Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Heavy Fighting In The East Of Ukraine; Paramedics Risking Their Lives To Save Others; U.S. After Kyiv Talks, We Want To See Russia Weakened; Russia, Ukraine Blame Each Other For Explosions In Breakaway Region In Moldova; 2,000+ Texts To And From Mark Meadows Reveal Communications Of Trump's Inner Circle Before And After January 6; WSJ: U.S. Withholds Sanctions On A Very Close Putin Associate - His Reputed Girlfriend. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 25, 2022 - 20:00   ET


DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Erin, you mentioned the outbreak now spreading in Beijing and the mass testing underway there. Well, the government within Beijing trying to reassure residents in the capital saying: Hey, don't worry, we've got plenty of supplies, but people there are still panic buying, nonetheless. Many with this mentality of, hey, we saw what happened in Shanghai. We're not taking any chances.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Amazing. All right, David, thank you very much.

And thanks so much to all of you for being with us. See you tomorrow.

AC 360 starts now.



There is much to report tonight, but also much to reflect on two months in a day ago, Russian forces rolled into the country expecting that by now, we'd all be reporting from occupied Kyiv.

The fact that we're not says so much about the endurance and bravery of the Ukrainian people, and the reminders are everywhere, as are the signs that those two qualities are about to get pushed even harder.

Because some things are beyond endurance, such as the killing of a mother named Valerie, her three-month-old baby girl, Kira; Kira's grandmother and five others in a cruise missile strike on Odessa over the weekend.

In a social media post a few weeks ago, before the invasion, Valerie wrote that she just found a new level of happiness. Her death, like that of thousands of Ukrainians over the last two months was neither accidental nor incidental to any military objective. It simply was, because Russians had been targeting residential areas from the beginning of this invasion. It is more than anything this war's defining characteristic -- targeting civilians, or in this case in Irpin, targeting civilians simply trying to flee the bombardment.

A family here, evacuees at a train station in Kramatorsk. Children in a well-marked bomb shelter in Mariupol, countless civilians in the more than 100 hospitals and health facilities hit so far. Two months and a day have taught us that about human endurance, in the face of cruelty; also being tested, military bravery.

In villages like this one on the Eastern frontlines, the Ukrainian Army's success in inflicting losses on Russian troops has come at the cost of the village itself. A local official saying "Our troops retreated a little because not much because there was no longer anything to hold on to." But they are still holding on.

And if the resistance exceeds here as Defense Secretary Austin said today it could, these scenes will be multiplied many times over, as well as stories like these.

In this case, women and children who have been stuck in a basement at a giant steel making complex in Mariupol for the last two months.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My city is completely destroyed. There is not a single place that is intact. Everything is bombed out.

The children here are crying all the time. They want to play, they want to live.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We can't even go outside. We have children who haven't been outside. They haven't seen daylight for weeks. Children not going outside.

We have maximum a week's worth of water, food, too -- a week -- in a week's time, I don't know what will happen to us.


COOPER: They are surrounded by Russian forces. She says she has the feeling that it is still late February, and that the world is just watching. It's hard to imagine, two months and a day.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is in Kharkiv for us tonight after a very close encounter with a Russian practice of targeting a residential area twice. Reportedly, the second time to kill emergency workers who have responded to the first attack.

Also CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House; in Brussels, CNN's Nic Robertson on the apparent decision for now not to impose sanctions on someone very close to Vladimir Putin; and reporting on two mysterious explosions in Moldova to our Southwest, CNN's Phil Black.

First, Clarissa Ward's report.


is the beginning of a 24-hour shift for paramedics, Aleksandra Rutkovskaye (ph) and Vladimir Venzo (ph). They prepare their ambulance for the carnage that Kharkiv residents confront every day.

(VLADIMIR VENZO speaking in foreign language.)

WARD (voice over): "We have to tourniquets," Vladimir says. Aleksandra's mother stops by the dispatch center to give her daughter a hug. This is one of the most dangerous jobs, every moment together is precious.

A loud stream of boom signals the day's work is beginning.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE speaking in foreign language.)

WARD (voice over): "That's incoming now," this ambulance worker tells us. Aleksandra and Vladimir answer the call.

(ALEKSANDRA RUTKOVSKAYE speaking in foreign language.)

