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Who Shot Down MH-17?; Russian President Speaks out on MH-Flight Crash; Death and Destruction in Gaza

Aired July 21, 2014 - 04:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a compromised crash scene creating anger and frustration. This morning, pro-Russian separatists refusing to step aside as investigators try to figure out who shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. Families furious over how the bodies of their loved ones are being treated as the world waits to hear what was recorded on the doomed plane's black boxes. Live team coverage on all the latest developments straight ahead.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The bloodiest day yet in Gaza. Violence intensifies as Israel bombs more neighborhoods and moves in more troops. Overnight the United Nations calling for an immediate ceasefire. Secretary of State John Kerry on his way this morning to the region to try to work out some kind of peace agreement. This all coming as we learn that two Americans have been killed by Hamas. We're live on the ground in Gaza with the latest.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 31 minutes past the hour. We welcome all of our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

Right now the prime minister of Ukraine holding a news conference this morning. Let's go right there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How to explain that and another question is, how could you ensure international rescue team their safety?

ARSENIY YATSENIUK, UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER: Thank you for the question. We are interested in having a comprehensive, wide scale, widespread and thorough international investigation. But let's speak about facts. What's in the ground? What's really on the tape? The first one, Ukrainian militaries never use surface-to-air missiles. Second one, Ukrainian DOD will unfold all relevant information about the locations of anti-aircraft missiles. The third one, we got the footage and pictures of Russian made anti-aircraft vehicle moving in the area that is fully and entirely controlled by Russian-led guerillas.

The fourth one, we have the pictures of the missile launch. The fifth one, we got an intercept of the telephone calls between Russian-led guerillas and Russian FSB agents. The sixth one, we got the preliminary evidence of the clear facts that MH-17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. The seventh one, on the Internet, this bunch of idiots posted a chat saying that we downed Ukrainian Russian military plane, and then they eliminated it in 30 seconds. In addition to this, we got a number of statements of intelligence

agencies and respective governments clearly saying that they do share the opinion that MH-17 was shot down by a missile. And it's crystal clear that any Russian drunken gorilla cannot manage this system. This is to be a well-trained agent and what the Department of Defense reported to me is that to acquire this target and to shoot down the plane they need to work in collaboration with other radar systems that we don't have on the Ukrainian territory.

And we want an international investigation to get the real facts on who targeted MH-17, who supported and who provided the intelligence to those who committed this international crime. And I urge the Russian government to respond to all questions that have been raised.

Thank you.

BERMAN: You've been watching a news conference being held right now by the Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk.

He has been outspoken since the day that this flight was shot from the sky using some of the harshest language that really you almost ever hear from world leaders. He referred to the pro-Russian rebels as these bastards. He's called them Russian-led bloody gorillas and he's really maintaining that level of rhetoric as he talks about the situation continuing to maintain that the Ukrainian government has all the evidence they need and that they want to suggest to prove that it was the pro-Russian rebel that shot down MH-17 and suggests that he wants access for the Ukrainian government or more access to this crash site.

BERMAN: Because the Ukrainian government does not have access to that crash site. The Ukrainian government -- the rebels have said they will not turn over any of this material in this investigation to the Ukrainian government, only to international observers.

We want to bring in our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson. He's live from Donetsk, Ukraine.

No surprise, I'm sure you could hear the prime minister there. No surprise, really, the anger and the bitterness from him. What are you seeing on the scene there? Any progress at all that this site is being secured and there's some sense of civilized norms going on, on this international crime scene?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me just say, Christine, there's no surprise that the Ukrainian prime minister is using such strong language against the rebels here. The Ukrainian government has been battling them for more than three months, hundreds of people killed. We've even been hearing artillery in the distance. And the mayor of this separatist-held city has issued a public message to people in the north of the city not to leave their houses because of fighting going on between Ukrainian government forces and rebels, according to a separatist official.

