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Pentagon: Indications Russians Are Forcing Ukrainians Into Russia; Oath Keepers Reveal Methods, Trump Ally Comms To Investigators; Biden Signs Bill To Swiftly Send Military Aid To Ukraine, Allies. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 09, 2022 - 15:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: The top of the hour on CNN NEWSROOM. Good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota. Just into our newsroom, the Pentagon says the U.S. is finding signs that Vladimir Putin's military is forcing Ukrainians to enter Russia. Ukraine's president puts that number at more than a million people. But the U.S. has not assessed a figure yet.

Today, Putin's propaganda took center stage in Moscow against a backdrop of military parades, Putin gave a national address to recognize victory day in Russia, and he falsely blamed the West for the war he started. The U.S. and its allies are also noting what Putin did not say. He did not declare war or try to mobilize more troops as analysts had speculated.

BLACKWELL: He also cancelled the victory date air shows across Russia that had been scheduled. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said that Putin is recognizing that he has no victory to claim. Russian strikes are claiming more lives on the battlefield. Ukrainian officials fear as many as 60 people may be dead after they say Russia dropped a bomb over the weekend on a school where dozens had been sheltering.

In Mariupol, city council members say they found more mass graves.

Now, CNN has not yet been able to verify this, but satellite images showed a thousand freshly dug graves in a village just east of Mariupol.

CAMEROTA: CNN's Erin Burnett is in Kyiv for us.

So, Erin, what more did Ukraine's president say about so-called victory day in both places?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you know what's interesting is point of view was, well, it's going to be a victory day, a day that's going to mark victory for Ukraine, and that that's what this is going to be, so there would be two victory days, and none of them would belong to Vladimir Putin. He did release a video of himself at the exact same time Putin was speaking, Victor, and Alisyn, and he did so walking here on the streets of Kyiv saying that we are fighting for our children's freedom and therefore we will win.

Just to show how much is on the line for everyone in Ukraine, Zelenskyy said this about the Russian perception of the Ukrainian world view.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): It annoys them. It is unfamiliar to them. It scares them. Its essence is that we are free people who have their own path. Today, we are waging war on this path, and we will not give anyone a single piece of our land.


BURNETT: And with me here in Kyiv is our senior national correspondent Sara Sidner.

And, Sara, you know, as we see this sort of back and forth and escalation in Donbas, the Russians sort of building bridges over a key river that they could be using to advance, and there's been a lot of concern on the Ukrainian side about that. What more do you know?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I think what's happening now is there's great concern about this, what that's going to mean for the troops as they are fighting constantly. There are more shellings happening in places that were quiet for a bit, and there's a lot of concern that they are going to push further and further in and gain more and more territory, but to be clear, of course the Ukrainians saying we are going to win this. It is a matter of time. We are going to continue to fight against the Russians as hard and as bravely as we can. And look what we've already managed to do.

So there's sort of a dual thing, yes, there's concern, but they truly feel that they will win this. It is just a matter of how and when.

BURNETT: I know there had been so much anticipation and concern across this country about what would happen today, high alert, and don't gather in groups, and a pickup in strikes. They're now saying that they really over these next kind of days and weeks, they have those fears. But obviously here, we hear air-raid sirens in the day, and in the south, there were missile strikes in Odesa, which the deputy prime minister was mentioning of serious concern.

What more do you know about those, and the kind of escalation that seems to be happening there.

SIDNER: In Luhansk, there was a strike a day or two ago, two days ago, where they hit a school. And the pictures that are coming out of there are really disturbing as you might imagine. Now they're saying there are dozens of people who have been killed and believed dead from that strike.

[15:05:03] There are strikes coming down in places like Odesa that weren't before, that had been sort of quiet before. Then it ratcheted up, and again now, they're getting more and more strikes.

So people are in that sense of it is quiet, does it mean the war is gone from your area, it just means there's a lull. They try to go do what they can when it's quiet, and then when things get, you know, ratchet back up, it's back into your homes, and back into sort of sheltering in place. It's really a difficult life.