WARD (voice over): "Temperatura," say says. The code used when someone has been wounded by shelling. Their flak jackets on, they're ready to roll out.

WARD (on camera): So they've said that they got reports, one person at least has been injured in the shelling and they're hearing some rockets as well, so we're going to see what's going on.


WARD (voice over): The shells hit a residential apartment building, the paramedics need to act fast. Russian forces are increasingly hitting the same target twice. It's called a "double tap," a horrifying strategy to take out rescue workers as they respond.

We see for ourselves.

"Get in," Vladimir shouts. "Faster, faster, faster."

We take cover under the stairwell. Aleksandra is trying to find the wounded person, but there is no signal. At that moment, another barrage moves on.

We brace for the impact.

(UNIDENTIFIED MEN AND WOMEN speaking in foreign language.)

WARD (voice over): "Is everybody okay," Aleksandra asks.

Our team member, Maria Abdieva (ph) has cut up her hands on broken glass. Vladimir treats her injuries as Aleksandra calls the dispatch again to find where the wounded are.

(ALEKSANDRA RUTKOVSKAYE speaking in foreign language.)

WARD (voice over): "We've got no connection. We are sitting in the entrance," she says, "And they're shelling the shit out of us."

The connection keeps dropping.

(ALEKSANDRA RUTKOVSKAYE speaking in foreign language.)

WARD (voice over): Finally, she gets through to the person who called for the ambulance.

(ALEKSANDRA RUTKOVSKAYE speaking in foreign language.)

WARD (voice over): "Tell me your damn house number," she says. "I repeat 12-G. I've told you a thousand times," he replies, "The man is dying."

We decide to try to make a run for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go. Come on, Maria. Maria, come on. Come on Maria. Come on. Go, go.

WARD (on camera): Okay, so we were just in an apartment building. They were looking for an injured man, a bunch of rounds came in and hit the next door building, so now we are getting out as fast as we can.

WARD (voice over): While we run out, Vladimir and Aleksandra run back in. We find them treating the injured man on the side of the road. Their back window has been blown out by the blasts.

He has shrapnel injuries and head trauma. Once they've stabilized him, they rush him to the hospital.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE speaking in foreign language.)

WARD (voice over): Vladimir asks about his pain. The man has been deafened by the blast. Arriving at the hospital, they've done their part. It's up to others now to save him.

WARD (on camera): I have to say I think you guys are like the bravest people I have ever met. (Speaking in foreign language.)

WARD (voice over): Back at base, we asked them why they continue to do this work with all the danger it entails.

(ALEKSANDRA RUTKOVSKAYE speaking in foreign language.)

WARD (voice over): "It's normal. This is our work. Of course, it's scary, like for everyone." Aleksandra says, "Today, you were with us in the hottest place, in the oven, but we're still alive. Thank God."

WARD (on camera): (Speaking in foreign language.)

(VLADIMIR VENZO speaking in foreign language.)

WARD (voice over): "You feel it's your duty or obligation," Vladimir tells us, "To help the people who are still here."

WARD (on camera): And what do your parents say? What does your family say? Aren't they wanting you to stop this work?

VENZO: No comment. No comment. It's very difficult.

WARD: They must be scared.

VENZO: Yes, yes.

WARD: Proud, but scared.

VENZO: Call us all day, all night.

WARD: We saw your mother.


(CLARISSA WARD speaking in foreign language.)

(ALEKSANDRA RUTKOVSKAYE speaking in foreign language.)

WARD: "She is worried to the point of hysteria," Aleksandra tells us. She says, "You need to leave. You need to go to some safe place. Why are you doing this? I have only one, child stop it."

And what do you say?

(ALEKSANDRA RUTKOVSKAYE speaking in foreign language.)

WARD (voice over): "I have to do it," she says simply. And with that, they go back to cleaning their ambulance. Their shift only halfway through.


COOPER: Clarissa joins us now along with Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Clarissa, first of all, I'm so glad you and your team are safe. It is remarkable to see what these paramedics are doing every single day. Can you just talk more about what you witnessed?


COOPER: I mean, you saw their ambulance, the window got blown out. Do they have enough equipment? Enough resources? And also, this was just the beginning of their shift. I mean, I can't believe they do this every day.

