Return to Transcripts main page


Reports of Leaflets Targeting Jews in Ukraine; 20 Dead and 276 Missing in South Korean Ferry Sinking; Crews Analyzing Data

Aired April 17, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, fast moving developments in Ukraine. The United States announcing more aid to Kiev as tensions on the ground continue to rise.

And now, there's new and disturbing reports that Jews are being asked to register in at least one city. CNN's Jake Tapper just spoke with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Jake will join us in a moment. We're going live to Ukraine as well.

Also right now, more than 500 divers, 170 search boats and nearly 30 helicopters, they're all racing against the clock. They're trying to find any survivors that could still be aboard that sinking ferry. We'll take you to South Korea for the latest.

Also right now, crews are anxiously waiting for data from the underwater vehicle that's completed its first full mission searching for signs of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. We'll go live to Perth, Australia.

We'll also have a live report from Nigeria where families are now desperate for news about more than 100 girls abducted from their boarding school by Islamic militants.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Developments are unfolding quickly in the crisis in Ukraine. While diplomats are discussing ways to try to ease military tensions, reports are now surfacing alleging that Jews in one Ukrainian city are being targeted. Is this a propaganda ploy or something much more serious?

Our Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper is following these developments for us. You just had a chance, Jake, to speak with the United States ambassador to Ukraine. Tell us what he told you.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the question is in the city of Donesque, Jews -- leaflets have been distributed under the name of the pro-Russian government that has taken over that city. And the question is are these leaf leaflets which are telling Jewish residents of that eastern Ukrainian city to either -- to register their property and to register their religion with the government. Is this Ukrainian propaganda that is anti-Russian or is this legitimate? Just a few minutes ago, I was talking to the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, and I asked him if it was real or not. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE) GEOFFREY PYATT, U.S. AMBASSADOR, UKRAINE: We've been in touch with a number of people both in the Jewish community leadership here in Kiev but also at the grassroots level in Donetsk. And everything that we're hearing suggests that this is the real deal. And that it, apparently, is coming from somebody on the ground there among these radical groups, you know, either to stir fear or to create provocation justifying further violence. I would say also, I spoke today to somebody who's -- who is connected with groups on the ground in Mariupol and got a little bit of the same. The sort of atmosphere of fear is one of the major narratives right now and that's something that, obviously, we are going to be watching closely over the next couple of days.


TAPPER: Ambassador Pyatt went on to call the leaflets chilling. Obviously, the holocaust looms large in memories of all Jews around the world but especially in that part of the world where so many millions of Jews were killed. We should point out that the pro- Russian government head under whose names these leaflets were distributed has given conflicting accounts, according to the press, denying that he put them out. But also acknowledging, to a different reporter, that his pro-Russian activists were handing them out.

BLITZER: We don't really know who was responsible. We do know that Jews were emerging from synagogue during Passover and they were handed these leaflets. But we don' know who really is the origin of these leaflets, whether it's pro-Russian agitators or Ukrainian nationalists or who?

TAPPER: Well, the U.S. government, Ambassador Pyatt, says that he thinks they're real, meaning that they are from pro-Russian agitators in eastern Ukraine. The secretary of state, John Kerry, recently made comments about it. I don't believe that it -- they would be saying that if it was Ukrainian propaganda. I suppose a cynic might but the U.S. Government is saying, no, these are real. We just have conflicting accounts from the individual whose name they are under.

BLITZER: The secretary of state, John Kerry, just spoke about this and he made this statement. I'm going to play the clip.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Just in the last couple of days, notices were sent to Jews in one city, indicating that they have to identify themselves as Jews. And, obviously, the accompanying threat implied is or threatened or suffer the consequences, one way or the other. In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable, it's grotesque.


