Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Ukraine Refuses to Surrender in Mariupol; U.S., Allies Race to Deliver More Advanced Weapons to Ukraine; Ukrainian Commander in Mariupol: We May Have Only Hours Left; NATO Allies Could Be Involved in Mariupol Evacuation; Justice Department May Appeal Mask Mandate Ruling if CDC Says It's Needed; Redesigned Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Produces Stronger Immunity. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 20, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thousands of soldiers and civilians are believed to be inside there, which is surrounded by Russian forces. Ukraine's military commander on the ground is pleading with the world for help.


MAJOR SERHII VOLYNA, COMMANDER, UKRAINE'S 36TH SEPARATE MARINE BRIGADE (through translator): This is our statement to the world. It may be our last statement. We might have only a few days or even hours left.

The enemy's units are 10 times larger than ours. They have supremacy in the air, artillery and units that are dislocated on the ground, equipment and tanks. We appeal to the world leaders to help us.


BOLDUAN: Utter devastation in that city. You just can't believe it, even when we've seen these images over and over again. Despite little evidence that they can trust safe passage on evacuation routes agreed to with Russia, Mariupol's mayor is urging them to get out now.

Fight in Donbas is intensifying as Russia continues its onslaught on targets in the east. The U.K. says Ukraine has been able to repel numerous Russian advances. As the war hits the 8-week mark today, the U.N. says over 5 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began.

Let's go to Matt Rivers, who is live in Ukraine. Matt, what is the latest assessment you are hearing from there on this

battle in the east?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we're hearing about the battle in the east in terms of the latest reporting, really coming from this intelligence report from the British, they're talking about the Ukrainians holding that line pretty strongly in the eastern part of the country.

If the Russians were hoping they would have an immediate breakout in the east, that is not what has happened so far.

What we're getting from our own reporting is that U.S. Defense officials believe something similar. But what we're seeing is more probing attacks from the Russians, not the full-scale, all-out offensive, throwing everything they have at the Ukrainians.

It's mainly testing the capabilities of the front line, which is still significant since these front lines haven't really shifted since we've seen the beginning of this offensive over the past few days.

There's been no breakout; these lines are holding, no real ground given up by the Ukrainians. But this could be a preview of what's to come. I don't think this will be a conflict, this latest campaign in the east, that will be solved or come to conclusions made over hours or days.

We're talking about weeks of protracted battle between these two sides. The Russians are committed to taking the east and they seem to be strong, as is the Ukrainians' resolve defending their homeland.

So Kate, how this plays out in the next few weeks, which will come up soon, is what we'll be watching very closely. But for now, not a ton of movement on those front lines.

BOLDUAN: There are these intercepted communications from Ukrainians hinting at an even more dire picture about what is happen in Mariupol.

What do you know about that?

RIVERS: Yes, throughout the war, Russians have been using unencrypted communication methods, according to Ukrainian defense officials. They have been able to intercept them and some they have chosen to release publicly, which is what happened yesterday.

They intercepted communications between a Russian ground troops commander, speaking to a colleague, talking about this steel plant complex. That is the main pocket of resistance, where Ukrainian resistance has fallen back to, in the city of Mariupol as they continue to fight against Russian troops.

And from this ground troops commander, we got a little bit of insight into what the Russians are thinking when it comes to how they're attacking this steel plant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Will there be some kind of explosion?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They said to level everything to the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Ooh...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They are being bombed and bombed. They are knocking them out.


RIVERS: Now we need to add there that CNN cannot independently verify the veracity of those recordings. That is just according to the Ukraine security services here.

But if that is accurate, that gives you insight into what the Russians are thinking here. And when we hear from the commander of the Ukrainian Marines, inside the steel plant complex, he's talking about that they have days, if not hours, left. And they need immediate evacuation, is what we're hearing.

BOLDUAN: Matt, thank you so much.

The U.S. and allies are racing to deliver more advanced weapons to Ukraine. The Biden administration is now preparing another $800 million security assistance package. At the same time, there's new concern Russia will be targeting the routes to get these weapons in. CNN's Barbara Starr joins us from the Pentagon.

