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At This Hour

Russian Forces Begin Major Offensive in Eastern Ukraine; Zelenskyy Reports Russia Struggling to Replenish Weapons Due to Sanctions; U.S. to Train Ukrainian Troops on New Weapons; Masks Now Optional on Most Airlines, Public Transit. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2022 - 11:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I am Kate Bolduan.

The new phase of the war is underway in Ukraine. Russian forces are now launching a major ground offensive on key areas in Eastern Ukraine, with heavy fighting in the Donbas region.

And President Zelenskyy vowing his forces will fight on no matter what.

There's also new video of a Russian convoy heading toward the city of Izyum. Ukrainians say Russian troops are firing willingly on Mariupol's steel plant, this very big complex of steel plant, where the final troops defending this city are gathered and hundreds of civilians are also sheltering.

This morning, President Biden is holding a video call with allies, as the White House is looking now for new ways to help Ukraine and to punish Russia. Let's start with CNN's Matt Rivers, live in Lviv, Ukraine, for us.

Russia is still striking all over the country but now the focus really moves to the east.

What are you hearing?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. I think, really yesterday and today, we have seen a turning point in this war. What we see is the beginning of the offensive we have been waiting for days, if not weeks now, Kate.

We have been watching the Russians regroup in the east, taking the troops that were part of that failed attempt to take the capital of Kyiv and the northern part of Ukraine. They withdrew, regrouped to the east.

We're talking about tens of thousands of ground troops in the new offensive. We heard from Donbas regional officials in the afternoon. And then it was President Zelenskyy himself yesterday evening, saying they believe this new offensive has now begun.

We know at least one Ukrainian town has fallen, Kreminna. But there's fighting across the front and Ukrainian defense officials say they have not seen any sort of Russian breakout, that their lines are holding at this point.

But we are talking about more artillery. We are talking about more ground troops. We are talking about tank to tank battles, potentially, that we have not seen since World War II. This is going to be a very different phase of this war compared to the fighting that we saw in northern Ukraine just a few weeks ago.

That was a different environment. This environment in the east, much more wide open, much more reliant on heavy weaponry on both sides, perhaps, and both sides, at least the Ukrainians are saying they're dug in, ready for this. But it could be the bloodiest, most drawn-out part of this campaign so far, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Matt, thank you so much for starting us off. Really appreciate it.

Let's turn to Washington. President Biden wrapping up a video call with other world leaders soon. The White House president continuing to push to rally the world to stand up to Russia's aggression. Arlette Saenz is at the White House.

What are you hearing about this call?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Biden has been on this call with security partners for a little over an hour. The leaders of G7 countries as well as Poland, Romania and European Council and commission are joining the president on this call.

And the White House has said that the purpose of this call is twofold: one, it's to talk about further support that they can offer to Ukraine and then also the costs that can be imposed on Russia, as they are further looking to punish Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The White House has said they are reviewing possible additional sanctions. And just yesterday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said those could possibly be coming in the next few days.

This call could be a precursor as well to the sanctions because it's so often the U.S. makes these type of announcements in coordination with allies. At the same time, President Biden is also expected to urge allies to step up their military support of Ukraine.

We saw last week, the president authorized a fresh round of $800 million worth of military assistance for Ukraine, sending those first shipments over the course of the weekend.

The U.S. really trying to respond to this new offensive from Russia in the eastern part of the country and trying to ensure that the Ukrainians are able to fight and defend themselves, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Arlette, thank you. President Zelenskyy of Ukraine now saying that the sanctions already

imposed from the international community on Moscow are make it harder for Russian forces to replenish weapons.


BOLDUAN: It comes as the U.S. military soon begins training the Ukrainian forces on new weapons supplies. CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with more on this.

Barbara, what are you hearing from there?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Here at the Pentagon, they say that training by either U.S. troops or troops in the region, actually, on the eastern flank of NATO, could begin in the next several days.