Like war happens in pockets, I know you know that.


SIDNER: It's quiet here right now. But you don't know exactly when you're going to face a strike or something else.

BURNETT: Right, right, it's amazing to think about. You hear sirens and explosions and life continues alongside of it, it's amazing to watch what humans are capable of doing.

All right. Well, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. is reacting to Putin's victory day speech, such as it was, in an exclusively interview with CNN national security correspondent Kylie Atwood.

So, Kylie, what did the ambassador tell you?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, she said that Putin's speech today is a reflection of the fact that he recognizes that there is no victory in Ukraine for the Russians to celebrate, and she essentially said that that is a reflection of the reality on the ground, the lack of progress that the Russians have made militarily. She said that Putin is reassessing their positioning on the ground in Ukraine and looking to consolidate gains instead of take new territory -- of course, as we saw them try to do at the onset of this conflict.

She did say that they may try and take that land bridge from Donbas to Crimea. But she said, even that is proving to be extraordinarily difficult. But she was also very clear in saying this speech indicated that this conflict is not over, and that's because Putin didn't announce withdrawal from Russian troops of Ukraine. She also didn't announce any deal with the Ukrainians to bring a resolution to this conflict. And listen to what she said about the long-term implications because of that.


LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I suspect and we all assess that this could be a long-term conflict that can carry on for additional months. What we want to do is support the Ukrainians' ability to defend themselves, but also give them a -- more power at the negotiating table to negotiate with the Russians once they get to real negotiations.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ATWOOD: And the ambassador is here in Brussels for a conference to support Syria, and one thing that we talked about is the fact that the commander of the Russian troops in Ukraine right now is the same man who is known as the butcher of Syria. He oversaw many atrocities that the Russians committed in Syria, and she said that he needs to be held accountable, the fact that he is still there committing war crimes on behalf of the Russians is something that the world really needs to look at.

BURNETT: Kylie, thank you very much.

And, Victor and Alisyn, as I send it back to you as Kiley brings up the general, the former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told me that in Syria, they gave him the coordinates of hospitals to make sure the Russians and establishment would not bomb them. And, literally, right afterwards, they would -- they would go in and bomb those very locations.

They would take the coordinates they were supposed to protect and bomb them. That's what he's known for, and that's what we're seeing here as well.

BLACKWELL: Yeah. And we're seeing the Russians do similar to what they did in Syria, in Chechnya, and following the same playbook.

Erin, we'll get back to you. Thank you very much.

A lot to talk about with William Taylor, he's the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. He's also the vice president for Russia and Europe at the U.S. Institute for Peace.

Also with us, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. He's a CNN military analyst.

Gentlemen, welcome back.

I believe this question is more of a diplomatic question than a military one. So, Mr. Ambassador, let me start with you on this acknowledgment by the Pentagon that's seeing indications that Russians are taking Ukrainians and moving them to Russia against their will.

First, what do you do to stop it and how do you get those by the Ukrainian estimate, more than a million people back to Ukraine?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: S, Victor, this is just another of the things that you just talked about. It's a war crime. To deport people out of the war zone into the occupying country, that's a war crime. That's another war crime that the Russians are committing. Number one.

Number two, these Ukrainians, they don't want to go to Russia. They want to go to Ukraine. That's their home. That's their land. That's their nation.


And to forcibly push them into Russia, again, is unconscionable, it's a war crime, and it is something that should not be tolerated.

But number three, we should do exactly what you're doing, and that is point it out, let the world know what's going on. Let the world know what the Russians are doing, what the Russians are -- what they really are, this is just an indication of the kinds of action the Russians are undertaking.

CAMEROTA: Colonel Leighton, do you have any theory why Vladimir Putin didn't declare victory on victory day as he was predicted, so many people said he would do, and why cancel the air shows, the huge grand air shows across Russia that were scheduled everywhere. I mean, the weather wasn't bad everywhere in Russia. What's that about?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yeah, Alisyn, it's very interesting. When you look at exactly what the lay of the land is in terms of the war map here, you see the that Russians have actually lost a lot of territory that they previously had. So, to answer your question about why he didn't declare victory or do something else that he thought -- that we thought, many of us thought that he was going to do.

