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Standoff Between Ukraine Troops & Separatists; Hundreds Missing After South Korean Ferry Sinks; New Video Show Mass Al Qaeda Meeting

Aired April 16, 2014 - 06:30   ET


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, where we are is on one of the roads to the town of Sloviansk. Sloviansk appears to be the focal point of what the Ukrainian government is calling its anti- terror operation. It is a town where pro-Russian militants and protesters have really consolidated their control in recent days -- more so than other towns around here.

Late yesterday, we saw the Ukraine military move in closely to this town, taking back a nearby airfield. Where I'm standing now, there is a heavily armed well dug in police checkpoint. They're checking all the vehicles moving through here, the contents of the cars.

And just around the corner what appears to be another Ukrainian military staging point. A large number of Ukrainian soldiers, armored personnel carriers. And we're seeing military helicopters coming and going from this location, including attack helicopters.

The question now really is, what is the intention of the Ukrainian military? Are they planning, thinking about moving in and trying to take back this town by force because all the noise coming from within the town is of these pro-Russian forces are prepared to fight back in a sign of just how complicated all of this is we're now seeing images from within Sloviansk which showed armored vehicles advancing forward under a Russian flag.

How is this possible? Well, according to Ukrainian media, pro-Russian forces have taken control of these vehicles. According to Russian media, the Ukrainian officers and soldiers who are driving these vehicles have effectively flipped sides over to the pro-Russian side. So all very fast moving, very murky, very complex as we wait to see precisely what the next stage will be in this military operation against these pro-Russian forces.

Chris, back to you.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Phil, thank you very much.

Joining us here on the giant map is Jamie Rubin, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, and a visiting scholar at Oxford University.

Jamie, thanks for being with us.


CUOMO: Let's do a little demystifying here first. Pro-Russian forces, what is the chance that pro-Russian forces are really just thinly masked Russian forces on the ground?

RUBIN: Well, there's probably two types of Russian forces on the ground. One are the kinds of groups that went in the way they did in Crimea several weeks ago without Russian insignia on their shoulders but are actually Russian, Moscow-generated special forces.

The second category, which is what's making this complicated, is that over the years, Russia has infiltrated Ukraine's army. And so, there are Russian supporters inside Ukraine's army. So, when Ukraine tries to conduct this operation, they're finding that some of their soldiers are not loyal to Ukraine but are going to flip over to the Russians. That's why it's complicated.

CUOMO: But that's different than organic rebellion going on and Ukrainians who just want to return to Russia.

RUBIN: Correct. Those are one of the reasons why Ukraine's military is so week and one of the reasons why they have chosen up to this point to avoid a real firefight with Russia.

In Crimea, they didn't fight. They did some amazing things. They stood back and allowed the Russians to take it over.

What we're seeing now in eastern Ukraine is that the Ukrainian military will fight for its territory. And if they do, we fear the Russians have 40,000 forces on their border, will come in and will have a proper war which we haven't seen in Europe in a decade.

CUOMO: Not much of a fight at that point, to be sure. Let's look at the current state of play. We believe that this operation that's going on that's being called intelligence operation but they have reclaimed two major cities, Donetsk and the one that's next to it.

So, this is where they've been able to get a semblance of control but others -- two other major cities, let's show those now, that are supposedly under Russian control. What does that mean that these places are under Russian control?

RUBIN: What it means is there are Russian speakers in the town who support Moscow and have now been Russia, Moscow, we believe, I believe, have sent special units inside the country. They've infiltrated the way they did in Crimea and are trying to stir up trouble, trying to create a situation where there's an imagined threat to all Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.

These are false claims. The U.N. has just come out with a very important report yesterday, the United Nations, an objective body went in to see whether is it really true that Russians are at risk inside Ukraine, are Russian speakers being discriminated against, killed or anything.

And they discovered that there is no systemic repression of Russians. So, Moscow's basic charge that they are defending Russians by doing all this has been rebutted by the United Nations. There is no threat to Russian speakers.

CUOMO: So, fundamentally, what Russia is doing is saying there's a concern here and they're right because they're creating it and getting the benefit of being the good guy in a situation where they're creating it. These are politics.

Now, why do we care? Several reasons. There's a human rights issue that will be going on here, sovereignty issue. But also, we look at the responsibilities of NATO.

Ukraine not in NATO, but let's look at who is. There are some surrounding sister countries here, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, they are all members of NATO. They would be under the direct protection of that treaty.

What do you believe the concern is?

