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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Battlefield Momentum Shifting As Putin's Invasion Enters Week 6; British Intel Chief: Russian Troops Refusing Battlefield Commands; Biden Announces Plan To Release Record 1 Million Barrels Of Oil Per Day From U.S. Reserves For 6 Months; Jared Kushner Voluntarily Meets With January 6 Committee; Biden Announces Historic Oil Release Plan To Help Ease Gas Prices; Shanghai Issues New Lockdown After Spike In COVID Cases; U.S. Officials: North Korea Resumes Activity At Nuclear Testing Site. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 31, 2022 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And that's the most since record keeping began in 1950.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: The previous record was set just last year, 191 tornados reported in March. Typically, there are only about 80 tornados on average in March.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Putin's troops may be losing one battle, but are they winning the war?

THE LEAD starts right now.

NATO and the Biden administration point to small victories for Ukraine amidst blunders by Russia, but Putin continues to pulverize south and east Ukraine. So are we headed to some sort of stalemate ending up with two different countries, an occupied Ukraine and a free Ukraine?

Plus, Biden goes big, announcing plans to release a record 1 million barrels of oil a day from the U.S. reserve, but might that be just a drop in the bucket for the average consumer?

And a key member of Trump's inner circle front and center. Jared Kushner taking questions from the January 6th Committee today. What we're learning about his testimony. That's ahead.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start today with breaking news in our world lead. New signs that Russia is in this for the long haul as Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine enters its sixth week. Today, the Russian leader authorized the military to draft approximately 135,000 additional Russian citizens. NATO secretary general says, quote, we can expect additional offensive actions, bringing even more suffering, unquote, for the Ukrainian people.

On the ground, a clear shift by the Russian military, now redirecting forces to the east to the Donbas region where Ukrainian officials are reporting heavy shelling. There was intense bombardment in the eastern Kharkiv region which has prevented the opening of evacuation corridors there for citizens to escape with their lives.

And despite Kremlin claims of de-escalation, Russian forces are continuing to strike the capital city of Kyiv, according to a senior pentagon official today. Just moments ago, Ukraine's defense minister announced in a tweet that at least 148 children, 148, have been killed in Ukraine by Putin's army since the start of the invasion five weeks ago.

Still, the west has doubts about Russia's ability to achieve its ultimate success. New intelligence from the UK says that morale among Russian soldiers are so low, some troops are apparently refusing to carry out orders.

President Biden earlier today said Putin is becoming increasingly isolated but Biden is skeptical Putin will withdraw all of his forces around Kyiv.

Let's go to CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour who's live for us in Kyiv.

And, Christiane, even though Russia's efforts to take over Kyiv in a short period of time failed, parts of the capital where you are, as you tell us, are totally destroyed. You visited a farming village about a mile from the front line. Tell us what you saw.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, Jake, I did. The thing also is that we had some incoming missiles into this city, into the heart of this city this afternoon. So, you know, while, yes, the Pentagon and others believe that troops are withdrawing from this region to Belarus to refit, resupply and be redeployed somewhere, we were also told to expect continued air power and potential missiles and that is certainly what we saw in the heart of the city.

Earlier today I went to the outskirts of Kyiv where it's pretty much a farming village. And the Ukrainians very early in the war showed us how they had stopped a major armored column of the Russians from coming from there right here to the center.


AMANPOUR (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. 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 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 north.

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 next.


AMANPOUR (on camera): And so, of course, who knows what Putin has in store. Everybody is trying to guess his next move. As you mentioned, could it be a division of the country, could it be a stalemate, a continued war of attrition. One of the very, very concerning things, the Polish prime minister told me, that even despite all these sanctions, which eventually will bite, the ruble in Russia is doing pretty well and they're concerned that Putin is not yet feeling enough pain in order to stop this.

TAPPER: All right. CNN's Christiane Amanpour in Kyiv, Ukraine, thank you so much. Appreciate that report.

