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CNN's Jake Tapper Interviews Ukraine's President; Key Russian Warship Sinks, Ukraine Claims It Hit Ship with Missiles; Ukraine: 7 Civilians Killed After Russian Forces Hit Evacuation Bus; Interview with State Department Spokesman, Ned Price. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 15, 2022 - 11:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan, live in New York.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Brianna Keilar, live in Lviv, Ukraine.

We do begin with breaking news. CNN has just learned about an attack on innocent civilians trying to flee the war. A prosecutor in Kharkiv says Russian forces opened fire on two evacuation buses killing seven civilians and wounding dozens of others.

And overnight, Russia claims that its missiles hit a plant near Kyiv that made anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles.

This comes one day after Russia suffered a massive military and symbolic defeat. Russia's flag ship vehicle in the Black Sea sank after Ukraine claimed that it struck the warship with missiles. The Kremlin maintains a fire broke out on board.

And Jake Tapper just interviewed Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, about the latest developments in the war.

So let's begin with Jake, live in Kyiv, on his new interview with President Zelenskyy -- Jake?


That's right. We met with President Zelenskyy at the presidential palace. We had a very far and wide-ranging interview about many topics.

One of the things that he addressed in English -- most of his remarks were in Ukrainian, which, obviously, we'll translate.

But one of the things he said in English had to do with what the CIA director just said yesterday, which was that the United States is on the lookout for any possible use, borne out of desperation by Putin, of tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons.

So here is what President Zelenskyy had to say to that.


TAPPER: The director of the CIA warned that he's worried Putin might use a tactical nuclear weapon in this fight. Are you worried?

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Not only me. I think with all of the world, all the countries have to be worried.

Because you know that it can be not real information but it can be the truth. Because when they begin to speak about one or other battles or involved enemies or nuclear weapons or some chemical, you know, issues, chemical weapons, they should -- they could. I mean, they can.

For them, life with people, nothing. That's why the truth, I think, not be afraid. I mean, don't be afraid. Be ready.

But that is not the question to Ukraine. Not only for Ukraine, but for all the world. I think so.


TAPPER: So the whole world, he was saying, should be worried, not just Ukrainians. "Don't be afraid," he said, "be prepared."

But as you heard him say, in his view, Putin has so little regard for life, especially Ukrainian life, it would not surprise him were Putin to use chemical or even nuclear weapons -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Jake, did he say anything about the warship because we're getting different stories from the Ukrainians and the Russians about what happened.

TAPPER: He did. Of course, I asked him about the warship. And he actually was pretty cagey about it, saying history will record what exactly happened with that warship.

But he noted, of course, that it is now at the bottom of the Black Sea.

KEILAR: That is very interesting that they are kind of keeping that close to the vest.

This widespread battle, in some ways, is already under way on a smaller scale in the east, but we're waiting for it to be launched in a widespread way, this battle for Donbass.

What did he say about the timing of that?

TAPPER: He said that the -- he talked a lot about the battle of Donbass, which is, of course, pending. And said the fate of the war will be -- will rest on what happens there.

He did express confidence throughout the interview that Ukraine ultimately will win. But he he's obviously concerned.

It's been tough. It's been weighing upon him, all of the civilian casualties, all of the images, the videos that all of us have seen on social media and on CNN of grieving widows and moms and dads and children and others, weighing on him very much.


We had a very lengthy conversation about the fact that world leaders constantly, every Holocaust Memorial Day, say never again. And yet, there always seems to be some genocide happening in some part of the world.

And he sounded rather disappointed in the world, in terms of the idea of never again. They're just words, he said. He doesn't believe them anymore.

KEILAR: I mean, he obviously sees a lot of parallels, Jake, and especially -- he is Jewish, which goes up against what Vladimir Putin is saying about this being the de-Nazification of Ukraine.

But Zelenskyy clearly sees a lot of parallels between what's going on here and what happened during World War II.

TAPPER: Yes. And the idea that Putin is attacking this Jewish president of Ukraine by saying that this is a de-Nazification campaign, he views as preposterous. The idea that he, a jew who lost ancestors in the Holocaust, would be a Nazi is just so preposterous.

He obviously thinks that, especially post-Bucha, there's something different going on now in terms of what diplomatic negotiations might come forward, might happen in the future.

