Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Kyiv Rocked By Deadly Explosions From Kamikaze Drones; Early Voting Begins In Georgia. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. At This Hour, Russia unleashing a new wave of deadly drone attacks. And Ukraine has a new problem to the north. Plus, a deadly fire breaks out in a notorious Iranian prison as protests across that country grow.

The journalist who was wrongfully imprisoned in that prison for a year and a half is our guest. And K-pop superstars, BTS, putting their musical careers on hold, taking on a very different job. This is what we're watching at this hour.

Thank you so much for being here, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan. Kyiv under attack this morning once again, Russian forces starting yet another week of strikes on civilians across Ukraine. Explosions, as you see could be heard in the capital.

As Russia launched a barrage of kamikaze drone attacks, at least four people were killed. That's according to the city's mayor so far. Rescue operations are still underway, actually, at this hour to try and pull people from the rubble.

Ukraine has accused Iran of supplying Russia with these drones but Iran denies it. And now a new concern at Ukraine's northern border, Russian troops are now in Belarus raising concerns of a new front in the war in Ukraine.

Let's get to it CNN's Clarissa Ward is live in Kyiv for us. Clarissa you're able to go to one of the sites where these kamikaze drones hit. What did you see?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a devastating scene, Kate. It's a residential building that was hit. It's in the neighborhood of a kind of energy plant, which has been targeted today, but also was targeted week ago when that barrage of missiles hit Kyiv. So they're clearly trying the Russians that is, to hit civilian infrastructure, particularly as Ukraine braces itself for another cold winter.

But in this instance, four drones did make impacts, some 15 that were heading into the city were intercepted. The one as I mentioned that we saw hitting, very sadly, a residential building, at least four people were killed. We saw the body of an older woman that had been taken out.

But also a young couple were killed and the wife reportedly six months pregnant. So a very grim scene here in Kyiv, and really, I think for a lot of people who live in this city, who had felt there had been some modicum of peace and relative calm over the past few months.

A grim reminder that the capital is now very much, once again at the focus of these Russian attacks, particularly as I mentioned after that barrage of missiles that hit the city just last week, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Well, Clarissa, thank you so much.

So there is growing concern also this morning that Russia is preparing to open a new front in its unprovoked war in Ukraine. Russian soldiers are now in Belarus to form a new joint force with that country's troops. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is live in Dnipro, Ukraine watching this for us. So Fred, what are you learning about this?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Kate. Yes, we're watching it very closely and certainly the Ukrainians also watching it very closely as well. We spoken to a top level Ukrainian officials.

And they do say that there is a good degree of concern on their part about these additional Russian forces pouring into Belarus now. The latest information that we have, and it's a little under 9,000 Russian troops that have been and are being deployed to Belarus at this point in time.

But there were certainly some videos out there showing heavy equipment tanks being brought into Belarus. And that certainly doesn't bode well for the situation there. We know that the Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko was very much dependent on Vladimir Putin. He has acknowledged that Belarus is in this war but has also said he does not intend to be part of an attack on Ukraine.

At the same time, we have rhetoric coming out of Belarus, claiming that the Ukrainians are plotting an attack on Belarus. The Ukrainians obviously say that is absolutely not the case.

And I was able to speak to an advisor to the Ukrainian presidency, and he told me that at this point in time, they don't believe that an attack from Belarus is imminent, but they also say that if it does happen, they would be prepared. And the way he put it, he said it would be Alexander Lukashenko's final decision as a president in Belarus. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Interesting. Fred, thank you.

So NATO and Russia both separately planning to hold nuclear exercises before the end of this month. These drills they've been long planned, but they definitely come very clearly at a time of heightened fears that Russia could be closer than ever to actually using nuclear weapons. CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon. She's tracking this for us. Barbara, what do you know about these drills?


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Kate. The Russian exercises have been long planned, and it's something they've done before to test their own nuclear weapons deterrence capability. But this time, this year, it's got everybody's attention.