As the war in Ukraine continues to rage on, President Biden is now invoking war time powers to help Americans paying for near-record gas prices here in the U.S.

CNN's MJ Lee is live for us at the White House.

MJ, today, Biden said 1 million barrels of oil will be released from U.S. reserves every day for the next six months. Explain what the intention is of that.

MJ LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, you do the math there, one million barrels a day for six months. That amounts to some 180 million barrels of oil that the U.S. is planning to release.

Not the first time that the U.S. has taken this kind of action. Remember earlier this month, the U.S. and its allies announcing the release of 60 million barrels of oil. Last November, 50 million barrels of oil.

And the hope right now is that those actions in addition to taking measures to try to boost oil production here in the United States can try to eventually drive prices down.

But interestingly, and not surprisingly, U.S. administration officials are very wary when they're asked questions about how quickly this might help drive prices down. There's a real recognition that it is very, very challenging to get prices down. The former releases of the oil that I mentioned, those did not really have an impact on getting the oil prices down as consumers are really feeling it at the gas pump, Jake.

TAPPER: And, MJ, you also asked President Biden about whether Putin is being misinformed by his advisers as a U.S. official told CNN yesterday. What did he have to say to that?

LEE: I did. I just asked the president how badly he believes Vladimir Putin is being misinformed by his advisers and this was the first time that the president addressed this issue ever since yesterday when U.S. officials declassified information showing that Vladimir Putin is getting bad information about how badly his army is doing, his military is doing, and how badly the sanctions are affecting his economy.

This is what the president told me.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's an open question. There's a lot of speculation. But he seems to be, I'm not saying this with certainty, he seems to be self-isolating. And there's some indication that he has fired or put under house arrest some of his advisers.


LEE: So the clear suggestion there being that some of Putin's advisers may be being punished. One more question that the president took from a reporter was about Russia's claims that they're going to be pulling forces out of Kyiv.


He said there is no clear evidence that he is pulling all forces out of Kyiv. He also said that there's evidence to suggest that he is beefing up military presence in the Donbas region. So, everybody from the president on down showing real skepticism about some of these new Russian claims -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah. MJ Lee at the White House, thanks so much.

Here to discuss, Republican Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio. He's the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, good to see you as always.

President Biden is calling on Congress to impose fees on oil companies if they do not use these leases on federal lands that they have and increase domestic oil production in the U.S. We all want domestic oil production increased to solve this problem, or so I hear from Capitol Hill.

Do you support this measure?

REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): Well, I think the president for some reason made a proposal that's here for us to look at, but I can tell you that the president at least is going in the right direction of not just looking to release oil from our strategic reserves, which is there for emergencies. He's looking to raise the production domestically.

That's where we need to look. We need to make certain that we have energy obviously produced here that can give us the independence, that can also lower the price.

TAPPER: Let's talk about him, his plan to release oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserves. Do you think this will help gas prices at least in the near term?

TURNER: Well, nothing will -- releasing oil now won't reduce it in the near term obviously because it has to be produced into gasoline and make it onto the market. It's going to be released at a time regarding what the price is at this time.

I think this is a dangerous precedent to say the president is going to start releasing from the strategic oil reserve every time that he's concerned about how his energy prices -- his energy policies are affecting prices. I think what he needs to do is to change his policies. And his policies need to be focusing on domestic energy production. He does appear as if he's going in that direction ultimately.

TAPPER: So, let me just circle back because it's something I hear from Republican members from Congress all the time, the need to increase domestic oil production. One of the things the White House says is there are so many opportunities for petroleum companies to do it with these leases they have on federal land and they're not using it.

What's the way to get them to use it if not -- I recognize, I hear you when you say he hasn't actually proposed the actual fee, the actual legislation, but as a theoretical matter, do you think these oil companies should be fined if they don't use these leases?

