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Interview With Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Interview With State Department Spokesman Ned Price; Russian Missiles Hit Train Station. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 08, 2022 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Today, a Russian missile strike hit a Ukrainian train station that was crowded with civilians trying to get to safety.

The strike killed at least 50 people, but officials expect that number to rise. At least five of those killed were children. These were civilians fleeing their homes as Russian forces ramp up on an all-out assault. We have a warning for you. The footage from the scene is graphic and disturbing.

It shows bodies on bloodstained pavement. About 8,000 people typically pack that station every day now to try to get away from the violence of Vladimir Putin's forces. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy says as many as 300 were hurt. Nearly 100 were taken to the hospital after this attack.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: A witness posted a clip in the moments after the impact. Watch.




BLACKWELL: You can just hear the screams during that chaos.

Officials in that city, Kramatorsk, they had been pleading for days for people to leave. The ground fighting in the east has been intensifying, with Russia declaring a renewed focus on this contested Donbass region.

The rail system was one of the few options people had to get out. U.S. intelligence believes a Russian short-range ballistic missile hit the city. Ukraine has accused Russia of packing the missile with cluster bombs, which explode with smaller bomblets to cause damage beyond the first blast.

CAMEROTA: CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour joins us from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.

Christiane, what are you learning about this Russian attack at that train station?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, very early on, as soon as it happened, as soon as we knew it had happened, we called the mayor.

My translator here called the mayor and talked about it. And he said, pretty much as we now know, that this has been a well-known hub for those 8,000 or so civilians, mostly, mostly women and children and the elderly, because, as you know, the men pretty much stay behind for the war effort.

And they knew this was happening for two weeks. Today, he said there were up to 4,000 people there when these missiles struck. You can see that writing on the on the tail of one of them that perhaps was intercepted, and it says "For the children."

And it's a pretty sort of cynical slogan, which is saying, you killed our children. We're now taking revenge.

I spoke to the president of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, who's here, and she's talking to President Zelenskyy. And she said, each time these kinds of horrors happen, it simply stiffens our resolve to go quicker, further, faster, and harder on sanctions and on punitive measures against Russia.

And she says they're pretty much -- well, they're stopping any import of coal. They're pretty much going to be weaned off gas by the end of the year, thanks, she said to a new deal with the United States for LNG.

And when I pressed her on oil, which is the biggest revenue for Putin, apparently, according to the E.U., they spend a billion dollars a day on oil from Russia. And she said, yes, we absolutely have to figure out how to wean ourselves off that, because that is what is financing this that we see all the time.

BLACKWELL: Christiane, you also -- I mean, on that point of "For the children," the writing there, you spoke with the head of Ukraine's military intelligence. What was his response? What did he say?

AMANPOUR: Well, he was really angry.

In fact, when I asked him, what's his reaction, he pretty much threw the question back at me. Take a listen.


MAJ. GEN. KYRYLO BUDANOV, UKRAINIAN DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE CHIEF (through translator): This is another example of criminal activity of war criminal dictator Putin.

It is in our case that I hope that would be added to the criminal investigation against him in the international courts. Conducting a powerful missile strike against a civilian infrastructure during the evacuation of civilians, it's an act of terrorism. AMANPOUR: Have you seen this? This is the picture that was taken by

people there. This is the part of the rocket. And on it, it says "For children."

What does that mean?

BUDANOV (through translator): This is pure propaganda and sickening mind of the dictator who is conducting war against us.


AMANPOUR: And so, of course, as you know, Russia has consistently denied doing any kind of targeting of civilian infrastructure, which we can actually see is not the case.


I mean, we see it and collect the evidence and the eyewitness testimony every single day.

But I have been speaking to a military analyst, a former NATO commander, deputy, who told me that this next phase could involve and will likely involve, first of all, Russia regrouping, as the general told me, throwing everything that it has to hold the east, capture and hold the east.