These exercises are expected to kick off by the end of the month. So we're just several days away from this happening. The Russians expected to potentially test fire missiles, test their strategic capability, that is their nuclear capability.

What the U.S. is going to be watching for with the Russians is whether they actually move any nuclear weapons around. And if they do it in any manner, then is other than routine training movement, the U.S. says it thinks it will be very capable of being able to detect any unusual movements. It's something that they watch for all the time. But right now, extra careful eyes on all of this.

And it comes of course, as NATO along with the U.S., 14 NATO nations today kicked off their own nuclear deterrence exercise, there'll be about 60 aircraft including U.S. B-52s flying in Europe. They'll stay 600 miles off the Russian border, so there's no chance of miscalculation by either side.

And they also will test the NATO nuclear deterrence. But very importantly, they are very clear that NATO, the U.S. will not move any nuclear weapons around. That could be the big difference between both sides. Kate?

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Barbara. Thank you.

Joining me now, John Herbst, he's a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Also with a CNN military analyst, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks. Thank you both for being here. I really appreciate it. Ambassador, I wanted to ask you of off the top. What -- about what Clarissa Ward was just talking to us about, what do you think these strikes using kamikaze drones in Kyiv and across Ukraine right now, what do you think it means?

JOHN HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Putin has had a very bad three months. His offensive in Donbass was stopped in mid-July. You've had this great counter offensive by the Ukrainians. Then you've had the blow up of the Kerch Bridge, which is vital for new Russian military supplies for their forces in southern Ukraine.

To respond to this, because he's facing domestic criticism from his hard right, the chauvinist nationalists in Russia, he's showing he's quote unquote, tough by bombing civilians and infrastructure in Ukraine. But this has also created new problems for him.

Because now the United States and NATO looking very seriously at sending high altitude anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine would they should have sent months ago, so this is another bad decision by Putin, but it means additional suffering for the people of Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: Very clearly. General, what do you see as the purpose and goal of these strikes?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Kate, it really has little. These strikes have very little impact on what I would call the tactical engagement between Ukrainian forces and Russian forces.

What this does, it primarily attacks the Ukrainian will to resist. That's what this is all about. These are terror bombings, not unlike the Nazi bombings of London, the Blitzkrieg that took place in London from 41 or 40 through 41.

It really is going after Ukrainian desires about how much longer they want to have this type of fight and behind closed doors. I guarantee you, President Zelenskyy is having very serious discussions about what type of in state that might be achievable in the near term, there might be some form of a ceasefire.

In other words, there's got to be an acknowledgment that what we have right now is not sustainable. Ukrainians are doing incredibly well. But I don't think anybody sees the Ukrainians pushing the Russians across the border.

What they see is some type of a frozen conflict where Ukraine is really achieving some great technical successes. But at some point, I think there's going to be acknowledgement that Russia will in fact occupy about 15 percent of Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador, part of the, I guess the new calculation is Belarus is now moving closer to getting directly involved in the fight alongside Russia. What would it mean for Ukraine do you think that to have to fight a war on another front, along the northern border this time?

HERBST: Belarus does not want to fight Ukraine. Lukashenko, the leader, is beholden to Putin. So that is why you have Russian troops there and a possible feint. I suspect the Ukrainians are prepared if the Belarusians -- Russians move out of Belarus with some Belarusians troops. But I think this is primarily a feint to take pressure off the Russians in the east where the Ukrainian counter offensive is moving successfully.

I'd like to add I respect very much the general's views on military matters. But I suspect Zelenskyy has no interest in conceding any land of Ukraine to Russia because of the great Russian war crimes committed against the Ukrainian people which includes the rape of Ukrainian women, the abduction of Ukrainian children, and massive torture.


BOLDUAN: And well, let's talk about what Russia is having to do in the meantime to continue to sustain their war efforts, General. There is this widespread reporting of Russian officials literally grabbing men off the street to enlist them in the war effort.

At the same time, of course, there are reports of men going into hiding, people fleeing to neighboring countries. We've been seeing this for weeks now. What do you think this says about Putin's ability to sustain his war as we're talking about what any an end game might look like?

