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Don Lemon Tonight
Ukrainians Take Note Of The New Threat; Much Heavy Fighting Expected; President Zelenskyy Says The World Leaves Them In The Dark; Meetings With Austrian Leader Didn't Affect Putin's Mindset; Russian Troops Left Villages In Unrecognizable Condition; Russian Oligarchs Uses Dummy Accounts. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired April 11, 2022 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER CNN HOST: And actually, it's interesting the term crimes against humanity was devised by a lawyer educated right here at Lviv University. He was working with the Americans and the Brits on the prosecutions that would end up being the Nuremberg trials in 1942, at the same time his family was being rounded up and killed by the Nazis right here in Lviv.
DON LEMON CNN HOST: Yes, it's really important what you're doing, bringing the personal stories to our viewers, Jake. Thank you so much. Get some rest. We'll see you tomorrow.
TAPPER: Thanks, buddy.
LEMON: This is DON LEMON TONIGHT.
It is hard to imagine that we could be on the verge of things getting much, much worse in Ukraine. It's hard to imagine. After more than six weeks of bombs raining down from the skies pulverizing homes, schools, and hospitals, bodies of civilians left lying in the streets where they died, it is hard to imagine that it could get worse.
But that is exactly what we're hearing tonight. Ukraine bracing for the worst in the east as Vladimir Putin tries to refocus his murderous efforts on the Donbas region. The Pentagon calling it the early stages of a new offensive. Russia amassing troops and equipment.
CNN has geolocated this video showing a large column of Russian military vehicles today traveling in the direction of the Donbas.
After his 75-minute meeting with Putin, Austria's chancellor has this grim warning. Quote, "the attack being threatened cannot be underestimated in its violence." When you think about what we have seen the warnings of worse to come, they are appalling.
Disturbing reports just coming out of a possibility of a strike involving chemical substances of some kind on the target in Mariupol today. Those reports unconfirmed but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warning the possibility should be taken seriously.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): Today
we heard a statement from the occupiers confirming they are preparing for a new stage in their terror against us and our defenders. One of the spokespeople for the invader said they are considering using chemical weapons against the defenders of Mariupol. We take it very seriously.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: A Mariupol official saying information about a chemical attack is quote, "not yet confirmed." The Pentagon cannot confirm the reports either. But they are issuing a statement tonight saying, and I quote, "these reports if true are deeply concerning and reflective of concerns that we have had about Russia's potential to use a variety of right control agents including tear gas mixed with chemical agents in Ukraine."
CNN cannot independently verify any kind of chemical strike in Mariupol. Our teams on the ground have so far seen no evidence of a chemical attack. That as President Zelenskyy says tens of thousands of people in Mariupol had been killed in Russia's unending assault from the air.
CNN hasn't been able to verify that toll. And it is hard to wrap your head around it, the idea that tens of thousands of people may have been killed in a city that just a few weeks ago it was home to nearly a half million people.
In the face of all that, president Zelenskyy has a message that may be hard to hear. He says the world is responsible for what's happening to his people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENSKYY (through translator): Whether the world is responsible for this, I believe so. Yes. I believe so. Stand in front of the mirror every day and ask yourself were you able to do something? Or were you unable to do something? You will find the answer in the mirror to this question. And to another question. Who are you? That's what I believe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Straight right to CNN's Frederik Pleitgen live for us in Kyiv tonight. Fred, hello to you. In eastern Ukraine already being pounded by Russian shelling. Now CNN geolocated some new video showing a large column of Russian military vehicles and they appear to be headed towards the Donbas region. Zelenskyy says that they are ready for a major Russian offensive. What is the latest?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Don. Yes, you're absolutely right. Certainly, troubling video that we're seeing there from that area near the Donbas region on the region side. It's interesting because I was actually in that area right before this war started. And you know, from the terrain that is out there and for the proximity also to the Donbas it certainly does seem that the Russians are really trying to beef up their forces in that part of Ukraine.
With those forces in particular, they'll probably would have gone by rail to Rostov, which is the next major big city. And they are now it seem to be heading in the northwesterly direction which would take them sort of, to the area of Donetsk on the Ukrainian side of the border. And then they could, of course join some sort of large-scale offensive which the U.S. says is still shaping up but hasn't yet begun in full force.