RUBIN: Well, I think it's very important to show these three country because what we're seeing is that had they not been brought into NATO, these three countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. They would be subject to the same kind of pressure right now. What Russia and Putin is trying to do all across the former Soviet Union is take back as many areas that used to be part of the former Soviet Union as possible.

We allowed Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia to join NATO. We encouraged that. Had we not done so, I believe that the kind of activities we're seeing now in Ukraine where Russian speakers are being used as an excuse would be occurring in those countries.

So, people criticized NATO enlargement, but the truth is the more countries we enlarge, the less they are at risk because I don't believe Putin will risk a confrontation with NATO.

CUOMO: One last quick political question here. Many ask why now, what has emboldened Putin. In 2008, he did this in Georgia. He went and actually killed people in Odessa and regaining control of that place. That was under President Bush.

Is it fair to look at this situation and say, the weakness or perception of weakness of President Obama has given a window of opportunity to Putin.

RUBIN: I think what's fair to say is that over time, the U.S./Russian relationship has broken down and the commitment of the West, not just the United States, but all of the West to these crucial principles, will borders be changed by force, can a slaughter occur in Syria with no response, all of these crucial principles of international affairs have been weakened over time of general unwillingness of countries in the West to stand up.

CUOMO: No one person to blame?

RUBIN: No, absolutely not. CUOMO: Do you believe economic sanctions can end this at this point?

RUBIN: I believe economic sanctions will make a difference over time but not unless we're willing to do things that hurt ourselves. If Europeans are not willing to risk their own businesses and we're not willing to risk our own exports and business with Russia then we're not going to be able to cause any pain to Russia.

We have to say to ourselves, this principle of borders being changed by force is what World War II was fought about. There is no higher principle in the international affairs. And if we're not prepared to give up something for that, we're never going to be able to turn the Russian policy around.

CUOMO: Jamie Rubin, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

RUBIN: Thank you.

CUOMO: We need a perspective on this.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up next on NEW DAY, the urgent rescue operation under way off the coast of South Korea. Hundreds of high school students who were headed to a resort when their ferry sank in frigid waters. Searchers are racing now against the clock to find survivors under the surface. We're going to follow that.

And also ahead, it's believed to be the biggest al Qaeda gathering in years. The story behind this video and the threat made by the terror group.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone.

We're following breaking news this morning. Take a look at these pictures. A massive rescue operation is under way after a ferry carrying 459 people sank off South Korea's coast.

As you can see, the more pictures we can give, the more this huge ship has sunk under the water. Nearly 300 people at this hour are unaccounted for. And most of the passengers were high school students.

Reporter Andrew Salmon has the latest. He's joining us. He's been on this story since it broke overnight.

Andrew, thank you so much.

This is developing minute by minute. What is the very latest you're hearing on the numbers -- 300 unaccounted for is absolutely terrifying.

ANDREW SALMON, REPORTER: Yes. No, you're entirely correct.

The latest -- I'll give you the good news first. We have 167 persons rescued. This was confirmed to us by the coast guard.

The bad news is, we have another figure to add to the body count. Four people now are confirmed dead. But most frighteningly, there are now 291 persons still unaccounted for in this breaking tragedy off the southwest coast of the Korean peninsula in the Yellow Sea.

BOLDUAN: Andrew, the reason that is of course also -- additionally terrifying is that the waters where they are right now are absolutely frigid. So if they are in the water, they are in grave danger and we have just been learning that rescuers have not been able to actually get inside of this ship because the currents are so strong. Can you describe, have you gotten an update on how the rescue operation is going on right now?

SALMON: Well, it's ongoing so it's changing minute by minute.

What we do know is this -- yes, the waters are very cold as many people know, hypothermia is generally a greater killer than drowning in maritime accidents. That having being said, it appears that these unaccounted persons are more likely to be inside the ship rather than outside it. There are so many vessels, fishing vessels, coast guard vessels, navy vessels, commercial vessels on the scene. There are aircraft, there are drones, there are helicopters above the scene.

So, anyone the water has probably been picked up. Bear in mind the situation has been under way for about 11 hours now. So, if people are t in the water, I suspect they will have been fished out by now. The real worry is that there are people trapped inside the hull.

And, again, the ship as we know, unknown reasons, was listing very, very, very heavily, then capsized and now all that's left of her is just the bow protruding above the water. So, navy divers, 174 guys, Korea's best young man, these are SEAL teams, under water demolition teams, salvage teams are diving with lifelines under and into the submerged hull.

Whether anyone feasibly could be alive, trapped in an air pocket, your guess is as good as mine. But, you know, fingers are crossed.

BOLDUAN: It's our understanding that this is a very, very busy waterway. This is a typical route. This was a ferry vessel, albeit a very big one, that was on the water.

