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Violence Pushes Ukraine To The Brink; Ukraine Fighting Prompts Pentagon Review; Boko Haram Says It Will Sell The Kidnapped Girls; U.S. Assesses Boko Haram; Search for Missing Flight 370; Clippers Advance to NBA's Next Phase

Aired May 5, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, violent flares in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian militants are digging in as Ukrainian troops try to gain ground. And now, the clashes are spreading west.

Also right now, more than 200 Nigerian girls still being held captive. An Islamic militant group is claiming responsibility, saying it plans to sell the girls.

And right now, it's back to square one in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Australia, Malaysia and China, they're working together to hash out new plans for the next stage.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. We begin with the escalating violence in Ukraine. And this brand-new statement from the Russian foreign ministry, we again urge the Kiev organizers of terror against their own people to come to their senses, stop the bloodshed, withdraw troops and sit down, finally, at the negotiating table. That's the exact quote.

On the ground, there's fierce fighting in Slavyansk as Ukrainian forces are moving against pro-Russian separatists. A Ukrainian helicopter was shot down and there is a steady stream of wounded.







BLITZER: In Odessa, the volatile mix of Russian-speaking separatists and pro-Ukrainian groups have battled for several days. At least 46 people are dead so far. Pro-Moscow sympathizers stormed the police station in Odessa. They smashed their way in and a short time later, they celebrated after setting free 67 of their comrades. Ukrainian government blames Russia for stirring up the violence. There are 40,000 to 50,000 Russian troops massed on the border with Ukraine. Our Nick Paton Walsh is joining us now live from Slavyansk. So, Nick, what are you seeing on the ground?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, Wolf, we've come out to the town of Slavyansk. And this morning, as we drove in, it was clear the Ukrainian military were on the move. And we saw one of their snipers and scouts heading down the road. But as we moved further towards the center, also those pro-Russian militants were building up in numbers and clashes then broke out.

At the hospital, we saw a procession of ambulances bringing in, at first, one woman who was shot, her husband said, while standing on a balcony presumably by a stray bullet. She died moments later. And then, a number of militants also brought in two, one in a very bad condition, too, Wolf, (INAUDIBLE.) We've been hearing above us a jet.

And, I think, recently, you know, also Ukrainian officials have said that one of their helicopters was downed. No people in that killed. They survived because they hit a river. But apparently four Ukrainian soldiers killed in today's violence.

The change here, Wolf, is we've been seeing Ukrainian military moving into position around this town. The self-declared mayor of Slavyansk, pro-Russian activist himself, showing me how they kind of blocked the area off.

But today is the first time I think we've seen these clashes in earnest as the Ukrainian military clearly tries to move further in towards the center. A lot of anger now amongst the Slavyansk population. A lot of barricades erected by civilians there. A car -- a civilian car shot up, we were shown by the pro-Russian militants. And even those men, often wearing masks, today seemed a lot more human in their fiery, very angry at what was happening there. And I think we're looking at a new chapter for Slavyansk where really, I think, the gloves are, in many ways, off -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what's potentially even more disturbing right now, the situation spreading from eastern Ukraine, Slavyansk, where you're near right now, some of the other towns, all the way west, in a westerly direction, to Odessa. If you take a look at a map of Ukraine, you see there's real concern. This could -- this could impact not just eastern Ukraine or Crimea but also other parts of Ukraine. How worried are the Ukrainians about that?

