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Civilian Airliner Crashes in Ukraine; White House Calling for International Investigation of Civilian Airliner Crash; Interview with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin; Ukraine Claims Russians Behind Shooting Down of Malaysian Plane

Aired July 18, 2014 - 07:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news on two major fronts, the attack on Malaysia Airlines flight 17. The U.S. says it was shot out of the sky over a rebel-controlled area in Ukraine. All 298 people onboard were killed. Ukraine blaming pro-Russian separatists, releasing an audiotape that said to be them talking about taking the plane down.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pointing his finger at Ukraine, saying the government bears responsibility for the tragedy. This morning, what we're learning about those who died onboard. How was the plane taken down and will this push the region closer to war? Chris Cuomo is in Ukraine.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. Israeli tanks and troops rolling into Gaza.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one takes the decision of putting ground forces into combat Gaza likely.


BLITZER: Palestinians say Israel will pay a heavy price for the military offensive.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There simply is no military solution to this. When the rockets stop, the siege does not stop.


BOLDUAN: A special edition of NEW DAY starts right now.

Good morning and welcome once again to NEW DAY, everybody. It's Friday, July 18, 7:00 now in the east. Chris is in Ukraine. We're going to get to him in just a moment, he's just on the ground. Michaela is on assignment. John Berman and I are here for you this morning and we are following two breaking news stories today. Wolf Blitzer is in Jerusalem as Israel steps up Operation Protective Edge, sending troops into Gaza. The military says it's targeting tunnels being used by terrorists targeting Israel, but civilians are still in harm's way. We're going to get back to Wolf in just a minute. He's covering all of that for us.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: But first, calls of justice from Malaysia after a missile brought down one of its plane. A U.S. official says it was a missile that shot down Malaysia airlines flight 17. The plane fell in a rebel-controlled part of eastern Ukraine and officials there say both black boxes and the missile launcher have now been taken to Russia, that development just a few moments ago. And 298 people lost their lives in this disaster. So far no Americans believed to be onboard.

Ukrainian officials accusing pro-Russian separatists of shooting down the plane, the Ukrainian prime minister calling them "those bastards." But Vladimir Putin says Ukraine shoulders the blame because of the military campaign against the separatists. Now the question looms, will tensions escalate even further, and how will Ukraine respond with its border with Russia lurking ominously miles from this site?

BOLDUAN: Begin breaking news coverage with Chris. He's live from Kiev for us this morning. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Kate, John, how are you? There's a lot of fluid information on the ground here. Obviously, finger-pointing, the only thing we know for sure is that those 298 lives appear to have been lost. Nobody has been recovered alive so far.

But we have news about how many bodies have been recovered and then of course the intrigue on how this happened. Just to paint a quick picture for you, here in Kiev, life is very much as normal, the news very disturbing. Fears of escalation are very real. You'll see over my shoulder there's a vestige of a stockade built during the revolution. It's left in place just to keep things quiet, not to build up a reason to have more anti-government sentiment here.

But out east, a completely opposite reality, the Ukraine military not in control. In fact, no particular faction of militants in control, so it's very unsafe there, unsafe for those on the ground. Let me bring in Nic Robertson. He's been here figuring out the information. It's been very fluid and changing. First, what do we know about how many bodies have been recovered?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Latest information 181 bodies recovered. It was 121 just a few hours ago, so that recovery effort is under way. What's unclear at the moment is who precisely is actually recovering them. We know that the government has an unknown number of rescue recovery and investigators in that area. They are saying they have limited access, however.

CUOMO: Right, they're having difficulty moving through checkpoints because they're controlled by different militant groups. They were reporting back in New York, I heard John saying that the boxes are now rumored to be back in Moscow. Here the Ukrainian authorities can't control that. You're hearing the same, right? ROBERTSON: We're hearing the same. And we're also hearing that they

OSC, the international monitors have been monitoring the military situation on the ground here. They are trying to get a team close to the crash site. They may be a few hours away. These are the same people, though, who were held captive in the past by the pro-Russian separatists. It's not clear if they'll get access to the site, but they made one of the priorities when they get to the site to try to ascertain if they can get the black boxes, bring them back to the government here.

CUOMO: We're waiting on the foreign minister to come join us here and give us the latest information from his office. We're hearing they believe they can show, right, Nic, that Russian military has had involvement in terms of giving the type of military assets to bring down this plane to the militants?