This is training on the all important artillery and other weapons that the Ukrainians have not had these specific models in their inventory. They want to get some troops, a small number, out into the eastern flank; train them, send them back in to train other Ukrainian troops as this all important fight in Eastern Ukraine really flares up now.

This is going to be a top priority. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy thinks that his troops will be quite able to operate the equipment that has been sent in.

And he is pointing out that he believes it may actually become very difficult for the Russians to replace the equipment that they could lose in this fight for the Donbas, that international sanctions may make it very difficult for them, the Russians, to continue manufacturing replacement weapons.

We have to see about that, of course but right now, one of the key questions is, of course, how strong will the Russian onslaught be?

The U.S. believes, it says, that it thinks the Russians still have plenty to learn from their failures in the north, that they are still struggling with all important sustainment, logistics, all of that that is so central for them to be able to prosecute their campaign in the Donbas. But again, we will have to see how all of that sorts out. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Barbara, thank you very much.

Joining me now, CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, and Steve Hall, former chief of Russia operations for the CIA.

Thank you for being here, guys.

Steve, the battle underway in Donbas, please remind people why does Russia want or need the Donbas region so much?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: First and foremost, Vladimir Putin needs the Donbas because, at the very least, he must leave this conflict with nothing less than having conquered and probably annexed or taken over, at least controlling the Donbas.

If he doesn't do that, it's going to be really hard for him to explain, not necessarily to the Russian people, although that will be part of it, but more to the powers that be in Russia, his inner circle, the oligarchs.

Why it was worth spending all of his blood and treasure and all of this negative impact geopolitically on Russia for anything less.

Of course, he should and wants to take the entirety of Ukraine. That would sell the case strongest to the Russian people. But it's still, I think, very much up in the air as to whether or not he'll be able to do that. If he doesn't take the Donbas, I don't know what the future is for Vladimir Putin; probably not very positive.

BOLDUAN: Good point.

General, as Barbara was pointing out, the United States is going to start in the next several days to train Ukrainian soldiers on the equipment that's being sent over, they're not familiar with.

You talked to me last night about the time and effort required to do that and also to keep them up and running. It reminded me, Jake Tapper asked President Zelenskyy about this idea in his interview with him last -- over the weekend. I want to play what he said.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I've heard these tall tales that we would need months to train the troops to use new tanks. We are prepared to use any type of equipment. But it needs to be delivered very quickly. And we have the ability to learn how to use new equipment. But it needs to come fast.


BOLDUAN: I don't think he's disagreeing with you, that it takes time and they need training.

But what do you think about what he said?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I'm going to get a lot of pushback on this, Kate. I have so far. What I'm going to say, is, yes, Ukrainian forces can operate, can be taught to operate, can be trained to operate any kind of equipment that's complicated that the Western forces have.

The difficulty is in the resupply and the maintenance of that equipment. It is an exhaustive process. It takes professionals and, truthfully, having been one of the guys that's trained Ukrainians, at their site at Yavoriv, they were very good in combined arms operations, learning those kinds of things.

Their soldiers were great in picking up the tools of the trade. But truthfully, at the higher level, at the strategic level, when you're talking about the planning of massive logistics resupply, it's extremely challenging, even for a very mature army.

It's not something that comes easily. And when supply lines are interdicted, it causes big problems.

One of the reasons the Russians are having so much problem is because they can't resupply their force. What I'm very concerned about is Ukraine keeps asking for more and more of everything.

They are suddenly going to find themselves in the same situation that the Russian is, that they can't resupply. This fight today, the shifting to the eastern part of the country --


HERTLING: -- is going to be primarily a fight for resupplying logistics. And I say that not as a logistician but as a tanker whose commanded forces that's had to resupply their elements in combat.

It's hard to do and especially over the very long supply lines that Ukraine will face coming in from the western part of the country all the way to the eastern part of the country, a span of about 700 miles.

BOLDUAN: General, let me also then add a few more factors that have been mentioned for why Donbas is different than what we've seen so far.

