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At This Hour

Six Months of War in Ukraine with No End in Sight; Charlie Crist to Challenge Florida Governor; Biden to Announce Plan for Student Loan Forgiveness. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 24, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, Ukraine has been fighting the Russian invasion for half a year. And the U.S. announces it's sending billions more in aid.

Plus, the political primary season is now over and the race to November's midterm elections kicks into high gear.

The White House facing a big decision now, what to do about student loan debt and facing criticism before the announcement even comes out.

This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan.

It's an important milestone in Russia's deadly war in Ukraine. Today marks six months since Putin's forces invaded Ukraine, forcing millions of innocent civilians from their homes, killing tens of thousands, threatening the world's food supply, the world's security structure and upending the global economy.

As fierce fighting continues, the U.S. announced the largest military aid package yet, worth $3 billion. And Ukraine marks 31 years since it declared independence from the Soviet Union.

This morning President Zelenskyy says his nation is, quote, "reborn," standing in front of a burned-out and destroyed Russian tank in Kyiv. Let's begin coverage with David McKenzie, live in Ukraine's capital with this major moment.

What are you seeing and hearing there?

So much reflection on six months of this war.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's pretty extraordinary. Look at the people behind me gathering here. They're ignoring warnings from the president and others to say there is the risk of possible missile strikes here in the capital and across the country. Several times today, we've heard, in fact, Kate, those sirens going

off, warning people about a possible strike. I think the mood is defiance. You see behind me the tanks, the burned out APCs, the rocket launchers, all part of that brutal offensive in the early weeks of this conflict, where they're trying to take over the capital, Kyiv, until they, the Russians, left.

Now this is a grinding conflict in the northeast, the east and the south. Very little movement on the front line. I've seen people taking selfies, writing notes on the tanks. I'm sure some are insults to Russians and Russian forces.

This is an important day symbolically for Ukraine, independence, 31 years since they broke away from the Soviet Union. And also six months from the start of the war.

I spoke to President Zelenskyy in a press conference, where I asked him, is he worried about the grinding nature of the war and whether they will continue to get support?


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We need to be clearly aware that, as soon as the world becomes tied to this war, that's going to be a great threat to the whole world and the threat of annihilating Ukraine, so we're grateful to -- for any kind of assistance we need; more of it, that's true.


MCKENZIE: Well, the White House announced up to $3 billion of military assistance, including ammunition, training and weapons. A short time ago, outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson of the U.K. was here on the streets with the president. That support is still there. If it continues, that is a question as this war grinds on.

BOLDUAN: David, thank you for being there.

Ukrainian force have been standing their ground across much of the country in the last six months but Russian troops continue bringing the fight to eastern and southern Ukraine. CNN Fred Pleitgen is live in Moscow for us at this hour.

Half a year in, what is Putin's strategy now?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A two-fold strategy, Kate. I think, on one hand, what Vladimir Putin is trying to do is insulate the public if you will, especially in the larger Russian population center, from the brutality of the conflict that's going on there in Ukraine.

And also the way things are going at least in detail on the battlefield, as well. One of the things we know is that, at the beginning, the Russians thought this would be over in a couple days. It was something said on TV shows here in the public. It was something that Russian politicians had said as well. Now we're here six months on. And I was actually, before we went on

air, watching one of the main talk shows here, that deals almost exclusively with the -- what Russia calls the special military operation in Ukraine. And it took them a very long time to even mention that all this has already been going on for more than six months.


PLEITGEN: And you know, one of the things that I think is really interesting is that, when you're here in Moscow, like I have been so much, you can really, if you try to sort of convince yourself that this war isn't going on, you can do that here in this city.

It's not very prominent. There is not much in the way of symbolism. And to look at it, despite all the economic sanctions, life is still pretty normal here in Moscow.

It certainly seems like Vladimir Putin is trying to keep it that way, to keep the true effects of this war, the economic effects the sanctions are having and also the losses Russians have been taking, to keep that away from the population at large.

Then the second part of the strategy certainly seems to be to outlast the West in its support for Ukraine. Something that has been done over the past couple of really since all of this started, you know, was to show how vulnerable the U.S.' European allies are, that they're dependent on Russian energy.

And of course, Ukraine is dependent on the weapons. The Russians hope they can simply outlast the West in all this, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Fred, thank you for that.

The country, Ukraine, has now seen six months of conflict, violence, alleged war crimes brought upon it. Here are some of those key moments in the last six months to remind you of, because there has been so much. A warning you may find some of these images disturbing.

Six months ago today on February 24th, Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, ordering thousands of Russian troops to go in across the border.

On March 9th, Russian forces bombed a maternity and children's hospital in Mariupol killing, three people, including a child. President Zelenskyy called this attack at the time proof of genocide.

A week later, a Russian airstrike hit a theater also in Mariupol that was being used as a shelter for civilians. And they wanted to make sure the Russians knew it was a shelter because, painted on the grounds outside of the building, in giant Russian letters, was the word "children. Hundreds were killed in that attack.