ROBERTSON: They may have given some of that evidence already. They released audio recordings that they say are between the militants and their pro-Russian handlers. The plane went missing now. It is almost 24 hours ago when it disappeared from the radar.

CUOMO: So you have been doing some reporting here. Set up your package for us.

ROBERTSON: Yes. And so the plane was passing through the air space here, really, 24 hours ago, almost to the minute, that's when the plane disappeared from the radar and that's when this began.


ROBERTSON: Erupting in a ball of flame and a plume of black smoke, Malaysia Airline 17 headed to Kuala Lumpur. The U.S. says it was shot down in midair. On the ground, 298 bodies and debris scattered across eastern Ukrainian fields.

Overnight, a newly released phone call provided by the Ukrainian government purports to show a pro-Russian militant revealing to a Russian agent how they were the ones who accidentally shot down the Boeing 777 with a surface-to-air missile system thinking it was a Ukrainian military plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we are 100 percent sure that it was a civilian plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there a lot of people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The debris was falling straight into the yards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any weapons?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing at all, civilian belongings, medical scraps, towels, toilet paper.

ROBERTSON: CNN cannot independently verify this phone call. Further alleged evidence of pro-Russian involvement, an ominous message on Twitter, "We warned you, stay out of our skies," posted by someone claiming to be a Russian-back commander, Igor Strelkov. That post later removed not long after the plane was identified as a passenger plane. Travelers from all over the world killed. Ukraine's president is calling the incident a terrorist attack.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER: We ask all respective governments to support the Ukrainian government to bring to justice all these bastards who committed this international crime.

ROBERTSON: And U.S. Senator John McCain is laying blame right at Russia's door.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: The separatists could have only gotten that capability from Russia, and so therefore the culpable party is Vladimir Putin.

ROBERTSON: But Russia President Vladimir Putin says Ukraine is to blame, saying, quote, "This tragedy would not have happened if there had been peace on that land, or in any case if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed."


CUOMO: And you have to remember the context here. This is a horrible tragedy of this airplane going down, 298 lives, within a larger tragedy of this conflict that is still very much ongoing. It's faded from media recognition because of what's going on in Israel and elsewhere in the world. But it's still very hot in the exact area where this plane went down. Now, Nic, two big issues. One is how are we going to get over there to see what's going on, how are the rescuers going to get in there, the recovery people? How unsafe for them at this point?

ROBERTSON: It's absolutely anyone's guess. You are saying you don't know when you get to different checkpoints. There are different chains of command. There's no unified chain of command. It's a hodgepodge of different separatists groups. When you go to one checkpoint, you don't know what will happen.

Now, the separatists are saying that they will provide a humanitarian corridor, that they will assist. But at the outset of this, the government rescue recovery team were delayed in getting in. They continue to say they have been on the ground. We have from the Ukrainian military and security today saying that just in that area alone the fighting continues and there have been 19 separate incidents of ongoing conflict there, gun battles. This is the picture of what investigator is going to face when they go in there.

CUOMO: Usually you talk about preservation of the scene and how good of an investigation we can have. Here there's active fighting going on. It sounded like being back in Iraq to me, the advice I was getting. Team up with some militants and make sure they sponsor you and host you for the area, otherwise you won't be safe. And for all of the trouble here and difficulty, there is a little bit of an opportunity for Ukraine government as well to internationalize this.

ROBERTSON: And they want to exploit it. We've heard from the president, the prime minister, any government that has national support that aircraft, they want them involved in finding them, to get involved in the investigation. They say that the Malaysians, the Dutch, the United States already been involved in helping set up a commission here for the investigation.

CUOMO: And to remember what Nic had told us, 128 bodies recovered, and now about 180 bodies recovered. But the efforts of humanitarian aid still very early. The foreign minister of Ukraine just showed up. We'll get him wired up and I'll tell you when we're ready to go. But for now, let's go back to New York.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Chris, we'll get back to you in a second. We want to dive in more here because there are just so many questions we need answered here.

