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Russia to "Drastically Reduce Military Activity" around Kyiv and Chernihiv; FDA Authorizes Second Booster Shot for Americans 50 and Older. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2022 - 11:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan. We begin with major developments on the war in Ukraine.

Russia said it will drastically reduce military operations near Kyiv and the city of Chernihiv, as there are signs in progress in talks between Russia and Ukraine in Turkey today. Both sides have even discussed the possibility of meeting, of a meeting between Putin and Zelenskyy.

But there are countless reasons to be very skeptical. Russia continues its relentless attacks across Ukraine. Overnight, more shelling in the capital of Kyiv. In Mykolaiv, the regional state administration building was bombed. Local officials saying at least nine people were killed in that.

And in Mariupol, officials say 90 percent of the residential buildings have been either damaged or outright destroyed by Russian attacks.

All of this comes as CNN has learned that U.S. intelligence says now Russia is beginning to withdraw some forces away from Kyiv in what's described as a major strategic shift. Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Arwa Damon, live in Istanbul, Turkey, on these high stake talks.

Arwa, what are you learning?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, both sides, Ukraine and Russia, have been calling these talks constructive, with Turkey saying they have seen the most progress to date when it comes to any kind of talks happening.

But it must be said that the bar is quite low. However, any progress, of course, is much better than no progress at all. A couple of key points to share.

One, the issue of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, that the Ukrainians are proposing having bilateral conversations to take place over the next 15 years. So effectively, tabling that contentious issue, moving it further down the timeline. Now as we also know, Ukraine had been offering to consider itself take

on the status of being a non-nuclear neutral state. Regarding that, there are further conversations Ukraine needs to have, not necessarily at this stage with Russia but with countries from whom it wants to see security guarantees, nations that would be acting as guarantor countries, such as the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany and Turkey, to name a few.

What Ukraine wants to see is some sort of an agreement with these guarantor nations that would be very similar, if not even more binding than the agreements that NATO nations have amongst each other, basically meaning that they would come to Ukraine's protection if Ukraine were to be attacked.

Both Ukraine and Russia floating the idea of, at some point in time, their country's leaders coming together meeting, although it may be a bit optimistic to even be talking about that at this stage.

Another key issue, Kate, humanitarian corridors; discussed but not yet agreed upon at this point.

BOLDUAN: So disappointing to hear that. Thank you, Arwa. Really appreciate it.

U.S. officials tell CNN that they have seen -- they are seeing a major shift in Russia's military strategy, with some Russian forces moving away from Ukraine's capital. Let's get over to CNN's Phil Black, live in Lviv with more on this.

What more are you learning about this, what's now being described as a major shift?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you believe Russia, Kate, they say they are doing this, winding down operations, pulling out units from two areas, as a direct response to the progress that is being made at those talks in Turkey.

Russia said it is pulling back troops from the capital, Kyiv, from the northern city of Chernihiv, in order to deescalate its operations there and, in its words, to give an opportunity to provide the atmosphere for the proposals that have been put forward, the progress that has been made, to evolve into some sort of more substantive peace agreement that can be signed by both parties.

What Russia doesn't mention is that these are two areas of operation where its forces have, by all accounts, failed in what was thought to be their mission, to take these cities very quickly.

It's where Russian forces have come to a halt, have not really advanced very far in recent days and weeks and, if anything, around the capital, Kyiv, have even been driven back by recent Ukrainian counteroffensives.

In assessing these Russian moves, you have to remember, these are very specific areas of Russia's operations, where it was already performing very poorly. [11:05:00]

BLACK: When it comes to other areas like the east and the southeast, Russia is still openly pursuing a maximalist political strategy there to control and conquer what's known as the Donbas region.

This includes large areas of territory, where the humanitarian suffering is greatest because it's where some of the fighting has been most intense. And this also includes that port city of Mariupol, where, as we know, for some four weeks now, about 170,000 people have been sheltering in the ruins of this city, with very little food, water and no heat.

And what we do know from these talks is that efforts by Ukraine to negotiate some sort of humanitarian cease-fire have so far come to nothing.

