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At This Hour

Russia Steps Up Attacks In Possible Bid To Split Ukraine; Mariupol Mayor Calls For Complete Evacuation Of His City; Will Smith Slaps Chris Rock At Oscars After Joke About Wife. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 28, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We begin with breaking news on the war in Ukraine. Large explosions rocking the capital of Kyiv overnight, Ukrainian officials say Russia is attempting to block supply routes into the city. And as negotiators from both countries head to Turkey for talks, Ukraine's president is offering a diplomatic opening of sorts in hopes of ending five bloody weeks now of fighting. Zelenskyy is saying that he is ready to accept neutral status effectively ending his country's bid to join NATO and a potential deal with Moscow.

The head of Ukraine's military intelligence is also now warning of a different ending to this war that Putin may be looking to split Ukraine in two, like North and South Korea's military operations around Kyiv have stalled. Let's get started. Let's begin with CNN's Ed Lavandera he's live in Lviv, Ukraine with the very latest. Regrouping, reorganizing, and also looking at fresh targets now at this including in the city where you are.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate, well, you can tell just from the, you know, the quick reading of those headlines that you're mentioning here in Ukraine, just how volatile the situation is leading into day of what is expected to be peace talks in Turkey tomorrow. But right now, we are in the city of Lviv, this is a city that over the weekend saw airstrike on a fuel depot.

Overnight, there were a number of airstrikes and other locations here in the West and West Central part of Ukraine, also striking fuel depots. And there's a clear sign that Russian military is trying to choke off the supply routes in the fuel sources for the Ukrainian military. That also as the deputy military force of -- deputy and the Ukrainian military is saying that Russian forces he believes trying to encircle the city to continue cutting off those supply routes into the city, so all of this very dynamic and quickly changing.

And then just a short while ago, Kate, we heard from the mayor of Irpin, the suburb there in Kyiv whose that city has been besieged for several weeks where we have seen some of the most horrific fighting, and the mayor of that city now tells CNN that they have been able to reclaim that suburb from Russian forces. So we haven't been able to independently verify that but that would be a huge roadblock in Russian forces efforts to encircle the city of Kyiv. So, you know, all of this really speaks to the very fluid nature and the dynamic nature of what we're seeing on the ground here in Ukraine. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Good to see you Ed, thank you very much.

Different story in the besieged city of Mariupol which is seeing what one Ukrainian official calls carpet bombing, Russian forces making gains in areas to the south of the port city now. CNN's Phil Black joins me now with more on that side of the story. So Phil, the mayor of Mariupol said today that in his city, and he's -- these are his words were quote, in the hands of the occupiers. Is it clear what that means right now?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the fall of Mariupol has felt inevitable for some time now. And these words from the mayor suggest that either has happened or the fall of Mariupol is imminent. It has been bombarded under siege for weeks as recently as last night. The President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he'd spoken to the fighters in that city told them to leave if they could, if they felt that the fight was going to end with them losing their lives. He says they refused to leave.

Perhaps the reality is they had no way of getting out because they are surrounded by Russian forces there and the destruction to that city has been extraordinary over the last few weeks, the mayor and the city council now says today that some 90 percent of residential buildings there have been damaged mostly from direct hits, around 40 percent of them have been destroyed.

The reason why we've been talking about Mariupol a lot over the last few weeks is because of the unfolding humanitarian crisis. There have been hundreds of thousands of people there while all of this has been going on. A few thousand have been getting out every day. But there is still thought to be at least 160,000 there now according to the city council. These are people who have endured this constant round the clock bombardment. They have been living with very little food, very little water, no heat or power.

And this constant fear of never knowing whether the next bomb they hear would be one that falls on the building that they are essentially cowering within. It has been a desperate situation for the people there. We have seen hospital struck. We have seen that theater with around 1,000 people in their sheltering hit where 300 people died at one time. And all of this because Mariupol is the last piece in what is a very important military goal for the Russians and that is establishing a land corridor, a piece of territory that stretches from the Russian Federation border in the south on the Sea of Azov, all the way to the Crimean peninsula with Russia annex back in 2014.