Joining us, CNN Aviation Correspondent Richard Quest, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, CNN's military analyst, CNN White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski, and CNN Aviation Analyst Mary Schiavo. Colonel, I want to start with you on the map of Ukraine right now. U.S. administration officials telling CNN that they do not believe that within the area where this plane was shot down that the Ukrainian government itself had the capability to do it. That's why they're pointing the finger right now at the pro-Russian separatists. Talk to me about these devices, though, that they used, this Buk missile system. Who knows how to use it? Who has it? How hard is it?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's the big question. We know the separatists have one of these. They put it out on social media and they showed a picture of it and we noted the SA- 11, SA-17, very capable system. The question is, where did they learn how to use it? Stealing one might be easy but operating one is a different matter. This is a very sophisticated system. It's got onboard radars. It's got several different kinds of radars. You have to use the equipment, how to use all of it, very sophisticated electronics. Someone had to teach them to do this.

Now, you can say some of the separatists may have had military training prior to this, but we don't know that. Or it could have been provided by the Russians or, worse-case scenario, you have a Russian crew using this equipment. The fact that they've taken this equipment out of there tells me that there's something in that system that they don't want us to see.

BOLDUAN: A signature they don't want us to know much about.

I want to get over to Richard Quest. Thank you so much, Colonel. Richard, we heard from the ground, those who have been eyewitnesses there, they keep talking about the area, it's farmland, there is really nothing there, a small Ukrainian town, but also how massive the debris field is. What do we know?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: If you take a look at the debris field, you really do get an idea of what we're looking at. This is the sort of thing you would expect to see from an aircraft that's come out of the sky, that was fully fuelled for a long flight, say from Europe to Southeast Asia, complete and other destruction.

But the experts will certainly be able to get within that. They will be able to recognize certain parts of the aircraft. That missile, I'm suspecting, was already there. They'll be able to recognize different aspects of it. And when you put it together and you look at the fragments, then you can start to work out where the plane was hit, how it was hit But crucially the sort of massive destruction we're seeing is exactly what you would expect from a plane falling out of the sky at altitude fully fueled.

BERMAN: Interesting, Richard. I want to go to Michelle Kosinski at the White House right now because we are at what is a pivotal moment right now for U.S.-Russia relations. Just days ago the United States issued more sanctions against Russia. After this tragedy you hear Russian President Vladimir Putin blaming Ukraine for the situation there, but doing a very delicate dance of not saying who pulled the trigger exactly. So Michelle, the question is, what is the White House saying? What are they indicating about how they will move forward now in treating this disaster and treating Russia?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're also using a delicate, diplomatic, and repeated language. We're hearing a lot of the same phrases over and over, but very clear messages here. The White House has repeatedly called for a full, credible, prompt, unimpeded, transparent, international investigation, saying that that is critical. And also it's vital that the scene remain safe and undisturbed, that that evidence is available so that there is also safe and unfettered access to those international investigators, and to ensure that the U.S. now is calling now on all sides for a ceasefire.

The White House offered Ukraine U.S. experts to provide all possible assistance immediately. It's understood that Ukraine has accepted that offer, so we could see a team of FBI, NTSB, U.S. intelligence head to Ukraine. And at one point the White House said a U.S. team was ready to go soon, but that is all still being worked out right now, John.

BOLDUAN: All right, Michelle, thanks so much. Let's get the latest directly from Ukraine, the Ukrainian government. Let's get back over to Chris. He's on the ground in Kiev and I believe he has the Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin with him. Chris?

PAVLO KLIMKIN, FOREIGN MINISTER, UKRAINE: So you could ask me about --

CUOMO: All right, Kate, thank you very much. I'm already talking to the Foreign Minister Klimkin, thank you very much for joining us. I know this is a very tense time. We were already discussing about what Michelle was saying about the White House and their commitment to the situation. Mr. Foreign Minister, you were saying that you extended an invitation to the U.S. to come in and investigate. They had said they would, but the U.S. is not on the ground here yet, correct?

KLIMKIN: Yes, not at the moment, but I invited the U.S. National Transport Safety Board because of their great experience there. I very much hope they will join the investigation.

CUOMO: Now, one of the obvious concerns on the U.S. side would be U.S. people on the plane. You said you heard that there may be, but you cannot confirm that. That will be with the Malaysian authorities, yes?

KLIMKIN: Not officially. Up to the Malaysian Airlines to confirm it, and you should understand it.

CUOMO: Now, the big question is why does the Ukraine believe this happened? What do you think the cause was?

KLIMKIN: Yes, we intercepted a number of phone calls between the terrorists and they are talking about shooting down the plane exactly yesterday.

