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Interview With Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA); Russian Bombardments Continue; Putin Being Misinformed By Advisers?. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 30, 2022 - 14:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. Victor Blackwell is off today.

Just hours after the Kremlin claimed they would -- quote -- "drastically reduce military activity" in and around Kyiv, the Russian army is continuing to conduct a -- quote -- "full-scale armed aggression." This is according to Ukrainian officials.

Russia unleashed more firepower on Chernihiv. That's north of Kyiv. The mayor of that city calls it a -- quote -- "colossal attack."

A senior Ukrainian officials tell CNN there were no areas of the entire country where missile sirens did not go off overnight. The Pentagon continues to caution that the Russian troop movements away from the capital city is a repositioning, not a withdrawal.

In the besieged southern city of Mariupol, there have -- we have new satellite images that show a warehouse that was used by the Red Cross that was clearly marked, and it was hit by at least two Russian airstrikes between March 19 and the 26th. A spokesman for the Red Cross says the warehouse had distributed all of its supplies.

President Biden spoke with President Zelenskyy today and committed to providing Ukraine with $500 million in direct aid. Zelenskyy addressed Norway's Parliament today. He asked for more anti-air and anti-tank weapons and for Europe to close its seaports to Russia.

CNN's Don Lemon joins us again from Lviv. That's in the western part of Ukraine.

And, Don, it was just yesterday that you and I were on the air talking about Russia's claims that they were scaling back operations around Kyiv. But, then, of course, our correspondents on the ground told us that that wasn't what they were seeing.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Right, I mean, there and, as you said, Mariupol, the Red Cross building and beyond, Kyiv, everywhere.

Our teams in the suburbs of Kyiv just reported that they are hearing constant, Alisyn, incoming and outgoing showing their. Multiple-rocket launch systems were also heard there. So there's no signs really of a drawdown, as Russian aircraft also continue their relentless attacks on Mariupol.

In addition to that, the Red Cross warehouse that you mentioned, we have brand-new satellite images. Take a look at this, entire city blocks in central and eastern Mariupol completely flattened, and it's just rubble right now.

So let's go straight to Ukraine's capital.

CNN's chief international anchor is Christiane Amanpour. And she joins us now live from there.

Christiane, hello to you.

U.S. officials are cautioning many times against taking the Russians at their word. What do we know about these Russian attacks in Chernihiv and near Kyiv as well?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, we certainly know in Kyiv, because we have been out and about, and we have been listening with our own ears, seeing with our own eyes. And it has been very, very noisy, as they say, ever since, in fact, the Russians decided to say what they said yesterday in terms of de- escalating.

We have not seen a de-escalation. In Chernihiv, the mayor there has talked about a colossal amount of strikes, major strikes that happened there as well.

Now, when I asked the president, President Zelenskyy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, about this, he said, look, we just cannot take them at their word. War is raging and raging and raging. And they are particularly concerned, not so much about themselves here in Kyiv, but about Mariupol, which you have just been talking about.

It really resonates, as Grozny did, as Aleppo did. This is just terrible, what's happening there. And all this new video showing in minute detail what has happened. There are more than 100,000 people still trapped in Mariupol. And some are being able to get out on their own initiative, but still no humanitarian corridors and no humanitarian aid.

And that's what they -- that's what they're still trying to figure out. I even spoke to the French foreign minister. All the international community that's arrayed around this crisis is trying to get, at the very least, humanitarian corridors to the people who need it the most -- Don.

LEMON: And speaking of -- Christiane, of the inhumanity that's going on, I want to show our viewers now this graphic and disturbing video that we have.

It's showing the full extent of the devastation in the town of Irpin, bodies left in cars and on the streets. And this footage is from a Ukrainian NGO.

Christiane, what more do we know about this particular attack? AMANPOUR: Well, look, this, it is a situation whereby both the

Russian and the Ukrainian forces have been battling it out around Irpin since the beginning of this war.


It appears that either all or most of Irpin is back in the hands of the Ukrainians, which is how come this NGO was able to take these pictures, and our crews and colleagues have gone and are going to go again tomorrow to check it out for themselves.

But, yes, the devastation is terrible. The death toll is mounting. It affects women, children, men. I'm talking about non combatants, as well as combatants. And, again, it has the entirely unfortunate, familiar hallmark of what Russia does. And that is pound civilian targets.

We have seen it over again, not just in this war, but ever since 2008 in Georgia, and then, as we said, in Grozny even before that, in Chechnya, and in Aleppo in the latter half of the 2010s. It's just catastrophic. And who knows how this is going to end right now.