Up until now, the Crimean peninsula has set separate from the rest of the Russian Federation. If Mariupol is fallen, it means that Russia now has that land corridor between those two pieces of territory, and it means Russia will have achieved one of the key military goals in launching this invasion. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, important context of why there is so much focus on the city of Mariupol. Phil, thank you.

So President Biden is back at the White House this morning. And the White House is still doing cleanup after these nine unscripted words by Biden about President Putin.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For God's sake, this man cannot remain power.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, were you calling for regime change?



BOLDUAN: And that is what he says now, but this also comes after President Biden labeled Putin, a butcher. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live at the White House for us. Jeremy, so where do things stand with this right now?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, those nine unscripted words from President Biden came during a speech that was meant to be a capstone to his trip to Europe, one in which we saw President Biden talking about the stakes of this war, this invasion by Russia in Ukraine, the stakes for democracies around the world in the broader fight that he has talked about against autocracies.

But President Biden needing to clean up those remarks yesterday, and we've also heard several other officials and White House official immediately after the President made those comments saying that the President was talking about Putin not being able to exercise power in the region. And we also heard these remarks from the Secretary of State and the U.S. ambassador to NATO.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: As you know, and as you've heard us say, repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter.

JULIANNE SMITH, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: In the moment, I think that was a principal human reaction to the stories that he had heard that day. But no, as you've heard from Secretary Blinken and others, the U.S. does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, full stop.


DIAMOND: And that explanation from the U.S. ambassador to NATO is perhaps the most convincing certainly more convincing than that initial response we got from a White House official, because President Biden had just spent the day with Ukrainian refugees in Poland. He had also spent the day meeting with U.S. troops. But it wasn't the only unscripted gaffe from President Biden.

There were other remarks that White House officials had to clean up, including the president suggesting that U.S. troops were going to see the heroism of Ukrainian troops when you're there. U.S. officials making very clear that President Biden still does not intend to send U.S. troops to Ukraine. And there was also when President Biden said the U.S. would respond in kind to a Russian chemical attack in Ukraine. Instead, the U.S. saying, the National Security Adviser saying that the U.S. will respond accordingly to that.

But it certainly some cleanup required from President Biden's trip to Europe, where otherwise he was able to, you know, bring U.S. and NATO Allies together in the face of this Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you for that.


Coming up for us, Ukraine warning Putin wants to split their nation in two as talks between both countries are set to resume in Turkey so what could happen next? Stay with us.


BOLDUAN: And following this breaking news, delegations from Russia and Ukraine are set to meet tomorrow in Istanbul, Turkey as Putin's forces continue to attack cities across the war torn country as we know. Ukraine's military intelligence chief is now warning that Putin could be looking to carve Ukraine in two like North and South Korea.

Joining me now for what this means retired Major General Dana Pittard. He's now a CNN military analyst. And Kurt Volker, he is a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, former Special Representative for Ukraine negotiations. Thanks for being here. General, on this kind of maybe potentially new strategy, new ending that Putin could be looking at here, Korea style ending, Putin's failure to take Kyiv seems to now be pushing him to the possibility of this dividing the country. Do you see that as likely and meaning what can Ukraine do to prevent it if this is now Putin's goal?

MAJ. GENERAL DANA PITTARD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, good morning, Kate. It is a valid concern that Russia may try to divide Ukraine, in fact, making the regions and the provinces in eastern Ukraine in the Donbass region, as well as Crimea into an independent buffer state. Ukraine will never accept that. However, Ukraine does not have the forces to do anything about that right now. And if they had, they would have done that in the last eight years since 2014. But Ukraine will never accept that.

BOLDUAN: But do you think that when you talk about a kind of, General, North and South Korea style divide, is that further into the country? I mean, how does Ukraine kind of -- how do they prevent that, as you say, Ukraine doesn't have the resources to defend itself continuously for over a long period of time, if this continues?

PITTARD: I concur. That would be a terrible outcome. What can be done and would be very helpful in working with President Zelenskyy and Ukrainian government is for NATO, led by the United States is to declare Western Ukraine as a humanitarian assistance zone, which would mean NATO troops on the ground with air defense systems and other systems to protect civilians but also include a no-fly zone over Western Ukraine. That would also help Ukraine in many ways.