On the 1st of April, the world saw the first horrifying images of the massacre in Bucha, evidence of Russian forces executing several men, their bodies found lying in the streets. A mass grave with an untold number of people buried there. The

atrocities sparked demands of war crimes investigations and much harsher sanctions on Russia. And while the number of civilian casualties is still unknown, the United Nations now estimates more than 10 million people have been forced to flee Ukraine since the war began.

All of this in just the last six months. Joining me right now to discuss more is William Taylor, the former ambassador to Ukraine, and retired general David Petraeus, who, of course, is the former CIA director and Central Command.

Thank you for being here on this day. I want to break this into three parts, Ukraine, Russia and the NATO alliance.

General, where is Ukraine six months in?

And what are you watching for in the next six months?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. ARMY (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, Ukraine, I think, has seized this strategic initiative. They have gone from 5 percent of Russian control of their territory to 20 percent. But they won the battle of Kyiv.

Putin failed to topple President Zelenskyy. Putin is also watching nearly 4 million of his best and brightest leave his country. He's made NATO great again. He's done more for Ukrainian nationalism than any Ukrainian nationalist figure.

So now Ukraine is poised, supported by the arsenals of democracy, the other NATO countries, to perhaps go on the offensive, to launch a counter offensive in the south in particular, having again used these precision ammunitions to rush ammo dumps, fuel depots, headquarters and even airfields in Crimea, seeming to set conditions for what might follow.

But the question is, can they now translate all of these arms and ammunition and support from the West into meaningful tactical and operational victories in the south?

That remains to be seen in the weeks and months that lie ahead.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Ambassador, where is Russia six months in?

What do you see changing in the next six months?

Fred Pleitgen laid out, you can almost think there isn't a war going on right now if you're in Russia.

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: You're right, Kate. And President Putin would like there to be no mention of the war. He, in fact, you can go to jail for calling it a war in Russia.

So he is -- he's concerned. He's got problems. There is economic problems. His big problem is one of soldiers. His military has been beaten up, as General Petraeus said, and as your reporters said.

In the beginning of this war, they got -- the Russian military got really hammered and they're now in a grinding battle, back and forth, losing tens of thousands of his troops. So President Putin has a problem on soldiers.


TAYLOR: So he's looking for, you know, Libyans or Syrians or North Koreans. He's looking at the private sector. He's got a problem and what that means is he is in a strain to mobilize; that if he mobilizes, then he's got a political problem at home, Kate.

So he's got economic problems. He's got military problems and he's probably got political problems.

BOLDUAN: General, talk to me more about NATO in this equation. It has stayed united and it's getting bigger. That is one thing we have seen in the six months of war.

Does that sustain for another half a year?

PETRAEUS: Well, certainly, we hope so. I tend to think so. There is great leadership at NATO. The secretary general stayed on longer. You see two very strategically important countries with very fine forces, albeit small ones, Finland and Sweden, wanting to join NATO after years of being neutral.

And you see the alliance pulling together and helping Ukraine in just about every way they possibly can. So, in truth, no one has done more again to make NATO great again than Vladimir Putin. He's the greatest gift to NATO since the end of the Cold War.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador, something the NATO secretary general said about what winter will mean for Ukraine's allies. Listen to this.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: Winter is coming and winter is going to be hard and NATO allies across Europe and North America are paying a price caused by the sanctions, caused by, of course, the brutal war of Russia against Ukraine, increasing energy prices and inflation.

But at the same time, we know that the price we have to pay, if we don't support Ukraine, can be much higher.


BOLDUAN: Ambassador, what does a cold, long winter mean for continued support for Ukraine from Europe, when we can be looking at serious energy shortages?

TAYLOR: This winter will be key. If Europeans can get through this winter, the Ukrainians can get through this winter. They have millions of Ukrainians going back home to destroyed homes in the middle of a tough winter.

Ukraine has a tough winter and they will be short of energy as well. That said, if the Europeans can get through this winter, then demand for Russian oil and gas will have peaked and will be on the way down.

And that's going to have a big effect on President Putin's ability to pursue this war. This winter will be tough. It will take leadership. It going to take leadership from NATO. It going to take leadership from the European Union and European nations and take leadership in the United States, as well.

If we can hang on, if we can maintain support, we're convinced the Russians can be beaten. The Ukrainians will win and that will get us through the next winter.

BOLDUAN: General, also, just the next phase on the battlefield is the winter phase.

What does that mean?

PETRAEUS: First, the late summer and fall phase, we should look to see, can Ukraine take back the province, Kherson, and also the area of Kherson west of the Dnipro River.

Ukraine is taking out the bridges that connect Russian troops west of the river with their logistic support and so forth on the east of the river and have done it quite impressively and seeming to set up the better offensive, to the isolating that part of the battlefield.

So they can take that back and then see if they can press on further into the south. That is going to be key. Then you'll see the onset of winter. That will be tough. Depends on how really difficult this winter is in the southern area. It may not be as difficult as in the north and northeast.