BLITZER: All right, I want to bring in our Senior International Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh. He's joining us from the Ukrainian city of Donetsk right now. Christiane Amanpour is standing by as well. She just spoke recently with the leader of the Ukrainian Jewish community. Nick, first to you. Tell us what you know about these leaflets?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reports of their posting indicate that two to three days ago, three of them were posted on synagogue -- on synagogues here in Donetsk. Now, they were not for long and the Jewish synagogues here have released a statement themselves saying they believe all the talk of this is a provocation. Pictures of these leaflets have been posted on social media. I have to say, you know, it's not entirely clear if these leaflets were actually distributed broadly or simply photographed and then posted on social media or if they ever existed as leaflets necessarily themselves at all because all sides involved in this are saying, look, this is basically designed to provoke violence or trouble here.

I've just spoken to (INAUDIBLE.) Now, he is the man, the self- declared chairman of the Donetsk's people's Republic. Speaking (ph) of the building behind me, he is supposed to have signed these leaflets himself. And it's accused that his activists handed them out. He categorically denies this and says that this is just a total provocation on our side here. We have nothing to do with this. That's not even my handwriting. It's not even the title I use for myself in my position, he's given himself here in this particular government here.

So, really, all sides are saying this is designed to provoke violence or concern here. There is limited, it's fair to say, of concrete evidence of any organized widespread campaign. There may have been one to possibly three instances of these signs being put up. They were not for long. And I have to say, too, that when you're with the pro-Russian protest crowd, while there is, at times, anti-Semitism in Russia society and has been there for a long-time in pockets of it, like in many societies, it's not widespread characteristic of the pro- Russian protesters. We've been standing around for quite some time.

So, I think this seized upon by the U.S. secretary of state, perhaps advisedly, if it subsequently proves there isn't a whole lot of evidence. This has been a widespread campaign to perhaps make a point because a lot of the pro-Russian protesters here accused of pro- Ukrainians of being fascist themselves and invoke the Nazi era, suggesting they're somehow aligned to them because of a period during World War II in which some Ukrainian freedom fighters (INAUDIBLE) at the sight of the Nazis push the Soviets back. A very complex history.

But it's so volatile here at this time. Everybody whose names are involved in this is trying to say, look, this is simply designed to provoke further trouble and there is little evidence necessarily of an organized campaign here. So, interesting that John Kerry chooses to focus so much of his statement with that particular instance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting indeed. Christiane, you had a chance the other day to speak with the leader of the Jewish community in Ukraine. Tell us what he said.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, I didn't, Wolf. I don't know where that information was from. But I have been looking into this and we do hope to speak to him because they have been incredibly interesting about what's going on on the ground. Now, this was before this latest allegation of leaflets and demands for self-identification.

But the Jewish leaders, in particular Rabi and, indeed, a newly appointed governor of that region who is himself an Olli Gog (ph) and a Jew, have said that they, in fact, have felt no threat from the Ukrainian authorities.

And remember, at the beginning, all of this -- all of these charges of neo-Nazi-ism and fascism and anti-Semitism were leveled by the Russians against the new Ukrainian authorities. And to that end, the Jews in the eastern European -- eastern part of Ukraine said that, actually, they are not fearing any programs or any -- they don't see any threat to themselves or whatever they are doing. So, this is a completely new element that's been introduced today with the allegations that it's being done by the Russian separatist side.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour reporting for us. Nick Paton Walsh on the ground in Ukraine. Jake Tapper, thanks to you. And I know the interview with the U.S. ambassador of Ukraine, will air on "THE LEAD" at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

TAPPER: That is correct.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

Just ahead, the death toll climbing in the sinking of the South Korean ferry loaded with teenagers on a class trip. That's coming up.

Also, an underwater drone completes its first full mission in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. We'll talk to our panel of experts about where the search goes next.