They do seem to be very far apart at the negotiating table, even despite what they say after these meetings.

LEMON: Well, Christiane, you said who knows how it's going to end. That's really -- the question is really -- because, as part of this -- de-escalation negotiations, Ukraine has said that it will not join NATO.

But is that going to be enough to satisfy Vladimir Putin?

AMANPOUR: Well, it jolly well should be, because that was his first ask. And this is what now Ukraine has done.

I mean, basically, they have been forced to because NATO doesn't want to have them in, despite what a heroic military feat they have performed in the last 35 days now. It is absolutely extraordinary what this country has done against a much more powerful military force.

But here's the thing. The United States is trying to figure out whether Putin is actually getting accurate information from whoever he talks to. And even that's not clear. Is he really talking to his diplomats and his foreign minister about this? Is he only talking to his security and his defense? Are they telling him the truth? We don't know.

And, apparently, the U.S. is trying to figure that out, because that will also affect the calculations about when to go to serious peace. Now, we do understand -- I have been talking to the French foreign minister, and I have been told on background, not by him, but by other officials, that on the phone with President Macron, President Putin shows no sign of changing his tone, even calling the civilians and the people in Mariupol still extremists.

I mean, this is very, very, very bad, if he's not being told the truth, or if he actually wants to believe this, and actually pursue his war aim through the south and to the east, which is the whole idea of Donbass and trying to get a land corridor to Crimea, and then force a de facto fact on the ground, that they have annexed and they will keep that territory.

He might think he can do that, but the international community and certainly Ukraine will not accept it, Don.

LEMON: Our chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour, on the ground for us on Kyiv.

Christiane, thank you very much. I appreciate that.

Alisyn, back to you in New York. I mean, every day, it just gets worse and worse. And you look at the pictures, especially the last ones we saw, bodies on the ground. I mean, I asked Christiane, what is it going to take to end this? What is Vladimir Putin going to accept? And at this point, we just don't know.

CAMEROTA: Yes, no one knows.

And as Christiane just reported, he himself may be getting bad information.

Don, we will check back with you momentarily.

So, as you heard Christiane say, U.S. officials believe that Vladimir Putin is being misinformed by his own advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing in Ukraine. A U.S. official said Putin's senior advisers are -- quote -- "too afraid to tell him the truth," and that there's a rift between the Russian president and his top defense officials.

Let's discuss this and more with retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He's a CNN military analyst.

General, great to have you here.

What's the upshot of that? If President Putin is getting bad information or misinformation from his own military advisers, what are the repercussions of that?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I can only talk about it from the operational or tactical perspective and, to a degree, the strategic approach, Alisyn.

As a commander on the battlefield, you must get the proper intelligence, the proper information from your subordinates, the guidance of the folks who you surround yourself with. Now, whether you accept that or not is up to you as a commander. You may have more information that you say, I'm going to discount that.

But when you're talking about the subordinates that don't step forward -- and I think that's probably more of a problem within Putin's regime than them giving him the information and him ignoring it. If they're not stepping forward, for fear of either discipline action -- and, in the Russian state, that could mean death -- or some other factor, that's what we have seen in Russia for years, for decades.

I mean, as the commander in Europe, I used to get intelligence reports -- I won't go into the details -- but talking about how ministers and defense officials within Russia would tell their boss things and then suddenly disappear.


There was a ground force commander who was my counterpart in Russia, a guy named Churkin (ph), who had been in the position for about three months, and suddenly he was gone. So I don't know what happened to him. He was put in a gulag somewhere.

But that's the way they treat subordinates who don't give Mr. Putin the information that he wants. That's the kind of leader he is. He's an authoritarian kleptocrat. And he just doesn't take advice. He also has leaders throughout Europe and the United States telling him what they're seeing and how he's going to be damaged by this assault. He still isn't believing it.

During the run-up to this campaign, we had the CIA director go to Europe. We had Secretary Blinken go to Europe, go to Russia. He didn't accept the advice for any of them of what would happen if he conducted this attack. Well, now he's experiencing it, but he must not be getting the right information still.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, there you go. Your story just tells you all you need to know, that it's quite a disincentive if you think you're going to be disappeared for telling the truth.

But, General, I want to talk about -- I want to talk about yesterday, because there was this momentary glimmer of hope that maybe the peace talks had yielded some results. Maybe the Russian army had seen that they weren't making any headway in Kyiv. Maybe they were going to be pulling back from Kyiv. And then, of course, that was short-lived, because all of our correspondents on the ground said, no, they had only intensified the fighting.