WARD: Yes, it's extraordinary to imagine that they are doing it every day. I think this was a particularly close call for them, which they pointed out to us.

But still, the risks they take are just off the charts. And you mentioned the issue of equipment, it's a really important one. They have one helmet for ambulance, and there is a crew of three in each ambulance.

So you'll notice that Aleksandra and Vladimir are not actually wearing helmets. The driver was wearing a helmet.

We also talked to the head of Emergency Services here in Kharkiv, who said that 50 of their 250 ambulances are now out of commission, at least temporarily because they've been hit by shrapnel doing this work.

So the other thing that really stuck out and you can't really see it in the piece, because obviously it was such a sort of intense moment, and we didn't have a lot of time to film is that there are civilians living in these buildings.

As we approached the building, you could see a woman pushing the glass out of her window. Another woman, when we first came into the building, answered their door and said, "Who needs the ambulance?" Then a man actually brought down a cup of water at some point to help the paramedics clean up Maria's hands.

So this myth that there aren't people living in these areas, that they're being used by the Ukrainian military, well, they're just that, they are myths. There are still people living in these areas either because they choose to either because they have no choice, but they are there, and these are very much civilian targets -- Anderson.

COOPER: That's a really important point you make, because Russian authorities will say, well, you know, either we're not targeting civilian structures, we don't hit residential areas, either. Ukrainian nationalist forces, which is what they call basically all the Ukrainian military, was using that to launch attacks, and therefore it's a target or this was done by the Ukrainians themselves to make the Russians look bad.

WARD: And this is the playbook that they have been using for such a long time, Anderson. I mean, we saw it in Syria. I saw it on the ground myself.

You would see them hitting hospitals, a fruit market, schools, and always you would hear the same language coming back. We're targeting terrorists. This is an anti-terrorism mission.

Okay, in this case, the language has changed slightly. It's a denazification mission. But it's the same idea, dehumanizing the enemy, and making ordinary civilians inseparable on a certain level from Armed Forces, which therefore makes it legitimate in their warped vision of the world, to hit civilian structures.

And of course, the effect of that the message that you're sending to people who live in these areas is that you cannot have a normal life, you will not have a normal life. You can't go out to get water. You can't, you know, turn on your electricity in most of these buildings, until you relent and surrender, which makes it all the more powerful, I think the kind of resilience and courage and tenacity that we've seen here, particularly in the city of Kharkiv.

COOPER: Kaitlan, the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary Austin, Secretary Blinken, they were very supportive, obviously to the Zelenskyy regime in their comments after they got out of Kyiv, and we are talking from the Polish border, how is the administration framing the war after their visit?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're basically arguing that what is going to happen over the next few weeks is ultimately so critical to what happens here overall, how this invasion comes to an end, what this ultimately looks like, just not for Ukraine, but the entire world order.

And so I think that's why you're seeing such a focus and sending heavier-duty weaponry and also the rhetoric that they're using, the way that officials are talking about their assessment of what is happening here and what they ultimately believe the outcome that they want it to be.

They are being a lot more explicit, Anderson, and really, it was perfectly summed up in something that Secretary Austin said after they had made this visit to Ukraine.


LLOYD JAMES AUSTIN III, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.

So, it has already lost a lot of military capability, and a lot of -- a lot of its troops quite frankly, and we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.



COLLINS: And Anderson, hearing Secretary Austin talk about deliberately weakening Russia's military, that is something that we were told was intentional, that is language that you're using on purpose. It is not just something he came up with there on the spot.

And I think what you hear from officials when we talk to them behind the scenes about what the logic is here as they don't think that this is something where Putin stops at Ukraine.

And their concern is, if he tries to do it in Ukraine, he will try to do it in other places, maybe years down the road. And so that is why they say they never want him to have the capability to do what is happening in Ukraine again. That is really sharp language.

And it pits Washington against Moscow much more so than we saw two months ago, when this invasion was first underway in the way officials were talking about it and really calibrating their message, and they are being very clear here in underlining this message that they want to make sure Russia is not able to cause a repeat of what's happening in Ukraine ever again.