It seemed to me, based on remarks he made -- and obviously, we'll bring you a lot more of these remarks throughout the day and then on "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday.

It seemed -- he seemed to think that there was less ability to negotiate, less willingness to negotiate now that the Russians have committed such atrocities in places like Borodianka and Bucha.

And the incident you just covered, of the seven civilians being shot at while trying to evacuate. Obviously, the train station at Kramatorsk. War crime after war crime is what's being described.

So I think the idea that there would be room for negotiation -- we keep hearing people in the Biden administration saying that the weapons they're providing will give Zelenskyy and Ukraine a better position at the negotiating table.

I don't know how much negotiation there is room for at all right now based on what President Zelenskyy told me just a few minutes ago, because there have been so many horrors.

I'm not sure that he thinks the Ukrainian people would accept much in terms of negotiation. KEILAR: How do you capitulate when someone is doing that to your


Jake, like you said, this is a long and broad-ranging interview. Can't wait to see it.

Jake Tapper, in Kyiv.

And you can watch more. You can watch all of Jake's interview with President Zelenskyy today on the "THE LEAD" at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

And you can see the full exclusive interview in a special hour of "STATE OF THE UNION," Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m.

Jake, thank you so much for that.

We are just learning of another senseless attack on civilians here in Ukraine. A prosecutor in Kharkiv telling CNN that Russian forces opened fire on two evacuation buses, killing at least seven civilians.

CNN's Ben Wedeman live for us in eastern Ukraine with more on this.

Ben, what can you tell us?

BED WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This happened yesterday according to the prosecutor in the Kharkiv region. In addition to seven people being killed, 27 were wounded when Russian forces opened fire on these two evacuation buses.

And of course, we've seen multiple times since this war began whereby there have been agreements between the Ukrainians and Russians through intermediaries to have these humanitarian corridors, to get civilians out of areas where there's danger.

But so many times, they've fallen apart because the Russians opened fire on these corridors.

And in fact, yesterday, I was speaking to the director of the hospital and I said -- in the city, Severodonetsk, where we were yesterday, have you -- what has been your experience with humanitarian corridors? He said, they're a myth. The Russians open fire every time they try to do it.

Beyond that, many Ukrainians are buoyed by the news, of course, about the sinking of the Moskov, the cruiser that went down in the Black Sea.

Now, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the cruiser, what happened was that there was a fire of unknown origin on the warship that caused stored ammunition onboard to explode, that ship was damaged and then it sunk in rough seas as it was being towed to port.

What we haven't heard about is the crew. There have been no pictures of the crew. Russian media is saying that they've been returned to base. But there's no photographic or video evidence of that. And it must be a cause of concern for their families. [11:10:05]

KEILAR: Yes, Ben, it must be a huge concern for their families.

Ben Wedeman, live for us in Kramatorsk.

WEDEMAN: Sirens going off.

KEILAR: Air-raid sirens going off. Yes, is that just something coming in there, Ben, that's just starting?

WEDEMAN: Yes, actually, there was a bombing of this city, of an industrial site. And what we've heard since then, we don't know of any injuries in that case.

But we've been hearing these sirens going off and distant explosions yet again -- Brianna?

KEILAR: All right, Ben, we know you are getting all too used to that but please stay safe for us, if you will.

Ben Wedeman, for us in Kramatorsk, appreciate it.

Joining us now is retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He is the former assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs under President George W. Bush. Also with us is CNN national security analyst, Beth Sanner. She is the former deputy director of National Intelligence.

General, I want to talk to you a little bit about what we just heard from Jake's interview with President Zelenskyy.

He said -- he asked him, are you concerned about tactical nukes being used? And he said basically they could do it. Of course, he's concerned but he said other countries should be concerned.

What did you think about his answer?

BRIG GEN. MARK KIMMITT, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL-MILITARY AFFAIRS: Well, I'm not surprised. I heard the notion of President Putin using these weapons out of desperation.

There's no battlefield purpose for using these tactical nuclear weapons. He has more than enough ammunition of other types.

For him to resort to nuclear weapons would take this war into a completely different direction. That would be an inflection point.

But any excuse that he would have to use them because he either didn't have the right missiles, artillery or rockets, would be foolish. That would be a completely different level to this war. And it would go well outside of Ukraine as well.

