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Interview With Former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock; Outrage Grows Over Russian Atrocities. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 04, 2022 - 13:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, and thanks for being with us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

We begin with international outrage after Russian forces leave behind a trail of death and destruction in the suburbs of Kyiv. Now in the works, new plans for more sanctions to make Russia pay, and President Biden calling for Vladimir Putin to go on trial for war crimes.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He is a war criminal. But we have to gather the information. We have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue the fight. And we have to gather all the detail, so this could be an actual -- have a war crime trial.

This guy is brutal. And what's happening in Bucha is outrageous. And everyone's seen it.


CABRERA: A warning: This is what we are seeing, extremely disturbing images evidence of the atrocities. Mass graves at a church outside Kyiv in the town of Bucha, bodies dumped in a ditch, limbs sticking out of this shallow grave.

Elsewhere in Bucha, corpses lining the streets, some of the people dead with their hands tied behind their backs. A CNN team was in this Kyiv suburb on Sunday to document the horrific scene.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ukrainian national police showed us this mass grave in Bucha, saying they believed up to 150 civilians might be buried here, but no one knows the exact number, people killed while the Russian army occupied this town.

But we met a family just returning to their house in Borodyanka, which they say was occupied by Russian soldiers. They show us the body of a dead man and civilian clothes they had found in the backyard, his hands and feet tied with severe bruises and a shell casing still laying nearby.


CABRERA: And, moments ago, CNN talked to a team of volunteers in Bucha removing bodies. One told us that they are recovering hundreds, not dozens.

Ukraine's President Zelenskyy went to this devastated town today.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Thousands of people killed and tortured with limbs cut off, children killed, women raped. That is genocide.

It's very difficult to negotiate when you see what they have done here.


CABRERA: As Russian troops now redeploy to focus on Ukraine's southern and eastern regions, the Kremlin, of course, is denying that Russians killed these civilians.

Let's go right to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He is in Odessa, Ukraine, and our Nic Robertson is in Brussels.

Ed, first, Odessa, where you are, just suffered a Russian strike. What's the scene there?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, we saw two rounds of airstrikes on Sunday, early in the morning and late at night.

These were strategic kind of targets, by all accounts, here in the Odessa area, targeting an oil refinery facility, as well as fuel storage facilities. We have been told today that in those two rounds of strikes, one person was injured. There was an apartment building and some homes near some of those sites that suffered some damage as well.

But it does raise the concern here in Odessa. This is a city that has enjoyed a relative amount of quiet for the last week or so. That drastically changed yesterday with those two rounds of airstrikes here in the city. And, sometimes, it's really just the unpredictable nature of all of this.

If you go two hours up the road in the city of Mykolaiv, there was airstrikes there earlier today that killed one person and injured five other people. And, in that situation, local officials are saying that the purpose of that striking was to create harassment and panic among the population.

So it's the unpredictable nature of whether or not an airstrike is somewhat strategic and pinpointed on an exact location, or is it more haphazard, targeting buildings that might have civilians and that sort of thing? So that's what causes a great deal of stress and concern here.

CABRERA: And are the people of Odessa bracing for the type of just inhumanity, the depravity that has been uncovered near Kyiv?


I think that it's in the back of their mind. Do they think it's something that's going to be imminent or anything like that? We're not there yet. But, clearly, they are seeing the atrocities that are being uncovered north of Kyiv. They're listening to the news. And they're seeing that -- and hearing that Russian forces are redeploying and taking on a new strategy.

And then they're also watching what has happened in places like Mariupol and Kherson just up the road from here. You have to remember too Odessa is a place where many people in the southeast of the country who have only been able to evacuate those war zone, heavy-hit areas, they -- many of those people have escaped here to Odessa to find peace and quiet temporarily.


So, everyone fully aware of what's what's coming, what could come. And they also understand that here, at any moment, things can change very quickly.

CABRERA: And let's go to Nic now for more on what Russia is saying about the slaughter that our colleagues have documented for the world.

Nic, Russia essentially says this is all fake.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, they're saying the videos are fake, the photographs doctored.

This is absolutely typical for Russia to try to sow confusion, say black is white, make the water muddy, throw chafe in the air, so that no one can actually say definitively then that this is precisely what happened and the Russians were responsible.

The Russian government is also deploying on this its very politically motivated investigative committee, again, typical for what Russia does when it tries to discredit what the international community is doing and saying. That doesn't seem to be working at the moment.