And I think one of the things that is really troubling for the Ukrainian forces out there is they have some pretty strong military on the ground there as well. Some of their best fighters from the Ukrainian side also defending that part of Ukraine is that the Russians seem to be trying to close in on them from both and in the south and encircle the Ukrainian forces.
Tens of thousands of them that are defending cities like Kramatorsk where of course late last week we had that awful rocket attack that killed so many civilians there. But you know, if you keep looking at that convoy on our screens right now that is a lot of vehicles that are all moving there towards that region.
So certainly, it seems as though the Russians are really beefing up their forces after having them beaten back so badly here in the region around Kyiv, Don.
LEMON: You took the words out on my mouth. I mean, that is -- that is a major convoy there. You have gone to see the devastation as a matter of fact left behind after Russia's withdrawal from the Kyiv area. What have Ukrainians told you about living through Russia's bombardment and occupation, Fred?
PLEITGEN: Yes, yes. You are absolutely right. And they said it was absolutely devastating. And one of the things that we've done, you know, over the course of the weekend is really check out even more of the areas than before towards the northwest of Kyiv. I think there are several things that really stand out that are important for our viewers to know as well.
Is that the devastation that was left behind by the Russian forces is a lot bigger than many people would have thought. There's scores of towns that are just absolutely destroyed buildings, destroyed a lot of Russian armor destroyed. Also, that was left behind by the Russians.
And you know, Don, you are obviously here for an extended period of time as well. You understand that there is a lot of people here who are absolutely traumatized by what this war has brought to the population of Ukraine. Of course, nowhere more so than the places that were occupied by Russian forces.
We have a lot of people whose broke down in tears when they told us the stories of some of the things that they witnessed. There's also still a lot of dead bodies that are being recovered. And you know, just to get a sense of that, I want you to listen to one elderly woman that I talked to and she actually was very young when World War II happened and now, she had the war right in front of her doorstep. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: "There were explosions. Explosions from all sides. It was scary," she tells me. I am in my house. I cross myself and lie down. And then I hear how it thundered and all the windows in the house were broken."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: So, you have some harrowing tales of one of the many people that we spoke to on the ground there in the area northwest of Kyiv. But Don, I think there's also another thing that's also really important to point out. You do obviously have a lot of grief, you have a lot of anger, you have a lot of people who lost loved ones in all of this.
But you do also have a great deal of resilience as well. And that's something that we've seen especially over the past two or three days in Kyiv that more and more people are already returning. People who are in the west of the country when you spent a lot of time in Lviv, people who are outside of Ukraine are now coming back to Kyiv to try and breathe new life into the city that was all but abandoned for such a long period of time.
There's big traffic jams trying to come into the city. And for the first time today we keep going past this area that was abandoned, there was a playground there that it always seems like a sad place. For the first time there today, we actually saw children playing on that playground. Don?
LEMON: It's interesting. Look, your reporting on this tonight the possibility of chemical weapons and what have you, and then we were just talking about Kramatorsk. You know, the last time that I spoke with you on Friday, I mean, it's just awful.
You know, Zelenskyy tonight says the reports that Russia could use these chemical weapons against Mariupol should be taken seriously. What more is he saying? What more are you hear from him about this?
PLEITGEN: Yes, that's absolutely what he said. He said those reports need to be taken seriously. He said that the Russians had hinted at the fact that an attack like that could happen. And there was a little bit of back and forth tonight about whether or not something of that nature may have already happened in the town of Mariupol.
The defenders on that town had talk about a substance possibly being dropped from a drone by Russian forces that there were forces in Mariupol would have trouble breathing. There was also a senior official an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol who said also that there were unconfirmed reports.
We heard the Defense Department talk about that also the British foreign minister talking about that as well. Again, unconfirmed at this point but it's certainly something that the Ukrainians are taking very seriously. Because I think that President Zelenskyy understands that the Russian right now in that area around Mariupol are quite frustrated by the fact that the Ukrainians are putting up such stiff resistance.
And you know, we've said this so many times we're now, what, day 47, I think of this war against Ukraine. And the Russians still have not manage to take a single major population center. And certainly, Mariupol is a very important one for them to take and they're still being frustrated by those defenders who are holding out, Don.