I think the fighting will continue, however, and the Ukrainians are also showing something here that is crucially important and that is that they are generating forces. They're recruiting, training, equipping, organizing and then employing additional Ukrainian forces, much more effectively, efficiently and impressively than Russians.

The Russians are struggling to find replacements, much less to find organized, equipped and trained units.

BOLDUAN: It has been a remarkable thing to watch on so many levels.

General, thank you so much.

Ambassador, thank you so much, as well. Appreciate you being here today.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the primary season has come to a close.

What do last night's results say about the fight heading into the fall?

That's next.




BOLDUAN: Voters have spoken in Florida, New York and Oklahoma, picking their choices for some of the biggest contests come this November, including which Democrat will challenge Ron DeSantis, who could very well be a 2024 presidential contender.

CNN senior data reporter Harry Enten joins me with a closer look at last night.

Harry, let's start with Florida. We now know who the Democrat is that will be taking on Ron DeSantis.

How does that race look to you this morning?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, so let's take a look. We'll go to Florida first, home away from home for myself.


ENTEN: Look here, Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, the former governor in the state. He easily emerged victorious over Nikki Fried, who is the only statewide Democrat elected. He won by 25 points. This will be a key race in the fall.


Ron DeSantis has 2024 hopes. Charlie Crist we'll see; some polls suggest that will be an uphill climb for him. But the reason we keep an eye on this is because DeSantis is a 2024 player. We'll see if Crist can make any damage to DeSantis' 2024 hopes.

BOLDUAN: Especially when you have Ron DeSantis' war chest and the amount of money he has coming in.

What is it, $132 million right now?

The other big Democratic primary was here in New York, where two serious Democratic heavyweights were forced to face off.

What does this final result mean?

ENTEN: This was a race a lot of us were watching. Jerry Nadler, a 30- year incumbent, against Carolyn Maloney, another 30-year incumbent, you very rarely see this. Two titans of the Democratic Party going up against each other.

John Berman described this as almost a failure of the Democratic Party during redistricting because you should never have two folks like this facing off. Jerry Nadler easily the victor, a 31-point margin. I was expecting Nadler to win. I wasn't expecting it to be this wide of a win.

Nadler was slightly more liberal than Maloney but, to be honest with you, it was really just a clash of personalities and the campaign got so nasty toward the end, Caroline Maloney lobbing things about Jerry Nadler kind of being like half dead.

But Nadler able to pull out the win very easily in this race. And the other thing I'll note, Nadler a little bit more liberal than Maloney so perhaps an item in which moderate Democrats do better, like in the state of Florida, here is a win for the left wing, the truly progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

BOLDUAN: In New York, we're intrigued by the message that could come out from the special election in New York.

ENTEN: Let's go up the Hudson River. This is a district that Joe Biden won by about 1.5 points.

And what did we see in the special election?

We saw that Pat Ryan pulled out the win by actually a little bit more than 1.5 points. And that is interesting because, in the special elections that happened before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, we saw Republicans, in fact, were outperforming the baseline, the presidential baseline by about 6 points.

In the four special elections since Roe v. Wade was overturned, the Democrats on average have been outperforming the baseline by an average of about 5 points. And this was not the only special election last night where in fact we saw a Dem overperformance.

There was the 23rd special election which Republicans held. But in that special election, even though the Republican candidate won by about 6.5 points, that's a district Donald Trump won by a little bit over 11 points.

So in two special elections last night, we saw the Democrats outperforming their Roe v. Wade -- their 2020 baseline prevote Roe v. Wade. So to me, it was a very clear sign that Roe v. Wade has in fact energized Democrats and this special election and the other one on the 23rd, a very clear sign of it.

BOLDUAN: You can be sure Democrats are taking some messages from that, going into the general. Good to see you, thanks for doing that. Appreciate it.

Coming up, President Biden preparing to announce his plan to forgive thousands of dollars in federal student loan debt. Why his plan is already facing some criticism before its even officially announced. That's next.




BOLDUAN: AT THIS HOUR, President Biden is at the White House, preparing to announce his plan for federal student loan debt forgiveness. Among other moves, the president's announcement is expected to cancel $10,000 of student loan debt for anyone making less than $125,000 a year.

Joining me is John Harwood; also here with us, CNN business correspondent Rahel Solomon.

John, this has been a long time coming, this kind of discussion and internal debate over what to do here.

What was the thinking behind this plan as we know it within the White House?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, there is tremendous cross pressures on this issue that have been coming down on the White House. On the one hand, economists, Democratic and Republican, tend to hate student debt forgiveness.


What is the biggest economic problem facing the president?

Inflation. They say the more debt relief you provide, the more inflationary that is by stimulating consumer demand.

They also say that it tends to benefit more affluent people, college graduates, and stick the bill with those who have not gone to college. On the other hand, Democrats have a coalition heavily tilted toward younger people, college graduates, progressives, civil rights interests.

And they have been among the most aggressive lobbying forces for student debt relief. So the way they have come out is, $10,000 of relief, not the $50,000 that many people on the left had been asking for.