COOPER: Clarissa, it is also important to point out for viewers who have been watching this over the last couple of weeks and sort of feel like, oh, I know that -- what the narrative is. It is -- the Ukrainian forces have repelled Russian forces. I mean, this is a whole new phase of this war and it could go against the Ukrainian side in a big way? I mean, this is a different kind of combat that we are going to be seeing, one that is going to be harder for the Ukrainians in many ways.


WARD: Yes, it's completely different, Anderson. What you were seeing in and around Kyiv and in the north before were the sort of ambush guerilla style tactics where the Ukrainians had a certain distinct advantage.

This is completely different terrain. These are -- especially in the Eastern Donbas region where we just spent some time, the sort of fulcrum of this new offensive. You're talking about wide open plains, very few areas to take cover. This is tank country.

You're talking about long-range artillery, that's why you're hearing the Ukrainians saying over and over again, we can win this, but we need a lot of weaponry to do it and we cannot be caught short in terms of supplies.

That's why you're also seeing Russians targeting those railway stations so often because they are trying desperately to cut off the supply lines. Obviously, it is one thing in Kyiv, when you're maybe -- a seven-hour drive from the Polish border -- it's another thing when you're over in Donetsk or around the frontlines near Donetsk, and it's a sort of an 18-hour drive. So their resupply becomes a lot more complex.

In addition to that, with the falling of Mariupol, all but certain to happen in the coming days, you potentially freeing up a lot more Russian troops to go and join the fight in the east and now, we're seeing another offensive that they're talking about in the south coming out of Kherson.

So the Ukrainians still have a very stiff fight on their hands -- Anderson.

COOPER: Clarissa Ward, again, please be careful. Kaitlan Collins, thank you.

Coming up next, Russia is broaching the subject of nuclear war again. The question is, is it saber rattling and if so, to what end? I will talk to the C.I.A.'s former Chief of Russia Operations.

And later new sanctions on, or I should say, new reporting on the sanctions that were almost imposed on the woman reputed to be Vladimir Putin's longtime girlfriend, why she was spared of sanctions ahead.



COOPER: Before the break, we talked about Defense Secretary Austin's declaration that the U.S. wants to quote, "see Russia weakened," his words. For the Kremlin's part, Russian Foreign Secretary Lavrov raised the

nuclear specter saying today that while nuclear deterrence is Russia's principal position, the danger quote, " ... is serious, it is real, it cannot be underestimated," he said.

Joining us now is Steve Hall, former chief of Russian Operations at the C.I.A. Steve, I mean, Russia says that they would only use nuclear weapons in a battle like this if Russia's -- if it was an existential threat to Russia itself. Is this just saber rattling from Russia?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, that's certainly part of it. You know, the Russians have taken every opportunity from guys like Lavrov to Putin himself, to others, Medvedev saying: Look, you know, this is important that the West remember this. They are trying to cause policy decisions to be made with caution.

And to a certain extent that's been effective, because I think the Biden administration and the rest of the Western Allies have indeed been very, very cautious because they realize that there is a nuclear element here that they have to be concerned about.

So yes, I think that there is some messaging going on here. And, you know, to the extent that it is saber rattling, it depends on how you define that. But yes, the message is definitely getting through, though.

COOPER: It is there anyone inside the Kremlin, who could realistically push back on the idea of using nuclear weapons on Vladimir -- I mean, to push back against Vladimir Putin on that?

HALL: Yes, the Byzantine nature of the Kremlin, Anderson, there are people that could push back, the question is, how do you do it, you know, without getting your own head lopped off? I think that there are -- there is an understanding, certainly among the senior leadership, and I would include Putin in that, of course, there is a recognition that that's an extremely serious step, but it depends on how it's implemented.

I mean, really, on the battlefield right now, as you all out there have seen, what is left for the Russians to do to try to increase their likelihood of success? I think the next step for them, if it turns into escalation, because of the weapons that the Ukrainians are receiving from the West, I think, you're looking at possibility of chemical attacks, biological attacks, and then ultimately, perhaps tactical nuclear use as well in the theater.

Because really, what's left for the Russians except to push harder and then escalate.

COOPER: Can you walk us through the type of nuclear weapons the U.S. might be worried about most in your view? I mean, there are strategic weapons and there are tactical weapons and maybe just talk about the difference?