But as we can see right now, a very dangerous and urgent rescue operation happening as we speak.

Andrew, you've been on top of it all morning. We'll check back in with you. Thank you very, very much.


CUOMO: All right, Kate, so the good news is some of the vessel is still above water, meaning that there's some air buoyancy there. The bad news is the quick moving currents, the situation is moving rapidly and it's very difficult to get inside the ship to see if there's anyone to rescue. So let's bring in former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Mary Schiavo. Mary, ferries are not usually what you would be covering, but you do have some experience here in what can happen in these type of situations. Let's go through some big points. We hear from on board that there was a big bump. The ship started to list quickly after that.

We're calling it a ferry, but this is a huge craft. It really is a ship. There were almost immediate call toss abandon ship and jump in the water despite its temperature, 40 degrees out deeper into the channel, 50 degrees nearer shore. Dangerous temperatures. Your take?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, when you hear a report of a bump and then also that water came in very fast. On a ferryboat what you think and it's a very busy shipping channel, but it's easy to get outside the channel if you're not paying attention. That's what happened in Valdez and other ferry accidents. And if it hits something and given the volume of water coming in you would expect that perhaps the doors through which cars and other vehicles can get off the ferry had failed.

A couple ferry accidents that's what happened. They hit something and then as a chain reaction. Usually not just one thing. But that the doors failed and allowed a lot of water to come in after some other hit or problem happened first.

COUMO: We do know that this ferry was carrying as many as 150 vehicles. You're talking about the door used to allow passengers to drive on? Those doors are not as strong as typical hatches?

SCHIAVO: Well, the very strong but what can happen is if you have some other kind of a mishap. Here it sounds like they hit something. Got outside of the channel and hit, you know, rocks or, you know, like the Concordia, remember the ship in Italy? As long as you stay in the channels there, dredge, very busy shipping lanes. If it did hit something then it could have damaged. Not that they're not very strong. There are ferries all over the world. Often when that happens, yes, that's what happens, the doors fail.

CUOMO: You mentioned the "Costa Concordia" there in Italy. We covered that one pretty extensively. There, there was an issue that they couldn't access certain life boats because that was the side that was listing. What do you make of the suggestion here that very quickly in the process people were told to don their jackets and jump into the water?

SCHIAVO: Well, it could be one of two things. One that they didn't have any life boats or rather life rafts. They wouldn't have life boats on a ship -- a short haul ship. Most likely they lad life rafts. Whatever happened, had happened quickly, which makes me think they hit something that had an actual tear or hole in the boat or these big doors had failed and water was coming in quickly.

Because to tell people to abandon ship, they had to fear the ship would go down so fast the people stayed on would be sucked down with the ship and would drown. It appears since so many people are missing and they're not floating in the water that that's what may have happened. In other words, it's going down so fast and the water is sucking in that you can't fight your way out. That's why they might have told them to abandon ship.

COUMO: Mary, thank you. Again in the interest of optimism with hundreds still unaccounted for the physics of the situation are still in the rescuers' favor and those people who may be trapped on board because there is some boat still above water, which means there's still air displacing it. Against them is time, it's sinking quickly and in very quick currents. So we'll stay on top of it and let you know the latest when have it -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, coming up next on NEW DAY, more on this breaking news as rescuers are desperately searching for hundreds of missing and trapped passengers off the coast of South Korea. We'll be live on the scene of the disaster.

Also ahead, the video, a terrorism analyst calls extraordinary. Dozens of al Qaeda fighters and a top leader coming together and promising to destroy America. What does this mean about the future of the terror group? We're going to the Pentagon in just moments.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back. Some unusually cold weather happening and, yes, it's spring. I think it is at least. Overnight snow fell in parts of the country. Let's get to meteorologist, Indra Petersons with the very latest. Indra, what's going on?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Typically March is the last time we see flurries. What month is it, Kate? Yes, April. I do not think so. We saw flurries in New York City this morning. Even in Boston. You can see all the cold air and snow out there. It's finally making its way offshore this morning. That is the good news. It was such a long winter some people can still argue still winter with this last snowfall that we just saw this week.

Detroit, Michigan, Flint, Michigan, now ranked number one for the snowiest seasons ever. Breaking records with this past winter season. The cold not only do we have snow, but cold temperatures and the cold air filled to the south, even record morning lows. Michigan back down through Texas, freeze warnings in effect down even into the southeast. Yes, I think you know if it's cold in the morning it's cold in the afternoon.