Here at the European Union, there is absolute clarity that Russia is responsible, that it should be investigated, that President Putin himself should be held to account. The foreign affairs spokesman, Peter Stano, spoke about it before, saying very clearly, the only people who could have perpetrated these acts were the Russian troops who were there.

This is what he said.


PETER STANO, FOREIGN AFFAIRS SPOKESMAN, EUROPEAN UNION: These areas about which we talk have been under the occupation, under the control of the aggressor of the Russian troops, or they have been bombed out by the aggressor, the Russian troops.

So, of course, there is no one else who could have committed these atrocities.


ROBERTSON: So, typically, Russia is doing what it feels when it's under attack. It's deciding its best form of defense is to go on the offense.

And that's exactly what they did over Ukraine. They thought Ukraine was a threat. So what did they do? They invaded it. They see that they're being targeted and called out for these war crimes. What are they doing? They're going on the offense about it.

But it's not going to wash here. That's very clear, Ana.

CABRERA: It's despicable. It's sickening.

I appreciate your reporting, Nic Robertson and Ed Lavandera. Ed, stay safe there in Odessa. Thank you both.

Let's bring in associate professor of global politics at the University of College London Brian Klaas. His latest book is called "Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us." Also with us, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jack Matlock.

And I appreciate both of you.

Ambassador, this brutality in Bucha was not from some rogue actor like the Taliban or a terror group like ISIS or al Qaeda. This is a U.N. nation. Your thoughts on that?

JACK MATLOCK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOVIET UNION: I was not ambassador to Russia. I was ambassador to the Soviet Union. And, of course, that included Ukraine.

What we're seeing today is part of the horrors of war. And I think that our emotions when we hear reports of this sort are, let's do something, let's do something in retribution. And these are quite normal.

But I do think, if we're going to stop this sort of thing, we'd have to look at the situation more broadly. First of all, there is an International Criminal Court. And, certainly, these atrocities should be investigated. And if they come under that jurisdiction, they should be tried there.

However, for Americans to say that, we have to understand that the United States did not make itself a party to that criminal court, and does not allow its citizens to be tried in it. So there's a bit of, you might say, hypocrisy to say others should be tried, but ours shouldn't when things happen.

I think the urgency now is to end the war. And that can only be done by diplomacy. And I think we need to return to it.


CABRERA: Forgive me. I do want to talk more about diplomacy in just a moment.

But, before we go there, I just want to come back to what we saw there in Bucha, because I think the average person is trying to make sense of it, what motivates somebody to take action that is just so barbaric, so horrific.

Professor, President Zelenskyy says Ukrainians are essentially being treated like animals. He called it genocide. How could it come to this? What does it tell you about Putin's mind-set?


BRIAN KLAAS, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON: Well, I think there's a real problem here with how Putin is willing to go this far, because it seems to suggest to me that he's willing to accept pariah status.


I mean, I think there is something that's changing geopolitically very, very quickly in the world, where Vladimir Putin has had this very uncomfortable, but workable relationship with Western countries for a long time, where many Western actors have sort of countenanced the idea that we can work with him on some issues, we can buy as oil and gas and so on.

And I think that's rapidly changing. I think after you see these images in Bucha, it's not just an issue of changing the dynamics of diplomacy. It's an issue of changing -- how do you undo the sanctions after you have seen this?

I think that Western leaders are going to have a very hard time convincing their populations that Russia can just be brought back into the fold in the coming years. And that's why I think this is a lasting geopolitical shift, that it's going to create a world in which Putin is much more of a pariah than he's ever been before, and could really change how much more isolated Russia is for the next several years at least.

CABRERA: You wrote recently that Putin has fallen into a dictator trap, that there's this myth that these people are smart and calculating for the long term. But you found that's not the case, that they are prone to making

catastrophic short-term errors. What are those errors regarding the situation in Ukraine right now?

KLAAS: Well, I think it's quite clear that Putin miscalculated.

And the dictator trap, the term that I coined, refers to this idea that dictators fall after they start to believe their own fake realities that they construct around themselves to stay in power. So Putin has built a propaganda machine that's built on yes-men telling him what he wants to hear.

And I think he's getting poor information as a result, because it's genuinely dangerous to stand up to Putin and to feed him accurate information. I think that caused the miscalculation of the invasion. And it's perhaps causing severe miscalculations as the invasion proceeds, partly because I don't know how much information he's getting about how badly his military is behaving, and also partly because I don't know if he understands the full extent of pariah status that he will be cementing for Russia for the foreseeable future.

So the dictator trap refers to this idea of fake realities becoming the reality that the dictator inhabits, and then miscalculates based upon that fake reality.