[20:25:10] HALL: Yes, I think the tactical weapons are something that we, you

know, hopefully won't see at all, but if we were going to see a nuclear weapons use, I think that would be first and it would probably come after something like a chemical or biological attack or weapons of mass destruction attack.

But these are smaller, much smaller weapons, of course, than like, you know, intercontinental ballistic missiles. We're not talking about the size weapons that can, you know, fly across an ocean and devastate an entire country or an entire capital city. These are smaller weapons that are meant for battlefield use.

The blast is important, but also the -- you know, the fear and the radiation is an issue with regard to not only taking out troops, but also causing fear and chaos.

So there is a big difference between a tactical nuclear weapon and then, you know, a larger nuclear exchange and I would even be very surprised, frankly, if at this point, Russia decided, yes, we're going to do a launch on the United States or on the Western Allies.

I don't think we're there yet, but it is something that they have to take -- that the Western policymakers have to take into consideration -- Anderson.

COOPER: This is not a very pleasant conversation to have when you're sort of figuring out the difference between different kinds of nuclear attacks, but it's an important one to have.

Steve, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Russian forces are continuing to attack Ukraine's rail system. Perspective now from the CEO of Ukrainian railways, Alexander Kamyshin. We spoke just before airtime.


COOPER: Mr. Kamyshin, thank you so much for joining us. As you know, five railway stations or substations were struck by the Russians over the course of one hour this morning, can you just tell us about what the impact of that was?

ALEXANDER KAMYSHIN, CEO, UKRAINIAN RAILWAYS: Indeed, in the morning, they shelled five stations. We got really significant infrastructure damage, and it took us about one hour to two hours to let passenger trains go, but total reconstruction will take not less than three months.

COOPER: It'll take about three months to rebuild what was destroyed?

KAMYSHIN: Definitely. Not less.

COOPER: What are you able to do to protect key infrastructure like railway hubs?

KAMYSHIN: Well, you know, we do our job on the ground pretty well, but we can't protect ourselves from airstrikes and from rocket strikes. That's why we're asking the West to help us to close the sky.

COOPER: Why do you think these particular spots were hit today? Does it have anything to do with the fact that the Secretary of State from the United States and the Secretary of Defense from the United States said that they had used trains to come to Kyiv?

KAMYSHIN: Well, millions of other people use trains as well, and I don't see any other reason, but just Russians trying to kill all the Ukrainians they find around the country. You know, there is no reason to try to explain it by the visit of European or U.S. leaders by train.

Why do people use train? Because that's the safest way to travel across Ukraine now. And again, millions of people travel across the country, humanitarian aid runs the trains, and all the rest to like the business uses the train, so finally, the shelled stations, schools, hospitals and all the rest, you know.

COOPER: How -- I mean, what you have done is really extraordinary over the course of this invasion to keep these trains running. I mean, for especially in the early part of the attack by Russia, just the sheer volume of people using trains to move further west, to try to escape areas of heavy fighting. How have you been able to do this?

KAMYSHIN: Well, it again, we're just doing our job, you know, day to day, hour to hour, month to month.

COOPER: What does your company need in terms of machine parts, aid workers, in order to keep the trains running?

KAMYSHIN: Everything is fine. We're doing our job, and we'll do it properly on the ground. But again, we're not protected from the air.

COOPER: There have also been some reports that railway workers in Belarus helped to disable or disrupt railway lines connecting Russia to Ukraine through Belarus. Is that true to your knowledge? And if so, what effect did it have?

KAMYSHIN: Anderson, I do strongly believe that there are still honest people inside Russia, and I do believe that they do whatever they need to do to stop the Russian Army coming into Ukraine, and they try to hinder Russian Army traveling across Belarus, you know, so that's why I'm grateful for those honest people inside Russia, and I do believe that they will do their job.

COOPER: And what's your message Ukrainians who want to take a train maybe wanted to get from one area to another. Is it safe?

KAMYSHIN: Well, meanwhile railway stations and trains remain the safest place, the safest way of transportation across the country. I am sure once President Biden will decide to travel to Kyiv, he will also opt train as number one transportation vehicle and we would be grateful for the choice and would be glad to arrange the transportation properly.