The Pentagon points out that Russia is familiar with the training in the Donbas. And Russia still has the vast majority of its combat power available. And a U.S. official says Russia has learned from failures in the north.

What does that all mean and all add up to for this new phase, General?

HERTLING: Well, yes, I disagree with all three of those presumptions. Number one, they are not familiar with the territory to the west of the areas that they have been occupying for the last six years.

They're very familiar with the lines behind the trench lines.

Secondly, we don't know what their forces are like, the Russian forces are like. I would actually contend that they're in worse shape, because they're either brand-new forces being thrown into combat for the first time.

Or they're forces that have attempted to regenerate that are lacking personnel or personnel that are very high or very low morale rate.

So those two things are going to go against Russia. The third thing I would say is, yes, there's been a lot of people talking about how the training in Donbas is like Kansas. That's true and that would give an advantage to an army that maneuvers.

But Russia has not shown the ability to maneuver off-road yet. I don't think they will have the maneuver capability because they have not trained or exercised it over the last two decades. BOLDUAN: And, Steve, I just want to end with this because, in the

midst of this, President Putin awarded an honorary title to the Russian brigade, accused of committing horrific war crimes in the town of Bucha, commending them with great heroism and courage; though, they're accused of torture and rape and killing innocent civilians.

What is that about?

HALL: I think it's about two things, Kate. The first is, the thing I always say is, you have to remember, Vladimir Putin, he's a Czechist (ph), a former KGB guy. He understands the use of terror. That's a primary, both tactical and strategic maneuver that he does, whether it's with his own security services or in this case whether it's with his military.

So what he's doing is he's giving positive reinforcement to units that impose the terror that he wants to see in Ukraine. He wants Ukraine to walk away from this, understanding that, if the Russians come to town, it's going to be brutal, horrible and used as a psychological tool against the Ukrainians.

And the second thing is, it's sort of a middle finger to the West, saying, hey, you guys are accusing these guys of war crimes and genocide. Well, this is what I think about that. I'm going to give them a medal. So I think it's psychological on both sides.

BOLDUAN: Steve, thank you.

General, thanks as always.

Coming up for us, a major change when it comes to masks after a judge strikes down the federal mandate for travel. What you need to know today. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us next.





BOLDUAN: A major shift in COVID-19 travel policies. Masks are now optional on most U.S. airlines, buses, trains and ride sharing services after a federal judge struck down the CDC's two yearlong mask mandate for public transportation. Here was the reaction on one Alaska Airlines flight.




(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: The White House though says it is reviewing the ruling, assessing whether to appeal it. CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is live at O'Hare airport in Chicago.

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A significant shift and one that has travelers here at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport divided. We've seen some people make their way through the airport maskless and others are wearing their masks.

This ruling is so new that playing on the intercom throughout the morning is a recording telling passengers to wear their masks. We know that was struck down on Monday by a federal judge. And listen to some of the mixed reactions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It certainly feels nice to kind of breathe again and not speak, I actually speak to people and besides just the eyes, be able to smile again. I certainly can appreciate that. Yes, I think it's time, I think it's great and I'm looking forward to seeing a lot more smiles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's important to everybody to wear their masks, because COVID aside, it keeps you safe from getting sick. COVID aside, it keeps you safe and, with COVID, it keeps you double safe. It's just a small thing to do. It's like...


BROADDUS: And we have seen people respecting the opinion of those who choose to wear their mask and those who are not wearing the mask. And for those who may be traveling, along with Amtrak, here are the other airlines who are no longer requiring masks: Delta Airlines, American, United, Southwest, Spirit and JetBlue -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Adrienne, thank you so much.

Joining me is CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


BOLDUAN: Sanjay, this is where things stand in this moment.

Does it match the current status of the pandemic in the U.S.?


It's the last part of your question, right?

We're still in the pandemic. We'd like to think that we're not. But we are. The numbers have been improving. Airplanes are generally, have been considered one of the safer places to be, because of the air exchange and the ventilation on planes.