TURNER: You know, Jake, from the very beginning this president said and even on the campaign trail said that he's basically going to go at war with the energy companies, the oil production that's here with his Green New Deal-esque proposals. That, of course, chills the market. And if you're not continuing to provide leases and land that's available for energy production, obviously, the land that is there for energy production isn't going to be put into production as quickly as possible because you don't have this availability of future production.

He needs to change his policies. He needs to say that we're for energy production. It goes toward fueling our economy, and obviously, it lowers price, which affects the average consumer and certainly American families.

TAPPER: Yesterday, I spoke with one of your Republican colleagues, Ukrainian-born Congresswoman Victoria Spartz from Indiana. Take a listen to part of what she had to say to me.


REP. VICTORIA SPARTZ (R-IN): We also gave also almost $7 billion of humanitarian aid and we need to have some oversight what's happening with that, and where all it's going, because it's not on the ground. I saw it with my own eyes and I hear from people over there. We just had parliamentarians from Ukraine coming yesterday and they saw there is not -- they told us there is no presence of major organization on the ground. So we need to look into that because it's not implemented properly, and people are suffering, a lot of people are dying and will continue dying.


TAPPER: So in that conversation she's talking about U.S. providing supplies to Ukraine. Obviously the logistics are difficult. But what exactly is the disconnect here? Because the Biden administration is promising, Congress is passing into law hundreds of millions of dollars of support for Ukraine. Why aren't they getting what they need as quickly as they need it?

TURNER: Well, Jake, just yesterday, the White House gave a classified briefing to members of Congress. And just as you heard from Victoria, it truly is amazing the connection that Ukrainian members of parliament have with members of Congress. We're getting direct information.

Many of the presenters yesterday in the classified briefing heard directly from lawmakers who are hearing from parliamentarians on the ground in Ukraine of the lack of supplies with humanitarian and lethal aid that's getting through.

But you have to understand, Jake, obviously, there's a war going on in Ukraine. That makes logistics incredibly difficult.


There were tremendous calls for the president to send in weapons and arms before this conflict began, so he's, you know, he's playing catch-up in logistics now that are very, very difficult as you look to an actual conflict that's happening on the ground.

TAPPER: The head of the British Intelligence Agency says some Russian soldiers are becoming demoralized. Take a listen.


JEREMY FLEMING, DIRECTOR, UK GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS HEADQUARTERS: We've seen Russian soldiers, short of weapons and morale, refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment, and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.


TAPPER: What do you make of this assessment from the British, and how widespread is this, do you think?

TURNER: Well, I don't think it's incredibly widespread. I think the Ukrainians themselves are doing more damage to the Russian military than the Russian military is doing to itself. But what we do see is difficulty that the Russians are also having with logistics.

They didn't plan for this war to continue. They didn't plan for the level of resistance that you have from the Ukrainians. So, what you have is the Russians trying to provide supplies to their own troops that are having very difficult times in getting it there.

TAPPER: It does sound something like a mixed message that we're getting from the west on the state of the Russian military. NATO officials are saying Russian troops are bulking up, preparing for attacks. On the other hand, we're also hearing that the Russian military is more fragile than expected, starting to defy orders.

It might be difficult for Americans to understand the status right now of what's going on with the Russian military.

TURNER: Well, I can tell you the impression yesterday from the classified briefing that we got is that the administration understands that this is going to take -- this conflict is going to go on for some time. And because of that, we're going to continue to try to get weapons in the hands of the Ukrainians.

But the Russians did not plan or expect this conflict to go this long. They thought they were going to be received warmly. Obviously, they're not. They're being received by a very aggressive and very effective Ukrainian military armed with American weapons.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Mike Turner, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, thank you so much for your time as always, sir. Really appreciate it.

TURNER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, they escaped war and then stayed close to help the foreigners who do not call Ukraine home, yet feel compelled to help Ukrainian refugees.

