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Ukraine: Russia Begins Major Offensive In Donbass Region; Macron & Far-Right Challenger Le Pen To Face Off In Election Runoff; Russian Forces Accused Of Atrocities Across Ukraine; Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired April 11, 2022 - 11:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, a desperate operation underway to evacuate civilians as Russia launches a major new offensive in the East, heavy shelling today in the city of Kharkiv and the surrounding region there. Joining me now is Kurt Volker. He is the former U.S. ambassador to NATO and he also served as a Special Representative for Ukraine negotiations in the Trump administration.

Sir, what are your concerns as you're watching what may have already begun, at least in a small way, but the vast majority of a conflict that is yet to be underway here in the east? What are you worried about?

KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR UKRAINE NEGOTIATIONS: Well, clearly, there's going to be some more heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine. The Russians in withdrawing their forces from around Kyiv and Chernihiv, have redeployed them to the east, they've tried to backfill with more equipment and with more conscripts and Reservists, so they're preparing to launch a new offensive.

I think this is going to be very hard for the Ukrainians as it was for Kyiv, but ultimately, I think the Russians are going to face some of the same problems that they had when they were trying to take Kyiv as well, problems with logistics, supplies, fuel, morale, equipment. So I think the Ukrainians are hunkering down for a tough fight but it may play out to be much the way that did -- it did around Kyiv as well.

KEILAR: President Biden is having this virtual meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Modi, I should just say, I understand that Modi just called the situation in Ukraine very worrying. India, of course, has remained neutral. It's one of many nations that has remained neutral. What is President Biden needs to achieve with Modi and with the leaders of other countries that have been neutral? VOLKER: I think the most important thing that they'll be talking about is whether India is in any position to reduce its purchases of Russian oil and Russian gas. The money flowing into Russia still is substantial. Some estimates are that its revenues for oil and gas sales have gone up this year, despite the war. So it's important that we start drying up the flow of funds to Russia. And I think he'll be speaking with Modi about that.

KEILAR: What does the U.S. need to do in terms of additional weapons that it hasn't done already?

VOLKER: Well, I think it's hard to say at this stage. There's been a change as of last week, we saw Secretary of State Blinken at NATO. The tone coming out of those NATO meetings was different. People are talking about providing heavy weapons, tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, things that we had not done before, also higher altitude air defense, for instance, these S-300s from Slovakia. So I think there is more flowing now.

And they are also being a bit more discreet about saying what we are doing and avoiding saying what we won't do, which I think is a -- is an improvement over where we were. It does seem that there are more weapons flowing. And I think that the most important thing is to give them the heavy armor that they need, the heavy equipment so that they can advance and retake their territory. And it needs to be honest, a stain steady basis that this war is not going to be over in a week or two. We can just provide weapons now and then forget about it. We have to create a steady pipeline.

KEILAR: Sir, I want to ask you to reflect back on some of the work you did during the Trump administration. You were obviously working to convince the Ukrainians that they needed to convince the Trump administration that they were more on the up and up, and Trump seemed to think that they were, but you also were leaning on Ukraine to announce an investigation into Burisma, into meddling in the 2016 election you -- there was a text actually where you said that a statement is you're reviewing the draft of the Ukrainian statement needed to have two key items, Burisma, and the 2016 election. I'm just wondering, in light of this invasion, if you're reflecting any differently on that time period, and your participation in that?


VOLKER: Well, what we were trying to do was get the two leaders together because I was very convinced that if they actually spoke with each other, that would eliminate some of the concerns that President Trump had about Ukraine, and moreover, to make sure that we continue to have security assistance to Ukraine. And as you know, I heard that that had been the new -- congressional notifications had been shut off in July.

And so, I was working very hard to make sure that we got that turned around without the Ukrainians ever really being aware that there was a problem and so pushing on both of those, I think was very important. And we did keep the arms flowing. And it's clear from the way the war has played out, that getting them those javelins in 2017, as we did, and then continuing with the security systems after that was absolutely critical.