CABRERA: And so how is he going to operate moving forward, I think is the next question.

And that's where, when, Ambassador, we started talking about diplomacy, let's go back to that, because President Zelenskyy says, given what he has seen in places like Bucha, it's very difficult to negotiate with Russia right now.

Ambassador, how do you go about it? Do you believe there could be a diplomatic ending to all this?

MATLOCK: Well, first of all, I think that is -- first of all, we do not know for sure exactly what happened with these apparent atrocities. And, certainly, we don't know that they were ordered from Moscow.

The second is that...


CABRERA: But if they weren't ordered from Moscow, who...


MATLOCK: The thing is, practically speaking, I believe that the Ukrainians need to make a deal, if they can, and that -- and I think there are certain areas that will not hurt them in the long run.

They do need to find some way to let Russia keep Crimea, where the majority of people are Russian, and where Russia has a naval base. To think that would the world war benefit from making Russia, a nuclear power equivalent to the United States, a pariah, I think, does not really represent our interests in the future.

I fear a world of that sort. I was involved in negotiating the end of the Cold War. And we had the possibility then of establishing situation in Europe of security for everybody. But we proceeded on a different course. I think it's time to return to diplomacy. Emotions can easily take over.

I share many of these emotions, but to the idea that we can make a major nuclear weapon state a pariah, that, by our actions, we actually are destroying those elements in that society that could bring a positive change in the future. I think that is not wise.

CABRERA: Professor, do you agree, Brian?

KLAAS: No, I strongly disagree.

I think characterizing the idea that we're making them a pariah state is flying in the face of what we're seeing. I mean, it's quite clear these images out of Ukraine are orchestrated -- I mean, it's a command-and-control military. There's no way that you could have such atrocities without the at least knowledge of senior officials in the Russian military.


And on top of that, the idea that it's our fault in some way to make them a pariah state for committing war crimes, that's part of international law. I mean, I think this is something where we have to decide whether we're going to continue to appease a country that is willing to invade sovereign territory.

I don't think the Crimean people are Russian. They were annexed from Russia. They may be Russian-speaking, but it's a totally different thing. And international law does not allow for these things to happen. So, I think, at some point, we have to make lines in the sand where we say, we stand against this form of aggressive autocracy.

And I think that Europe is waking up to the idea that you can't just simply buy oil and gas and have economic entanglements with somebody who's a murderous dictator like Vladimir Putin. So I strongly disagree with the ambassador. And I think the characterization that this is somehow our fault is wildly wrong.

CABRERA: Well, I got to end it there, guys.


CABRERA: You can have the last word quickly, Ambassador.



Thank you both, Ambassador Jack Matlock and Brian Klaas. MATLOCK: OK.

CABRERA: I appreciate you both.

A critical moment in Russians' war on Ukraine. Putin's forces are refocusing on the east, aiming for a victory by early May. How can Ukrainian troops stop them? We will give you the state of play.

And this is how you seize and freeze a Russian oligarch's mega-yacht. U.S. officials asked Spanish law enforcement to help take this 255- foot luxury yacht called Tango owned by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.

It was docked in the port of Palma de Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea. And you can see their agents going on board this vote. And this is all part of the mission of the United States' new KleptoCapture task force created to enforce the sanctions crackdown.

Vekselberg has close ties to President Vladimir Putin.



CABRERA: A senior U.S. defense official tell CNN about two-thirds of Russian troops centered around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv have now left that area and they're believed to be resupplying in Belarus, potentially even being reinforced with more manpower, before being sent back into Ukraine, and this time to the eastern part of the country to focus on the Donbass region.

And I want to bring in CNN military analyst now General Wesley Clark. He's former NATO supreme allied commander.

And, General, some of these Russian troops that have left the Kyiv area came from the area around Kyiv Bucha, where we have now seen with our own eyes the atrocities that Russian forces committed there. And, again, a warning that the video is incredibly disturbing here.

But I think it's so important to really show the reality on the ground. You have bodies, people who've been killed, some of them with hands tied behind their back. We heard President Zelenskyy describe torture, women raped, and children who were killed.

We have seen the videos of doubt of the mass graves where people were just dumped.

WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, we need to make clear, Ana, that this is not like a unit that's out of control. This is Russian policy.

You remember we talked about the list that they had of all the people that were going to be their enemies when they get there. So they got into Bucha. They started on that list. They pick up cell phones. They look who's connected to who. They arrest them. They interrogate them. They torture them, and they finish them. And so we're just lucky that this is all that's happened so far. Can

you imagine what they would have done if they have gotten into Kyiv? So...