What is surprising is the strong language that has come from the prime minister of the Netherlands and from the prime minister of Australia. Two governments who had dozens -- in Holland's case, more than 100 citizens aboard the plane that went down on Thursday. Take a listen to what the Australian prime minister said a few hours ago.


TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: There's no doubt that, at the moment, the site is under the control of the Russian backed rebels and given the almost certain culpability of the Russian backed rebels in the downing of the aircraft having those people in control of the site is a little like leaving criminals in control of the crime scene.


WATSON: Now, Christine, international monitors from the OSCE they had been visiting the crash site day after day accompanied by some Ukrainian civil aviation experts. The Ukrainian prime minister just announced that a delegation landed, just landed in the government controlled city of (INAUDIBLE) to the north of here with dozens of experts on board, and including people from Australia, from Germany, from Poland, that's the largest delegation, several American officials, all presumably would be trying to get to the crash site to start to investigate it in person now four days after MH-17 went down.

We know that more than 100 of the bodies have been taken away from that area, loaded into refrigerated cars on two separate trains by rescue workers, by volunteer coalminers, all under the control of this separatist rebels.

The big question, where are the black boxes right now? The self- declared prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, the separatist region that controls the city I'm in right now, says that his people retrieved several, quote-unquote, "technical objects," but he says that they can't identify whether or not these are black boxes or flight recorders four days after the plane went down. And he won't release them until he sees the appropriate people to hand them over to.

Perhaps this delegation that has just landed in government controlled Ukraine would be given these black boxes -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Ivan Watson for us this morning.

It's all just -- it defies every sense of civilized norms.

BERMAN: And remember, we're talking about 298 souls lost on this flight. And this morning, grieving family members of those on board Flight 17 are pleading with the Russians and the rebels in eastern Ukraine to give international teams complete access to the crash site. The thought of their loved ones being piled in the train cars is really just too much to bear.

Listen to Drew Ryder of Minnesota trying to stay strong after losing his brother and sister-in-law on Flight 17.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DREW RYDER, BROTHER OF PLANE CRASH VICTIM: It's very difficult to lose loved ones. And I'm not kidding you that -- in saying that, you know, we are hurting a lot. But we also feel very comforted by the fact that we think they're in a better place. When we go to church, and it's going to be tough because we're going to have all these people -- I can't even do it now. It's just very difficult when it becomes personal.


BERMAN: You can hear the pain in his voice. And imagine the pain they must be feeling in the Netherlands this morning as they continue to search for some answers on their families.

Erin McLaughlin live in Amsterdam.

What are you hearing on the ground there, Erin?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. We are just getting word from the Dutch Foreign Ministry that the team of -- a team of three forensic experts just arrived in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. The foreign minister saying that they will first go to Torez to check the cooling train. And at this point, they expect no problems in getting access to the site later today.

That cooling train where we believe many of the bodies are, over 190 of the victims on board MH-17 were Dutch. And this country is very much in mourning. Recovering those bodies, identifying the victims, very much priority number one for many of the families here.

I spoke to one woman yesterday, she lost her son on board MH-17. His girlfriend was on board as well. And she had this to say. This message, in particular, for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Take a listen.


SILENE FREDRIKS, MOTHER OF CRASH VICTIMS: Mr. Putin, please take care of my son and my daughter and bring them home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who knows where they are.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who knows where the bodies are. Where did they take them?

FREDRIKS: I can nothing but wait for their bodies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did they take them?

MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have any idea of where your son's body and his girlfriend --

FREDRIKS: No idea. I don't even know if --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe they took it. Maybe it's there. Maybe it's in one piece, maybe 1,000 pieces.

FREDRIKS: No one knows.


MCLAUGHLIN: People here absolutely horrified at some of the reports coming from the crash site of looting and body snatching. People here are outraged. They are angry. But there's also the sense of tremendous sorrow and grief, a sense of loss.