The way this looks here, it's not really favorable to him. He doesn't have Kyiv. He does not have the rest of the Donbas region.

He has this area in the south. He has this area in the northeast, and of course in the east. But he's not able to really expand any of this, so that is the main reason.

He's basically stalled out. And as far as the flyovers go, the weather was not as bad as he said it was. Russian pilots can fly in a lot of bad weather. They kind of have to, given the climate of Russia. It was just an excuse not to show a lot of his military and perhaps they also have some spare parts and logistics issues, that's something we'll have to look at.

BLACKWELL: Mr. Ambassador, I want to double back on the question of the people who have been taken to Russia. Imagine you have lived through the first few months of this, this invasion, and then you're stolen away from your homeland, and taken to the aggressor's homeland.

You said pointed out. The world has been pointing out the atrocities that Russian forces have been responsible for, for some time now. I know options are limited, but is that the full breadth of options for the west for the U.S., for anyone other than Ukraine to help get these people back to their homes?

TAYLOR: You're right. It seems inadequate that to be able to be constrained when we're seeing, you're pointing out these war crimes, these, the bombing of the school, the atrocities that we're seeing in Bucha and other places, Mariupol is going to be terrible, you just reported on thousands of new braves. So it is frustrating. Not to be able to do something.

What we can do, Victor, what we need to do, indeed, what we are doing is help the Ukrainians win this war. Ukrainians need to win this war for all kinds of reasons but on the topic of war crimes, then the Russians will be held accountable. When the Ukrainians win, when they are victorious, then the investigations will go into high gear, there's no statute of limitations on war crimes, and the Russians who are responsible for these atrocities will be held to account.

CAMEROTA: Colonel, can you show us where the bridge is that we have been reporting on? This is the pontoon bridge that Russian soldiers have constructed and why this is significant?

LEIGHTON: Absolutely. This is the village where the school was hit, so the pontoon bridge is supposed to be right here. I think there was also another one near, not too far from slow, see a bridge of Russian forces in this area.

So, this pontoon bridge is the one that they're really worried about because it's close to Bakhmut. It's right on the bath to Bakhmut, and if the Russians get down to the area, the Luhansk region, they can cut off Ukrainian forces that are here. Especially if they're joined from forces in the south, this becomes a critical junction, and if they can do this, then there's a risk that the Ukrainian forces that are originally poised to fight in the Donbas, that they could be cut off from the rest of Ukraine.

So this is a very big danger for the Ukrainians, and something that has to really be taken into account by the leadership in Kyiv as well as of course the western nations that are helping Ukraine at this point.

BLACKWELL: Colonel, I've got one for you. We have a report coming up during the lead from Scott McLean who said there are more Ukrainians right now working on the railway system than there are Ukrainian fighters.

I mean, your assessment of having to focus on the trains to keep elements getting to these cities.


Is that the right strategy now for Ukrainians?

LEIGHTON: Well, it's really interesting. You know, when you look at the ratio of all the different people that are needed to fight a modern war, Victor, it really becomes a key thing that enablers, key enablers like logistics, intelligence, communication, that all of those function. When you look at, for example, in the U.S. military, the ratio of people that are fighting, that are working in the background as opposed to front line fighters, you will find that it's somewhere around 3 to 1, 4 to 1 in some cases.

So, it's not unreasonable for the Ukrainians to have more people working on the railroads throughout the country than it is Ukrainians fighting on the front line. In some ways, it's better for them to be doing this because they can move logistical supplies in a way that allows the front line fighters to do their job, and you're finding front line wars are a bit less personnel intensive than they used to be.

CAMEROTA: OK. Ambassador William Taylor and Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you both.

LEIGHTON: You bet.

CAMEROTA: So, the leader of the Oath Keepers is giving January 6 investigators new information about their communications with the Trump White House. We have new CNN reporting for you next.