So, if it's not true that there's a de-escalation and that Russia is coming up with some strategy shift, where does that leave the Ukrainian soldiers, the Ukrainian forces? How do they know what to do next?

HERTLING: Yes, well, they have -- the Ukrainian forces have great direction. They're protecting their homeland. They still have the will to do that. It is a chaotic and traumatic fight, to be sure, where Mr. Putin is killing civilians and committing war crimes.

I mean, that the photo you showed earlier, Alisyn, of a Red Cross facility being bombed, I mean, that's the ultimate in war crimes, when you're bombing a building with a Red Cross on the side of it. Everyone knows that the Geneva Convention bans that as its number one priority.

So you're talking about a leader in Putin who just doesn't care. And all that hope yesterday that he was coming around and there was actually a dialogue between him and -- well, between his surrogates and the Ukrainian surrogates, I mean, anyone who knows anything about this regime, who knows anything about Putin knows that, on a daily basis, they are filled with lives.

They are not going to do what they say they're going to do. And for the first time in a very long time, we have an administration who understands that, a U.S. administration, and who is dealing with it. And you have a Ukrainian administration in Mr. Zelenskyy who knows what his neighbor is doing.

It's just constant killing. And that's how he's going to try and execute this foreign policy. He does not care about -- Putin does not care about diplomacy. He obviously does not care about the economic factors. He doesn't care about the meat grinder he's thrown his soldiers into. And he doesn't care that the world is seeing him as a pariah right now.

How do you stop a guy like that? That's for further debate. But I personally can't give an answer to how you turn this around. But you can't, can't say that what he's going to say at the negotiating table is ever going to come true.


I mean, there's also some information that his advisers are keeping from him the gravity of the economic sanctions, that he's not quite aware of how hard those are hitting either.

But, in any event, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you very much. Great to talk to you.

Well, as Putin continues to oversee his bloody war against Ukraine, former President Trump is calling on Vladimir Putin to release any damaging information he has about the Biden family.

And a top U.S. general says there could be intelligence gaps that caused the U.S. to overestimate Russia's capabilities and underestimate Ukraine.

So we're going to discuss with the chair of the Senate Intel Committee next.



CAMEROTA: In the next hour, U.S. senators will receive a closed briefing on Ukraine and Russia.

The Russian army continues to conduct a full-scale armed aggression against Ukraine. This is according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. Russia now says it's -- quote -- "regrouping" its forces.

This is one day after claiming it would de-escalate around Kyiv and Chernihiv.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Mark Warner. He's the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): Thank you.

CAMEROTA: I know you can't share with us any classified information. But can you characterize for us how you see where Russia is today in its fight against Ukraine?

WARNER: Well, first, Alisyn, I think the American intelligence community was spot on in predicting how extensive Putin's invasion would be. And I know our European friends, even the Ukrainians didn't believe that Putin would launch this major an attack.

But three things have, I think, been a bit surprising. One was, you can't really predict -- and I'm no military expert. You can't really predict an individual's will to fight until the combat starts. And were the Ukrainians really going to have that will to fight?


Clearly, they have exceeded all expectations. And, candidly, the Russians, in terms of their will the fight, has been -- I think we probably overestimated, the number of at least some reports of Russian shoulders not aggressively moving forward.

Second, I don't think anybody could have predicted how poorly the Russians planned some of the logistics. That may have been because Putin kept the information such close-hold that even all of his on- the-ground commanders may not have known what the full plans were.

But the fact that he sent these troops in oftentimes without enough food or materials to go beyond a few days showed an expectation that they were going to win dramatically.

And, third -- and again, I'm no military expert, but the whole idea of the age of tank warfare seems to be maybe real-time changing, as it appears that organized groups of Ukrainians with anti-tank missiles and ballistics, often shoulder-held, seem to be doing amazing damage against these Russian armored corridors.


Senator, I'm interested to hear you say that you think that the intelligence was spot on, because I think it was just yesterday when the top us general in Europe said something different, I mean, said that there was an intelligence gap, sort of alluding to what you just said, that the Russians were overestimated and the Ukrainians were underestimated.

So let me play that for you.


SEN. ROGER WICKER (R-MS): Is there an intelligence gap in our capability that made us overestimate the Russians and underestimate the defensive capability of the Ukrainians?


And as we have always done in the past, when this crisis is over with, we will accomplish a comprehensive after-action review in all domains and in all departments, and find out where our weak areas were, and make sure that we can find ways to improve. And this could be one of those areas.


CAMEROTA: Senator, what about that intelligence gap?