LEMON: All right. Fred, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. Be safe.
I want to bring in now the former ambassador to Ukraine, Ambassador Steven Pifer. Ambassador, thank you so much. I appreciate you joining us.
I just want your take on what we're hearing from President Zelenskyy. I mean he says that the west does bear some responsibility. Let's listen to more of his 60 Minutes interview and then we'll talk. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENSKYY (through translator): I remember all of us remember books about the Second World War and about the devil in uniform. Adolf Hitler. Are those countries who did not participate in the war responsible? The countries who let German forces marched throughout Europe. Does the world carry responsibility for the genocide? Yes. Yes, it does.
When you have the ability to close the sky, yes, it's scary that a World War could start. It's scary, I understand that. And I cannot put pressure on these people because everyone is afraid of war. But whether the world is responsible for this, I believe so, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: What do you say to that, Ambassador?
STEVEN PIFER, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS CENTER: I guess I would make two comments. One, this were, to my mind, the blame really goes on one person and that's Vladimir Putin who decided to launch this war as a war of choice. But I think what you're hearing from President Zelenskyy is his frustration that the outside world is not doing more to support Ukraine. Which is the victim of naked aggression.
I think he's looking for two things from the west. One is more arms. The west has supplied a lot but there is more need on the part of the Ukrainian military. And also, his frustration that the sanctions haven't had a bigger impact. And his concern that, for example, the Russians are still able to sell a lot of oil and gas on the international market. And that's continuing a flow of revenue to Russia.
So, I read into his comments, you know, he's looking for the west now to do more to help Ukraine defend itself.
LEMON: So, listen, now that Putin has invaded, now that Russian forces have committed apparent war crimes, now that this invasion has created a security crisis in Europe, will the west wonder later on if more could've been done now?
PIFER: I think that's the question the western governments need to be asking themselves right now. And there are things that could be done. For example, there are different types of weapons that we could begin to provide the Ukrainians.
Up until now the goal has been to get the weapons to Ukraine that the Ukrainian military could use very quickly without a lot of training. But at this war now looks like it's evolving to a longer affair, you know, should we begin thinking about, perhaps the more sophisticated weapons in western inventories that could give the Ukrainian some capability albeit requiring Ukraine military to train on them first?
And then the second question really gets in what can the west due to really tighten down the sanctions on Russia. And this is particularly is with regards to oil and gas. And maybe the way to think about this is not so much reducing the flow of oil and gas from Russia to Europe. But can you reduce the revenues that Russia gets.
One idea that's been thought about is complicated and I'm not sure it would work but it's worth exploring is, could you have European companies or countries when they purchase gas and oil from Russia put it into an escrow account where Russia could have access to the funds until after this war is settled?
An alternative might be is to apply a really high tariff on Russian oil, for example, and that might force the Russians to lower their price to remain competitive and that would be a way of reducing the amount of money that's going to Russia right now.
So, there are some ways, they're complicated and they have to be worked through and I hope people in Europe are thinking in a creative way about this.
LEMON: Interesting. I've never heard what you proposed but I mean, it sounds good. And perhaps someone should propose that. Zelenskyy is also saying that they're ready for a major Russian offensive in the east of Ukraine. This comes as Russia's appointed a new general known for his brutality against civilians. Is this yet another sign of the worst may be yet to come?
PIFER: Well, Don, I think it could still get very difficult for Ukraine. Unfortunately, regardless of who is in command, you have seen this pattern of Russian war crimes and atrocities. I mean, Mariupol. And Mariupol, I find particularly ironic. This is a city of a half million people. It's now been besieged for six weeks by the Russian army. This was a city where pretty much everybody spoke Russian as their first language. Nearly half the population were ethnic Russian. And the city has been mostly destroyed by this continuing Russian bombardment.
That kind of indiscriminate shelling just we've also seen in places like Kharkiv and Chernihiv, that's a war crime. And the atrocities that have been revealed as the Ukrainian military liberates areas north of Kyiv. And unfortunately, it looks like the Russian military thinks this kind of brutality is helpful in terrorizing the population.
But I think it's actually going to be back firing on Russia because it seems to me that while some are traumatized by it, a large number of Ukrainians it basically doubles down their resolve to resist and fight.