And that also involves trying to weaken Ukrainian infrastructure, whether it is train stations, whether it is railways, whether it is factories. That also is part of, apparently, their strategy. Unfortunately, civilians get caught in the way there -- Victor, Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Christiane Amanpour for us in Kyiv, thank you.

CAMEROTA: Let's bring in State Department spokesman Ned Price now.

Ned, thank you so much for being here. Thank you for your time.


CAMEROTA: Are there any negotiations or talks going on right now or going on still this week between Russia and the U.S.?

PRICE: Alisyn, unfortunately, I can only say that there is nothing that is promising at the moment.

We just returned from Brussels overnight, where, once again, we had an opportunity to -- Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart. We had an opportunity to compare notes on the diplomatic processes that are under way. And, again, we heard a pretty dire assessment.

For weeks now, our Ukrainian partners have made clear that they are ready and willing to engage in good-faith negotiations, good-faith diplomacy to bring this violence to an end, to spare lives, to save the civilian lives, tragically, those lives that were taken once again today.

But they have not found a negotiating partner in the Russian Federation. They have found the Russians again engaging in something that we call the pretense of diplomacy, taking part in meetings, sometimes at high levels, but more interested in propagating this brutal assault against the Ukrainian people, against the Ukrainian state, rather than bringing this conflict to a close.

CAMEROTA: Ned, how do the Ukrainians even begin to negotiate with people who do things like we saw today, who attack a train station of hundreds of civilians trying to evacuate or who attack Bucha and then claim that it wasn't them, that it was staged?

Where do you even begin to negotiate with people like that?

PRICE: Well, Alisyn, you typically don't negotiate with your best friends. You typically don't negotiate with allies and partners. You often negotiate with adversaries and, in some cases, opponents.

And the goal of any negotiation here is not to create a full rapprochement between Ukraine and Russia or between Russia and the rest of the world. The goal is to save lives. That is what is motivating our Ukrainian partners. That is what is motivating us.

And we are doing a couple things to advantage our Ukrainian partners at the negotiating table. Number one, we are continuing to provide them with an unprecedented level of security assistance, $2.4 billion over the course of this administration, $1.7 billion worth of security assistance since this invasion started.

To complement that, on the other end of the equation, we, together with our allies and partners, are continuing to mount these profound costs on the Russian Federation that is choking off Russia's economy, Russia's financial system, Russia's strategic positioning in the world.

So, as we do this to Russia, we are strengthening Ukraine's hand. We are working with our Ukrainian partners to see to it that, once Russia is willing to engage in good faith, that our Ukrainian partners are able to take on and to involve themselves in that negotiation in a way that is effective for them and for our collective interests.

CAMEROTA: About those sanctions this morning, President Zelenskyy of Ukraine called for economic sanctions that would hurt as much as a Molotov cocktail, because, truth be told, as stiff as the sanctions have been thus far that's been leveled by the E.U. and the U.S., they haven't deterred Putin.

So, are there more sanctions that are being held in abeyance that can be leveled against Putin that would actually deter him?

PRICE: Well, a couple things.

You talk about the bite of the sanctions, and all you need to do is look at any number of metrics for the Russian economy, which is this year anticipated to contract by as much as 15 percent. That is brutal for any economy, especially for the Russian economy that has now seen 30 years of economic integration, economic gains undone in the course of five or six weeks here.

Inflation is sky-high. More than 600 international companies have fled the Russian marketplace. And it's no surprise, because Russia is not a place that will be attractive, that will be alluring for anyone seeking to make a profit, seeking to do business.

So, the costs have been profound. But those costs will continue to escalate. We have been very clear that, until and unless Moscow de- escalates in its actions in Ukraine, we will continue to escalate.


And you saw us do that again this week. The United States took action against Russia's largest public bank, its largest private bank. President Biden signed an executive order to prohibit new investment in the Russian economy. We enacted sanctions against family members of President Putin and other senior officials who have enriched themselves on the ill-begotten gains of the Russian people.