WALSH: Well, certainly, I think the fear is this is perhaps part, maybe the critics of the kremlin say, of a broader strategy here. What's been building in the east has taken a number of weeks to get to this extraordinarily dangerous and lethal stage. What happened in Odessa over the weekend and before the weekend happened -- flared out of nowhere, really. The contagion instantaneous. We're seeing pro- Ukrainians and pro-Russians shooting off and killing each other on the streets. Over 40 killed in a trade union building fire. Many of them pro-Russian activists. That's got everybody worried because it's so far west of all the longer burning contagion of anger we've had here in the east in the country. A little bit of history here. If you look adjoining Odessa, through Crimea, already annexed by Russia, all the way across the recent (ph) Ukraine, that forms part of something Vladimir Putin's referred to, in the past, as Novarasa (ph), an ancients kind of different set of borders that Russia used to have. Many anxious concerned that we're seeing here unfolding a broader strategy. This unrest spreads to that area and it potentially, maybe, critics of Russia say, they step in to, quote, unquote, "keep the peace" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh on the scene for us, as he always is. Thank you.

So, if you take the Russian foreign ministry at its word that the stepped up fighting in Ukraine threatens peace across Europe, what is the U.S. actually prepared to do? Let's go to the Pentagon. Our Correspondent Barbara Starr is standing by. Barbara, you speak to military officials all the time. What are they saying about those Russian forces, 40,000 to 50,000 on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's very interesting. U.S. military officials are telling us those troops are holding steady. They are still at those locations near the border on the Russian side, 40,000 to 50,000 troops. They haven't added any. They haven't really taken away any. Nothing substantially changed. But, and it's a huge but, they are still ready to move into Ukraine on a moment's notice. It could happen so quickly. Still, after all these weeks, officials tell us the U.S. might only see it as it was happening. They are that close.

But what the U.S. is so concerned about right now, of course, is not just the troops but also this destabilization that Nick is talking about. They don't -- maybe the Russians don't even have to invade. They're destabilizing everything by using these pro-Russian activists, by using this type of guerrilla activity that they are putting into eastern Ukraine. So much destabilization that there is very little the U.S. can do about it, Wolf.

What you will see in the coming days are a number of U.S. and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe, again, designed to reassure the allies in Eastern Europe. But any direct action to change the situation on the ground in Ukraine not expected. Intelligence sharing, some humanitarian aid supplies but no U.S. military action, Wolf. This leaves the Obama administration with very little it can do, other than more sanctions, to try to influence the situation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We know elections are scheduled in Ukraine towards the end of this month. And hundreds of international monitors will be going in to watch those elections, including some very high-profile Americans who are scheduled to participate in then -- in that as well. Is there a sense you're getting over there, Barbara, how concerned Pentagon officials might be about the security of these Americans, some very well-known Americans, who want to monitor those elections, how worried they should be about the security situation and if, in fact, they could even have free and fair elections in this kind of an environment?

STARR: Well, I think the security is a huge concern, Wolf. You know, we saw some of those types of monitors being held by the pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine for many days and only recently released. So, the -- you know, the issue for security here is the Russians could make a statement everything will be OK. The Ukrainians could make a statement everything will be OK. But a lot of these pro-Russian militants are under no strict control and they are moving in a number of areas and the concern is you are going to see some of them simply acting out under their own direction, their own will, and nobody can really predict what might happen. It is a huge concern, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. I spoke to some of those Americans who are expected to go over there to watch these elections and, needless to say, they're pretty nervous about all of this right now. Barbara, thanks very much.

Let's go to Africa right now and a horrific update about the kidnapped schoolgirls. The Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, claiming responsibility for last month's abductions in Nigeria. But that's not all. The leader of the group made an absolutely repugnant statement about what will happen next.


INIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the manifest by Allah. There is a market for selling (INAUDIBLE.) (INAUDIBLE) says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women.


BLITZER: I will sell women. I sell women. That's what he said. Isha Sesay is joining us on the phone from Abuja, right now, in Nigeria. A very chilling message from this group, Boko Haram. So, what's been the reaction, Isha, in Nigeria? Because this is causing an international uproar.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, it certainly is, Wolf. As you've pointed out, it has been three weeks now since these girls (AUDIBLE) claim of responsibility. But today, we see the man, believed to be the leader of Boko Haram, saying proudly, defiantly, on tape, as he abducted the girls, and going on to say what he will do, and these are chilling and they sickening words and really a confirmation of the worst fears of many here on the ground in Nigeria who, in the days I've been here, have been expressed to me deep concern and distress that (INAUDIBLE) these girls have been taken from a place in the country that is under a state of emergency. And yet Boko Haram was able to go into that school and take them and these girls have not been seen since.