I spoke to one mother yesterday who lost both of her sons to MH-17. And she looked at me and she said, you know, I wish it was me who was on board that plane. No mother should have to feel that way -- John.

BERMAN: No mother, no father, no family, and no one should have to go through this at all.

Erin McLaughlin live for us in Amsterdam this morning. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Our coverage of who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 continues live right after the break.


ROMANS: Later today, the U.N. Security Council expected to vote on a resolution demanding international access to the Flight 17 crash site. And while the horrified families wait for the return of the remains of their loved ones, U.S. officials say the evidence is clear. That Boeing 777 was blown out of the sky by pro-Russian separatists.

Secretary of State John Kerry demanding Moscow stop the rebels from blocking investigators who are trying to get to the crash scene. He's pointing fingers at Vladimir Putin claiming the U.S. has been tracking a major flow of Russian weapons into eastern Ukraine now for months.

BERMAN: The Russian president released a statement saying, "We have repeatedly called on all parties to immediately stop the bloodshed and to sit down at the negotiating table. No one should have the right to use this tragedy to achieve selfish political objectives. Such events should not divide but unite people."

ROMANS: To help us break down this statement from the Russian president, let's bring in Lilit Gevorgyan, senior analyst at IHS Global Insight.

And Lilit, does Vladimir Putin have the key here? Could he just end this barbaric response at the crash site and fix this by telling the rebels get out, by pulling back Russian -- you know, Russian made military systems that are in Donetsk, and by withdrawing his support of the Russian backed rebels?

LILIT GEVORGYAN, SENIOR ANALYST, IHS GLOBAL INSIGHT: Well, two things there. First of all, I doubt that the Russian government and the Russian president has total control over the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. And that's a problem. Perhaps this is something that the Russian military would like to have. But I doubt that they can easily order them to pull back and this could happen domestically as well.

It would be very difficult for a Russian president to have a U-turn and say that they are not supporting the pro-Russian movement in eastern Ukraine. In this case, he would need some sort of face-saving operation to do it. And secondly, an international investigation, independent investigation needs to be done as to who shot the plane, what weapons were used and whether these weapons indeed came from Russia or there were already in Ukraine. And ultimately determine who did it.

BERMAN: You're starting to hear the volume from other countries and other international leaders increase. We heard Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott use very strong language against Russia this morning. But let's talk about western Europe right now.

Do you think that this will push them to enhance, increase the sanctions that they have been so reluctant to lay on Vladimir Putin and Russia over the last several months?

GEVORGYAN: I think what's significant with this tragedy is that all of a sudden the Western Europeans have realized that this is a conflict that cannot just be contained in eastern Ukraine. It's just -- the dimension that probably no one expected that it would. And this is only putting pressure, popular pressure, on some of the European policymakers who have been reluctant to ramp up the economic sanctions on Russia, perhaps to try and follow the path of the U.S.

Of course the problem for European Union is many of its members are quite dependent economically on Russia. So the economic sanctions would bite back European -- some of the European countries as well, hence the reluctance. However, they have to decide, you know, considering that the popular tide now in Europe to take tougher measures against Russia.

ROMANS: Lilit, let me ask you, inside Russia, how is this playing? Is there still this big support -- you talked about Putin's U-turn. He couldn't make a U-turn. I mean, if it turns out that these separatists are mass murderers, does that change the perception of the strategy inside Russia?

GEVORGYAN: Here is the problem. I think because there's such a rift in public opinion in the West and in Russia, and there's a lot of conspiracy theories floating around, it would be probably difficult to convince those ardent supporters approaching that indeed, if it is established by international investigators that they were shot down by rebels. It will be very difficult to convince those ardent supporters of Putin that it was indeed done by the rebels.

Ultimately, in the course of this crisis, many in Russia feel that their brethren is being mistreated and the president has to do something about it.