Plus another concern for the west now, North Korea. The underground activity that has U.S. intelligence on alert.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Continuing with our world lead now, among the now more than 4 million refugees from the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine are some people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, students from other countries, for example, whose presence in Ukraine have nothing to do with Vladimir Putin's dreams of restoring the former Soviet empire.

They had to flee, but not all of them went to their home country. CNN's Matt Rivers, who's in Hungary, along the Ukrainian border, met with some who are helping other refugees because, as one said, it feels like they are a part of my family.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the play area of a temporary refugee shelter in Zahony, Hungary, kids sketch out their recent traumas on paper. Burning tanks drawn in crayon, dead lowly battles fill out the chalk board.

Just outside that tent, he can't erase their pain but he can get one of those kids a stuffed animal and a smile in the process.

When someone says I'm scared, what do you say to them?

ANMOL GUPTA, INDIAN CITIZEN WHO FLED UKRAINE: Then we tell them what's going to happen next and everything will be okay so you don't have to worry. Then I start joking with them.

RIVERS: You're good at that?

GUPTA: Yes. Yes. That I know.

RIVERS: A smile, he says, goes a long way. Anmol is a volunteer, having spent the last month just across the Ukraine border helping weary Ukrainians navigate the first few steps of new lives as refugees in Hungary. The native of northern India is fluent in Russian. A skill honed over his years studying for a medical degree in the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine.

He was living there when the bombs first started falling. His apartment was destroyed, his motorcycle hit by bullets and shrapnel and his nights spent in bomb shelters.

He fled to Hungary but still he wanted to help. As a foreigner, he says, he lost very little, while his friends, Ukrainians, have lost everything.

Is that part of the motivation that you have for being here?

GUPTA: Yes, it can be. It can be, because I have been with them for nine years. It feels like they are also my family.

RIVERS: And he's not the only foreigner once living in Ukraine that still wants to help. Behind kiosk restaurants, fancy dining room in Budapest works a man who just two weeks ago was fleeing from explosions.

Steven Ezeudo works in the kitchen, but in early March, he was in Kharkiv. He fled when the Russians attacked.

Were you scared?

STEVEN EZEUDO, WAR REFUGEE: Yeah, I was so scared, so scared. All the bombing, it was shaking our building.

RIVERS: He was studying there for a degree in business administration and wants to go back. But for now, he and his colleagues spend a part of their day cooking free meals for refugees.

EZEUDO: At least I'm helping. I'm helping give some people food, you know? Some people that doesn't have anything to eat.

RIVERS: Back at the border, hundreds of refugees are headed in Budapest's direction. Anmol picks up some tickets, hands them out, picks up some bags and walks people to the train. He has done this every single day for a month now.

So, from us, a question.

How long do you think you're going to stay here?


GUPTA: As long as needed.

RIVERS: As long as needed. And when will that be?

GUPTA: No idea. That's the thing, I have no idea. But I believe that there will be some point when people will stop coming.

RIVERS: But that time hasn't yet come, and so he keeps helping, amidst a crowd of people who need it. It's right where he wants to be.


RIVERS (on camera): You know, Jake, I asked Anmol how his family feels about the fact that he's still here and not back in India. And he said that, first, they weren't thrilled but now, they're proud of him. And, frankly, in my opinion, they should be because we've seen a lot of traumatized people come across that border and his ability at least temporarily to put a smile on some people's faces just because he's an upbeat, you know, that kind of guy, it's really valuable in times like these.

TAPPER: All right. Matt Rivers, thank you so much for that report.

We're learning about an expanded investigation into the January 6 insurrection. The new questions about that rally before rioters stormed the Capitol, plus the new subpoenas recently issued. That's next.



TAPPER: There is a flurry of activity in the January 6th investigations, including the House Select Committee talking with Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, right now.

Let's get right to CNN's Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill.

Ryan, you just got an update about Kushner's testimony. Tell us.