KEILAR: You know, Beth, unlike U.S. military doctrine, Russian military doctrine allows the use of tactical nukes. It's considered as another option. But I'm wondering, Beth, as you're hearing people --


KEILAR: Sorry. As you're hearing people say that -- as you're hearing experts say that this is just another weapon that Vladimir Putin wouldn't think that it's anything that different, clearly, he must understand the world does, right?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I do think that he does understand the difference. I mean, the Russians are very aware of an escalatory ladder.

So while they have that in their doctrine to use, as Mark just said, it would be a big deal. And I think that it would be seen by Putin as being a big deal.

But here's the deal. You know, we are entering this really dangerous phase of the war. And the irony, the worse the Russians do, the more dangerous they become.

So as CIA Director Burns said yesterday, there's no sign of this potentiality happening now, it is, if Putin becomes more cornered and desperate.

And there are certainly some signs on the horizon as they try to drive toward this May 9th victory of some sort. It won't be the end of the war but to show some sort of victory that things become more brutal.

But I don't think we're at that point of the tactical nuclear weapon at this point.

KEILAR: No. And U.S. officials making it clear they're hearing rhetoric but they're not seeing action on that.

Beth, General, thank you so much to both of you.

Kate, back to you in New York.

And you can probably hear the rain behind me. This is rain in western Ukraine that is heading east. This is actually something contributing here in the coming days to quite muddy conditions that are going to make it really hard to move some of that heavy machinery through the region.

BOLDUAN: Brianna, thank you so much.


Coming up for us, Russia is also escalating its threats against the United States as the West is sending more weapons to Ukraine. State Department spokesman, Ned Price, he joins us live, next.


[11:18:28] BOLDUAN: Developing this morning, Russia is formally protesting the United States shipping weapons to Ukraine. CNN is learning that Russia sent a diplomatic note to the State Department this week warning the U.S. to stop arming the Ukrainians or risk, quote, "unpredictable consequences."

This was first reported by "The Washington Post." And it also comes as CNN also learns that Secretary of State Tony Blinken told European allies that this war could last or drag on through the end of the year.

Joining me right now is the State Department spokesman, Ned Price.

Thanks for coming in.

First, where I just left off, can you confirm that's the latest assessment the secretary of state is working with, the war could last through the end of 2022?

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Well, Kate, we've said all along that this could be a protracted conflict.

What we are doing is doing everything we can by supporting our Ukrainian partners, by putting pressure on the Russian federation to see to it we can shorten this conflict as much as we can to save lives.

BOLDUAN: So is he working with that assessment of it could drag through the end of the year?

PRICE: It is possible, Kate. But what we're trying to do is to shorten this conflict. We think we can do that by strengthening Ukraine's hand at the negotiating table. We're doing that by providing Ukraine with an unprecedented amount of security assistance.

At the same time, we're applying the same degree of pressure to Russia with our economic sanctions and other financial measures, hoping that these two things meet and that, ultimately, a diplomatic agreement can be achieved to bring this senseless violence and aggression to an end.

BOLDUAN: So let's talk about the security assistance.


The former diplomatic message from Russia coming in this week warning the U.S. to essentially stop arming Ukraine and that wording of unpredictable consequences should the support continue.

What does the State Department take as the meaning of that message?

PRICE: Kate, look, I'm not in a position to confirm any private diplomatic correspondence.

But I will say this. If the allegation from the Kremlin is that the United States and our partners around the world are providing billions of dollars-worth of security assistance to our Ukrainian partners. Precisely what our Ukrainian partners have requested, and that our Ukrainian partners are using that very security assistance to extraordinary effect to repel this Russian aggression, well, then we're guilty as charged.

But here's the other thing, Kate. The Russian Federation shouldn't be surprised by this. We warned the Kremlin, we warned Moscow long before this aggression started that if Vladimir Putin went forward with his plans, we would do three things.

We would provide unprecedented levels of security assistance to our Ukrainian partners. What we're doing. That goes above and beyond what we provided them well before this invasion started.

We would mount unprecedented costs on the Kremlin, again, in terms of the economic sanctions and other measures that I talked about before.

And that we would reinforce and reassure NATO. We have done those three things.

President Biden likes to say that big nations don't bluff. President Putin may not have been aware of this before, but on all three accounts he has been reminded that the United States does not bluff.