Great feeling of despair on the ground when you speak to people. And (INAUDIBLE) that it does not appear to be doing more to find these girls. That is the perception here on the ground in Nigeria that the government has refused to share (INAUDIBLE) other than in the statement made on camera yesterday by the president, in which he said aircraft and helicopters were being used to scan the area. Very little operational detail being shared with the public. And there's a great feeling of desperation and disappointment. And now with this tape, this gut-wrenching and distress that we've got these developments today and what we hear on that tape -- Wolf.

BLITZER: More than 200 schoolgirls still being held by this group. Isha, thanks very much. We're going to have more on this story, by the way, later. Our own reporter, Vlad Duthiers, he's there in Nigeria. We'll check in with him.

After the kidnappings, the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, asked U.S. intelligence agencies for a complete assessment of this group, Boko Haram. The U.S. has designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization. They did so late last year. The State Department's annual terrorism report which just came out said the group is responsible for numerous attacks in northern and northeastern Nigeria that have killed thousands of people since 2009. Loosely translated, by the way, Boko Haram means, quote, "western education is a sin in the local language and has repeatedly targeted places of learning in deadly attacks that has highlighted its fundamental philosophy against any education for women or girls."

The three main countries hunting for Flight 370 are going back to the drawing board right now. It could mean a whole new search for the missing plane.

And despite the drama off the court involving the owner and the racist rants, the L.A. Clippers advance to the NBA playoffs second round. Stand by.


BLITZER: It's now been two months since Malaysian Flight 370 disappeared. Two months of searching, two months of finding nothing. And now an admission that the search may have to be revamped once again.

This week search leaders from Australia, China and Malaysia will finalize plans for the next phase of the operation. They do not know the search, the new search area, will mushroom in size. They do not know how big it will become. It certainly will include part of the ocean that is unchartered, at least as of now.

CNN's Will Ripley is following all the latest developments from Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the bottom line for this expanded search effort is that there's a lot of ground to cover and they need to bring in more equipment to do it.

Let me put this in perspective for you. During 18 dives, the Bluefin- 21 has covered fewer than 200 square miles. The newly expanded search area is 23,000 square miles. So obviously more technology needs to be brought in so they can cover this area. It's even going to take a long time with adding additional resources, expected to take up to 12 months and cost up to $60 million. So we know in Australia they will be meeting to decide what technology they want to bring in and how to effectively deploy it and get the search area covered and hopefully find some sign of the missing plane.

But there's something else that needs to happen first. And that is a team of experts, many of them were right here in Kuala Lumpur in the initial days and weeks after MH-370 disappeared. They are now going to be flying down to Australia and taking another look at all of the data. Everything from the satellites to the suspected pings under water to even data collected during the visual search.

They're putting it all together. They're doing the math, perhaps even some more simulations, to make sure that they still feel that their best educated guess puts the missing plane in this area in the Southern Indian Ocean. The skepticism, well, there's a good reason for it, simply because of the fact if you look at the numbers, it's pretty staggering. 4.6 million square miles have been searched so far. More than 300 flights. More than 3,000 flight hours, 29 aircraft, 14 ships involved in this search. And still no sign of the missing plane.

Now, Wolf, here in Kuala Lumpur over the weekend, news broke of a series of arrests in an ongoing terror investigation. The Royal Malaysian Police confirmed to CNN that they have arrested 11 suspected militants accused of planning attacks, Wolf, in and out of Malaysia. Now in spite of one newspaper report claiming that these arrests were somehow connected to the missing plane, the authorities here tell us that's absolutely not true, they found no connection to MH-370.