BOLDUAN: Which have been very -- they're obviously resistant too to this point. Ambassador, what would a NATO response be or do you think it should be to that kind of an ending dividing the nation in two to this war?

KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, let's start off. And I think the General is exactly right. This is not something Ukrainians are going to accept. So we should not be in position -- in putting ourselves in a position of saying that it's OK if the Ukrainians are saying no, it's not. We should be backing them up on their insistence on having their own country.

I also think it's a very bad precedent if Putin is allowed to wage a war of aggression, and then take something and keep it and then get away with it as if that's all right. So I think we do need to be backing up the Ukrainians on this.

BOLDUAN: General, President Zelenskyy, also said over the weekend, that he is ready to accept a neutral non-nuclear status for his country as part of a peace deal. What does that mean for Ukraine security, if that is what happens?

PITTARD: Yes, I would always question whether or not Russia could be trusted for Ukraine security. I mean, obviously, they violated the Budapest Agreement of 1994, which guaranteed their security. Neutrality, maybe a way to keep the peace talks going that Ukraine can at least signal that. But eventually, for Ukraine to truly be secure, it probably needs to be a part of NATO. And that should be an outcome.

As the ambassador just said, President Putin should not be awarded for his aggression. Eventually, Ukraine ought to be a part of NATO. But as a part of the peace talks, signaling neutrality might be a good move.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador, what did you think when you heard that that neutral non-nuclear status?

VOLKER: Well, I think that there's a couple things going through Zelenskyy's mind, one of them is that it was 14 years ago when NATO first said that, OK, Ukraine can become a member. And nothing's happened since then. NATO was not moving to bring Ukraine in. So in the one hand, he's saying, look, I recognize that's the reality. The other is that he's trying to show to the world, that this is not a serious demand by Putin. Putin says that he's worried about NATO enlargement to include Ukraine.

So when Zelenskyy puts this on the table, Putin doesn't just pick it up and end the war. He's still demanding more. So he's kind of undercutting this veneer of reasonability that Putin was trying to put out there. And I agree with the General. Again, at the end of the war, Ukraine will survive, and Russia will have failed to take over Ukraine. And when we're in that situation, I think the only serious security guarantee that's out there is NATO membership.

So if Putin still around, OK, we may have to be patient about that. But if it ends with Russia actually having to sue for peace because Ukraine has pushed them back, I think we need to have a fresh conversation about Ukraine and NATO.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador those nine words from President Biden saying that Putin cannot remain in power, and then the administration trying to clarify saying that he was not pushing for regime change when he said that. Words matter in diplomacy, you know that well. Do you think those words did real damage?

VOLKER: I don't think so. And I've actually, I think he was speaking from the heart. He was saying something that we all consider ourselves that here you have a guy who is detached from a rational set of policies. He's attacked Ukraine. He's destroying the Russian economy. He's destroying the Russian military. I think we can all see, and look, he can't remain in power in Russia.

And that doesn't mean that we have a policy of regime change. And unfortunately, I think the pulling back those words was a little too hasty. They may be used to doing it for other reasons. But in this case, it made it look as though President Biden wasn't fully in command. And that's not a signal that we should be sending when he's traveling in Europe.

BOLDUAN: It's very interesting. Thank you both very much.

Coming up for us --

PITTARD: Thank you.

VOLKER: Thank you.


BOLDUAN: -- the Oscars moment that has everyone talking and also scratching their heads. Will Smith slapping Chris Rock after Chris Rock made a joke about Will Smith's wife. What will the Academy do with this now? We'll discuss next.


BOLDUAN: The Academy Awards are meant to celebrate Hollywood's best films and performances. But last night, it was brought to a halt by a shocking moment on stage. Will Smith slapping Chris Rock across the face after the comedian made a joke about Smith's wife. Here's how it played out on live T.V. last night.


CHRIS ROCK, AMERICAN COMEDIAN: Jada, I love you. GI Jane 2, can't wait to see it, all right. It's jealous, that is a nice one. OK. I'm out here. Uh-oh, oh, wow. Wow.


