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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

NATO Chief: Russia Not Withdrawing, But Repositioning; Zelenskyy's Global Message; What Is Neutrality? Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired March 31, 2022 - 17:00   ET



BIANCA NOBILO, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome. I'm Bianca Nobilo in London, and this is THE GLOBAL BRIEF.

NATO's chief warns of even more suffering in Ukraine, saying he's expecting additional offensive actions by Moscow.

Then, Zelenskyy ramps up his messaging to lawmakers in Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands, continuing his virtual tour of global speeches.

And, how can neutrality be achieved? We look at the security guarantees needed and the global ramifications at play.

Ukraine's ministry says the major fighting is moving east after Russia began positioning some troops around Kyiv. Some of the heaviest shelling is

reported in Donbas, a southeastern region that Russia has vowed to, quote, liberate.

NATO's secretary general says Russia is trying to regroup, resupply, and reinforce its Donbas offensive.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: According to our intelligence, Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning. At the same time,

Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities. So we can expect additional offensive actions bringing even more suffering. We need to judge

Russia on their actions, not on their words.



NOBILO: Now I want to take you around Ukraine to show you what's happening on the ground. There's new hope that more residents will be able to leave

the besieged city of Mariupol. Russia is promising to reopen a humanitarian corridor Friday and Ukraine has already sent buses for the evacuation

effort. One resident who managed to escape describes the city as one big mass grave.

Ukrainian forces have taken Sloboda, a key northern town near the encircled city of Chernihiv. The video posted to social media right here showed a

bombed out Russian tank on fire. The recapture of Sloboda is vital to Ukraine's effort to break Russia's grip on Chernihiv.

And the death toll is rising from a southern missile strike in the southern town of Mykolaiv. Ukraine state emergency services now says that at least

20 people were killed when a regional administrative building was hit on Tuesday and dozens more people were wounded.

Hundred of mourners turned out in the western city of Lviv for the funeral of three Ukrainian soldiers fighting Russian forces. A long line marched in

procession to the city's historic center, as a lone trumpeter honored them with music and honor guard carried their caskets.

U.S. President Joe Biden says he's skeptical that Russian forces are actually scaling back around Kyiv. In fact, Russia's aerial bombardment of

Ukraine's capital seems to be intensifying. But in a village east of Kyiv, Ukrainian forces are talking victory and showing us Russian military

equipment they've reduced to wreckage.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour takes us to the first line.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): The first thing you notice approaching the front northeast of Kyiv are the

lines of villagers waiting for humanitarian handouts. They'd receive a bag of bread and basics to get them through these difficult days.

The first week of the war, a shell hit us near the greenhouse. We barely survived, says this woman. We had help from strangers around us. They gave

us bread and canned food. We wouldn't have managed otherwise.

No one here knows when this war will ending or whether Russia still has designs on Kyiv. The front line is about a mile away. For now, an uneasy

calm prevails, ever since the Ukrainian defenders stopped the Russian advance here. It was February 28th, they say, day four of the war.

They want to show us how they did it. But first, we have to clamber over the bridge they downed to see the armored column they managed to take out.

The river bank is littered with their skeletons. And this was a turkey shoot. Russian armored vehicles had come off the road to avoid mines only

to find themselves unable to cross the bridge and unable to reverse in time.

Ukrainian forces tell us none of the soldiers inside survived.

A little further up the road, two tanks have been virtually smelted, blasted almost to smithereens.

Forty-year-old Yevgeny, a veteran fighter, proudly tells us this was his handiwork.

We all here have one role, to keep the enemy off our land, he says. The first thing they did after seeing the village, they started to shell houses

just like that. They didn't see us. They didn't know we were here, so they just started to work on houses. And so I took the tank in my sights and I

fired a rocket and good-bye to him.

The destroyed vehicles are stamped with an "O." The Ukrainian officers tell us this identifies them as Russian units that entered from Belarus to the


Oleg is the officer who commanded this operation.

