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Ukraine: Forces Have Reclaimed Huge Areas In East In Major Advance; Trump Ask Judge To Deny DOJ Request To Keep Reviewing Seized Docs; Webb Telescope Captures Breathtaking Image Of Stellar Nursery. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired September 12, 2022 - 11:30   ET



MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Add to the key town of Kupyansk, which was one of the first major targets in this counter-offensive here in the Kharkiv region. We went there on Sunday afternoon 24, hours after that flag was raised on Saturday, a major achievement for Kyiv.

And we found a town, Kate, that was far from safe and secured with a considerable Russian presence inside. Have a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking in a foreign language.

BELL: Aircrafts, helicopters, showing everything. A first artillery strike, too close for comfort, then a second much closer.


BELL: Now, that's something we're, of course, not hearing a great deal about, Kate, because of the lack of access given to the front lines. But however difficult it is, and however big the fight being put up in some key towns by Russian forces, the fact is that Ukrainian forces have moved east and south in this Eastern counteroffensive much, much quicker than we thought they might.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Yes. You're reporting so critical, as you mentioned because it's hard to get into these places, you're just -- the perspective you're bringing, Melissa, is crucial. Thank you so much for being here. Really appreciate it.

Joining me now for more on this, retired brigadier general Mark Kimmitt. General, thanks for coming on. It -- so it is being described as a pretty stunning transformation of the battlefield in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine, reclaiming more territory than Russian forces have captured in all of their operations since April. But Melissa Bell offers some key contexts there on what it is like on the ground. What do you see here?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, I think Melissa is exactly right. She has a more sanguine view of what's happening on the ground and says what we're seeing in a lot of newspapers. There is no doubt that this has been a reversal. The Ukrainians up to

this point had been on the defense. They've reversed the operations. They are now on offense. That's good to see.

But I think we've got to realize that in the offense, you not only have to counterattack but you have to exploit that counterattack. And I have some concerns about whether the Ukrainians can continue this fight and keep the Russians on their back feet or if the Russians will just dig in and what we've done is move the front lines just a bit east.

BOLDUAN: General, talk to me about why -- what -- we talked about the source of your concerns. What do you see here? What's your concern?

KIMMITT: Well, my concern is, first of all, the lack of reporting. So all we're seeing and hearing is from the Ukrainian side. Number two, I think the logistics problems that we've been having for some period of time are going to manifest themselves in the attack because it consumes such heavy rates of artillery and logistics.

And third, not well reported because it's not well exposed, is an attacker typically loses three to four times the number of troops as a defender does.

So I would expect inside of Ukraine, there has been a significant toll on their frontline troops. So, the question is can they continue this fight? Can they exploit this fight? Can they exploit the success? And I'm not certain that that will happen.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that's very interesting because I was going to ask you if we know these games are really in the Northeast. And what do you think that means for the other fronts in this fight, especially in the south, which was such a big part of our discussion?

KIMMITT: Well, there's some question about whether the news that is coming out of the south reveals as a fate that in fact, we were trying to deceive the Russians about the attack in the north by making it look like the main attack was in the South. Other people disagree with that.

But it looks like the -- it looks like the Ukrainian forces are making some progress on there. But overall, you got to understand that the Russians are under pressure, they are falling back. Whether they will fall back anymore or dig in and fight, really, that's the decision, Vladimir Putin has got to make not the commanders on the ground.

BOLDUAN: Because that's exactly what I was going to ask you. What is the range of possibility that you think Vladimir Putin could make in terms of the tactical response? Now, we've seen strikes on -- including on civilian infrastructure in response to just what's happened over the weekend.


BOLDUAN: But what do you see in terms of the battlefield strategy going forward? I've heard -- I've -- we've seen some Russian supporting military bloggers saying that there is a radical change in approach to the war is now needed on the part of Russia. What do you think?

KIMMITT: Well, I think you're exactly right. The Russians probably did not expect this level of counter-offensive. They've demonstrated that the front lines are quite brittle. The real question is what is Putin telling his battlefield commanders right now?

They used to use a German expression during World War One, verbleiben, we stay. Is he telling them to dig in, fight harder, lose as many troops as necessary, but don't give another inch of ground? That will be interesting to see if Putin continues to show that resolve, or another option is he just declares victory.


He says this was my objective all along, not to take all of Donbass but just part of Donbass, and continue this terror campaign that he's just started, no longer exclusively fighting frontlines, but now starting a terror campaign against the electrical grid, against the water grid, against the civilians.

He is going to do what he can, I would suspect, to hold off this counter-offensive and make the Ukrainians pay significantly for it. But I don't see him pulling back. And I certainly don't see the Ukrainians going all the way to the border and pushing them out.