[20:30:27] COOPER: (INAUDIBLE) I appreciate your time what you do. Thank you.

KAMYSHIN: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Well just ahead, explosions report in a breakaway region of a third country Moldova suggesting the footprint of this war might expand. Details ahead.


COOPER: New concerns tonight, the Russia may be looking for way to expand the war into a breakaway region of a third country in the region of Transnistria, Which is the country of Moldova, which borders Ukraine to the southwest. And last week, a Russian General said that Russia's military aims to establish quote, full control from that region to the east of Ukraine.

Now today, Ukraine and Russia blaming the other for explosions reported in Transnistria. Phil Black is with me here in Kyiv.

What more do we know about what happened?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So a series of explosions we understand Anderson in the -- in Transnistria's Ministry for State Security Building. The Ukrainian Defense Intelligence tells us that this building is also the local branch of Russia's Federal Security Service the FSB. Their take is that they say this thing was blasted by shoulder mounted anti-tank rockets in what they describe as a pre planned provocation. They're talking about a false flag operation.


So, Ukraine's theory is that this was a deliberately planned operation either by Russia or someone in league with Russia to raise tensions in Transnistria, to try and bring this territory into the war in some way.

COOPER: Which is exactly the playbook that the U.S. was concerned about happening in, in the Donetsk or Luhansk region in Donetsk to get Russia involved in Ukraine.

BLACK: Indeed, and there's been talk of that in Belarus as well, Bela -- Russian troops becoming involved, perhaps as a result of some similar sort of operation. That hasn't happened. But Ukraine has been warning about this in Transnistria for some time, this is a territory where there are Russian soldiers, a small group, we believe. And Ukraine has also put forward this theory that it could also be used this territory as a place to mobilize more reinforcements, there are lots of Russian passport holders, call them up, send them in to join the fight in some way. Essentially send them over the border to start attacking Ukraine on another front.

There are questions there I think about how many people could be raised the quality of those troops and so forth. But it is worth keeping an eye on because we potentially have a false flag operation just days after this Russian General has said very publicly that Russia's military goal is to take a huge stretch of southern Ukraine, all the way from the Russian border to Transnistria.

COOPER: And so were -- I mean Transnistria is this thin little slip of land in Moldova along the border, it's so strange that didn't even exist (INAUDIBLE).

BLACK: It really is. And it did. I mean, it goes back to the breakup of the Soviet Union in terms of why this stretch of territory actually exists in this way, there was a war fought there, back in the early '90s, at a peace deal was struck, which essentially means that it now is autonomous, although still part of Moldova, not recognized internationally as an independent state. But there are Russian soldiers there, and apparently a lot of old Soviet weapons, too, that they are guarding.

And there has been this concern from the outset expressed by Ukraine that it could be brought into the war. And what they're worried about is a new front. And it's particularly if Russia is trying to carve out their stretch all the way across. They'll do it from the east, and potentially these forces could do it from the west.

COOPER: Phil Black, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

I'm joined now by retired Brigadier General Peter Zwack, the former U.S. Defense Department Attache to Russia.

General Zwack, we -- you heard that Phil talking about Transnistria. What is your reaction to the possibility of a second front being opened up? Is that at all likely?

BRIG. GEN. PETER ZWACK (RET.), FMR U.S. DEFENSE ATTACHE TO RUSSIA: I it is a possibility. Likely I would hesitate to use that word. Clearly, the Russians would like to create some chaos back into the East, to the west of Ukraine. And also, with Moldova, there is a garrison of about 1,500 with the Russians called peacekeepers, probably not elite troops, but they're there. And, and we've seen, we saw a General Minnekayev the Russian Central Military District Commander mentioned last week about, you know, aspirational thoughts about getting Russians back toward Transnistria. It's important. It's potentially dangerous. People need to pay attention, what happened could be couldn't be a false flag, the fact that it was just mentioned.

Also, this part goes all the way back this whole southern coast of the Black Sea is what you would call the Russians would call Novorossiya, new Russia. And if you go into their maps, if you go Google New Russia and a map, and you'll see a swath of red sort of, of what that was going all the way back to Catherine the Great. So there's the aspirational goal from a military attack, occupy its 260 miles from Crimea to Tiraspol, the capital, if you will of the breakaway region, that's a long distance for Russian forces that are already stretched to go. But again, it is aspirational and needs to be watched. And it's potentially very dangerous.