KEILAR: Does it seem like an inadequate trade in retrospect, knowing that you said you didn't think that those, you know, a potential investigation into Burisma was anything in particularly credible, and all of this was happening at a time when military aid was a suspended for a brief while?

VOLKER: Well, there wasn't really any trade involved here but it was an effort to try to keep and enhance U.S. support for Ukraine. And we had done a lot already but we found, in trying to schedule a meeting between President Trump and President Zelenskyy that it was not getting anywhere. And so we're trying to figure out how to - how do we get this moving? How do we advance this?

And so, for the Ukrainians to make a statement that they're going to follow their own laws, if that would have been helpful in the process, then why not? In the end, no such statement was made, and in the end, we got the arms flowing as well, and eventually, even a meeting of President Zelenskyy with President Trump.

KEILAR: Ambassador, I certainly appreciate you being on. We're obviously at a pivotal moment in this conflict, so thank you very much for making the time.

VOLKER: My pleasure. Thank you.

KEILAR: Kate, back to you in New York.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: All right, Brianna, thank you so much. Coming up for us, a major election with major implications far beyond the country's borders, why all eyes are on France today. That's next week.



BOLDUAN: It is a runoff presidential election that will have global consequences. French President Emmanuel Macron is set to -- set to face off with far-right political leader, Marine Le Pen after they finished in the top two spots in the first round of voting in France this weekend. It will be a rematch of the 2017 presidential race, but this time is against the backdrop of the first land war in Europe since World War Two, a time when unity among Western nations is needed -- is more needed than ever. CNN's Jim Bittermann is in Paris for us AT THIS HOUR. Jim, what's happening there?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in fact, Mr. Macron was out campaigning today, but in fact, he said he threw down the gauntlet to his right-wing opponents last night in his victory speech with a pointed remark at her right-wing attitudes.


EMMANUEL MACRON, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE: Speaking a foreign language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want a France which inscribes itself in a strong Europe, which continues to form alliances with great democracies to defend itself not a France that exited from Europe would have for its only allies, the International populace, and xenophobes. That's not us.


BITTERMANN: And what he's talking about there is a Marine Le Pen's attitudes towards Europe and NATO. She's a longtime opponent of Europe, they still have on their manifesto, on their website, they still have this platform point where they want to drop out of the integrated the management of NATO, and that they believe that Russia is an important player in finding peace in Europe, all kinds of things that run contrary to the current spirit because of the war that's going on in the background.

And so she is, you know, seen as an outlier here as opposed to Macron, who's very much pro-European and very much tried to head off at work, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Jim, thank you so much. Turning now quickly to the pandemic because Queen Elizabeth is opening up about her battle with Coronavirus. Listen to this.



ASEF HUSSAIN, COVID-19 PATIENT: I'm getting better. I'm recovering, much better -- I mean, I've recently left the wheelchair so I'm walking about now.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: I'm glad that you're getting better and you -- and it does leave one very tired and exhausted, doesn't it? It's horrible a pandemic.


BOLDUAN: The British monarch made these remarks during a virtual visit with patients and staff at the Royal London Hospital. Buckingham Palace announced back in February that the Queen had tested positive. The Queen's 95 years old, of course, so her health remains a very real concern.


BOLDUAN: Much more ahead for us, including four and a half million people fleeing Ukraine as the war enters a new deadly phase. Does the West share responsibility for the atrocities? Zelenskyy has his answer to that question. We'll discuss it next.


BOLDUAN: Russia has now defaulted on its foreign debt. It's a result of economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies. In no small part, the sanctions now, of course, response to the atrocities being committed by Russian forces in Ukraine. This morning, President Zelenskyy accused Putin's military of killing tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol.


BOLDUAN: Hundreds died inside a theater where mostly women and children were hiding, hospitals, entire neighborhoods indiscriminately shelled, bodies laying in streets, and mass graves in towns like Bucha, and evidence of civilians being executed. At least 50 people were killed at a missile strike and a train station in the east. We've been talking about a station packed with people trying to flee the Russian offensive.