Barbara, what have you learned?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: So far, we haven't seen the Russians target those weapons shipments once they come into Western Ukraine and move across to the eastern area, where the fighting is. And you might ask why.

The U.S.' sense of it is that the Russians so far haven't had great intelligence about where the weapons shipments are.


STARR: And they're not very good at targeting against mobile operations, the weapons obviously moving by truck convoy and rail car.

But that could change. There is concern the Russians will start targeting these shipments and every piece of equipment is so essential to Ukraine's forces right now.

Another $800 million security assistance weapons package, let's call it what it is, is being formulated right now and could be announced this week by the Biden administration.

What are you going to see in it? You'll see armor, artillery, ammunition; these will be the critical items for that fighting against the Russians in Eastern Ukraine in those broad, open areas. This will be a long-range, long-fire artillery fight.

It will be so important that they get these weapons as fast as they can. Earlier today, a senior State Department official spoke about all of this. Have a listen.


VICTORIA NULAND, ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: Now as Putin changes his tactics, as he fails to take the capital city and has to moderate his expectations and just come in from the east, what Ukraine needs is different.

They need these long-range fires, they need this anti-tank weaponry that we're sending now. And they need the anti-ship weapons. And so we are adjusting as Ukraine's needs have adjusted.


STARR: Billions of dollars of U.S. weapons going into Eastern Ukraine as well as the allies of course.

But still a fundamental question, can it get there fast enough to make a difference?


BOLDUAN: Barbara, thanks so much.

Joining me now, retired Brigadier General Steve Anderson and CNN global affairs analyst Susan Glasser.

General, if Russia is going to target these supply routes, if you will, what are the U.S. and allies going to need to do?

Does it slow down these deliveries?

What's the adjustment?

BRIG. GEN. STEVE ANDERSON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, thank you for having me, Kate. Absolutely, any interdiction of supply lines will slow us down.

However, the key is redundancy. We need multiple avenues of approach, multiple ways of getting supplies from Lviv to Dnipro, where they're going to need it, to support the fight in the east, in Donbas.

They need to use all their railroads, 15,000 miles of them, surge as many trucks as they possibly can. I would like to cite a historical reference to Red Ball Express during World War II. Americans were pushing 6,000 trucks a day to support George Patton in the 3rd Army in the march to Germany. So roads are very important and a Red Ball Express would be great. The

second thing is the river. They have river gardens they can use to get things down to Dnipro. So redundancy is going to be the key to defeat the Russians' attempts to interdict those supply lines.

BOLDUAN: General, are you surprised that Russia hasn't targeted these supply routes yet?

ANDERSON: Yes, I am. They have air dominance. But they don't have air superiority, which means they can surge on occasion. But they've had 200 aircraft shot down. If I was a Russian pilot, I'd be a little hesitant to fly a couple hundred miles in Western Ukraine to go after supply lines as well.

They're not able to do it because the Russians, because the Ukrainian air defenses have been pretty good. And as Barbara Starr indicated, their intel isn't very good. They don't really have eyes on the ground to determine where these supply lines are and where they're coming, so therefore they haven't been successful.

BOLDUAN: Susan, I'm going to play the statement again from the commander Mariupol, saying they are desperate. They need a third-party evacuation at this point. Listen.


MAJOR SERHII VOLYNA, COMMANDER, UKRAINE'S 36TH SEPARATE MARINE BRIGADE (through translator): This is our statement to the world. It may be our last statement. We might have only a few days or even hours left.

The enemy's units are 10 times larger than ours. They have supremacy in the air, artillery and units that are dislocated on the ground, equipment and tanks. We appeal to the world leaders to help us.


BOLDUAN: And now a top State Department official saying there is hope that the Russians might allow safe passage out for civilians. And she also says that NATO allies will be involved if that happens.

How significant is that, Susan?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, if it were to actually happen, it would mean a stark change.


GLASSER: Because what's been really notable so far is their refusal to consider civilians, their refusal to honor agreements. There have been numerous agreements to allow passage out of Ukraine.