COOPER: I mean, if the Russians are being relatively open about their plans, I mean you have this kind of obscure Russian general saying, talking about building, you know, a corridor all the way to Transnistria, why would they still need a pretext to invade? Why would they need a false flag operation or is that just their modus operandi?


ZWACK: I think that -- it all goes into the narrative of the false flag as you got it, you justify it to the Russian population. There's a lot of the world that isn't the West and focused if you will, and not necessarily totally against what is going on there. So I think a lot of it is disinformation of head fakes, but there is also a elemental aspect of Transnistria to be the old Bessarabia if you will in the old Soviet Union.

So, there's a lot of it. So yes, there's its potential, trying to sell it if you will, to their own people in the world.

COOPER: It's fascinating. General Peter Zwack, appreciate it.

Coming up, exclusive reporting back at home, CNN has obtained thousands of new text messages sent by President Trump's inner circle before during and after the insurrection could be the most revealing picture yet of what was going on behind the scenes in that dark time in our history. That's next.


COOPER: Back to our coverage here in Ukraine in a moment, but first exclusive reporting tonight from CNN's Jamie Gangel. She obtained thousands of new text messages sent to and from the former President Chief of Staff Mark Meadows before during and after January 6. She joins us now.


So Jamie, these texts are really remarkable they reveal what some of the former president's allies were saying in private, in real time, which often turned out to be very different from their public statements. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, for instance testifying just last week that she couldn't recall if she ever broach the subject of martial law with Mark Meadows. What did the text show?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we're going to prompt Marjorie Taylor Greene's memory. We now have all 2,319 text messages that Meadows voluntarily handed over the committee. The text, as you said, provide the most revealing picture to date of what the inner circle is thinking its saying, supporters Republican lawmakers, there are text messages with more than 40 members of Congress, including Senator Ted Cruz, Republicans like Jim Jordan, Mo Brooks, Marjorie Taylor Greene.

So let's get to Marjorie Taylor Greene. The first message might actually surprise you, she sends this to Mark Meadows on the 6th, quote, Mark, I was just told there's an active shooter on the first floor of the Capitol. Please tell the President to calm people, this isn't the way to solve anything. So on January 6, after all this planning, and let's have this rally, all of a sudden, she's scared. The next day, not so scared, and the tone turns to apologetic and she texts Meadows again, quote, I'm sorry, nothing worked. In other words, they weren't able to stop the certification. And then on January 17th, there's a third text. And now she's three days before Joe Biden's inauguration, still looking for a way to keep Trump in power. And she texts this, quote, in our private chat with only members, several are saying the only way to save our Republic is for Trump to call for martial law. She doesn't know how to spell martial. I don't know on these things. I just wanted you to tell them they sold this election. We all know they will destroy our country. Next, please tell them to declassify as much as possible. So we can go after Biden and anyone else.

Anderson, they do the truth, but they were pushing these conspiracy theories and fraudulent election claims.

COOPER: Besides lawmakers, who else was texting Meadows trying to get on the president's ear?

GANGEL: So what you see are people from all over the country, hundreds of texts from GOP activists, they're pushing for Trump to keep fighting but the most famous no doubt is someone you will remember MyPillow guy Mike Lindell, even after the courts had dismissed dozens of Trump's legal challenges, Lindell is texting. He's still pressing the White House. Here's one of his texts from December 20th. This is the biggest cover up of one of the worst crimes in history. I've spent over a million dollars to help uncover this fraud and use my platform so people can get the word not to give up. Mark Meadows replies, thanks, brother. Pray for a miracle.

I actually spoke to Mike Lindell last night he confirmed that the text was his, he still has it. It has it he says he has not spoken to Meadows since January 20, 2021. And that he was just trying to get an appointment with the President. But he stands by everything he says.

COOPER: One of the talking points that we've heard a lot of the former president's supporters tried out over the past year is that the writers and journalists weren't actually Trump supporters, but in fact Antifa supporters who had infiltrated and peaceful protest. That was the line that they were pushing. Was there anything in the text that shed a light on the origin of that false narrative?

