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At This Hour

Zelenskyy: 130 Rescued From Mariupol Theater, Hundreds Trapped; Biden, China's Xi Speak On Russia's War In Critical Call. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired March 18, 2022 - 11:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much to all of you for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Erica Hill. Stay with us. At This Hour with Bianna Golodryga starts right now.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: And hello everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in for Kate Bolduan. We begin with breaking news on the war in Ukraine, and an update on what may be the most appalling attack of the war so far.

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy moments ago confirming that there are survivors in the bombing of the theater in Mariupol. Women and children were sheltering inside when it was hit. But rescue teams are still combing through the rubble. At the same time, two other big developments that we are covering, the fighting entering what could be the new phase this morning when a missile strike hit an aircraft facility in the western city of Lviv, a critical haven for refugees.

Now all of this comes as moments ago, President Biden ended a call with China's President Xi, one that could decide what happens next in this conflict as Moscow hopes Beijing can provide military aid to its needs to fuel its war effort. We have reporters covering every angle of the war. Let's start with CNN's Scott McLean live on the ground in Lviv. Scott, what more are we learning about that message from President Zelenskyy?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Bianna. Look, we got news yesterday that seemed like a miracle after that theater was hit in Mariupol, it didn't seem likely that anyone would survive. Authority said there could be as many as 1,200 people sheltering inside most of them very likely women and children. Then we got a word that some people were able to get out alive. What we didn't know is how many and if they meant some people, a small few or if they meant all.

Well, what we know so far is that 130 people have been pulled out of that rubble alive. Things are extremely difficult in that city. Of course, even once people make it out because the city council says that 50 to 100 times per day, they are dealing with shelling. It has made it extremely difficult to establish humanitarian corridor to get the hundreds of thousands of people out of the city who would like to leave. But at this moment, it seems like the priority of course, is getting people out of that underground bunker underneath that theater.

Here's what the President said about that.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): We have managed to rescue 130 people but there are still hundreds of Mariupol people under the rubble. Despite all the difficulties, we shall continue the rescue operations.


MCLEAN: Of course, if people under the rubble without access to food and water very likely, but even once they get out that entire city again, large parts of it struggling to get food, to get water, large swaths without power, without heat in the dead of winter I should mention. Now here in Lviv, this city has been a haven of relative safety that is until this morning. For the very first times bomb -- for the very first time since the war started, bombs fell within the city limits. They hit a building, an aircraft repair facility according to local officials very near the airport. We were out at that area earlier today, Bianna. We saw the smoke billowing from just beyond the runway ourselves.

Many people in this city have taken in strangers fleeing from other parts of the country. City officials say they are housing some 200,000 people who've come here seeking safety. And the question now is how many of them will stick around. Many of the residents of Lviv are unwilling to leave, saying that this is their home. One man asked me point blank, where else would I go? And it seems like a lot of people are making that cost benefit analysis of whether it's worth it to seek safety in Europe, especially if they don't know anybody there, if they don't know the language, they don't know the culture.

One woman said this is my home. This is what I know. I will only leave in an absolute last resort. For a lot of people, that still hasn't come yet. Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: Yes, this is millions of people are on the run in that country. Scott McLean, thank you so much.

Well, Russia's attack on civilian targets across Ukraine shows no sign of letting up. In Kyiv, one person was killed and at least four others were injured after the remnants of a downed Russian rocket hit a residential building setting it on fire. In Kharkiv, one person is dead after Russian forces shelled a giant market. And in Chernihiv, a U.S. citizen was among the several people killed in attacks in just the last 24 hours. These attacks come as Ukrainian and Russian forces both face an increasing number of casualties. CNN's Ivan Watson is live in the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia with more. Ivan, you just talked to a Ukrainian soldier about the difficulties that they are facing. What did he tell you?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I got a view, a description of some of the frontlines. This is a major in the territorial defense. And he in most of his roughly 400 men in a battalion that he commands are all volunteers who came into the service after Russia invaded on February 24th. He described his men lightly armed, fighting what he described as aggressive resistance with rocket propelled grenades, many from the Soviet era being used to ambush and attack columns of Russian armored vehicles and tanks. And he said Ukrainians, while incurring casualties, are also suffering losses. Take a listen.



WATSON: Has your battalion had casualties?


WATSON: People killed, people wounded?

TAMARIN: Yes. I prefer not to tell the number of people but we have -- I already lost my friends and people who serve with me. We have people who are wounded.