As for now, looking at previous fighting we've had, I can tell you that we are trained better, he tells me. We have stronger morale and spirit because

we're at home. They are afraid, but they go because they're made to.

He's been battle-hardened ever since the first Russian invasion in 2014. He says his side has enough weapons, ammunition and determination to win. I

can tell you I'm almost sure the Russians are regrouping and not retreating, he says. Besides, we are preparing ourselves to go forward.

We're not preparing just to defend here.

U.S. and British intelligence say Putin seems to have, quote, massively misjudged this situation and clearly overestimated the abilities of his

military to secure a rapid victory.

This old lady tells us, I have seen one war and here we go again. I wish Putin would go away.

The people of this land remain stalwart and the soldiers remain dug in, hoping they can continue to withstand whatever Putin has in store for them


Christiane Amanpour, CNN, east of Kyiv.


NOBILO: CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in the Ukrainian capital for us now.


Fred, are there any signs that Russians are reducing the pressure on Kyiv? And you have been out in the city of Irpin today, what did you see?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. First of all, I don't think there's many signs that the Russians are reducing the

pressure. There's still some shelling going on. There were some missile strikes in central Kyiv today as well. We're not exactly sure what those

hit, but big explosions that took place.

So you still can feel the Russians are attacking this city, even though it seems as though they have been pushed back further from the city limits.

And you're absolutely right. We did manage to get to Irpin today. Irpin is really the main front line of Kyiv, or was for a very long time. That's

where the Russian forces tried to blast their way into the city center and were confronted by Ukrainian forces and stopped from doing so.

What we saw there was just utter destruction. The mayor of the city says he believes 50 percent of the buildings in that city are destroyed. It seems

as though that was underestimating the situation. It seems to us as though there was a lot more buildings destroyed than that. There are still a lot

of dead bodies, we believe, in that district, still lying there.

Some were evacuated today, two dozen on this day alone. So, you can see the efforts to clean that place up and allow residents to come back, it's

ongoing. There's a lot of shelling going on as well as even though the Russians have been pushed back, they are shelling into the city and that

makes it impossible for the residents to return at this time.

So, a difficult situation there. It's a key victory, though, for the Ukrainians, because that brings the Russian forces so much further away

from the city of -- from Kyiv, from the capital city, and really thwarted their efforts to try to get into the city and essentially take over control

of the capital of Ukraine, Bianca.

NOBILO: And that key victory considered, along with the fact we have been hearing world leaders talk about the fact that this contact is likely to be

long, protracted. What's the morale being like among the Ukrainian troops and the police that you've been speaking to?

PLEITGEN: Yeah. It's exceptional. I mean, I have to say, they obviously believe that they -- first of all, they're bolstered by the fact that

they've beaten back this gigantic army. I mean, that's something that was a massive feat.

And even though they say they were always confident, always able to do it, I'm not sure necessarily they all were. It's definitely a David versus

Goliath victory that we saw in Irpin and also in some other places around Kyiv as well.

The Russians, of course, remember work saw that 45 kilometer long column moving towards Kyiv, and they just didn't manage to enter the city. So the

morale is very high among the Ukrainian forces. They say they have inflicted some serious casualties on the Russians. None of them believe the

Russians are pulling back, because they want to create some sort of trust between Ukraine and Russia in the negotiations that are going on.

They say they simply believe they beat the Russians here in Kyiv and the Russians have to regroup probably in Belarus, but they believe they might

then tray to go to the seethe and put pressure on the Ukrainians there, Bianca.

NOBILO: Fred Pleitgen for us in Kyiv, thank you.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed lawmakers in three countries Thursday, sending urgent pleas to Australia, Belgium, and the

Netherlands. He's now addressed 17 international governments during the month of March. He also addressed three multilateral institutions, the

European Council, G7, and NATO.

Mr. Zelenskyy also spoke virtually at the Doha Forum. His calls of support are being heard to an extent, with Australia saying it will provide further

military support for Ukraine hour after his address.

Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is also appealing to world leaders. He met with his counterpart in India on Thursday. So far, India hasn't

taken a public stance on the war in Ukraine, and have abstained on multiple resolutions at the United Nations General Assembly. The Kremlin's top

diplomat met with the Chinese foreign minister the day before, too.

So, let's take a look at the global reaction. The U.K. is targeting what they call Russian propagandists with a new round of sanctions. The targets

include two state-run media organizations that own RT and Sputnik and several individuals who the U.K. accuses of spreading disinformation of the

war. And they're also sanctioning a Russian colonel who've they accused of planning and executing the siege and bombardment of Mariupol.

Germany and France are refusing to pay for Russian gas supplies with rubles. This comes after Vladimir Putin announced that European countries

who are, quote, unfriendly to Russia, will need to pay in Russian currency. But the French and German finance ministers say they're sticking to their

contracts, which require payments in euros, even if that means Russia cuts off gas deliveries.

And Greenpeace activists blocked two oil tankers off the coast of Denmark from transferring Russian oil Wednesday. You see them in kayaks, wedging

themselves between the two ships.


Greenpeace calls this an effort to stop the funding of Russia's invasion.

And a Russian football official says the country's players have been treated unfairly. Speaking to journalists ahead of FIFA's global congress,

Alexey Sorokin criticized the Russia's suspension from world's football. He said that the suspension is strange as the players and fans have nothing to

do with the conflict in Ukraine.

And coming up on the program, while trying to negotiate a truce with Russia, Ukraine has offered to commit to military neutrality. Could that

lead to peace? We'll debrief.


NOBILO: Ukraine has offered to adopt a neutral status if Russia agrees to a cease-fire. Ukrainian officials negotiating a peace agreement with their

Russian counterparts say their country is also willing to give up their aspiration of joining NATO and it would not host foreign military bases.

But all of that is on the condition Ukraine receives security guarantees from Western nations for protection against future attacks. The proposal

would also have to be approved by Ukrainians via a national referendum.

Joining me in Dallas, Texas, is David Kramer. He's the managing director for global policy at the George W. Bush Institute. And he's also served as

senior fellow at the Vaclav Havel Program for Human Rights and Diplomacy.

Thanks so much for joining us, sir.

DAVID KRAMER, : Thanks for having me.

NOBILO: So, what would a neutral or what could a neutral Ukraine look like?

DAVID KRAMER, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL POLICY, GEORGE W. BUSH INSTITUTE: It would be more or less what you described, Bianca, which is Ukraine would

not aspire to join NATO, which has been part of President Zelenskyy's foreign policy platform. It has been part of Ukraine's constitution and it

would require a referendum among the Ukrainian population to support deciding not to join NATO.

This is, I think, an effort by the Ukrainian side during these discussions and negotiations with the Russian side to try to find some way of

compromise to end the war that Putin started.

NOBILO: And the Kremlin has said that a neutral Ukraine could be viewed as a certain kind of compromise. But do you think it would leave Ukraine

vulnerable to future Russian attacks when the time is right for them?

KRAMER: Well, there are many details that could derail this effort. As you've indicated, Ukraine would want security guarantees, legal security

guarantees to make sure Putin did not invade the country. Again, this more or less would be the equivalent of joining NATO because NATO members do

have Article 5 security guarantees that consider an attack on one an attack on all.

So to have this kin of security guarantees would always be the equivalent of Ukraine's joining NATO without actually saying so, and I'm not sure that

would with satisfactory to the Russian side. Ukraine, however, has the right to join whatever organizations it wants to based on the number of

treaties including the Helsinki accords and Paris charter.


NOBILO: So, what type of binding security guarantees that might be possible, that a watered down version of -- to avoid NATO's Article 5?

Because obviously, that's the issue here.