Jared Kushner, of course, the son-in-law of the former president, Donald Trump, still interviewing with the January 6th Select Committee, meaning this has been a lengthy deposition about what he knows about the events leading up to January 6th. Kushner began this virtual chat with the committee this morning. It seems as though the committee is very interested in what Kushner may know about the events leading up to January 6th. You'll remember that he was out of the country at that time, was actually flying back from overseas, so was not a part of the conversations that happened in the White House or in the Oval Office on that day.

But it also shows that the committee has an interest that goes much beyond just the day itself, the events leading up to it, the attempts to overturn the election and the different conspiracies connected to that. So that could be some of the questions the committee is asking Kushner today.

And it's also worth pointing out that the committee is also very interested in speaking to his wife, Ivanka Trump. They asked her to voluntarily appear before the committee. They're still negotiating with her in terms of her appearance but it seems at least today they're getting a lot of information out of Jared Kushner, given the lengthy amount of time he's been in front of the committee, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Ryan, we're also significantly learning that the federal criminal investigation into the January 6 insurrection is expanding. Tell us more.

NOBLES: Yeah, and it's a significant expansion, Jake. Up until this point, Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice had really trained their focus on the actual people that stormed the Capitol on that day and causing all the violence. And that has led to some criticism in some circles saying they're not the only ones responsible for what happened here on January 6.

But what we've been learning through a number of the subpoenas that have been issued, some of the questions that had been asked, that that probe appears to be expanding beyond just those individuals and the individuals that organized these rallies, that helped to fund these rallies that brought everyone to the Capitol today and also fomented the anger that led to the insurrection on that day. At this point, at least from what we've learned, it appears that these subpoenas appear to be more of a fact-finding mission. These aren't targets of the Justice Department or there's no specific indication that indictments are forthcoming.

But Merrick Garland said from the beginning that he would go as far as this investigation would lead them. This is the first time that we've seen that they are taking it to the next step. He's said in the past that they will continue to do so until the investigation concludes -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill for us -- thank you so much.

Coming up next, a closer look at the record amount of oil that President Biden wants released from U.S. reserves. Can 1 million barrels a day for three months really ease the price we pay at the pump? We'll gauge the possibility. That's next.



TAPPER: In our money lead now, that unprecedented announcement to help ease gas prices. President Biden says 1 million barrels of oil will be released from the U.S. oil reserves every day for the next six months. That would help fuel the U.S. oil supply into September, but will that put a dent in the near record-high prices we're paying now, $4.22 a gallon, according to AAA's national average today?

Let's bring in CNN's Richard Quest. Richard, Biden did try something like this before back in November. He

had 50 million barrels of oil released, 30 million earlier this month. Now, it's 1 million barrels for six months, comes out to roughly 180 million barrels.

People are now back to work in the U.S., they're traveling for spring break, the busy summer travel season is coming up. One million barrels a day sounds good, but can it really help?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, amongst the 20, 22 million day that's consumed, it sort of puts it into perspective. Yes, it takes the pressure off, Jake. It's not going to dramatically reduce the price by 15, 20 percent. You're not going to see that sort of movement over the medium term, but you might see 5 or 10 cents.

And more importantly, it is an extremely significant symbol that the government, the U.S. government is prepared to take action and keep the lid on the price as best it can. So both symbolism and practicalities, yes, releasing this vast amounting by presidential emergency decree which is only the third or fourth time it's been done, three previous occasions, is important.

But the president is right, this is a bridge, it is not the answer in its own right so anyone expecting to see dramatic falls will be disappointed. And bear in mind, you can actually see the price go back up again as the news changes and the situation gets worse with oil and gas because of Putin.


TAPPER: And, Richard, OPEC today said they're not coming to the rescue. They kept their modest production schedule as it is. Can Biden's announcement today put pressure on big oil companies to produce more?

QUEST: Yes. The message is clear from the U.S. and others, to the Saudis, to the Qataris, to all the major oil-producing companies, you have to do more. But they keep saying because they have this weird construct of OPEC plus two, which includes Russia, they say, hang on, the price is fundamentally in balance because of supply and demand. It's this geopolitical war business that's raised it above that.