BOLDUAN: Phil, thank you.

So President Biden, he just wrapped up a call with European allies on this war. The president insists he was not articulating a policy change when he thinks Putin shouldn't stay in power. Jeremy Diamond, live at the White House, joining us for more.

Are you getting a read yet on what's coming from this call?

A critical group of allies.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, not much information yet. But do we know President Biden spoke with these five -- sorry -- four European NATO countries for nearly an hour, speaking with the leaders of the countries of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, talking about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

It comes, of course, at a pivotal time, not only days after President Biden returns from a trip to Europe, where he met with many of these European NATO allies but also as we see signs of potential progress, as you were discussing, in Istanbul between Russian and Ukrainian officials.

And we know of course, these countries have been closely working with the U.S. to impose additional sanctions on Russia. So there are a range of topics that could be discussed.

It also comes, of course, just a day after President Biden explained his comments over the weekend, when he said that President Putin cannot remain in power. The president yesterday saying that he was not walking back those comments but insisting he was not calling for regime change. Listen.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody believes we're going to take down -- I was talking about taking down Putin -- nobody believes that. The last thing I want to do is engage in a land war or a nuclear war with Russia. That's not part of it. I was expressing my outrage at the behavior of this man. It's outrageous. It's outrageous.


DIAMOND: Now one of the leaders on that call that President Biden was having just this morning was president Macron of France, who said he would not have used the same language that President Biden did in talking about Putin not being -- should not remain in power and also in calling him a butcher.

But of course, President Biden insisting that NATO remains united as ever.

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you.

Coming up, are we seeing the first signs of progress in talks between Russia and Ukraine?

Is this a turning point in the five-week long war?

Those are some big questions. We're going to discuss next.





BOLDUAN: Breaking news: there are big developments in talks between Russia and Ukraine right now. Moscow is vowing to drastically reduce military activity near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv as U.S. intelligence is also saying they are seeing a major strategy shift by Russia, with some forces withdrawing away from Kyiv.

But Putin's unrelenting assault across Ukraine continues at this very hour. So joining me now, Evelyn Farkas, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary Of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.

Also with us CNN military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Thank you both for being here.

General, the way it was described, coming out of these talks, radically, at times, reducing military activity coming from Russia around Kyiv and Chernihiv. That's from the Russian deputy defense minister.

And two senior U.S. officials now say the latest intelligence assessment is that Russia is beginning to withdraw forces from the area. And then the way they're describing it is that Russia's executing a quote-unquote "major strategy shift" to focus on now more on gains in the south and east.

I say all of that and I really am curious, why is that a major shift? LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It is not a major shift, I don't believe, from a military perspective, Kate. This is a withdrawal from a location where they are not seeing any success.

I like the term that they're going, that the Russians say they're going to drastically reduce military activity. I think that reduction has been actually put on them by the Ukrainian forces, which are continuing to attack and drive them back.

It is a critical defeat of Russia in the northwest, north and east of Kyiv. That was their main objective. And they've been beaten soundly in that area. Now they are trying to get some forces out of there.

But from the very beginning of the war, for those of us who have tracked the details, they sent a significant number of forces toward Kyiv. And they were not able to execute their operations, because Ukraine put up just a very strong defense.

So I see this as they may be attempting to reposition but Ukrainian forces will be able to see that from signals intelligence and tracking satellite intelligence. So they'll be watched if they try and go to other theatres.

Certainly the Russians may be attempting to do something differently in the east or the south. But I just say, for the last time, it's 1,400 miles from the Russian-Belarusian border, where those forces are leaving, down to the south near Mariupol.

So good luck with getting on some trains and getting down there fast. They're not going to be able to reinforce very quickly.

BOLDUAN: And, Evelyn, the Russians made this announcement after another round of talks with the Ukrainians today.


BOLDUAN: Secretary of state Tony Blinken is expressing clear skepticism that Russia is seriously engaging in these talks. I want to play what he said.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does. We're focused on the latter. And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine.