BOLDUAN: General, it's always great to have you. Thank you so much.

So, as we were just discussing with the general the new Ukrainian offensive is testing not only Putin's military strategy, but it's also adding to whispers if you will, of just content from inside Russia.

Joining me now with some important perspective on this is Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council under President Trump, Angela Stent. She's the author of Putin's world.

They are both Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute and authors of an important new piece in Foreign Affairs. The world Putin wants, how distortions about the past few delusions about the future.

Thank you so much, both of you for being here. Fiona, you have written extensively about Putin's worldview, of course, what do these somewhat surprising gains from Ukrainians mean for that, do you think?

FIONA HILL, SENIOR FELLOW, FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES PROGRAM, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: Well, I think General Kimmitt was spot on in his last response to you, as well as in fact, his overall assessment of the situation on the ground, and he made some very important points there. And we know that Putin is not going to obviously cut his losses, and certainly want to suggest in any way that he's doing that.

There is every possibility that he may declare victory, as the general suggests and you know basically take things from there with the terror campaign that he's describing because his overall goal is still to have the capitulation of Ukraine and the collapse of the Zelenskyy government and to find a way of asserting control over Ukraine.

And so, Putin will definitely be recalibrating at this moment. And he will be paying very careful attention to all the factors that we are as well about signs of discontent within the political leaders around him, as well as most crucially, in the military.

We know they've been very heavy casualties of senior military figures in the general corps in the Russian military. And there's bound to be at this particular point of backlash. And as you and your correspondents have been picking up on, there's been a lot of whispering now, in some Russian nationalist circles and in some of the military circles about the fact that Putin has made some tactical as well as strategic blunders in this war.

BOLDUAN: Angela, is it clear how much this kind of transformation on the battlefield can hurt Putin at home?

ANGELA STENT, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: I mean, it's not completely clear yet, but we're seeing some delicate initial signs of more criticism on some of these late-night talk shows where they formulate "against the Western, against Ukrainian Nazis."

Some of these pundits are now saying maybe we need to rethink this, maybe we're achieving exactly the opposite of what we wanted, which is the Ukrainians hate us. So I think we're seeing just the small signs of it.

But I think we're grasping at straws because there's so much that we don't know about what's happening. But certainly, when you have the Chechen leader, a huge supporter of Putin, intimating that this campaign really isn't going too well, and people ought to listen to him and to others who want something different, we should be very attuned to these signs of potential discontent among the military, and among you know some of the people around Putin.

BOLDUAN: And, Fiona, I want to ask you more about that really fascinating, I think, important piece that you and Angela wrote about Putin and his worldview and what he really wants. In this piece, you talk about the reaction from the West, the unified reaction from the west so far. I also -- and I read it because it seemed that it came with something of a bit of a warning.

As you write, the West must understand that it is dealing with a leader who is trying to change the historical narrative of the last 100 years, not just the period since the end of the Cold War. Vladimir Putin wants to make Ukraine, Europe, and indeed the whole world conform to his own version of history. Understanding his objectives is central to crafting the right response.

Fiona, do you think the West fully grasps this as you write it? I mean, how should reality impact the response going forward?

HILL: I think many people are starting to. I mean, if you talk to many European leaders and others, even the European public, they're seeing this perhaps in something of a different frame from how we are in the United States. And they are really seeing this in the form of World War One and World War Two.

They recognize that this is an aggression against a European country. I was just in the UK a couple of weeks ago and was very struck in just conversations have family members friends and others about how much they were seeing this in a similar way in a very history -- a very historic lens.


And understanding that Putin, just like Hitler and other aggressors in European history was trying to wipe Ukraine off the map, and to deny the Ukrainian people writ large, their ability to determine their own future.

I think here in the United States, we've still been grappling with this kind of idea, probably based on our own view of geopolitics and our own bilateral relationship here with the Soviet Union and with Russia, about whether this is framed in a context of NATO enlargement and something to also framed by the dynamics in our own relationship, we're having up looking obviously, at China, and some of the larger issues here.

And there still has been something of a debate, which is why Angel and I decided to write this piece about whether we are somehow to blame in all of this, rather than paying attention to what it is that Putin himself is trying to do.

BOLDUAN: Angela, what changes Putin's behavior? You both argue in this piece is, at the very least, not sanctions, and not even Europe, cutting off gas purchases, as you -- as you point out and you guys illustrate in your commentary. So what will it take? The question that is a bit unanswerable but I'm interested in your perspective.

STENT: Well, we need to keep supplying the Ukrainians with the weapons they need. We are non-NATO allies. And we need to keep pushing back against the Russians and denying Putin the victory he wants, which as Fiona said, is really to control all of Ukraine and to change the government there.