And the Russians have consistently attacked after giving their word. So part of the reason why this is happening now in the first place is because Russia made agreements that it failed to honor to allow passage out of Mariupol. So I would say to be very wary of any agreements made by Russia right

now. The tragedy, of course, of this, is it's part of the strategy, to want there to be this kind of devastating toll on Ukraine cities. It seems to be a part of the Russian military plan.

BOLDUAN: General, why would the Russians want to allow a NATO ally to get involved in one of these evacuation routes?

As Susan points out very well, the Russians have proven not to be trusted when it comes to humanitarian corridors, safe passage, evacuation routes, whatever you want to call it, in any part of Ukraine.

ANDERSON: I wouldn't trust them. I don't think they are trustworthy. And I would be surprised if they actually allow it, quite frankly. My colleague, Spider Marks said today that the Russians don't even treat their own soldiers humanely.

So why are they going to treat the Ukrainians any differently?

I totally agree with Susan. Of course I'd love to see it happen but I just don't think the Russians will be supportive of any effort to conduct humanitarian relief operations and support the civilians, the same civilians they've been trying to bomb into submission for the last 56 days.

BOLDUAN: We're also hearing, Susan, as Barbara Starr was pointing out, the Biden administration is working on another $800 million weapons package, another package, more Howitzers, more ammo, more armor.

They're saying they're working at unprecedented speed, getting weapons and supplies to Ukraine.

Are NATO allies, like Germany, moving at the same speed, doing the same?

GLASSER: It's a good question about Germany. What's happened there is really a reversion to some of the politics of before the war.

So you initially saw German chancellor Olaf Scholz make a remarkable, what appeared be about-face in German policy, saying, wait, we made a mistake. We've been accommodating to Russia. We won't do that again.

But they've been very reluctant, much more than other NATO allies and the U.S. to ship heavy weaponry to Ukraine. They have refused entirely to agree to a Russian oil and gas embargo.

So what you're seeing I think is part of what Putin was banking on initially, which is, if he could fight for long enough, Europe would become divided again. There would be voices that spoke out against the economic pain. There is not unity and strong voice from Germany that many expected there would be just a few weeks ago.

BOLDUAN: Thank you both very much.

Coming up, to mask or not?

More confusion still after the judge strikes down the federal mask mandate for planes and public transit. What the Justice Department says that it could do -- next.





BOLDUAN: And to the pandemic and the Justice Department saying it will appeal a federal judge's ruling that struck down mask requirements on planes and other public transportation but it will do so only if the CDC says it is still needed.

What does that mean right now for anyone traveling?

And what does it mean for the future of these mandates?

CNN's Jessica Schneider joins me now from Washington.

Jessica, what are they saying here?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, they're basically taking a wait and see approach. The bottom line is the mask mandate on trains, planes, buses, it's no longer in effect. It will likely remain that way for a while.

But the question is what does the Biden administration do next?

The DOJ issued a statement last night that they're not sure what next steps they will take. The ball is in the CDC's court; it is assessing whether or not masks are even needed beyond May 3. That's when the mask was set to expire before a federal judge in Florida struck it down.

Now the CDC is saying if the mandate is needed beyond May 3rd, then the government will appeal that ruling. We likely won't know any final decision probably for another week.

But any appeal could bring its own risks. So if the appellate court, the 11th Circuit and maybe ultimately the Supreme Court, if they were to uphold the federal judge's decision from earlier this week, that could hamstring the CDC in the future.

The federal judge had invalidated the CDC's authority to even enact this mandate. So if the administration appeals and then loses, they really couldn't enact another mandate, even if there is future, more dangerous variant that emerges here.

So there is a lot at stake. But the bottom line, though, Kate, is the Justice Department is taking a wait and see approach. For now, masks are not required and it's really going to be up to the CDC to decide if they want to roll the dice here and appeal this to get a mask mandate back in place, Kate.

BOLDUAN: That's some really important context, Jessica. Thank you for that.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now is Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo. She's a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Good to see you.

What do you think of this mask requirement going away?

Do you think it was time?

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA/BIRMINGHAM: I think it's a very complex question. Early in the pandemic, we relied on interventions like mandates, school closures, business closures to keep us safe. We all put up with it because we were so scared, right?