WATSON: What is the weapon that is hurting your men?

TAMARIN: The most dangerous, it's artillery.

WATSON: Does your battalion have an estimate for how many Russians they killed?

TAMARIN: For now we destroy almost 200 Russians and captured alive closer to six or eight soldiers.


WATSON: And he also says that he thinks his battalion destroyed at least 20 armored vehicles, including some tanks as well. That's the view from just one battalion on the frontlines to the northwest of Kyiv defending that city. This officer saying that he thinks Ukraine will be Putin's waterloo, but that Ukraine as a nation will suffer an incredible price to get what he describes as eventual victory. Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: Yes, Ivan so important to hear that soldier's perspective of what's happening on the ground there as he's trying to defend his country. Ivan Watson, thank you so much.

Well, now let's get to that critical phone call between President Biden and Xi Jinping. We've learned that it just ended moments ago and lasted nearly two hours. Joining me now is CNN's John Harwood who's live at the White House and CNN's David Culver, who's live in Shanghai. And David, what's interesting is that we've seen Beijing quick to release readouts from that call ahead of the U.S. What exactly is the Chinese side saying?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And everything as far as how they're going to be publicizing this, Bianna, as you well know, is done with a lot of intention. So to see those readouts coming, really just a few minutes into that video call suggested that China was eager to get on top of this narrative early, because what they have faced over the past several weeks, and including just in the recent days, has been mounting pressure from the U.S. in particular, that there would be consequences should they take any action to assist, who is President Xi's best friend, as he's labeled it, President Putin and Russia as they've moved forward with this invasion of Ukraine.

And some of these statements that are coming out, they are indicative of China's desire to see this conflict come to an end. I'm going to read you some of what President Xi has said, according to state media, saying, quote, the world is neither peaceful nor tranquil, going on to say, the Ukraine crisis is something we don't want to see. They don't want to see it in part, Bianna, because of the economic repercussions that could also be facing China. And we know that because the Chinese foreign minister told that to the Spanish Foreign Minister earlier this week that they didn't want to see the sanctions that are being levied against Russia, impacting China.

And so we've even seen China started to distance itself a bit from some of those business and financial sectors, though the U.S. and the E.U. want to see more done. And so presumably, that was part of this discussion, or perhaps the entirety of the discussion, because if you look at the length of it, I saw about two hours, just shy of that, that includes some translations. So it's not a very lengthy call, when you consider the substance of what's going on right now. And considering that according to the White House, and according to the Chinese officials, that this was supposed to cover a range of topics, not just the Ukraine crisis, it's very likely though in that time frame that they had, they had to focus heavily on this, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And this is such an important moment for them. And a lot of pressure is on China because they rely so heavily on trade with Europe and the United States. John, we haven't heard yet, and interrupt me if you're starting to see any readouts on the US side, but this is really coming at a critical moment in this war. The U.S. making clear going into the call that China should not support Russia. And what's different in my view is that unlike similar threats made to Russia leading up to the war, the U.S. and President Biden has receipts to show China that it's not bluffing here.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And, you know, I think it's important to recognize why China, as David just indicated, wanted to get out ahead of this call and that's because they see how ugly this war is becoming, how sentiment around the world has turned against this war. So even though China has, in some respects, thrown in its lot with Vladimir Putin and Russia, we all saw those scenes at the Olympics of Xi and Putin together, they may have been banking on a much quicker and more decisive conflict, as Vladimir Putin did, than what has transpired.


And so President Biden was trying to jump on this moment of hesitation from China in which they're not certain whether to double down on the bet they've made with Russia or pullback. There are some signs that they are interested in pulling back, we just don't know. But that's the purpose of the call. That's why President Biden wanted to push very hard. And the fact that that readout that the Chinese gave, indicated they wanted an end to the conflict, that's not the result that the United States wanted. But it's an indication that it's not impossible that they can get what they want out of this call.

We'll see the United States has been slower than the Chinese to put out the start of the call, the end of the call, and a readout of the call. But we should get that within the next hour or so.

GOLODRYGA: Though, to be fair, that doesn't appear that we're hearing anything concrete coming out from the Chinese side, just sort of these vague statements suggesting that that piece is better than war. David, China has yet to condemn Russia for this war, we have yet to hear that. Can we expect that to change, especially given that just a month ago, as you noted, these two leaders were standing side by side, calling each other best friends and saying that their relationship and partnership is limitless?