BLITZER: Now, to the South Korean port of Jindo, the site of a terrible ferry accident with hundreds of teenagers aboard. Three large sea cranes are expected tomorrow to help raise the sunken ship. Rescue efforts have been slowed by bad weather and strong currents. Today, one father voiced the frustrations of so many.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translator): The civilian team went out there but the tides made it too dangerous so they came out. Then the government rescuers says it's too dangerous for them, too. Shouldn't I be angry at that? If the government cares for our people, please rescue our families and our children.


BLITZER: At least 20 deaths confirmed. Parents are clutching cell phones . They're desperately hoping to receive a text from their missing children. The texts have been haunting. Imagine the anguish of the boy who repeatedly sent this message, quote, "Mom, in case I don't get to you to tell you, I'm sending you this, I love you." Or this one. After a father urges his child to try to get out, a CNN affiliate, WTN, reports the teen's reply was, quote, "No, dad, I can't walk now. There are no kids in the hallway and it's too tilted."

Today, the president of the ferry company called the tragedy, quote, "a grave sin" and offered his apology to the victims, their families and, indeed, the entire country. One person who did make it off the sinking ship was the captain. There are now also reports that almost none of the lifeboats was deployed. CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Jindo, South Korea with the very latest.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, rescuers are working under the assumption that there are still survivors and dozens of relatives waiting here at the harbor are praying they're right.

(voice-over): Beneath these frigid waters, nearly 300 people, mostly teenagers students and their teachers remain missing. The ship's captain with his head down, telling police, I'm sorry. I'm at a loss for words. Overnight, three bodies were recovered from the sunken ferry bank, a resort island off the southwest coast of Korea. The miraculous rescue of a six-year-old girl was caught on tape. Her parents and brother were not found. Grief stricken family members gather at a harbor in Jindo waiting into the night, desperate for any information. A mother's anguish as she recalls encouraging her daughter to take the trip.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So I, to her, I think this trip will be a very great experience for you, for your school days. So I'm very regret. I'm very regret this I said.

HANCOCKS: Dramatic video of the first 24 hours of the frantic rescue shows passengers clinging to guard rails and being airlifted to safety. Most of the clues about what could have caused the ship to sink have come from eyewitnesses who report hearing a loud bang and feeling the ship begin to tilt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounded like he hit a submerged object which caused the - a gash in the hull, which would allow a lot of ingress of water.

HANCOCKS: If that's the case, the gush apparently was large enough to impact several compartments below and ultimately capsized the ship. Also in question, the handling of the evacuation. According to passengers, they were initially told to stay on board. This cell phone video, thought to be from inside the ship, shows passengers all wearing life jackets. Outside the ship, only one of 46 lifeboats deployed.

These instructions heard from the crew saying, do not move. If you move, it's more dangerous. Do not move could have cost many lives.

One of the ways relatives found out about their loved ones was through text messages. "There are a few people in the ship and we are not dead yet. So, please, send along this message." Another student texted his friends, "I think we are all going to die. If I did anything wrong to you, please forgive me. I love you all."


HANCOCKS: Now, we do know that the captain of the ship did manage to escape. He is in custody and police want to know exactly how he got off the ship.


BLITZER: Paula Hancocks reporting for us. What an awful, awful story. Thank you.

Up next, an underwater drone completes its latest attempt to scan the ocean floor. Now crews are analyzing the data for clues about the missing Malaysia plane. We're going live to Perth, Australia.

And in South Korea, rescue divers facing enormous risk as they try to get inside the sunken ferry to search for victims. We'll explain what they must overcome.


BLITZER: Did an underwater drone detect anything of significance in the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? That's what search teams are trying to figure out right now. Here are the latest developments.

Crews are analyzing data from the Bluefin-21 submersible right now. The vehicle completed its first full mission today. Malaysia's transportation minister says search officials may have to regroup and reconsider if the scan of the ocean floor doesn't pan (ph) out, but he insists the search would continue in some form.

And an oil slick detected by the Australian ship Ocean Shield is not, repeat not, connected to the Flight 370 airliner. The sample tested negative for aircraft engine oil and hydraulic fluid.