WARNER: I don't -- I don't think there's any contradictions.

The intelligence community was absolutely spot on with predicting that this was not going to be an invasion only in the east, it wasn't going to be incremental, it was going to be an attempt by Putin to take over the whole country.

The notion of the will to fight, again, every expert that I was -- been briefed by says you don't know what the will the fight is until the combat actually starts. And the fact that President Zelenskyy, who has really risen to the occasion, but prior to the invasion, we had urged him literally weeks ahead of time to kind of call up all his reserves, and the fact that he didn't, and then were still able to then kind of rise to the occasion, kudos to the Ukrainians.

But that probably was a bit of a surprise. The notion that Russia, which we do know was throwing some of its best troops into this invasion, were so inept in the operation of materials logistics, I guess that would be a surprise.

I'm not sure how the intelligence could have been pre-predicted that, since we haven't seen a massive Russian use of land forces since their war in Afghanistan almost 40 years ago.

So, if there are lessons learned -- of course, there will be lessons. I'm going to be anxious to hear from military experts about this whole notion of the viability of tank combat against anti-tank Javelins and other tools that seemed to be frankly -- again, not being a military expert -- more effective than even predicted.

One of the things I have also got a huge question on -- and this is -- this is not only my question. It's our intel communities question. It's -- I have got reports from some of our European allies. The fact that Russia has not launched a more major cyberattack against Ukraine, or, for that matter, launched the level of cyberattacks against the West or the United States is still a -- it's kind of like the dog that didn't bark.

I'm glad that's not happened. But unlike the Russian military operation, where they have not been -- there's not been battle testing over the last 10 or 20 years, we have seen the Russian cyber activities, because we have seen them attack Ukraine in NotPetya back in 2017. We have seen them attack -- Russian entities attack the Colonial Pipeline a year ago that caused gas lines around America.

We know they have got first-rate cyber capabilities. And thank goodness, at least, we have not seen them launch them to date.


Senator, I just want to ask you about some news we're getting into our NEWSROOM right now, and that is about this Trump era policy known as Title 42. This is what allowed asylum seekers, so migrants who would show up at the border, single adults, to be deported.


And, basically, what the Trump administration did was say that there was a public health emergency during the COVID pandemic. So they didn't have to go through the regular process. They were deported.

We're now understanding that the Biden administration plans to end that policy in May. And according to Border Patrol, the worst-case scenario, when they look at the numbers, that could add an additional 18,000 people a day who show up at the border.

And, obviously, that can glut the system. I mean, that would be hard for them to process. So if the Biden administration does, in fact, end this Title 42, what is going to happen at the border?

WARNER: Well, first of all, America is a generous nation. We have just been through the process.

And, in Virginia, we have been the input spot for literally tens and tens and tens of thousands of Afghan refugees. I think -- I know, again, Americans are going to be welcoming to the 100,000 Ukrainian refugees that President Biden has promised to take in.

But I would be very reluctant for the administration to end this Trump policy until they had a real plan in place. I think we are a generous country, but we have to have -- we have to be a country of rule of law. We have processes where we have taken in the Afghan refugees, the Ukrainian refugees.


WARNER: But I would be very worried about this notion that the border would be overwhelmed. And I would really want to hear a specific plan with adequate personnel.

And, frankly, I would like to see the State Department to more pressure on some of the countries, particularly the Northern Triangle countries, to try to stop the flow of some of these economic refugees.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Have you heard any plan like that?

WARNER: I have not. I have not to date.

But I know that my colleagues, two of my Democratic colleagues from Arizona, who are much more on literally the front line on this, are asking for those kind of details. And I will join with them in wanting to see those details before you suddenly could have overwhelming numbers come across, overwhelming numbers that aren't going through a legal process.

Again, let's -- I go back to where I started my answer, though. Our country is as generous, if not more generous than any nation. And we have seen that by taking in the literally close to 125,000 folks we got out of Afghanistan, many of them coming to America, and now the effort on the Ukrainian refugees.


WARNER: We will do more than our share. But opening the floodgates at the borders would not be the appropriate plan until we have a process to deal with that.

CAMEROTA: Senator Mark Warner...

WARNER: And, frankly, we need strong borders here.

Let me be clear. I am not someone for this -- any kind of open border process.

CAMEROTA: We hear you.

Senator Mark Warner, thank you very much for all the information.

WARNER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So, President Biden is urging lawmakers to secure more funding for COVID-19. His warning -- he is warning that this progress could be reversed, because -- if they don't have enough money to fight it.

So we will discuss all that next.