This is something that they continually investigate here. As you know, Malaysia is an important partner with the United States in counterterrorism -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will Ripley, in Kuala Lumpur, thanks for that update. Good report. Thanks.

In about 30 minutes or so, this hour, as investigators review all their data once again, I'll ask our plane panel if they think they're getting any, any closer to finding Flight 370.

Just ahead, the L.A. Clippers, they are on their way to the next round in the NBA playoffs, but will the controversy and the drama involving their owner and his racist rant distract that?

And is Donald Sterling about to do his own full-court press to try to stop the NBA from making him sell his team?


BLITZER: Despite all the drama off the court over their owner's racist remarks, the L.A. Clippers have now advanced to tonight's Western Conference semifinals. They'll face off with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The team owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life facing a $2.5 million fine. But not his wife who is also a co-owner. CNN's Ted Rowlands is joining us from Los Angeles.

Ted, seems like everyone's talking about this now. Sterling spoke to "Dujour" magazine about his alleged mistress who talked with Barbara Walters herself. Sterling's wife has been talking with the NBA commissioner. Update us on the latest developments.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the bottom line, Wolf, is this season is the best ever in franchise history for the L.A. Clippers and as the team is doing well on the court, off the court, of course, there is drama, and the more talk we hear, the more a lot of people believe that both Mr. And Mrs. Sterling want to keep the Clippers.


ROWLANDS: With a win this weekend the Los Angeles Clippers are moving on to the next round of the NBA Playoffs. Meanwhile off the court the drama surrounding team owner Donald Sterling continues to grow. In an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters V. Stiviano, the woman heard with Sterling on the now infamous recordings, defended the Clippers owner and claimed she is still close with him.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: Is Donald Sterling a racist?

V. STIVIANO, DONALD STERLING'S ALLEGED MISTRESS: No. I don't believe it in my heart.

WALTERS: What is his state of mind right now?

STIVIANO: Confused. I think he feels very alone.

ROWLANDS: Meanwhile Sterling's wife Shelly, who was at this weekend's game, says she thinks the NBA's plan to hire an executive to run the team is a great idea, releasing a statement that seemed to indicate she would like to hold on to the Clippers, which is part of a family trust.

The statement says, in part, "As a co-owner I am fully committed to taking the necessary steps to make the Clippers the best team in the NBA. That has been my aspiration ever since 1981."

IRA BOUDWAY, BLOOMBERG: She is saying essentially that you can do what you want to my husband. He is a racist. Maybe you can strip him of his control as the board of governor. But this is a piece of family property and you can't just take away our property. We didn't do anything -- we didn't say anything. This is not us.

ROWLANDS: As for Donald Sterling's next move, it is still unclear if he is willing to sell. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on CBS's "Face the Nation" says after speaking to Sterling he doesn't think he will go down without a fight.

ERIC GARCETTI, LOS ANGELES MAYOR: I think he thinks he will be the owner for a long time that he wants to stay the owner. And I say this will be a long, protracted fight and a painful thing for a city that is a great city, a great American city. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: And, Wolf, the bottom line, a lot of people are getting ready for what could be a long protracted fight. We haven't heard anything specific from Donald Sterling except for what you mentioned in the top where you referenced that "DuJour" magazine. They quoted him only about his reaction to V. Stiviano saying, quote, "I should have paid her off." But we haven't heard anything official from him as to whether or not he's going to fight the effort to sell the team.

BLITZER: And we'll get some more on that. I'm going to be speaking later today in "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Jason Binn, the publisher of "DuJour" magazine. He's the one who had that lengthy phone conversation with Donald Sterling. We'll get some more on that.

I'll also speak, by the way, with Bruce Levenson. He's one of the co- owners of the Atlanta Hawks, he'll join me live at 5:00 today as well. Lots of happening -- lots happening on this front. And we'll go in depth, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Meanwhile, the situation in Ukraine is clearly worsening. Fighting between government forces and separatists moving the country closer to the civil war. We'll go live to Ukraine for an update.