And our European partners have done the same. So we certainly have additional levers we can pull. And we will continue to pull those levers for as long as we need.

CAMEROTA: Ned, this -- yesterday, President Zelenskyy asked for countries to bring their embassies back to Kyiv. Now that the Russian forces have moved out of Kyiv, he says it's time to -- for countries to show their support and let Kyiv function as the capital of the country that it is.

I will play you his sound.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Embassies are coming back to Kyiv. Turkey came back. Lithuania came back. We need your support even at the level of symbols and diplomatic gestures.

Please come back. Everybody who is brave, please come back to our capital and continue working.


CAMEROTA: He says: "Please come back. Everybody who is brave, please come back and continue working."

Will the U.S. move its capital back to Kyiv -- I mean -- sorry -- its embassy back to Kyiv?

PRICE: Well, a couple -- a couple of things on that, Alisyn.

We are always evaluating what's in the best safety and security interests of our diplomats. And, of course, that's a top priority for us, to the safety and security, the welfare, the well-being of the people who represent of the United States of America around the world.

But because -- just because we don't have an embassy in Kyiv doesn't mean we're not able to support the Ukrainian governments and the Ukrainian people. As I mentioned, we spent all day yesterday in Brussels with Foreign Minister Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, talking about the provisions of weapons systems, talking about additional sanctions we can levy, talking about the humanitarian support that the United States will continue to provide to the Ukrainian people.

That will continue. The United States has led the way in terms of our provision of all three of those elements, the security assistance, the humanitarian assistance, the engagement with our Ukrainian partners. And we will continue to do that, whether it is from third countries, whether it's over the phone, or when we're back in Kyiv.

CAMEROTA: Ned Price, thank you for all the information. Thanks for your time.

PRICE: Thanks, Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Ivan Watson is in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

We have seen the aftermath of this Russian missile strike that targeted a train station in Eastern Ukraine. And, Ivan, you rode with evacuees leaving the eastern region of the country. What did they tell you about the time that they were under Russian control?


I did travel on a train for hours yesterday that was headed west from another part of Eastern Ukraine. I didn't go through that tragic train station of Kramatorsk.

And some of the people that I met had been living under Russian occupation, which they fled in the south -- southeastern Ukraine, for a month straight, they described. And there were fascinating and chilling details that they described, such as, when the Russian troops came into their town, they cut off all the connections to Ukrainian television, so that the people there can only watch Russian television.

And listen to what else this woman told me.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They just put red flags on the -- on our building, main building.

WATSON: Which flags did they put?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Russia flags, just like that.

WATSON: On the police station?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everywhere. They just love this, I think. And they think that flag can change our minds, our Ukrainian minds. But it's not work like this.


WATSON: So, I heard a group of women who escaped with their children. They claimed that the Russian military was pressuring residents not to speak Ukrainian or the dialect that is kind of a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian.

They claimed that the soldiers, many of them appeared filthy, and they were getting drunk while they wandered around their town's streets, and that they were approaching residents asking for things like food and toilet paper. And all of these people had fled Russian occupation. In some cases, they said it took days to try to get out because the Russian military weren't letting them leave to Ukrainian-controlled territory.

They said, when they finally got there and saw Ukrainian troops, the women started crying and hugging them.

CAMEROTA: Yes, we can imagine how awful all the things they have seen are.

Ivan Watson, thank you very much for your reporting.

So, Ukraine says it sees Russia's military preparations nearing completion in Eastern Ukraine and they are preparing for a -- quote -- "massive breakthrough" into the eastern part of the country. But a senior defense official says Russia is still having logistical problems. So that's next.


BLACKWELL: And Ukraine's foreign minister told NATO they need three things, weapons, weapons, weapons.

And now we're getting a clearer picture of the amount and the types of weapons the U.S. has committed so far.


CAMEROTA: This just into CNN.