BOLDUAN: So how can the Ukrainians trust what the Russians are saying, just to kind of get to what Tony Blinken was getting at, with the understanding that, at some point, it doesn't seem like there will be an end to this or they're able to end this war unless they do trust on some level?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA, UKRAINE AND EURASIA: Well, Kate, it's kind of funny because your producer contacted me and asked me what do I think of this Russian, you know, change in, their announced change in their military operation.

And I, without knowing what Secretary Blinken said, I said the same thing. When you have to really pay attention to what the Russians do, not what they say.

Remember from day one, the Russians said they weren't going to invade Ukraine and then they did. So I would agree with the general. We have to wait and see. They could reinforce and still try to menace Kyiv.

Certainly what we should really focus on -- and I think we cannot let up on this -- is the humanitarian crisis. I look every day at the news with regard to Mariupol. Those people are out of water, they're out of food, they're in dark, freezing conditions, no lavatories, no baths in a month, over a month.

So we need to make sure that the international community does more. And that's also on the United Nations. That's on all the major powers that can influence Russia. And certainly, in the south, as the general said, there's been no change in the Russian military operation.

So there are a lot of open questions but the Russians need to do something on the humanitarian front now.

BOLDUAN: So General, let me just ask you about what Evelyn is talking about. We heard from reporters coming out of these talks, there's a lot of talks, there's a lot of -- we're talking about drastically shifting and reducing military capabilities.

But one thing that was not agreed upon, I don't know, from the outside looking in, seems like it has to be the most simple and straightforward, which is establishing these humanitarian corridors. And they cannot, they won't come to an agreement on this.

Why is that, General?


BOLDUAN: What's your -- when you hear that, what do you think?

HERTLING: You know, first of all, Kate, I don't know. I don't know what was in the agreement between the Russian and the Ukrainians.

But one would think that if you're withdrawing forces from one area, that there might be an attempt at a cease-fire. I haven't heard that term yet. And in conjunction with a cease-fire, you would think it would not just be north of Kyiv, it would be everywhere to get the humanitarian relief, as Evelyn so appropriately said.

Here's the point and I'll put a finer soldier's point on what Evelyn said and what Secretary Blinken said. The Russians lie at every opportunity. They do things that are untrustworthy.

So when you trust but verify, it's even hard to do that with the Russians. In all of my experiences -- and I'm sure Evelyn would say the same -- Russia never tells the truth. They say one thing and they do another.

So I mean, that's more of an undiplomatic approach to all of this. But I think that's the kind of dialogue that we're seeing in these meetings between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine can't trust them because they've killed and slaughtered people.

So that's the point that you don't understand what Ukraine is getting back. I would hope it would be humanitarian relief. But we just don't know just yet.

BOLDUAN: That's a good point. General, thank you as always.

Evelyn, thanks. Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, the FDA just made a big announcement about a second COVID booster shot. We've got the details right after this.





BOLDUAN: This just in: the FDA has announced that it is authorizing a second COVID booster shot now for Americans over the age of 50. A big step to try and offer extra protection in the event coronavirus rebounds. Joining me right now, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

So Sanjay, how significant is this move?

And how necessary do you think a second booster is now?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think this move has been anticipated for some time. I mean, there's been new data that's been coming out of primarily Israel, trying to figure out how much of a benefit this is.

And I think what they sort of landed on was the idea that people who are older -- in the Israel study, it was 60 or 65 and older -- seem to get some benefit from getting another booster shot in terms of preventing severe illness and death.

Three shots was very effective but four shots seemed to increase that protection specifically among that age group. They didn't find, Kate, that there was as much protection in terms of actually reducing the likelihood of infection.

So the idea that you could still become infected, whether you've had four shots or three shots, you might get some incremental benefit from that. But it really was more about preventing severe illness and death.

[11:25:00] GUPTA: And it was enough, enough data for the FDA to now authorize this. And I'll show you specifically what they're saying.

They're saying for people 50 and older, as you mentioned, but also people who have evidence of immune compromise, who are 12 and older, evidence of immune compromise, they would authorize the shot for them as well.