CULVER: I really don't think you're going to see a 180, a reversal certainly from President Xi and all of this. Ideologically, he is still very much aligned with President Putin and his biggest foe in all of this has obviously not been Russia, it's not been Ukraine, it's been the U.S. And it's been targeting here in state media, the West constantly. So that won't change. I think the best you'll get is that there's a desire to defuse the crisis. But I think what has probably pushed this more than anything else is the economic concerns that they're feeling here and the worries that everything that's been put against Russia, these sanctions that have been levied against Russia and Putin could trickle down and impact China.

And right now, I'm standing in the midst of a lockdown here in Shanghai, China's largest city, across China, they're dealing with more lockdowns because of COVID. Economically, they're hurting and they're feeling the pressure. And so anything to add to that is going to really cause potential for social instability. And of course, that is the last thing the President Xi wants here.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, no doubt COVID is President Xi's biggest problem, at least domestically that he's dealing with right now? John Harwood, David Culver, thank you.

And coming up, new details about the substantial losses Russia may be encountering as it invades Ukraine. What these numbers say about where the war may be heading, next.



GOLODRYGA: The war in Ukraine could be exacting a heavy toll on Russia. Ukraine's armed forces say they have killed more than 14,000 Russian soldiers since the invasion began more than three weeks ago. CNN's Natasha Bertrand joins us with the latest. And Natasha have Western officials been able to confirm these estimates because I know there have been reports that that number may actually be closer to 6 or 7,000 Russian soldiers? NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Bianna, the estimates vary widely. And that's because U.S. intelligence officials have had difficulty being able to pinpoint the exact number of Russian casualties that have been incurred since the start of the war nearly a month ago. But the estimate right now places it somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 dead. Some estimates are lower. Some estimates are as low as 3,000. But the U.S. has, regardless of the exact number here, the fact that the Russian military losses are in the thousands is pretty remarkable given that they believe Russian President Vladimir Putin did not expect to incur nearly as many losses as they have experienced over the last month or so.

And of course, we have to note, of course, that we don't know either how many Ukrainian soldiers have died over the last three weeks, it's just been very difficult for the U.S. to determine that because they are relying a lot on open source information to gather this information, right? They're relying on satellite imagery. They are relying on non-governmental organizations to explain to them what they're seeing on the ground. And then in some cases, they're also relying on intercepted communications between Russian military officials and other people on the ground to try to get a sense for the actual number of the losses here.

But what we're told is that this is contributing to a sense of flagging morale amongst these Russian troops that because they have incurred such heavy losses over the last month, they have really kind of lost a sense of what their actual military objective is. They don't have the resources on the ground that they need in order to substantially, you know, increase this operation. And what we've seen, of course, is the substantial air operations, potential missile strikes that still are creating a lot, a lot of damage, especially against civilian targets.

So regardless of the morale question, the Russian operation is still very brutal, very destructive, and Russian President Vladimir Putin believes according to these officials that he still can take the entire country, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And it's notable, Natasha, that we haven't heard from the Kremlin in terms of how many soldiers have been killed throughout this operation. Two weeks ago, they said that was at 498 and they have not updated that publicly. Clearly, that number is much higher. Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much.

Well, let's talk more about this. Joining us now is retired Army General and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark, also former director of communication for U.S. National Intelligence and CNN national security analyst Shawn Turner. Welcome both of you. So General, let me pick up on that conversation with Natasha. As she mentioned, you know, we spent a lot of time focusing on the military setbacks and losses on the Russian side which has been substantial. But a NATO official told "The Wall Street Journal" that Ukraine's losses are likely to be the same as Russia's, around 6,000 or so. And we know that Ukraine's military is much smaller. What is your best guess as to how they are faring?


GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think the Ukrainian military is doing very well, I think, of course, they've taken losses. But they're fighting for their homeland. They're very determined. And these losses are what happens in war, it's terrible, but that's what happens. And they know it. And this is not a morale problem the same way as it might be for the Russians.

But let me also address the broader issue if I can. Vladimir Putin doesn't care about the morale of the soldiers. He's going to push those soldiers forward. They're going to fire artillery. And he's bringing in mercenaries. On the first of April, he recruits a new cohort of draftees. He's going to shove those young men into the battle as well. This is a meat grinder for these Russian soldiers. But that doesn't help Ukraine. What Ukraine has to do is push out from Kyiv, from Kharkiv, from these other locations, hunt and kill, drive those Russian forces back.