BOLDUAN: You may not be in a position to publicly confirm this diplomatic table but the reporting on it is solid, Ned. I don't think you're going to question that.

The fact that maybe this -- there has been bluster, there has been lies coming from Russia all throughout this invasion.

But the fact that the way this was received, would you take it a different way? Because it comes in this formal diplomatic official message, do you take this threat, would you take a threat like this more seriously?

PRICE: Kate, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to support our Ukrainian partners. We have to remember that what the Ukrainians are doing with the security assistance we and our partners around the world are providing for them and what --


BOLDUAN: So no matter a threat, if it came to the State Department via this official message, no matter the threat, it's not going to change anything about the level of assistance, especially what was just announced by President Biden that's heading over to Ukraine?

PRICE: We have an obligation to continue to do what we're doing, to support our Ukrainian partners. We're going to continue to do that.

The Russians have said some things privately. They have said some things publicly. Nothing will dissuade us from this strategy that we've embarked on.

BOLDUAN: The range of what "unpredictable consequences" is, is something I'm quite interested in.

The CIA director just yesterday saying the United States -- publicly saying the United States does not take lightly the threat posed by Russia to use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

Do you think that, if Russia is warning of "unpredictable consequences," that is what that message could mean?

PRICE: Kate, I used to work at the CIA. I don't work there anymore. I'll let the CIA director characterize our current intelligence.

But I'll say a couple things, both of which shouldn't have to be said in the year 2022.

Number one, the use of any kind of weapon of mass destruction, be it chemical, be it biological, be it, god forbid, a nuclear weapon, would constitute the height of irresponsibility.

And number two, the use of WMD would elicit a cascade of consequences, not only from the United States, but from our partners and allies around the world.

President Biden himself has warned that there would be strong consequences for any such use.

I'll also say this. We are constantly monitoring Russia's nuclear posture. At this time, we haven't felt -- we haven't determined any need to change our own nuclear posture.

But this is something that we're continuing to take a very close look at.

BOLDUAN: So we know that there are these discussions over sending a high-ranking U.S. official to visit Ukraine. The secretary of state, his name is one of the names that has been out there. Jen Psaki ruled out last night that the president would go.

Why is that risk too great, do you think?

PRICE: Well, Kate, I think there's a broader point here. And our diplomatic presence on the ground, our diplomatic engagement with Ukraine, yes, you can signal that with a high-level visit. You can signal that with the diplomatic team being stationed inside Ukraine.

But I think, if you look at the level of engagement that we've had with our Ukrainian partners in recent weeks, you see a good degree, in fact, a frenetic degree of activity.

Secretary Blinken --


BOLDUAN: I do not question that at all. I mean, the secretary of state has said he's basically on the phone with his counterpart basically every day.


PRICE: Not only on the phone, but we saw our --


BOLDUAN: Yes, I mean, I'm just saying that the signals we're seeing --

PRICE: We saw the foreign minister last week in Brussels.


BOLDUAN: -- and signals matter when it comes to diplomacy. Signals matter when it comes to diplomacy. And symbolism matters when it comes to diplomacy.


We're seeing the prime minister of the U.K. going over to visit with President Zelenskyy. We're seeing country -- many nations announcing they're going to be moving their diplomats back into Kyiv.

We haven't seen that yet with the United States. And just wanting to understand, not questioning the level of engagement, but the different application of these moves.

PRICE: Well, we are, the State Department here, we're taking a look at the security conditions inside Ukraine. Of course, we have a high priority and that's the safety and security of all of our workforce, our diplomats on the ground and others.

So we're going to take a close look. When we determine it's safe and appropriate to move the diplomatic team we have on the ground in Poland, the very team that's working day in, day out with their Ukrainian government counterparts, when we determine that it's safe to move them back inside Ukraine, absolutely, we won't hesitate to do so.

But in the meantime, we're going to continue to engage with our Ukrainian partners.

We have had the opportunity to see in person the Ukrainian foreign minister several times in recent weeks now, including once on sovereign Ukrainian soil.

President Biden spoke to President Zelenskyy this week. Secretary Blinken spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart against just yesterday. That is not going to change. That level of constant engagement and coordination will continue going forward.

BOLDUAN: Ned Price, thank you very much.

PRICE: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, more protests are planned today after a Michigan police officer fatally shoots a black man during a traffic stop. The family's attorney, Ben Crump, joins us next.