Temperatures going almost 20 degrees cooler than we saw yesterday. Still OK. We're talking 50s. D.C. not beautiful in the 70s. About 53 as we go through the afternoon. Keep in mind another system is going to be out there. We're going to track this guy. It's not expected to be as cold unless you're in the upper Midwest. We are going to get heavy snow.

But south end of it they're looking at some heavy rain filling in by the Gulf by Friday or so. Yes. A month later, still talking about snow. You didn't warn me about this. Tough New York.

BOLDUAN: Quite a surprise this morning. Hopefully a blip.

PETERSONS: A lot of cars covered, too. It's pretty impressive.

BOLDUAN: Impressive, yes.

PETERSONS: Another adjective.

CUOMO: Point of fact, it is your job, science, to tell us, to warn us about what's coming, not our job to warn you.

PETERSONS: Minor details.

CUOMO: You know? Science, all the degrees and all that. You tell us. I don't know what's going on until I walk outside.

Right now, intelligence officials are pouring over a new al Qaeda video of what could be the terror group's largest gathering in years. CNN first broadcast news of the video's existence. It shows more than 100 fighters meeting in Yemen. At the center, al Qaeda's second in command, brazenly vowing to destroy America with a report on this, CNN's Barbara Starr. She broke the story. She's at the Pentagon this morning with more -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. These fighters in Yemen belong to the most dangerous al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda group that has vowed to attack the United States.


STARR (voice-over): It's the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years. And the CIA and the Pentagon either didn't know about it or couldn't get a drone there in time to strike. U.S. officials will not say, but every frame is being analyzed. In the middle, the man known as al Qaeda's crown prince, Nasir Al-Wuhayshi, brazenly out in the open, greeting followers. A man who says he wants to attack the U.S. seemingly unconcerned he could be hit by an American drone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is quite an extraordinary video. The leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasir Al-Wuhayshi, who is also the number two of al Qaeda worldwide addressing over 100 fighters somewhere in Yemen taking a big risk in doing this.

STARR: In his speech, Al-Wuhayshi makes clear he is going after the U.S. saying -- we must eliminate the cross, the bearer of the cross is America. U.S. officials believe the highly produced video is recent, with some fighters' faces blurred, there is worry it all signals a new round of plotting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. intelligence community should be surprised that such a large group of al Qaeda is assembled together including the leadership and somehow they didn't notice.

STARR: There's good reason to worry. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also known as AQAP is considered the most dangerous al Qaeda affiliate. The CIA and the Pentagon have repeatedly killed AQAP leaders with drone strikes, but the group now emboldened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The main problem about this group is that it has a bomb maker who can put bomb on planes that cannot be detected.

STARR: That bomb maker is believed to be responsible for several attempts against the U.S. Including the failed 2009 Christmas day underwear bomber attack.


STARR: Ibrahim Al-Asiri, that's a name to remember and watch. He is the master bomb maker of this al Qaeda group, said to be behind several attempts to attack in the United States. You don't see him on this video. He remains in hiding according to U.S. Officials -- Chris.

CUOMO: Who he is and what he is planning is something that certainly will be on everybody's radar now. Thank you very much, Barbara Starr, for breaking that story.

Now we're also following breaking news this morning of rescue operations under way right now after a ferry sank in South Korea. Hundreds are missing.

Also, the Bluefin is back looking for Flight 370. A lot of news to tell you about so let's get to it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A desperate rescue after a crowded passenger ferry suddenly began sinking off the coast of South Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The technical issue that brought it to the surface. They downloaded the data. Found no objects of interest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Appears to be the town which is now focal point for Ukrainian military operation to dislodge pro-Russian militants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These patients are fighting one of the deadliest diseases in the world, Ebola.


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome back to NEW DAY. We welcome our viewers across the U.S. and around the world. We do have breaking news this morning. Nearly 300 people are feared missing. Four dead. After a ferry carrying 459 people sank overnight off South Korea's coast. Many passengers were high school students. Take a look at the video here of the ship. It hit something we're told. There is a sound of some type of bump. Then on its side and slid into the freezing waters there.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us from South Korea just miles from where the ship went down.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, it's really a heart breaking scene here. We're seeing all the families basically of those that are still missing assembling here outside this auditorium. Parents absolutely beside themselves. They're looking on this list behind me to see if their names of their children are on that list. That is the list of those who have been rescued.

At this point, 162 have been rescued, 291 still missing. When they don't find their name on that particular list then they break down. It is a devastating scene here. It is really very upsetting for these families. Darkness has now fallen and with darkness fallen so do the hopes that many more survivors if any could be found, 291 still missing, still possibly in the water.