Will Smith just -- OK.


BOLDUAN: Yes, that was a lot of quiet airtime because that was a lot of bleeping out. CNN's Stephanie Elam was there. She joins me live now from Los Angeles. What the heck happened, Stephanie?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, now that I've seen that, Kate, I understand why my phone immediately started to just like ignite because inside of the auditorium, it was very clear that this was not a bit once Will Smith smacked Chris Rock because we heard it. And then after that we could clearly hear even though there was no microphone near him, we could clearly hear what Will Smith was yelling. And it was very clear, so just to clarify what it was like for those of us in the auditorium, watch this.


ROCK: Oh, wow. Will Smith just smacked the -- out of me.

WILL SMITH, AMERICAN ACTOR: Keep my wife's name out your -- mouth.

ROCK: Wow, dude.


ROCK: It was a GI Jane joke.

SMITH: Keep my wife's name out your -- mouth.

ROCK: I'm going too, OK? OK. That was a greatest night in the history of television.


ELAM: So again, if you had any question that this was a bit, for one thing, you could tell by the people sitting behind Will Smith, particularly Lupita Nyong'o's face that this was not a joke. And then also, Chris Rock recovered very well, and went on to do the next award. But you could also tell that he was a little ruffled after that.

But noteworthy that he responded so well, after getting hit so hard, because Will's body completely, like shifted. So everyone was caught up looking at that, everyone was talking about it. And I feel like most people probably miss that Questlove one best documentary for Queen for "Summer of Soul" right after that. That's why Chris Rock was on stage at that moment. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, exactly. I mean, in the Academy statement, Academy statement, it doesn't really -- it didn't really say much afterwards. I mean, they said that they don't condone violence of any kind. But then they also gave an award to Will Smith who had just been on stage slapping someone. I mean it's -- do you see anything more happening? Do you -- do people expect Will Smith to get in trouble?

ELAM: OK, so for one thing, we have to keep in mind that the voting was already well completed before all of this. You also have to keep in mind too, that Will Smith had been winning all along award season. There was a lot of goodwill for Will Smith, all throughout. People like this is it, you know, it's kind of shocking that he doesn't have an Oscar. This is his year, the momentum was behind him. He had been doing all of the events, all the things leading up to the Oscars.

We saw him at the Screen Actors Guild Award where he won there, too. He had a great speech. His speeches have been great. So people were anticipating this moment. Now, here's the other thing next year, technically, he should be on stage, giving the Best Actress Award. That's how it goes. If you win in the category, you do it for the opposite gender, the next year. You should be giving out that award. Will that happen now? We don't know. I'm sure the Academy is trying to figure out how they respond to it.

But I can tell you leaving the theater last night everybody was talking about it. And many people were saying that this was just not a good look for the Academy, and many wondering how they were going to respond to this. So even though that statement that they came out with was sort of something, many are wondering if there's going to be more.

BOLDUAN: Look, and you mentioned Questlove. This is definitely at least trying very hard to overshadow some very big moments from entertainments big night. I mean, what beyond, put the slap aside. What sticks out?

ELAM: There are some great moments. For one, Questlove had a great speech since we were talking about him. He was so excited to win. That was a great moment. And then on top of it you got Troy Kotzur winning, Best Supporting Actor for "CODA," which also won Best Picture. And in his speech was just delightful. He is the second deaf actor to win an Oscar behind his co-star in "CODA," Marlee Matlin who won in the 80s. So that was a fantastic moment to see them win there.

There were some great performances from the show. You had Beyonce opening up the show as well with a performance with her song from "King Richard." You also had the Billie Eilish performance with her brother, Finneas. So there were big moments that people really enjoyed let alone the song from "Encanto" with a really splashy number with lots of color. You also have the three hosts back.


Remember, we had Oscars without hosts. So we had host backs and back and there were three comedians, who were really doing the best to kind of keep the show moving along until everything fell off the rails.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And yes, that's it. That's good way to put it. It's good to see you. Thank you so much. It's really great to see.

All right coming up for us, the FDA could soon approve a second COVID booster shot. Who will be eligible to get it? I'm going to talk to Moderna's top doctor, next.