It's nonsense. The reality is the price is the price. And the U.S. has been putting -- only last week I was in the region. I was in Dubai, hearing from various people, the pressure that's being put on to squeeze the UAE and the Saudis to do more. So far, they haven't.

But here in Europe, Jake, there's also problems. Today, President Putin threatened to turn off the gas taps to Europe if they don't pay in rubles. Now, the Europeans say we ain't doing that because if we do that, we're breaking our own sanctions.

So, all in all, oil is the fighting ground because it's the political pressure, it heats their homes, it drives their cars, it flies their planes. And Putin knows he's got us where he wants us at the moment. TAPPER: And, Richard, on top of all of this, a new report from the

Department of Commerce here in the U.S. shows that inflation in the U.S. hit a 40-year high in February and that we should note that is the single biggest issue for 55 percent of Americans according to a brand new Kaiser poll. That's almost 40 points ahead of feelings about Russia's invasion or climate change, COVID, crime.

So, obviously, this is, A, one of the reasons why Biden's approval ratings are so low. Are there signs of anybody in the United States changing their spending behaviors because of this inflation?

QUEST: Yes, yes, and yes. You're starting to see people pulling back. You're starting to see prices -- you basically got these incredible forces in the economy at the moment. You've got the Fed starting to raise interest rates, that will go much higher. You've got the government, the administration clearly worried about inflation and having to put pressure through things like the SPR.

You've got consumers, not so much worried about jobs anymore, but they are worried about spending power. How high can it go? What purchases should I either make now or put off to the future?

And you've got the prospect of stagflation. It's highly unlikely to have a recession, the United States, but this idea of weak, anemic growth at a time of inflation. These are the forces at a time when the U.S. is facing basically an economic war with Russia, while supporting Ukraine in a real war and Europe is facing even worse problems as it has to deal with the refugee crisis.

Let's make no bones about this, Jake. The situation economically is poor, getting worse, with the prospect of a recession in parts of the world.

TAPPER: Richard Quest with that sobering news, thank you so much.

In our health lead today, a COVID outbreak has brought one of the busiest, most populated cities in the world to a grinding halt.

Today, Shanghai is under a full city lockdown. The government there also apologizing for having been caught off-guard after a surge in new cases set off panic.

Now, the city of 25 million looks like a ghost town. People forced to stay at home.

CNN's Will Ripley is in the region in Taiwan.

Will, the Shanghai government is admitting they were not fully prepared. Did they say how long this citywide lockdown might last?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's going to be at least a matter of days, Jake. And you're talking about -- you mentioned 25 million people, more than the population of this island of Taiwan where I am, which also has a zero COVID policy, by the way, and an uptick in cases because omicron is highly contagious and it's very difficult to keep COVID out forever. But in Shanghai, 5,600 daily cases now are causing this lockdown, are

shutting down a city of vital cargo and transportation hub. You know, hurting the economy not just in shanghai and China but perhaps even globally.

And you have people with medical conditions like asthma not being able to get to the hospital on time. In fact there was a video shared on social media. An asthma patient refused by an ambulance and that patient later died.

So, the hysteria about COVID, you know, most other countries, the United States, have far bigger case numbers but life when you're there feels relatively normal.


But certain territories here in Asia, including Hong Kong, which is dealing with its largest ever outbreak and massive surge in cases and no herd immunity, by the way, because they kept COVID out and a lot of people felt they didn't get to get vaccinated. So, when omicron came in, the cases spread like wildfire, Jake.

TAPPER: And what might this situation reveal about China's zero COVID strategy?

RIPLEY: Well, it's interesting because the Chinese President Xi Jinping is kind of trying to walk the line to save face saying, you know, the country has to be committed to zero COVID but minimize the impact on the economy and on society.

But you can't minimize the impact when a small number of cases leads to a massive lockdown. Even though they won't call it a lockdown because they're sending localized notices and locking down portions of the city at once.