Joining me now for more on this is Nina Khrushcheva. She's the great- granddaughter of the former Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev. She is also a Professor of International Affairs at the New School in New York. Thank you so much for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Now we have the number at more than four and a half million people have been forced to flee Ukraine. Top U.S. generals are also saying publicly that this war could stretch on for years. So with this new offensive beginning in the east, I mean, what do you think this humanitarian crisis looks like from here, Nina? How much worse can it get?

KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, I mean, there's still the whole Ukraine to damage so it can get much worse. I mean, we already know that almost 15 million people were dismissed and you know, almost 5 million left the country altogether. It is a country of 45 million people so a lot it can happen to them. I do think that for now, at least the Russians are going to concentrate on their initial declared objective, the Donetsk region, and the Donbass region.

Donetsk and Luhansk, the self-proclaimed republics, they are going to clean them out, as they say, from the -- from the Nazi elements, and perhaps that would be the concentration of the war. So the rest of Ukraine may be able, at least for now, slightly returned back to a kind of the, rebuilding the life. But I agree that the war is far from over because Putin, we know, he never backs down.

And now, when the war obviously in almost two months hasn't gone the way it was originally planned, it's going to be a quick operation, as they call it, the quicker the operation, then he's going to push on every level, perhaps carrying gas to Europe, the supply of gas to Europe, limit other supplies and so on. So in fight -- in the Russian mind and the Kremlin mind, it is a war already, and therefore, they are not going to stop in front of anything.

BOLDUAN: You know, I mean, as you said that Putin never backs down. I'm curious, your take then on the meeting today with the Austrian Chancellor is now -- who's now the first EU leader to meet with Putin face to face since he -- since he invaded. Coming out of the meeting, we know the chancellor said that it was not a friendly visit, his words. I mean, do you think anything comes of conversations like these, in your perspective on Putin? I mean, is Putin swayed by anything, anyone leaders would say to him?

KHRUSHCHEVA: I don't think so. I don't think anymore. I think he -- they come in, he likes attention, we know that he likes that the Western leaders talk to him and try to persuade him otherwise and stop the war and kind of explain to him what kind of horrible things lash Russia will face, after all, this is said and done, and it may take years.

But, well, from what I know from people, sort of either used to be close to Putin or kind of still close to Putin, unofficially, they say that he's really not to listen anymore. He doesn't listen to a -- he has his own idea, his own geopolitical map in his mind. His Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also said that you know, one of the -- I mean, they keep changing the goals of -- the operation --


KHRUSHCHEVA: But Lavrov said that the final thing -- I mean, today, he said that one of the outcomes of the operation should be to stop the United States to dominate the world. So if that is the goal of the operation, it will certainly last forever and no Karl Nehammer, the Chancellor of Austria can prevent Putin from thinking that. I do think that this communication is important because we don't know what Putin is getting from his generals or from whoever.

And therefore, when European leaders tell him how horrible because also, Nehammer said that you lost the -- I mean, Russia lost the moral -- the moral battle in this war, I think is still important for Putin to hear. Whether he would take it as a -- as a sign that he should change his behavior, I doubt it. But that certainly should be part of the kind of Kremlin understanding where Russia is an absolute rogue state and Putin is a rogue President stand right now.

BOLDUAN: Really quickly. How important is this May 9th deadline that so many people are pointing to the holiday where Russia celebrates defeating the Nazis in World War II? Because I wonder what kind of success he's going to demand that he has to show on that day?

KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, I was actually thinking that'd be because there was a rumor in Moscow for some time that they would have to finish by May 9 and so that's why they started getting out of Kyiv last week.


KHRUSHCHEVA: But then the mood -- the mood changed again, and now it's -- you know we are going to fight to the last moment, we're going to celebrate victory, we're going to show that we are not stepping back one inch and so on and so forth. So, it is possible that they would want to finish by May 9 and show the liberation of the Donbass region which is the, as I said, initially declared objective. They can do that but they, I think, are also prepared to go further and just use May 9 as a fight for Russia's -- for Russia's interests.

BOLDUAN: Nina, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time.

KHRUSHCHEVA: Thank you. BOLDUAN: Thank you all so much for being with us. CNN's coverage of Russia's war on Ukraine continues with INSIDE POLITICS after this.