MARKS: Well, there are a combination of factors here. First of all, you got the personnel challenge that you just described, where folks are fleeing, and there -- and then I think, also, there's a legitimate concern, as the Ambassador indicated about a fracturing and a number of his hardline supporters.

This is what we're seeing play out right now. But then again, bear in mind, that Russia is nothing but a very, very severe, secure environment for Putin and his blanket of security kind of drapes over the entire country.

So information that gets out is coming directly from the Kremlin. That's why Putin enjoys such a tremendous amount of support. I mean, everything he is doing is for domestic consumption. The international community understands him to be the, you know, the pariah that he is.

But I think it is important to realize that there needs to be a discussion of some type of an off ramp. And what that looks like. And what Zelenskyy has right now is maximalist objectives. But those ends are not being met by the resources that are being provided by NATO.

BOLDUAN: And that's the -- and that continues to be -- and that is a discussion that is ongoing in very much in real time of what they need, what they're requesting, and what the US and the NATO allies are willing to provide. It's good to see you both, thank you.

So Herschel Walker, he now says it is his check, now says he did give money to his ex-girlfriend but still denies that it was to pay for an abortion. The very same time the Democrats he is challenging is jumping on an empty podium at last night's debate, that's next.



BOLDUAN: Early voting now underway in Georgia, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock casting his vote early today. This morning, his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, he's now acknowledging that he did give money to his ex-girlfriend.

He says it is his check, but he still says it was not to pay for an abortion as she has claimed just some of the latest twists in this very closely watched race. Let's get to Eva McKend. She's live in Atlanta with much more on this. Hi there, Eva.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Hi, Kate. That is absolutely right. Walker is still denying the core allegations here. He was a bit evasive about the check that is so central to this woman's claims. But now we're getting more clarity on this. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HERSCHEL WALKER (R-GA), SENATE CANDIDATE: This is still a lie because she's the mother of my child. So you're going to see my check or somebody given a check so that -- what I'm saying is a lie.


WALKER: I have no idea what that can be for?

WELKER: Is that your signature on the check, though?

WALKER: Let me see. It could be. But that doesn't matter whether it's my signature or not. Yes, that's my check.


MCKEND: Now we are at an early polling location here today, the first day of early voting in the state. Senator Walker -- Senator Warnock rather, voted early this morning. He's also facing questions of his own. On Friday, he received a lot of bit of -- a lot of questions at the debate that he didn't answer directly.

I asked him about this. Is he being as transparent as he possibly can with Georgia voters? He said that he would. But for instance, he would not answer if he would support President Biden in 2024. He pushed back against this saying that this is for the pundits to decide. Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, and now for the voters to decide as early voting gets underway. It's good to see you, Eva, thank you. It's also a rematch in Georgia's governor's race. Republican Governor Brian Kemp, Democrat Stacey Abrams, have a big night tonight, their first debate a lot going on in Georgia.

CNN's chief political correspondent and co-host of the State of the Union, Dana Bash, she joins me now. Let's start in Georgia with early voting kicking off today. Dana, what do you think Friday's Senate debate between Warnock and Walker really does for this race and did for voters?

DANA BASH, CNN CO-ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION: Well, it's interesting, because you're talking about two very high profile races. And the reporting that I've done and more importantly, the reporting that our colleagues like Mike Warren and Manu Raju, who have been down on the ground in Georgia, have done is that the dynamic seems to be that there are a lot of voters, voters in Georgia have gotten very sophisticated because they vote like almost every year at this point, or every two years and very consequential races, both on the state level and on the federal level.

And that Republicans in particular may be looking at Kemp who was the sitting governor and Herschel Walker through very different lenses.

And may -- there may be some crossover voting there because what we're going to see tonight is a Governor Kemp, again, it's a rematch with Stacey Abrams, but who was looked at very differently by a lot of independent thinking voters than they did four years ago because he stood up to Donald Trump's election lies in a way that other governors or even Herschel Walker isn't doing on the stump.