And that's just the nature of war. It's going to be brutal. But these Ukrainian forces are much better led. They're much better motivated. And they're adequately equipped to do the job if we keep providing the replenishments.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, it was interesting, I should describe to you what I just saw on Russian television. Vladimir Putin was commemorating the anniversary of annexation of Crimea at a packed stadium in Moscow. And what was interesting was what he specifically said about those soldiers, he said their morale is very high. And they're standing soldier to soldier, shoulder to shoulder, defending their country. Clearly, the Russian public is not getting a sense of what's happening on the ground there in Ukraine that we are getting about morale being so low.

Shawn, let's turn to this phone call between President Biden and President Xi. How much realistically, how much pressure can the U.S. exert on China in hopes of deterring them from intervening on Russia's behalf, whether militarily or financially, especially if they are hurting right now?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, Bianna. Well, you know, I think that's the key question that China is considering right now. And while we've seen this initial message come out from China, and there's no commitment of any type in that message. I think at the end of the day, what we're seeing is China taking a look at this, and assessing that, if the support that they've been asked to provide to Russia is going to hurt them economically, they're not, they're simply not going to do it.

Look, the China understands that if we get into a situation where we are invoking -- we are putting sanctions in place against them, and they are putting retaliatory sanctions in place, that's going to hurt both sides. But China understands that it's going to hurt the United -- it's going to hurt China more than it's going to hurt the United States. And so while I do think there are things the United States can do to discourage China. I think that before we even get to that point, China is already looking at this and saying that it's probably not in their best interest. And, you know, Bianna, I think there's one other thing that China is looking at very closely here. Look, if China makes a decision to provide military support to Russia, and Russia fails to overtake Ukraine, if they fail to overtake them militarily, the entire world is going to know that this joint effort between Russia and China failed. That's not just a failure for Russia. It's a failure for China. And I simply don't think that China is ready to deal with that type of failure on the international stage.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, General Clark, you know, it's interesting, I was just speaking to a Russia-China expert who agreed with that assessment that Shawn just laid out, and that is that he views China likely to just sit this one out on the sidelines. So they have nothing to gain by helping Russia at this point. And he actually quoted President Obama's mantra about not doing stupid blank in terms of foreign policy. Do you think that that is the direction China's headed in?

WESLEY: I think China is going to forestall a decision for as long as possible. So I think they may give lip service to President Biden in the call and may give lip service to not doing anything. They've got a secret agreements behind the Russian-China Agreement we don't know about, at least I don't know about them. I'm sure they involve transfer of mineral wealth and other things.

And so what we're -- what you should expect is they're going to do as much as they can covertly to help. They're already Chinese, supposedly news teams and they're following the Russians. So I assume those are Chinese intelligence agents that are in there collecting information. There's no telling what's being done behind the scene. But I agree with what Donald Trump says that, you know, they don't want to be seen as siding with a loser. So they're going to Itry to have it both ways for as long as possible I think.


GOLODRYGA: Shawn, what caught my attention is, you know, obviously there was a lot of concern leading up to Russia's invasion that we'd see massive cyberattacks and internet and electricity outages in Ukraine. We haven't seen that. Is it safe to assume that Ukraine is getting a lot of help from the U.S. on that front?

TURNER: Well, certainly. When we look at the U.S. -- the United States intelligence support to the Ukraine, it's quite significant. One of the things that I've been told that Russia is really concerned about is their inability to communicate with their battlefield commanders and with their military planners and operators, securely. And so one of the challenges that they have is that, you know, we're boosting up the Ukrainians through intelligence.

And I think that what, you know, Russia would like to see more than anything is some help with that. That's one of the things that China brings to bear. But it's certainly the case that, you know, our ability to help and support the Ukrainians is really putting the Russians in a tough spot here. GOLODRYGA: It is unbelievable that just not even a month into the war, you're seeing all of these difficulties that the Russian military is having on their side. Shawn Turner, General Wesley Clark, thank you as always for your analysis.

And a quick programming note, be sure to watch Don Lemon's exclusive interview with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, that airs tonight at 10:00 p.m. here on CNN.

And coming up, Poland has become a refuge for millions of Ukrainians with more people arriving every day. How long before resources run out, we have a live report from the border, up next.