The Bluefin-21 drone has covered about 35 square miles during its first three trips to the ocean floor. That's an area roughly the size of Miami. The first two deep dives were cut short, but now the vehicle has completed an entire mission. Our correspondent on the scene is Erin McLaughlin. She's joining us now from Perth, Australia.

So give us an update, Erin, on what's happening right now.


Well, we're still waiting for the results of that analysis of the Bluefin-21's very first mission, that 35 square mile stretch that you mentioned is absolutely mission critical. It's where officials believe is the most likely place that they are going to find that black box based on a detailed analysis of the acoustic pings detected earlier. A second of which, according to the U.S. Navy, perhaps the most significant, it lasted 13 minutes and was the strongest signal detected.

Now, we do not have a timetable for the results of this analysis as yet. And at the moment, officials being pretty tight-lipped as to whether or not the Bluefin-21 is even back in the water. What we are getting more information on is the cost of all of this. According to the Australian Transportation and Safety Board, it's estimated that a prolonged privately funded underwater salvage operation will cost a quarter of a billion dollars. And that's separate from this ongoing visual search for any signs of debris, search by air and sea, which so far has yielded nothing, Wolf.

BLITZER: A quarter of a billion dollars. That's the cost, by the way, of one of those 777s, more than $200 million - close to $250 million apiece.

Erin, I understand that analysis determined the oil slick, the oil that was taken a couple of liters back to where you are in Perth, gone to a lab, it's come back and shown that it had nothing to do with Flight 370. That's obviously disappointing news, but it wasn't surprising at all, was it?

MCLAUGHLIN: No, it really wasn't, Wolf. Angus Houston, the man responsible for spearheading this multi-national mission, at a press conference when he announced that find a couple of days ago, was very clear they were treating this as a lead that either needed to be ruled in or ruled out. But they certainly went to a lot of effort to rule that lead out. It was brought to shore by military vessel. It was choppered to a base and then jetted here to Perth for analysis. But again, as you said, it turned out, in the end, to be nothing, just another lead that they followed up and then discounted. So I think they're disappointed here in Perth, but they're certainly not discouraged. Authorities here are confident that they are looking in the right place.


BLITZER: And that Bluefin-21, that submersible, do we know when it will actually make its fourth trip under the Indian Ocean?

MCLAUGHLIN: At the moment, we are still waiting for word from authorities on that. I think a lot depends on the analysis of that mission that it just completed.


BLITZER: Erin McLaughlin. We'll check back with you. Erin's joining us from Perth, Australia.

We're going to have more coming up on the sinking of a South Korean ferry. Poor weather, strong currents are just some of the difficulties divers now face as they try to search for victims inside the capsized ship. We'll explain what they're dealing with.

And diplomats are meeting in Geneva to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, but there are many more developments in this crisis. All the details straight ahead.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington. There are new developments in the crisis in Ukraine. While diplomats discuss ways to try to ease military tensions, there are disturbing new reports coming to the region. the United States ambassador to Ukraine tells CNN's Jake Tapper leaflets distributed in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk are demanding that Jewish residents there register their property and register their religion. It's not known who's behind the pamphlets or if it's simply a propaganda ploy. We're going to bring you the latest developments as they become available.

Three giant sea cranes are expected tomorrow at the site of a ferry sinking off the coast of South Korea. The cranes will help raise the sunken ship and move it. Bad weather and strong currents have slowed rescue efforts to reach nearly 300 missing people, many of whom may still be trapped inside the hull. Most of the victims are teenagers. They were on a class trip. Their anguished families have been gathering at the dock. They're hoping against hope their children are still alive. One mother now regrets convincing her daughter to make the trip.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter said to me, mom, I don't want to go there because I went there again, this (ph) time again. So I tell her, I think this trip will be a very great experience for you, for your school days. So I'm very regret. I'm very regret said (ph) that.


BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story.