But I think what we saw was a legal decision, not a public health decision. What the CDC wanted, saying BA.2 is new, relatively new. Let's see how it's behaving.

Is it so transmissible that planes become a source of spread?

They wanted time to evaluate that and they're not getting the time now. Remember, we were surprised by Omicron. We were blindsided by Delta. And I think people, if they learned anything, we want to at least be able to collect the data to not be surprised like that again.

So this was a legal decision, not a public health decision and also very abrupt as Adrienne was describing, Kate. People who say they're comfortable in a masked environment but not in an unmasked environment, they didn't have that option. All of a sudden, the masks came off.

Or they have travel plans for tomorrow or the next day and they're not going to be going into a more maskless environment. So that is the real issue here and I think people are really split.

People want this to be over. I get it. I do, too, but we are still in the middle of the pandemic, where 500 people are still dying every day. If you do the math on that, that's 150,000 or 160,000 people maybe in a year. That's not endemic yet. We're not there.

BOLDUAN: What are the reasons someone should be wearing a mask then these days?

Because it's now to the point of, now it comes to individual choice and individual responsibility. That's what we hear.

GUPTA: You know one thing, I'll say, you can still wear a mask, even if you're not required to. You can still do it and if you're going to, an KN95 or N95 are the best to protect the user.

With the high filtration masks, you can better protect yourself. But I should show you who should wear a mask. If you're living in a community where there's a lot of viral spread still, that's obviously a reason to wear one.

If you're at a higher risk for COVID-19, my parents are going to be traveling next week. They're probably watching right now because they love watching your show, Kate. And I should tell them to wear a mask. They're in their late 70s or 80s now.

If you're visiting people at high risk, I work in a hospital around vulnerable people, I'll still be wearing a mask. And if you yourself have tested positive for COVID-19. So these are sort of the broad reasons.

But again, I think that there's, you're going to hear mixed reactions but there's no reason you can't still wear one if you fall into one of those categories or you're just worried.

BOLDUAN: You're holding up the masks but that's something I want to ask you about. Everyone remembers at the start of the pandemic. Masks were about protecting others, right. But now masks are so much improved. Does that also change the dynamic here, if people are concerned about

protecting themselves in public?

GUPTA: Certainly, these masks are far better at protecting the user. So if you are worried -- but it's not perfect and the thing is that, if you have an environment where there's a lot of virus still circulating, you're just increasing the odds of more people going to get infected.

You also have a situation where there are people, especially young children, who can't yet be vaccinated against this and may be so young as to not really be able to wear a mask, either. I think that's also part of the reason that you have to be very careful in terms of the judgment about when to lift these mask mandates.

It's the majority of people that may be OK, protected through immunity. But there are vulnerable populations and I think this is what it comes down to.

How much are we willing to sacrifice, if you consider putting this on a sacrifice, how much are you willing to sacrifice to protect that vulnerable population?

And that's millions of people that we're talking about here still, Kate. And again, 500 people still on average dying a day of this disease. That's a plane full of people every day still dying.

Will these masks make a difference?

It's not going to solve the problem but we're still clearly in this pandemic. And that's why you want to be careful about relaxing these types of measures.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Sanjay, thank you.

Coming up for us, new images that appear to show a Russian warship before it sank and badly damaged there in the Black Sea. What we're learning about what took it down and the fate of the crew next.





BOLDUAN: New this morning, CNN has obtained dramatic pictures that appear to show the Russian warship that sank in the Black Sea. The smoke filling the air, the ship badly damaged and listing to one side, hours before the sinking. It sank last week.

Ukraine's military says it struck the ship with missiles. Russia, of course, disputes that. This as the Kremlin now faces tough questions about what really happened to the crew on board. CNN's Matthew Chance was on board that ship several years ago. He joins me, off the ship, back over here.

Good to see you, really great to see you in person after so long. You've been on this ship. You have these conflicting reports still, these new images out.

What are you hearing about it?