GANGEL: Absolutely. It turns out that that was a rapid response by the Trump campaign, the text show that Trump allies immediately want to deflect responsibility for the January 6 attack. So, shortly after the riot is happening in the Capitol, one of his top aides, Jason Miller, his campaign spokesman texts this to Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino. Quote, call me crazy. But ideas for two tweets from POTUS one, bad apples, likely Antifa or other crazed leftists infiltrated today's peaceful protest over the fraudulent vote count. Violence is never acceptable. MAGA supporters embrace our police and the rule of law and should leave the Capitol now.

And then there is another text from Jason Miller to Meadows and Kushner on January 13th, in which you really see that these aides can't -- they're scared to tell Donald Trump the truth. He says, I tried to walk the president through this earlier, but he won't have any of it. Two-thirds of the MAGA base wants us to move on.


So, Anderson, what you're seeing here is the inner circle knew exactly what was going on, including that their own base was ready to move on. But Donald Trump wasn't so they weren't.

COOPER: That's really incredible. Jamie Gangel, thank you. Appreciate it.

GANGEL: Thank you.

COOPER: The West has been steadily imposing wider sanctions on Russia in retaliation for their invasion of Ukraine, calls are growing for the U.S. to impose sanctions on one of Vladimir Putin's closest allies his reputed girlfriend. Details next.



COOPER: Weeks after the U.S. first imposed sanctions on some of Russia's biggest companies, political leaders, even Vladimir Putin himself, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the U.S. is withholding same sanctions on a woman named Alina Kabaeva, the reputed girlfriend and mother of at least three of Vladimir Putin's children. Kabaeva is a former Olympic gymnast and according to U.S. and European security officials has stayed in Switzerland for long stretches of time. According to the report, U.S. officials also say she's suspected of playing a role in hiding Vladimir Putin's personal wealth overseas.

Joining me now in Brussels is CNN International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. So the Wall Street Journal, Nic is saying that the U.S. Treasury Department had prepared sanctions against her but at the 11th hour, decided to not include her name on the list. Why was that?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, she is really important to Vladimir Putin. You've only got to look at those pictures to see how smitten he is with her. We know from Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov that he really does not believe sanctions should be put on leaders. Peskov has said before that's not right. It's not suitable, is also said that this would poison the relationship between the political relationship between President Putin and President Biden.

But this is something different. I mean, you can look at this and say, you know, in a diplomatic situation like this, you can leave the threat of something that for Putin would be really ugly and touch a raw nerve with him, leave on the table, the threat of sanctions on the one person you cherish the most. And remember, when you talk to most Russians, they'll tell you that Putin just does not care about people. We've seen him let thousands of conscript soldiers go to die that he cares about her. That seems to be clear.

So is this a sort of a way of connecting with him and saying, we can do more? And this can really affect you? Or is it caution that you don't want to tip him too far and aggravate him into some irrational behavior. And it's hard for the United States and any other government to analyze because no one really is in the room with Putin to get a sense of him.

COOPER: I mean, obviously, he's very notorious for being very private about his life. What more do we know about his relationship with this person? Because I mean, you know, you said that he very much cares about her. He also it seems like, has she, you know, shield a lot of his money through her as possible. He also mainly cares about that.

ROBERTSON: It's very true. What we do know is that members of her family have now since over the past decade, that he -- her and President Putin has been linked with her. They have become wealthy, they all live in expensive houses and fancy parts of town, they have properties that they could never have imagined affording in the past. So clearly, money is going to her from somewhere logical to think from President Putin, some of it she has given to her family, but it would be reasonable to understand the other monies that have gone to her. She is controlling for President Putin.

The property in Switzerland could be an example of that. How much money she has probably depends, ultimately on President Putin. It's a relationship. He's got the laws, yes, he can give them money. But it's -- his use of that money that the U.S. and other countries are trying to control. So if you're going to lock him down, lock, stock and barrel, then you would clearly want to move in on her as well, because that is a route for him, a potentially safe route, one that he trusts to squirrel away money so that no one else can reach it.

COOPER: Yes. It's fascinating. Nic Robertson, appreciate it.

The residents of Mariupol have endured some the most devastating moments of Russia's invasion. We'll have some of their stories, next.