That I think is the only thing that will work because at that -- you know, if we don't provide the Ukrainians with the wherewithal and they're doing very well with these weapons, then Putin will just -- you know, it'll the stalemate will continue or the Russians will advance again, or this could go on for a very long time. So we -- the West has to remain united, even as the Europeans will face a cold winter without Russian gas.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Angela Stent, Fiona Hill, thank you both so much for coming on.

Coming up for us. Donald Trump's legal team fighting back with a new filing asking the judge to reject the Justice Department's latest move. Details ahead.



BOLDUAN: A short time ago, Donald Trump's legal team urged the judge overseeing the legal fight with the Justice Department to reject the DOJ's request to suspend a part of that special master order. Trump's team is saying in part that the government wrongfully seeks to criminalize the possession by the 45th President of his own presidential and personal records. CNN's Katelyn Polantz was live in Washington with more on this. I was just going through this filing, Katelyn what else is the Trump legal team arguing here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME & JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, as today we're hearing again from Donald Trump's legal team, they're trying to cut this very broad view of his power as the former president. So in this court filing today, his team is arguing two main points.

That even if there were classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago, that beach club was a secure place for those records to be, and they're saying that Donald Trump had and continues to have the ability to access all those records from his presidency, whether or not they were supposed to be strictly controlled national security documents classified materials.

So, the situation here, the bigger picture, is that the Justice Department has already gathered more than 100 records marked as classified that Trump had at Mar-a-Lago.

And they say that there's a great national security risk if they don't move forward quickly with everything they need to do in both their criminal investigation and with a corresponding intelligence review. So the Justice Department can't even determine whether the documents are still classified until they do that type of work.

But what Trump wants now is for his team and a third party appointee, a special master, to be able to look at those records first now. So right now the intelligence review is on hold because Trump has convinced this judge in Florida to allow for a special master to come in.

The Justice Department is arguing for control, Trump is arguing for control, and if the judge doesn't agree, it all could be headed to appeals, even by the end of this week, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And they can't even agree on who the special masters should be just showing how much this really has slowed down and how far apart they really are. It's great to see you, Katelyn, thank you so much for that update.

Coming up still for us. Breathtaking new images coming from NASA, the James Webb telescope, not disappointing, not disappointing one bit, bringing us images from about 1350 light years away from Earth. That's next.


[11:53:46] BOLDUAN: Stunning new images this morning from the James Webb Telescope showing a part of space where stars and planets form. NASA scientists say studying this photo and others could help answer remarkable questions about how solar systems evolve. CNN's Tom Foreman is joining me now with more on this. Tom, all the answers we have, you have for us right now.


BOLDUAN: How the -- how the stars are born and how the solar systems evolve? What are you hearing about this latest amazing delivery from the James Webb?

FOREMAN: This is like looking back in time at our own solar system, trying to figure out how all these gases and dust out there form into planets and stars and all the other things that happen out there. Look at a couple of details.

They have some areas where you can see parts where some of these stars, one off to the left there one off to the right, you may see a little bit of haziness around them, those areas are where basically they believe the star is sort of forming and manipulating the gases around it.

And they're these little filaments going through the sky there that are tied into this. That's what's allowing them to form planets and stars. We've never seen this before. You know why we've never seen this before? Because the Hubble telescope was mainly an optical device basically.

So when it tried to look out here, this is measuring ultraviolet radiation. That's what the Webb is looking at. On the left is the optical image. If you just try to look at it -- and you know what's obscuring it all?


It's the most romantic and poetic thing you can imagine. Literally, Stardust kept us from seeing what was happening there. But now on the right with Webb, we can see it. And it is spectacular with a lot of really important information about where we came from.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. I mean, I'm just -- these images that are coming in from the Webb are just fascinating.


BOLDUAN: You also have some more information though. There was -- there was a Blue Origin launch, it was supposed to be happening today. What happened?

FOREMAN: Yes, bad things out in West Texas. We don't know the details of it. What we do know is that this rocket took off. It was one of the New Shepard series rockets and has done about 23 launches with this. You'll remember Jeff Bezos went into space and one of these with some other people up there for a moment or two and then came back down. They launched this morning, and about a minute into the flight just as

they pass what's called Max Q, you can see it right there, the capsule separated from the booster unexpectedly, it flew up about another two miles before deploying its parachutes and coming back down. Why is it separated? Not sure if it's an automatic system or from ground control. It did safely operate, but a lot of questions for Blue Origin now going forward to figure out what went wrong, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. It's good to see you, Tom, thank you so much for that.

FOREMAN: Good to see you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much for watching, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts after this.