A senior U.S. defense official says that Russia is looking to recruit upwards of 60,000 troops, but added, it's unclear how quickly they could assemble these forces or how prepared the recruits would be.

The White House authorizing an additional $100 million in military weapons and equipment for Ukraine this week, including more than 1,400 anti-aircraft systems, 12,000 anti-armor systems, and 50 million rounds of ammunition.


BLACKWELL: The U.S. is also set to move a Patriot air missile defense system to Slovakia.

Now, this will back Slovakia after they move one of their Soviet era S-300 missile defense systems into Ukraine.

Joining us now is former Defense Secretary and CIA Director under President Obama Leon Panetta.

Mr. Secretary, welcome back.

Let's start first with this missile defense system that's moving into Ukraine. How would that change the dynamics of the fight there in Ukraine?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, that's incredibly important right now, because when something like what we saw happen today at this railroad station, where a missile struck innocent men, women and children, there has to be a way to respond.

And, frankly, using our intelligence capabilities, using intelligence capabilities of the Ukrainians, you can identify where that missile came from. And the ability to respond would be very important right now to make clear to the Russians that they are not free to do this kind of wanton attack without getting hit back.

CAMEROTA: Secretary Panetta, if it's true, what we just reported there, that a senior defense official says that they're seeing the same resupply problems and sustainment problems with the Russian troops that they had seen at the beginning of this onslaught, how can the Ukrainian side capitalize on that?

Now that the Russian troops are amassing in the east and preparing, by all accounts, for this onslaught, how can the Ukrainians capitalize on their weaknesses?

PANETTA: Well, frankly, this is an opportunity that can't be lost.

I mean, after all, the Russians basically moved out of the capital with their tail between their legs. They were impacted. They have been hit hard. They obviously are now trying to refit their operation and try to restore their capabilities.

And, frankly, we shouldn't give them that opportunity. The Ukrainians can't give them that opportunity. They have got to keep the pressure on. This is the most important moment to be able to hit back at the Russians and impact on their ability to be able to restore their effectiveness, so that they can go to war again in the east.

So this is an important opportunity. I think the United States has to provide whatever weapons are necessary to the -- to Ukrainians, so that they can hit back, and hit back now.

BLACKWELL: To continue with that line of Russian weaknesses, this is from our Pentagon team.

The U.S. believes that the Russian military has not solved those logistics and supplemental -- or sustainment problems, I should say, unable to reinforce their forces in the eastern part of Ukraine with any great speed. So, to -- what you were just saying there is that this is an

opportunity for the Ukrainians. Is this also, maybe on the other side of that, an indication of just how long of a slog this will be, as the Russians have this difficulty to bring those troops, the hardware in?

PANETTA: You know, look, I think we need to understand that there is only one thing that Putin understands. And that's force.

I'm not saying sanctions aren't important, I think sanctions have their impact, but make no mistake about it. What Putin pays attention to is force and our ability, working with Ukraine and our allies, to give them the capability to strike back.

At a point when Russia is obviously weak, their army is weak, their logistics are not operating the way they should, this is the moment to hit them back, because that will tell us a lot about how long this war is going to go on. The more they can reinforce, the more they're able to be able to restore their effectiveness, the longer this war is going to go on.

So, as I said, this is an opportunity where Ukraine really needs to apply the kind of continuing pressure that they were successful in applying in Kyiv and apply that now to the Russians in the east. And the United States needs to provide the weapons, and our allies need to provide the weapons necessary to make that happen.

BLACKWELL: All right, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, thank you, sir.

CAMEROTA: OK, up next: an historic moment for soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.


JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.



BLACKWELL: Breaking news now: Jurors have just reached a partial verdict in the trial of the men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

CAMEROTA: CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has the details -- Shimon.


Certainly, this was a significant plot. I mean, you will recall, back in 2020, six men were arrested, indicted and charged for this plot to kidnap the governor.