CUOMO: Terrorists talking about shooting down the plane, and the timing was close to when it happened?

KLIMKIN: Exactly. And also put on the Facebook the message about shooting down the plane. So, it's absolutely -- it's absolutely clear, it's up to us to have responsibility on that.

CUOMO: So, why do you think they would shoot down a passenger aircraft?

KLIMKIN: That I don't know. You never know what is in the head of terrorists?

CUOMO: There was nothing in the phone calls to suggest a motive?

KLIMKIN: It's, indeed, a real tragedy. But for the terrorists it's a different thing.

CUOMO: Now, the separatists, the militants, the terrorists, depending on your perspective, they say they blame the Ukrainian government, that this was an attempt to take down the President Putin's plane and, you know, to -- a basically hostile action from Ukraine to Russia. How do you respond to them?

KLIMKIN: Well, it's ridiculous. Almost all the separatists leaders are actually Russian. Some of them were clearly in Russian special services. If they're going to shoot the Putin's plane, there is something wrong with the Russian system, I would say.

CUOMO: No, they're saying that you did it, the Ukrainian government used their own assets to attack the Russian president. That's why this happened.

KLIMKIN: Seriously (ph), we don't have such assets on the ground, because we simply don't use any anti-air military capabilities there. And we don't have such capabilities in Donetsk and Lugansk. And we checked with our military forces. There's no way our forces could be engaged in any way in this incident or in any of the incidents all around. CUOMO: Now, another question that is very important right now is, OK,

so, if it were militants, if it was a group of militants that did it, how did they get this weapon? Is it true that this type of surface- to-air missile was taken from the Ukraine military recently by militants? Is that true?

KLIMKIN: No way. We checked also with our relevant authorities, there is no way how they could get Ukrainian assets. But you should understand, you can buy probably Kalashnikov on the black market, but you can't buy anti-air missile or tents (ph).

CUOMO: A Kalashnikov is an assault rifle, but this is a big truck (ph) about the size of a telephone pole.

KLIMKIN: Exactly.

CUOMO: So you would have to be given this; you would have to have special training. And you're saying, as far as you know, there is no Buk system or similar surface-to-air missile that was taken from the Ukraine military.

KLIMKIN: No, not at all.

CUOMO: So you believe it had to come from the Russian military and be given to one of the militant groups.

KLIMKIN: Or probably both by some, you know, exercise by separatists. We have to find it out.

CUOMO: The Russian government, Russian President Putin says this is your fault, the Ukraine government, because you are maintaining hostilities in that area. You're causing this trouble and this is what happens. Do you accept that?

KLIMKIN: If you see the recent advance, if you see the whole inflow of money, mercenaries, weapons, heavy weaponry including tents, including armored vehicles and including anti-air missile, you clearly see what's going on. So, we understand whose responsibility is that. And now it's up to Russia to clearly exercise influence on the terrorists to talk in a really effective way about the bilateral ceasefire, about the OEC to be present on the ground from the very beginning, and of course about the break through on releasing hostages is critical.

CUOMO: We're not hearing that from the Russian government there though. They're only saying this wasn't us. This is the Ukraine's problem because this is their territory and this is their hostility. That doesn't give much promise for the kinds of actions that you're asking for.

KLIMKIN: We need Russian influence on the terrorists because, as I already said, they're almost all Russians with different linked (ph) Russian security services. And, of course, it's about in-flow of weapons, of mercenaries across the border. They have to stop it. That's why the effective control on the border is indeed a key point for any successful, peaceful settlement. CUOMO: Now, the reason I'm in Kiev right now is because it's too

difficult to get to the eastern part of the country because it's not safe. Why have you not been able to use your military capabilities to control the area?

KLIMKIN: Because it's about saving human lives. It's not about any sort of military offensive for us. We are the people of peace and our president is the president of peace. And we also proclaim unilateral ceasefire for ten days and we paid this unilateral ceasefire, the (INAUDIBLE) lives of our military men and with more than 100 wounded. And the terrorists actually broke this unilateral ceasefire more than 100 times.

And now we are ready, any moment, to proclaim bilateral ceasefire with the OEC observers on the ground, with releasing hostages, of course, and with effective control of the border, because we have to stop the in-flow of weapons and heavy weaponry across our border.

CUOMO: You're asking for international assistance here in figuring out what took down this plane, identifying the rest of the bodies, giving that peace to the families of those lost.