Life is disrupted. Disrupted in Hong Kong as well, for case numbers that would be considered small in most places that have accepted COVID and encouraged people to get vaccinated so they could live their lives and not feel this hysteria and fear that grips a lot of these places with zero COVID, where people are just afraid of the unknown.

Countries that have allowed it might say that, you know, life continues on for most people, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Will Ripley, thank you so much.

Also in that region today, new intelligence on North Korea. The activity happening underground that has the U.S. and allies watching closely with concern.

Stay with us.


[16:51:07] TAPPER: Also in our world lead today, troubling new signs that North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, may have restarted his country's efforts to make a nuclear bomb.

Let's go to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, experts say they're seeing new activity at North Korea's nuclear testing site?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. U.S. Intelligence services are seeing indications. U.S. officials telling us they see indications of construction activity, digging at the underground test site in the northern part of the country where in the past North Korea has conducted underground nuclear tests.

Now, their last test was in 2017, and you'll remember the next year in 2018, they invited the world press to watch them blow up the site as part of President Trump's now failed denuclearization initiative. It was never clear if the site was totally blown up, totally destroyed, but now all the indications are they are back at it and they want to restart that site and move towards testing underground nuclear devices again.

It will be a huge step forward in their weapons program if they go ahead and do it, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Barbara, you're also hearing that North Korea may test another ballistic missile soon?

STARR: Yeah, there are also intelligence indications. These usually come, of course, from satellites overhead that see activity on the ground. That is very well known.

Indications are North Korea is moving towards another missile test in the coming weeks. Now, we had one from them that was seen several days ago. It was the largest, most powerful to date, largest distance flown, most significant altitude, with a theoretical capability of striking the United States.

So if they can put that kind of missile together with some kind of nuclear warhead, that is a red line for the world. They do not want North Korea to become a nuclear state. No indication that Kim Jong-un is the least bit interested in sitting down and talking about it all, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Barbara Starr, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, some of the youngest victims of Russia's war now in its sixth week. Newborns starting their lives in a new land.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. This hour in a fight over parents' choice in schools, same-sex couples

now weighing in on how a new law in Florida could impact their children's daily lives.

Plus, comedian Chris Rock breaking his silence about will smith physically assaulting him during the Oscars this week. What he actually said about the slap may not be as telling as what he did not say.

And breaking news leading this hour, Putin staying focused on southern Ukraine, not letting up on the constant shelling of cities such as Mariupol. Amid the bombardment, aid groups still trying to evacuate thousands of innocent Ukrainians stuck in that city, but one Ukrainian official says the buses to get innocent civilians out are being held up at a Russian checkpoint.

Let's get right to CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen who is in Kyiv, Ukraine, for us.

And, Fred, you just visited Irpin. The mayor there says half of his city has been destroyed. What did you and your team see?


Well, actually I think that's probably underestimating the damage that was caused in that fighting that took place. I mean, we went through that area with the Ukrainian special police forces and we barely saw any buildings that seemed untouched to us. There were a lot that had tank rounds or artillery shots through them, whole buildings that were burned down.

This is, of course, a really important district where the Russians tried to enter Kyiv from here, it's a suburb. You can see on the video we're showing there's some destroyed Russian military vehicles, some tanks. We saw a lot of those.

Some of the residents we spoke to said they think that the Russians didn't believe there would be this kind of resistance in that area. A lot of the residents there stood up and actually took up arms. Some of them fled but some did take up arms and fight against the Russians. They believe that's a big reason why they were able to turn things around in that place.

But widespread destruction, and I think unfortunately, Jake, they are still going to be discovering a lot of dead bodies in that place as they begin to search that area. The Russians were just barely pushed out of that area just a couple of days ago, so we were one of the first TV crews that came in.

They are still bringing the bodies of people who died, not in the fighting but mostly civilians out of that area. It was more than two dozen just today.