But it was -- it mattered when it comes to the sitting governor because he was, among other Republicans in office in Georgia, a roadblock to prevent Trump from overturning illegally, unlawfully overturning the election there.


BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely it's a great point. Another race I do want to talk to you about as a race for governor in Arizona. You interviewed both candidates yesterday on your show. And you -- And we'll go -- I want to go through both of them, because I think it displays something very important. You asked the Republican candidate, Kari Lake, about the issue that has been central in this race and is central in every race across the country at this point. This one included, which is election integrity, let me play this.


BASH: My question is, will you accept the results of your election in November?

KARI LAKE (R-AZ), GOV. CANDIDATE: I'm going to win the election. And I will accept that result.

BASH: If you lose, will you accept that?

LAKE: I'm going to win the election and I will accept that result.


BOLDUAN: So she didn't answer the question, really, of course, that's why you had to push her. Just like Donald Trump, who endorsed her had danced around that very same question, leading up to 2020. Where is this headed, Dana?

BASH: Well, and I pushed her again, Kate, even after that to say, again, will you, basically what I'm saying is, will concede if you lose? And her answer again was, I'm going to win. That's my intention. That is my goal. I'm going to win. Effectively not allowing for any scenario where you're going to lose. Now, that is in sort of theory, understandable. No candidate is going to say go into an election saying I'm going to lose.

But it is a very different ballgame when you're talking about the notion of election denialism, which is exactly why I asked her that question. And you mentioned, leading into that sound bite, Kate, that the 2020 election is effectively on the ballot in a lot of places. That is true, but it is even more so in Arizona.

First and foremost, because Kari Lake, is putting it on the ballot because she is not telling the truth on the stump over and over again, about the election of 2020, she's saying it was stolen, she's saying it was corrupt. And those things are not born in reality. And most importantly, there's no evidence to back that up. And so that's why going forward, it is important to question whether or not she's going to accept her own results.

And what I didn't get a chance to ask her and it was also incredibly consequential because we saw what happened in Arizona, just like Georgia in 2020. If she does, in fact, when will she accept the results of the 2024 presidential election? And we know Arizona is now a very big swing state, that could matter to every single person in this country.

BOLDUAN: And the Democratic candidate, you also spoke with her, the Democratic candidate in the end that very same race. She also dodged some of your questions, I have to say. I want to play for everyone. This is Katie Hobbs on abortion.


BASH: So just to be clear, if you become governor, you will push for a law that has absolutely no limits at any point of the pregnancy on abortion, that's your position, that's what you would want to be the law of the land in Arizona?

KATIE HOBBS (D-AZ), GOV. CANDIDATE: The fact is right now that we have very limited options, and that we need to get politicians out of the way and let doctors provide the care that they are trained to provide.


BOLDUAN: Multiple times you gave her the opportunity to really answer that. What was that about?

BASH: Abortion is on the ballot because Roe versus Wade was rescinded, of course, we all know that. I mean, it's on the ballot, because a lot of voters care about it. But then the question is, well, what should the law of the land to be?

And I've tried to ask every Democrat that I've had a chance to interview that question, because there's one scenario where you try to so called codify Roe or bring back the law that Roe intended across the country, which was no abortion until there's -- abortion is allowed, rather until viability.

And that is sort of the accepted idea among a lot of people. But it's also not necessarily the law of the land and a lot of places. So the fact that she didn't want to say what her position is, other than it should be between a patient and their doctor was really interesting, because she's effectively saying that the government should be completely out and there should be no limits. Or she wouldn't at least say what the limit should be.

And that's something for voters to hear, important for voters to hear, because a lot of voters have very deliberate specific ideas on the very, very complex question of timing, if and when abortion is allowed in a state.

BOLDUAN: And they might want to know exactly where their leader stand on it. It's good to see you, Dana. Thank you.

BASH: Thanks, Kate.


BOLDUAN: So, China's President seeking a historic third term. Was Xi Jinping told the Communist Party Congress about the threat from the west, that's next.