LEMON: They may gain ground but they certainly won't gain people. Right? They won't gain the sentiment of the Ukrainian people. They can never occupy them. They may occupy their land but they won't occupy them.
And what you're saying about, you know, most people from Mariupol who is, those I heard from who were escaping said that they spoke Russian, that was their native language and so they try to reason with the Russian soldiers as they pass these checkpoints. So, they were bombing and bombarding their neighborhoods and they said there was no reasoning. They completely believe the Russian propaganda obviously. And they were shocked by it.
I have to ask you about Austria's leader. He had this face-to-face meeting with Putin. It is being described as not a friendly visit, he said that it's important to confront Putin and tell him that he lost the war morally. Will meetings like this make a difference?
PIFER: I'm not sure. I mean, it may be useful for Putin to hear this particularly from somebody like the Austrian chancellor because Austria has already -- always been seen as one of the European Union countries that was inclined to sort of keep the door open to Russia.
So, it was good that he got a hard message and by all appearances it was a very tough message. And it was probably not all that well received by the fact that the meeting lasted only a little bit over an hour. You know, compare that with, I think French President Macron was the last western leader to be there and he had five hours of Putin.
So, it was good that Putin got the message but I'm not sure it's going to budge Putin. What's going to budge Putin is, I think more defeats on the battlefield. And as the sanctions continue to take their toll on the Ukrainian economy.
LEMON: Let me just ask you something real quick. I just want to ask about this moment with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Zelenskyy walking around Kyiv over the weekend. We saw these pictures. What did you think of that?
PIFER: I thought it was amazing. I mean, you know, Kyiv, this was the number one target of the Russian military. They deny it now but clearly by the force of forces that were being moved out of Belarus towards Kyiv that's where they wanted to get. They wanted to get the Ukrainian capital and stage a victory parade.
PIFER: And here you have, you know, two weeks after the Russians have really called it quits around Kyiv, the Ukrainian president takes the British prime minister out for a walk. I mean, I could recognize this (Inaudible). He took over the presidential administration down to Khreshchatyk, the main street in downtown out for a walk.
PIFER: When was the last time we've seen Vladimir Putin taking a walk with anybody around Moscow?
LEMON: Haven't seen it. Not at all. Thank you very much.
PIFER: Not at all.
LEMON: Thank you, Ambassador. We appreciative it. We'll see you soon. You be well.
PIFER: Thank you. You too.
LEMON: Russian forces in the early stages of a new offensive what's their likely target? Our military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton breaks it down for us. That's next.
LEMON: So, there's new video tonight that shows a large column of Russian forces heading in the direction of eastern Ukraine. And as Russian forces mass and resupply Ukrainian officials say the assault on Donbas is already on the way. That, as the world is bracing for what could be the most vicious fighting yet of the Russian invasion.
Joining me now to discuss is CNN military analyst and retired air force colonel, Cedric Leighton. Happy to have you on once again this evening. Colonel, good evening to you.
CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good evening, Don.
LEMON: Russian troops have been seen east of Kharkiv where there is heavy shelling and in the besieged city of Mariupol defenders are still fighting tonight. Where could we see the main thrust of Russia's next assault?
LEIGHTON: So, Don, tonight it looks like the Russians are looking at this area right here. Right near Belgorod which is on the Russian side, heading toward Kharkiv. That is one place that they could be going. The other part of this is potentially in this area right here augmenting what they have now around Mariupol. The city has been besieged for so long. And then, of course it also ends up working with the separatist-
controlled areas that we have right here. The shaded area in yellow. If they do this and they move up from the south, potentially on this line, or even further slightly northwest to the town of Dnipro, that would then make for a very interesting effort on their part.
Because what that would do is it would allow them to cut the country in a half this way. Or at least into thirds. So that might be one of the things that they're going to do but they are definitely very active here, and I would say Kharkiv is the area that they are looking at right now given the shelling and all of the other activity that they're doing right now.
LEMON: That miles-long convoy of Russian armor and infantry has been seen headed towards the Donbas. And you remember the massive convoy that was north of Kyiv in the early days of the war before Russians were forced to retreat. Could this one proves more dangerous?