CABRERA: Were they trained to do this?

CLARK: Yes. They -- yes.

CABRERA: When you say it's Russian policy, do you believe the soldiers...

CLARK: Yes. Yes. Yes.

CABRERA: ... were told to commit this?

CLARK: This is a Russian military intelligence -- these are military intelligence specialists. They come in behind the sort of draftees who don't know anything.

I'm not saying the draftees didn't shoot somebody who was poisoning them or trying to -- they were trying to steal food or something like this. But, no, this kind of stuff comes from the GRU. It's an effort to break resistance. This is why, in the period before the war, when I heard people talk about, oh, it's going to be like Afghanistan, it's going to be an insurgency.

Uh-uh. This is going to be a brutal, ruthless occupation by Russia if it happens.

CABRERA: But, just to be clear, you have commanded troops in a war setting.

CLARK: Right.

CABRERA: This is not just what happens in war.

CLARK: No, no, no, no, no.

This is not like troops out of control. There may have been some of that. But these people with their hands tied behind their back, bullet in the head, no, that's GRU stuff. That's a deliberate effort to root out any potential source of resistance after they own the country.

CABRERA: So let me bring up the map here because, again, Bucha is up here, and just outside Kyiv. So we're talking about kind of the northwest part, if I can get the little marker to work here.

Here's Bucha. Here's Kyiv. Now we're told they're going to be moving over to the Donbass region, which is kind of this area, right, the southeast. And I'm going to just kind of zoom in here.

Can you give us a sense of the combat power Russia has already in this region and maybe Russia's offensive strategy if this is where they're going to go at some...

CLARK: So, they have got good combat power here, some good units in Donbass.

They start with -- they mobilize the population. So they have got a lot of kids in there who don't know what they're doing. They will be the cannon fodder in the first round. Now, the Ukrainians that are defending this, they will be held in position, because the Russians will use the cannon fodder to try to break through. And they don't want to be broken through.

They're going to hold. But the main Russian attack will come in this way, and then up this way...



CLARK: ... to cut off in the -- it's not on the map right here, but there's a town called Dnipro.

That's the key crossing point. And what they want to do is, they want the Ukrainian forces to be bagged in this encirclement and destroyed.

CABRERA: So, they're trying to essentially trap the Ukrainian forces on both sides.

CLARK: Right. They're going to trap the Ukrainian forces in there.

So, for the Ukrainians, they have got to fight mobile warfare. In this mobile warfare, it's not about Javelins and Stingers. It's about tanks. It's about self-propelled artillery. And it's about air cover.

CABRERA: Do you think the Ukrainians are ready for it?

CLARK: Well, I think they know exactly what they need. Will they be ready for it? No. But neither are the Russians.

So, the Ukrainians, they have had eight years of war. They have never been on this battlefield like this before. But we're not there. And if they're going to hold on to their country, they have got to win this battle.

And here's the thing, Ana. They don't have the equipment for it right now.

CABRERA: The Ukrainians don't have the equipment for it?

CLARK: They don't have it. It's got to come from Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia.

CABRERA: Well, we did hear, over the weekend, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said that they're going to send in at least 10 anti-tank weapon systems that are from the Soviet era. Will that make a big difference?

And it's 10 systems per it -- he said 10 systems per, I think, every one Russian tank. CLARK: Well, you might have 700 tanks. You might have another 3,000, 4,000 armored vehicles and self-propelled artillery you're going after. So you don't have 10 per one here, even with what Secretary Blinken said. It's a little misleading.

What you must have is, you must have armored firepower. You have got to move on the battlefield under fire, because most of this area is not villages. It's not like fighting north of Kyiv, where you could hold up in an urban area, use a Javelin, catch them in a column.

They will be on line. They will be moving relatively quickly. You can't keep up with them on foot. So it's going to be a much different environment if the Russians are able to pull it off.

CABRERA: And we now have a deadline that they have given themselves, which is May 9.

I got to wrap it here for today. General Wesley Clark, thank you so much.

CLARK: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Really, really appreciate your expertise and your insights.

Just ahead: forced to escape Ukraine again. We follow a Holocaust survivor's journey out of a war zone away from the country she loves.

But, first, an unexpected message from the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, during the Grammy Awards. Take a listen.


ZELENSKYY: Our musicians wear body armor, instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded in hospitals.

Fill the silence with your music. Fill it today to tell our story.