KRAMER: I think the Ukrainians would only be satisfied with the security guarantees that come from NATO's largest member, and that, of course, is

the United States. So, I think the U.S. role in this, the security by the Biden administration whether to provide such security guarantees in which

if Ukraine for attacked again, if its sovereignty and territorial integrity were violated by Russia again, whether the United States would come to its

defense to be legally guaranteed would require Senate gratification, which means 67 votes in the U.S. Senate to get this through.

I think if the United States agreed to do this you would see other NATO allies join along.

NOBLO: Has there been any indication so far of what the Kremlin's reaction would be if the U.S. did make such a guarantee?

KRAMER: The Kremlin's objectives are a moving target. In 2014, remember, when Putin first invaded Ukraine, Ukraine actually had a nonaligned status.

It was no longer pursuing NATO membership. So Putin invaded because Ukraine was about to sign agreements not with NATO but with the European Union in


Since Putin's invasion of Ukraine, support among Ukrainians for joining NATO is more than majority levels. And so, I think what we are seeing now

is a situation where Putin has actually driven up support among Ukrainians for joining NATO, and I'm not sure in a referendum if Ukrainians would go

along with rejecting pursuit of NATO membership.

And that I think is going to be a huge issue for the Kremlin. At the end of the day, the Kremlin should not have a veto de facto or otherwise over

Ukraine's aspirations.

NOBILO: Holding a referendum in wartime with millions of Ukrainians having fled would be an extremely difficult feat. But as you mention, given the

hatred that now exists among people who used to feel fraternal towards Russia, the lives have been destroyed, do you think the Ukrainians would be

willing to accept any kind of compromise with Russia on that?

KRAMER: A referendum would likely not take place for months if not a year from the time agreement might be struck. So there'd be a lot of time for

things to unfold during that period. I think President Zelenskyy's offer of neutrality is more reflection of frustration, with a disappointment in

NATO's response to Putin's invasion of Ukraine, he doesn't feel that they provided enough.

To be fair with NATO, NATO has done a lot, but he has been interested in a no fly zone, MiG aircraft from Poland and other things. And so, I think he

feels this is something the country has to did. It's not what he wants to do, but he's offer it as a way to try to end the killing of Ukrainians.

NOBILO: David Kramer, thank you so much for joining us.

KRAMER: Thanks for having me.

NOBILO: And you're watching THE GLOBAL BRIEF. We'll be right back after this break.


NOBILO: You can stay up to date on Russia's war in Ukraine at But for now, let's take a look at the other key stories making international

impact today.

Questions are being raised about North Korea's recent intercontinental ballistic missile launch. A South Korean military official told CNN that

last week's launch, said to be North Korea's most advanced missile yet may in fact have been an older less powerful model modified for the occasion.

This comes amid a recent flurry of missile tests by the north.

And the Tunisian president has issued a decree dissolving his country's parliament. The assembly has been suspended since last year after it voted

to appeal presidential decrees set to give near total power. Tunisia was seen as the only successful democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring, but

has experienced mounting political turmoil since he came to power in 2019.


A Turkish prosecutor is requesting the Jamal Khashoggi murder trial be transferred to Saudi authorities. For two years, 26 Saudi suspects have

been tried in absentia over the 2018 killing of the journalist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The U.S. has said that the Saudi crown prince

approved the operation to kill or capture him. Amnesty International says transferring the case would lead to a failure of justice.

And Shanghai is imposing stricter coronavirus measures that will limit the movement of the city's 25 million residents. Restrictions vary across

regions from local travel limitations to full stay-at-home orders. China's financial capital has up to now resisted imposing a full lockdown to

protect the city's economy.

Unraveling the mysteries of human life, scientists say they've finally finished decoding the entire human genome, the genetic blueprint for human

life. Modern DNA sequencing technologies allowed researchers to add the last pieces to the puzzle, one they have been trying to crack for the last

20 years. And it's hope that this breakthrough will open doors for more medical discoveries in areas like aging, cancer, and heart disease.

Thanks for watching. For our viewers tuning in on CNN+ in the United States, our show will be available on demand. And for our viewers

worldwide, you can find me on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. And I'll see you tomorrow.