The fear factor overrode everything else. Now we're trying to come out of that phase of the pandemic. It's clearly not as bad as it was, even though almost 1 million Americans have died. We really can't forget that.

How do we do that?

Well, we balance this issue of wanting to get protection from the federal government and from the data and the science but still emerging from our cocoon.

This is where we shift to individual responsibility and it's where people have to weigh, is it really worth the risk of going on a plane without a mask?

Is it worth it not just to me but to the person I'm sitting next to?

It's a really tough decision.

BOLDUAN: It's not just all public transportation is the same, either.

When you're weighing personal risk now, what are the circumstances you would be recommending patients to still wear a mask?

Is there a difference, let's say, in the risk you might face on a plane versus a train?

They have very different ventilation systems.

MARRAZZO: Sure. And you can tell this by just walking into any of these vessels, right?

You can smell smells in areas that you can't smell on a plane. When you're on a plane and it's flying, we know the air exchange is excellent, about 20 times a minute. It's why people feel safe on planes. What they don't account for is the time at the gate or on the runway when you're taxiing. Those are a little more high risk. There's no question the air exchange is not as perfect.

When you move to poorly ventilated buses, subway cars, other things like that, then it becomes even less clear that you're going to be protected by the ventilation systems. And I would say for any of my patients who are concerned about putting themselves at risk, maybe because they are elderly and immunocompromised, maybe they can't get vaccinated or they can't mount a great response to vaccination, right?

A lot of people with immune compromise don't really do so great with the vaccine. Anybody like that, why not continue to wear an N-95?

They're more comfortable now, they're widely available. It really is -- there's no downside to it and that's really what I've been trying to convey to people.

BOLDUAN: As Jessica Schneider was kind of talking about, what this means for the CDC going forward, with the judge's ruling just in general, I want to play for you what the former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said this morning about the potential fallout from this ruling.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER U.S. FDA COMMISSIONER: The risks here from this ruling are not the immediate impact on public health. It was time to lift the mask mandates. The risks are longer term and what this does to potentially erode CDC's authority.


BOLDUAN: What do you think this does mean for the reputation or authority of the CDC going forward?

Do you think that's now in question?

MARRAZZO: Yes, I do. And I think it's almost less about the CDC than it is about a judicial system that feels free to sort of insert itself in the setting, where we should be letting the science guide us.

What I mean by that is that you do have to, at some point, trust public health authorities and leadership to interpret the emerging data correctly, whether it's emerging data on a number of cases, hospitalizations, wastewater surveillance, which is going to become increasingly important, and monitoring emerging variants, right?

Those are really the four pillars, I think, that we're going to have to continue to monitor. I would rather put those decisions in the scientists and epidemiologists and physicians, who have been making these calls throughout the pandemic.

BOLDUAN: On the vaccine front, as you talk about variants, Moderna just announced it has a new first of its kind, if you will, booster, redesigned to blend the original current vaccine and updates based on the new subvariant.

The company says the shot induced a higher immune response than the current booster against original COVID and the Beta, Omicron and Delta variants.

What do you think of this?

MARRAZZO: Yes, I think it's exciting and it's exciting for a couple reasons. First of all, it emphasizes the power and flexibility and nimbleness of the mRNA vaccine platform. All you really need to do -- and I know it's more complicated than that -- but it's like inserting a different genetic cartridge that will now code for this new variant.

We know that the coverage of the emerging variants was not as good as it was with the original vaccine with the original variants. So now you have the potential to really quickly adapt the vaccine to emerging variants.


MARRAZZO: The key is going to be to get ahead of it enough in time so you can design the new vaccines and get them to people before the new and potentially more pathogenic variants take hold. So I think it's exciting; unusual to see such a quickly adaptable vaccine platform and that's really the beauty of this approach.

BOLDUAN: It's good to have you on again. Thanks for coming on.

Coming up for us, a Russian banking tycoon speaking out and likely putting himself at some risk, condemning the war in Ukraine. What this billionaire says the West has to do to, quote, "stop this massacre." Details next.