BLACKWELL: And Mitch McConnell says a federal ban on abortion is possible. Democrats and Republicans' next moves, we'll talk about them, next.


CAMEROTA: Leaders of the far right extremist group the Oath Keepers are sharing extensive information with January 6th investigators, and detailing how they helped the Trump campaign.

BLACKWELL: A lawyer working with the far right extremist group tells CNN that she has given phones to the FBI.

CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez joins us now.

So, what exactly did this lawyer tell investigators?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, and Alisyn, what this lawyer, Kellye SoRelle is saying, she has met with the FBI a number of times, given them her phone, given them some of her communication, and part of this effort appears to be by prosecutors to try to get these guys to flip, and to provide information for the prosecution of others. We know of so far about 8 criminal defendants who have come forward to cooperate with prosecutors in this oath keeper conspiracy.

But we know, for instance, Stewart Rhodes, who's the leader of the Oath Keepers who's already charged, we know he met with the FBI before he was arrested. Lee Alexander, who is one of the organizers of the stop the steal movement has been talking to prosecutors about cooperating.

So what you see is a tremendous amount of pressure that prosecutors are trying to put on some of these guys to turn against each other, and we know they say that there are additional defendants they're looking to bring charges against.

Already, Victor, and Alisyn, we know from last week in court, prosecutors said that there was a defendant who said he overheard Stewart Rhodes, on a call trying to get in touch with the former President Donald Trump. That is on January 6th. So you can see that some of the information that these guys are turning over is showing up in some of these court filings and they're using it to try to get two additional defendants -- Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. Evan, thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right. Moments ago, President Biden held a signing ceremony in the oval office. This is for the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend and Lease Act. Essentially, it gives the administration more authority to, as it says, lend and lease military hardware to Ukraine, of course, as this month stretches on.

CAMEROTA: Let's take a look.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Cardin -- Ben Cardin; Elissa Slotkin; and the Congresswoman Victoria Spatz -- Spartz, excuse me, who -- I was just talking to her about still having family back in Ukraine. God love you.

I -- we're going to -- I'm about to sign a bill that these folks are responsible -- and, of course, the Vice President, excuse me. Excuse me.

The -- I'm signing a bill that provides another important tool in our efforts to support the government of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in their fight to defend their country and their democracy against Putin's brutal war. And it is brutal.

I want to thank members of Congress here for getting this passed and everyone who supported the bill. And the bill demonstrates that support for Ukraine is pivotal at this moment.

Every day, Ukrainians pay with their lives, and they fight along -- and the atrocities that the Russians are engaging in are just beyond the pale. And the cost of the fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is even more costly. That's why we're staying in this.

Yesterday, we celebrated VE Day -- Victory in Europe Day -- marking the end of a transition of the devastation as a consequence of World War Two and Allied nations' defeat of the scourge of fascism in Europe.

And today, Europe is honoring another important day on the anniversary. On May 9th, 1950, just years after the end of World War Two, Europe began to work to strengthen the bonds of unity among the nations, particularly the economic unity and the shared economic prosperity.

The idea ultimately grew into the -- what is now a 27-nation European Union -- an economic powerhouse and a global force for peace and close partners of all -- on all the issues we face.

And it really has -- I've said from the very beginning, it's -- it's something that is good for everyone.


It brings these countries together in ways that -- and they cooperate closely economically. They also cooperate in other ways. And you've seen it in their support for Ukraine.

And with Putin's war once more bringing wanton destruction into Europe, and to -- to reaffirm the enduring commitment to the future grounded in democracy, human rights, and peaceful resolution to disagreements, I'm now going to sign this bill.

And again, I thank my colleagues who are standing behind me. And -- because it really matters. It matters.

There you go. Done. Thank you.



CAMEROTA: So, you have been watching President Biden there in the Oval Office. He just signed a bill to quickly send military aid to Ukraine.

Okay. Meanwhile, with the dropped mask mandates in airports comes a massive drop in the number of unruly passengers, so we'll have more on that connection next.