LEIGHTON: Potentially it could. Of course, it depends on exactly what's in the convoy. So, this convoy is one that is actually east of Kharkiv as you mentioned. A note though, that the spacing is a bit different when you look at how far apart these tanks are, for example. You can see that they are further spaced than the ones that were in the 40-mile-long convoy.
So, the Russians are learning. What they're doing is they're spacing these vehicles out so that they are not as vulnerable to attacks from the Ukrainians. They are not as vulnerable to the type of stalling tactics that the Ukrainians very successfully employed against these convoys, or that convoy, I should say that was northwest of Kyiv.
Now the other convoy is one that we saw in Russia. This is in the region just to the east of the Donbas. So, this shows a lot of armored personnel carriers a long, long column that is on its way clearly to some kind of combat.
But the kinds of things that they're doing here clearly indicates that they are coming into some kind of area where what they might very well do is go this way into the separatist regions, augment the separatist troops and then head this way and then pull down this way towards Donetsk.
And then also potentially of this way to Kramatorsk Where of course where the train station was attacked. And that, those are the kinds of things that they might be doing with these convoys, Don.
LEMON: Putin has put a new general in place to lead his war in Ukraine. A man known as, quite frankly, the butcher of Syria.
LEMON: What could that mean for the next chapter of this war.
LEIGHTON: So, General Alexandr Dvornikov is his name, and General Dvornikov is known exactly as you said as being a very ruthless commander. This could mean a doubling down on the part of the Russians on their strategy of civilian intimidation.
Basically, it's terror, it's the use of intimidation of coercive tactics and techniques and frankly, torture. Both psychological and physical and that's something that we could expect from this man.
LEMON: The Pentagon says that it's working to get long-range air defense systems into Ukraine and that Ukraine still has a lot of their air defense capability in the current arsenal. But how much will they need to survive the next push?
I mean, as you heard the ambassador on earlier, he says we need to start giving. Because at first, they were giving Ukrainians -- the Ukrainians were getting from the west weapons that were easy for them to work. Right? Without a lot of training. Now he says they need more sophisticated weapons.
LEIGHTON: I think he's right. I think the ambassador is spot in that assessment. Because this is, the Ukrainians have this already in fact. They got this from Slovakia as my understanding is that it has already been delivered to the Ukrainians and they are going to augment their existing air defense capability with this.
The good thing about the S-300 is this very fact right here. It can reach an altitude of 82,000 feet. And with that, it allows them to control, the Ukrainians to control a portion of their airspace. Not a no-fly zone but it does deny the Russians air superiority over that particular airspace.
And if they can get a lot of these or similar equipment then they can have a much more important impact on the air battle and anything else that the Russians might throw at them from the air. Other weapons that they would be using of course would be the T-72 tanks which both sides have, and of course the big desire on the part of the Ukrainian is the MiG-29 Fulcrum.
If the Ukrainians got more sophisticated weapons from the west such as, let's say F-16's, something like that, that of course would require a lot of training. You know, somewhere upwards of a year in some cases. And I don't think we have that much time, but it's something that we should consider when and if the battle changes and the tempo of the battle changes.
That's -- that's I think the key ingredient that has to be assessed when we look at which weapons to supply them, when to supply those weapons and what, if any, training they might need for those weapons.
LEMON: Colonel, thank you very much. I appreciate that. I'll see you tomorrow.
LEIGHTON: You bet, Don. Absolutely.
LEMON: Finally, there. CNN goes inside the villages surrounding Kyiv that endured five weeks of Russian occupation. Stay with us.
LEMON: So Russian forces may not have been able to capture the Ukrainian capital or surrounding neighborhoods but what they left behind is horrifying. Communities destroyed, bodies lying in the street.
CNN's Clarissa Ward visited two liberated areas near Kyiv, and I must warn you the images you're about to see are incredibly disturbing.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front. Jubilant after a humiliating defeat from Russian forces in the north. In the neighboring villages of (Inaudible) exhausted residents are emerging from their homes after five weeks of Russian occupation in the horrors that came with it.
On day four of the war this peaceful community became a frontline. And nowhere was off limits. Russian forces transform the local school into their base. Principal Natalia Vovot (Ph) shows us the carnage that was left behind.