BERMAN: All right, Lilit Gevorgyan, thanks for being with us this morning. Appreciate your insight. ROMANS: All right. We're following the very latest breaking

developments on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 all morning long. But first, the deadliest day yet in Gaza. More bombs falling as Israel increases its grounds attacks. This morning, Hamas showing no signs of letting up. We are live after the break.


BERMAN: Two Americans are among the 13 Israeli soldiers killed Sunday in the deadliest day yet in Gaza. Nearly 100 Palestinians also reported killed. Officials say the death toll there now tops 500 after two weeks of violence.

The American soldiers killed while fighting for the Israelis identified as Max Steinberg of San Fernando Valley, California, and Sean Carmeli of South Padre Island in Texas.

Secretary of State Kerry calling for a ceasefire in Gaza as soon as possible. But Israel is really expanding its offensive and in spite the death of hundreds of innocent Palestinians, Prime Minister Netanyahu is showing no signs of backing down.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I'm very sad. When I see that, I'm very sad. We are sad for every civilian casualty. They are not intended. This is the difference between us. The Hamas deliberately targets civilians and deliberately hides behind civilians.


BERMAN: I want to bring in Karl Penhaul, live from Gaza with the latest developments.

Good morning, Karl.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, there's been no let up in the fighting either overnight or this morning. We have been hearing heavy bombardments in the eastern part of Gaza, airstrikes apparently going in and also artillery fire. At one point, we saw what we believe was the Israeli military marking targets with flares and then a barrage of tank fire on parts of eastern Gaza that also seemed to start fires, sending huge plumes of gray smoke into the air.

Now we are hearing from the Israeli military that Hamas' military wing may have staged another incursion into Israeli territory by the tunnels that the Israeli military have been trying to destroy. The Israeli military say that they hit two Hamas commando units with bombs and then engaged them in a firefight. All this coming after dramatic announcements Sunday night by Hamas' military wing claiming that they had taken prisoner an Israeli soldier early Sunday morning. Now so far there's been no verification, no confirmation of that from the Israeli military. But it's something we have to watch closely.

Because if it proves true, it could prove a game changer. A prisoner is something that Hamas is likely to use both as political and military leverage. We also have to wait and see what Israel's response on the battlefield is going to be to that -- John.

BERMAN: Karl Penhaul live for us in Gaza this morning with the situation intensifies this morning.

Thanks, Karl.

ROMANS: And our other top story. The Malaysia flight and the business angle on that story. The company, Malaysia Airlines need to turn around and it needs it quickly. They have been losing money for three years and now two major disasters in four months. Bloomberg reporting this morning the carrier will present a turnaround plan this week.

Now Malaysia Airlines will offer full refunds to any travelers who want to cancel their tickets. Passengers can also postpone their flights for free. The carrier is retiring the MH-17 flight number out of respect for those killed, but says there will be no changes to its flight schedule.

The question, will those flights have any passengers? So far the company is not commenting on how many people have been cancelling their flights but we're seeing reports of travelers fleeing the airline in large numbers.

Malaysia Airlines was in trouble even before Flight 370 disappeared four months ago. It's been losing money, as I said, for three years now. Now faces costly lawsuits and a severely damaged brand. Experts tell us bankruptcy is a possibility. Another possibility, the company may have to go private. Certainly an uphill battle for Malaysia Airlines right now.

We will look forward to what kind of turnaround plan -- it tries to present this week.

BERMAN: Difficult times.

EARLY START continues right now.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17? This morning new evidence mounting against Russian separatists who have refused to hand over the crash scene to investigators. Overnight, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, breaks his silence on the controversy. Families of victims plead for the bodies of their loved ones to be returned. We have live team coverage and all the angles of this big, developing story covered for you.

BERMAN: Death and destruction in Gaza. Sunday marking the deadliest day yet in the battle there, as Israel pounds more neighborhoods with bombs. Overnight, United Nations declaring it is gravely concerned over the escalating violence. The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, headed to the region right now, attempting to broker some kind of ceasefire.

We're live on the ground in Gaza with the very latest.