So that's sort of where it lands. And the CDC for their part is basically going to say, while we're not formally recommending this, we're saying this is now an option.

BOLDUAN: How much of this decision, even though -- and it has been anticipated -- comes from the concern over the Omicron subvariant that we know is hitting Western European countries, we know is already now here in the United States?

Moderna's chief was on with us yesterday and he thinks the subvariant is a real threat.

GUPTA: I think the way to think about this, first of all, it's now the dominant variant in this country, close to 54 percent or 55 percent of new cases. It's not clear that it's more lethal, that it's causing more disease necessarily.

But in those who don't have adequate immunity and/or are otherwise at risk, because of age or being immune compromised, that's the biggest sort of concern, is that now, this is so contagious out there, that if you've gotten away with things so far, Kate, and even despite not having adequate immunity, this is likely to catch up with you.

And so I think this is driving the decision: more contagious, less lethal, except for those most at risk. They're still vulnerable.

BOLDUAN: That's really helpful, Sanjay, thank you as always. I appreciate the way you putting it the way you do. Thank you very much.

New developments and new questions now, into the investigation into the Capitol insurrection. "The Washington Post" is reporting that White House records turned over to congressional investigators show a 7-hour gap in president Trump's phone logs from the day of the deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol.

CNN's Whitney Wild is live in Washington with more details on this. Whitney, fill us in.

What more are you learning about this?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The committee is trying to figure out if they've got everything because these gaps are just so obvious. Let's walk through the day.

The last call recorded happened at 11:17 am, an unidentified person. The next call recorded occurred at 6:54 pm to Dan Scavino. It's been widely reported that Trump did speak to lawmakers that day as the riot unfolded -- Senators Mike Lee, Tommy Turbeville, minority leader Kevin McCarthy among them.

Another major call missing that's widely reported on is last call with former vice president Mike Pence, in which the former president is accused of trying once again to pressure Pence to overturn the election results and during which Pence said he wouldn't do it, it couldn't be done.

According to "The Washington Post," there's logs of Trump speaking with top allies like Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani and attempting to contact Senators David Purdue, Mitch McConnell and Josh Hawley prior to the riot.

After the riot, he's shown speaking with White House counsel Pat Cipollone, campaign adviser Jason Miller and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

Kate, this comes on the heels of an explosive court ruling yesterday, in which a judge in California said it's more likely than not that the former president did commit a crime when he tried to overturn the election -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: A lot of developments here. Whitney, thank you for walking us through it. I really appreciate it.

Joining me for more on this, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Thank you, guys, for being here.

Jennifer, Whitney lays out the timeline here of what could be the timeframe of what this gap includes, right?

As a prosecutor, what questions come to your mind, what questions do you have when you have a gaping hole in documentation and potentially evidence in a critical time period of anything you're investigating?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Kate, rarely do you even have the opportunity to have a phone log from someone you're investigating. So that would have been a treasure trove for them, had the law been complied with and he actually had given them notice of the movements and calls like he's supposed to do under the Records Act.

But what they're trying to do is piece together what happened here, whether he's criminally culpable from the Big Lie, all the way with culminating on the events of January 6th. The select committee is looking into this. Maybe DOJ is looking into this as well.

So you're trying to get at what happened there. And that's a critical day, obviously. We know he was talking to people, we know he wasn't ordering troops to come in and quell dissent and all sorts of things they need to get to the bottom of.

This now creates more work for them and they'll have to get at this information another way, which I think they've already been doing. But it also raises another question for prosecutors at DOJ if they're pursuing this.

Was there obstruction of justice here?

Was he purposefully not calling on the White House phone, where he knew records would be generated, in order to try to hide what was going on?

So that may be a focus for them as well.

BOLDUAN: Gloria, you've been picking up on a possible problem here for quite some time, a focus and interest of the committee on this official White House phone log.

Any word on what the committee thinks might be missing from these logs?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they think a lot might be missing because, of course, it was the day of the insurrection.