a new baby, you shouldn't be putting those in there anyway, right? Because you can't have other stuff in there that they could suffocate and everything.

BERMAN: The problem is, you just want them to sleep.

ROMANS: I know.

BERMAN: You'll do anything to get them to sleep. ROMANS: I know. Then you should put the sleep machine in your bed.


BERMAN: Do anything!

ROMANS: All right. Markets around the world reeling right now. Just about every kind of global asset class, I mean, everything is moving. How the crisis in the Ukraine could affect your 401(k). That's next.


ROMANS: Good morning. It's "Money Time," and it's going to be an ugly day for the stock market. Futures sharply lower right now. The Dow looks like it's down about 116 points. That's what the futures are indicating. Big declines in Europe and Asian stock markets. It's all because of these escalating tensions with Russia over the situation in Ukraine that has investors pretty worried here.

Oil and natural gas prices surging. Again, it's Ukraine. Here's the reason, geographically, Ukraine very important. You can see it, very important to Europe. Major gas pipelines that help supply Europe run from Russia through Ukraine. Other issues rattling markets, talk of sanctions on Russia. Russia is much more dependent on the international economy today than it was the last time tensions were high between Russia and the west.

Ukraine is one of the world's top exporters of corn and wheat, if you didn't know that. Concern there that prices could rise if there's some sort of disruption. And Ukraine is economically unstable. It owes $13 billion in debt this year and could face default if help isn't coming soon. Now, the U.S., the treasury secretary has said a couple of times now that the U.S. and its partners are ready to help provide support for economic growth and stability in Ukraine.

But you know, frankly, investors are still very worried. So, this is why, this is why in a very closely tied geopolitical, you know, marketplace, that's why something like this really, really matters to your money.

BERMAN: Yes. It will be a rocky day on Wall Street. Developments happening by the minute on Ukraine.

"NEW DAY" starts right now.