KLIMKIN: Absolutely.

CUOMO: But you can't guarantee their safety in that part of the country, can you?

KLIMKIN: We have been negotiating with the separatists for hours, the access to the place of crash. It was difficult, but we pulled it off (ph), and now the relevant governmental commission went to the place of crash with the OEC observers.

CUOMO: But we heard there's violence going on there right now, that it's hard to figure out which group of militants is saying they want peace and which is saying, no, if you come here, you're in danger.

KLIMKIN: It's exactly because they've been trying to weed out any sort of traces who is responsible for this crash. And we need to secure all kind of evidences to find out who is responsible, and we are quite sure we could pull it off.

CUOMO: So, the ultimate message here is that why you want to help find out what happened to this plane, identify the bodies, create the investigation, you have many other problems going on here. I mean, here in your square right in front of the church, you still have one of the blockades up from the revolutionaries here. This is a very unsettled situation. Is that fair?

KLIMKIN: Look, it's symbolic, of course, because it's the legend of Maidan. And the Maidan is actually in our head. It's not about the signs you could see here, but it's legendary now, it's symbolic. And we need the symbol for the new European Ukraine.

CUOMO: And, to be very clear, when it comes to the plane and what brought down this Malaysian airplane, you put the blame squarely on Russia, yes? KLIMKIN: We said from the very beginning, we need transparent,

unbiased investigation. Secondly, we intercepted a number of phone calls and we intercepted a number of messages in the Internet, and we have now a number of videos for the anti-air missile, which is now hidden towards (ph) Russia. And this exactly is the evidence that someone is trying to wipe out any sort of traces of this tragic event. But we will definitely find out who's responsible, because it's not just a tragedy, it's one of the most tragic cases for the Eastern Ukraine at the moment, for the whole Ukraine.

CUOMO: So if the Russian authorities say we don't know anything about this, we had nothing to do with it, you don't believe them?

KLIMKIN: Yes, I simply don't believe in the message that one is not responsible for putting, such as (ph) the separatists, more and more different kind of weaponry. And exactly it has to -- what has to be stopped. And this has to be stopped now.

CUOMO: Everybody hopes that the violence in the east stops as quickly as possible and that we can get answers as to what happened to the plane. Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you so much. Let us know how we can help while we're here.

KLIMKIN: It was very important to share it. And let me express, once more, the deepest condolences to anyone, and to the relatives and friends of anyone who were on board of this plane. It's indeed a real tragedy. We have been working around the clock to find out who is responsible and we've working around the clock to help everyone who would come to Ukraine to find their relatives and friends here. It's, indeed, critical.

CUOMO: Thank you for taking the opportunity.

KLIMKIN: Thanks.

CUOMO: OK, back to you in New York.

BOLDUAN: All right, Chris, thanks so much. Chris speaking with Ukrainian foreign minister right there, who made very clear he believes in no way was Ukraine involved or engaged in any way in this incident, clearly suggesting that Russia is somehow involved, but being very careful on directly laying the blame on Vladimir Putin specifically. We're going to continue to be covering this obviously throughout the morning.

Take a quick break. Coming up next on NEW DAY, a new development in this attack on Flight 17. CNN has obtained new video from what we believe is inside the plane before it took off. Going to be showing it to you coming up next.

BERMAN: And breaking news in Gaza, Israel launching a ground assault. Thousands warned to evacuate. Our Wolf Blitzer will talk with a Gaza resident who has been living under the threat of air strikes. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BERAK) BLITZER: Deadly clashes in Gaza -- Israel launches a new ground operation in Gaza. Already one Israeli soldier has been killed. The Israelis say the escalated effort is designed to initially destroy tunnels leading to Israeli territory. Hamas is condemning Israel's military offensive, saying they will pay a heavy price.

Now, Israel is pulling diplomats out of Turkey following violent demonstrations at the Israeli embassy there last night.

Let's get the Palestinian perspective now. I'm joined by a Gaza resident who's going through these many days, ten days or so of Israeli air strikes, naval strikes, and now a ground assault on Gaza. Hamas targets there. Joining us now is Ramas al Mahboun (ph). He's been living in an area that has been under fire by the Israelis now for several days. Ramas, thanks very much for joining us.

First of all, what is it like? Just give us a little flavor, briefly, what it's like during the course of the past 24 hours.