She's saying that they were using this as a toilet as well. The main entrance is now spattered with blood. The scene of heavy fighting. Russian soldiers took cover in classrooms and treated their wounded with whatever they could find.
So, you can see they were eating here these are some Russian military rations. Armiya Rasi (Ph), it says. Walking the ravaged hallways Vovot (Ph) says she is still in a state of shock. What wasn't destroyed was looted.
"We are for education. Education is the future our students," she says. "It's such a shame that our occupiers didn't understand this. Why steal everything? This is a school."
In several classrooms there are signs that some of the Russian soldiers felt ashamed of their actions. A message on a chalkboard. So, it says, "forgive us, we didn't want this war." But forgiveness will be hard to come by here. At the local cemetery, Valentina takes us to the graves of six men who authorities say were executed by Russian forces on the day they arrived.
"It's so hard to get over this," she says. "They murdered them." Valentina says the Russians held on to the bodies for nine days before dumping them at the end of the village with instructions to bury them quickly.
"We dug a very fast so they wouldn't shoot us," she says. "But there was shooting over there and heavy shelling." Among the dead her neighbors, brothers Igor and Oleg Yavon (Ph).
Outside the family home we meet their mother, Olga. For days she thought her sons were in hiding. Until a neighbor called her with the devastating news. The agony and the grief are still very raw. They were very good boys she says. How I want to see them again.
Do you have any idea why the Russians would kill your sons? "Who knows there was a bridge that was blown up and somebody shot at a Russian drone she says. The Russians were searching the village and rounded them up on the street. Six boys. I don't know anything else."
A few streets away Katerina Andrusia (Ph) is also looking for answers. Her daughter Victoria a school teacher was taken by Russians soldiers on March 25th. They said they found information on her phone about her forces, she says. They told me she was in a warm house that she was working with them and she would be home soon.
But Victoria (Ph) never came home. We hope that she would get in touch Katerina says. With somebody somewhere. In this small community of 2,000 it seems no street has been spared. The invaders marked their newly seized territory with crude graffiti and battle markings.
Another z on their fridge. But brave residents like Tamara carried out quiet acts of resistance. We kept it we kept it, she says. Showing us the Ukrainian flag given to her husband for his military service. We have it.
A bold risk in anticipation of this moment. When Russian troops would be forced to retreat. And the villages would finally be free.
Don, Ukrainian authorities say that some of those Russian troops who were occupying these areas in the north of Kyiv and in Chernihiv region are now being re-deployed to the east. And so, there is a real fear that these harrowing accounts and stories that we've been seeing across this area will now be playing out in the east as Russia pushes forward with this offensive. Don.
LEMON: All right, Clarissa Ward thank you so much. Offshore accounts, loopholes, corruption. Inside the efforts to track down Russian oligarchs' money. That's next.
LEMON: A closer look tonight at how Russian oligarchs shield their wealth and their connections to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. The Washington Post out with a new investigative piece. It's titled U.S. hunt for Russian oligarchs' huge fortunes face barriers offshore.
Greg Miller is a foreign investigative correspondent with the Washington Post he is one of the reporters behind the story and he joins us now. Greg, we appreciate you joining us. Thanks so much. Good evening to you.
People think of luxury yachts and private jets when it comes to these oligarchs. But you make it very clear that their wealth is so much more than that. Exactly how much money are these oligarchs able to hide by using these offshore accounts and taking advantage of the banking system? GREG MILLER, FOREIGN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST:
Well, we don't know an exact number of course, Don, and that's part of the problem. Because it is so well-hidden this wealth there are no reliable estimates of its magnitude.
But we do know that it's well into the billions of dollars. And in fact, globally it's well into the trillions of dollars. But you know as a senior treasury person that I spoke to who have heard the story said those yachts and the properties here in London and in other cities. Those are the easy things to find. They're sitting out in the open.
The money that's buried in offshore accounts is the most difficult thing to find.
LEMON: Greg, Russian billionaire Suleyman Kerimov is one of the oligarchs you mentioned and you describe him as a reclusive figure but he's known for ostentatious displays including lavish parties reportedly with performances by Shakira and Beyonce.
He also crashed a $650,000 Ferrari into a tree in France. Just how deep or his ties to the Kremlin?
MILLER: His ties to the kremlin are extensive. In fact, there is speculation and suspicion among U.S. officials and others that some of his wealth isn't really his wealth.
It is well that he is holding for other members of the inner circle or the Kremlin elite if not Vladimir Putin himself.
MILLER: He's in part of the Russian government, he's a member of its upper house of parliament. He has massive investments in many of Russia's biggest state-run industries or formerly state- run industries. Much of his wealth until very recently was in its gold, its largest gold mining operation.
LEMON: Well, let's talk more about his wealth. Because you report that Kerimov apparently, even had a Swiss accountant who French prosecutors believe was just a straw man to front some of Kerimov's financial assets and activities. And billionaires of dollars -- of billions of dollars, I should say flowed between them. What's that all about?
MILLER: Right. I mean, he was actually arrested, Suleyman Kerimov was actually arrested by French authorities in Nice on the French Riviera several years ago and was accused of engaging in tax evasion and money laundering as part of a purchase of four villas in France for over $100 million.
And by using a Swiss proxy and intermediary, an accountant as his front man. As essentially as posing as the actual owner when in fact money in that purchased came from Russia came from Kerimov. Now those charges ultimately were dropped after extensive interference by the Russian government and lobbying by the Russian government.
But a company associated with Kerimov and this was the counted pay many millions of dollars in fines and back taxes to settle this and to make it go away. And it's just part of kind of trail of corruption that has followed Kerimov.
LEMON: A trail of corruption and a big trail of money that's a lot of dough, Greg. Your piece makes it apparent that the ties between these Russian billionaires and the Kremlin aren't always clear. If we don't know for sure where they're getting their money from or how they're moving it around, how much harder does that make it to effectively sanction these oligarchs?
MILLER: Well, there's two -- there's two parts to that question. One is it may make it impossible in some cases, Don, to actually ever freeze that money, let alone sees it. If you can't find it you're not going to be able to lock it down.
On the other hand, other aspects of the sanctions may make it very difficult for these oligarchs to get their hands on that money or to make use of it. I mean, they can't fly into Europe now. They can't afford to leave Russia. They can't afford to spend that money the way they might want to.
In fact, as you -- as you alluded to just a few moments ago they may not be able to afford to board that yacht or take it to the places where they had bought properties over the past decade or more. So, it may be impossible for western authorities to get at the money. But it might be very difficult for the oligarchs to do it as well.
LEMON: I was just looking at the picture that was up the first one of that yacht is enormous. The -- I mean, it's crazy. Look at that thing, it's ridiculous. The Biden ministration has created this KleptoCapture task force to help seize items like yachts but it's also targeting banks that aid and abet Russian oligarchs. How hard will that be when there is so many loopholes that these oligarchs can take advantage of?
MILLER: Yes, I mean the loopholes are some of them still exist and it's going to take time to close them. As we write about in this article some of the information that banks are required to submit about suspicious transactions. I mean, in other words when it looks like somebody out there is moving hundreds of millions of dollars around, sometimes the banks themselves that are moving the money are oblivious to who's behind it.
In a case that we write about there were hundreds of millions moving in offshore accounts for Kerimov and one of the banks involved couldn't figure out where it was going or who it is coming from. And connected to a British fruit and vegetable merchant. It was almost ridiculous their inability to track the actual source of this money.
LEMON: Greg, thank you.
MILLER: Thank you, Don.
LEMON: So, he said he'd only do it at the end of the world but John Lennon's son is singing his father's biggest solo hit now. We're going to tell you why right after this.
LEMON: In times of tragedy and upheaval, John Lennon song "Imagine" is often brought up as a reminder of our better angels, and that's just as true today. For the first time ever Julian Lennon publicly performing his father's 1971 mega hit. Singing in support of those victimized by the war in Ukraine.
LEMON: Lennon explaining his decision to finally sing his father's famous song, saying on social media, quote, "I had always said that the only time I would ever consider singing "Imagine" would be if it was the end of the world. Within the song where it transferred to a space where love and togetherness become our reality if, but for a moment in time.
The cover came in support of hash tag stand up for Ukraine fundraising effort organized by the nonprofit Global Citizen. Lennon says he is calling on leaders and everyone who believes in the message behind his father song to donate and give support for refugees everywhere. We'll be right back.