Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Russia Commemorates Victory Day with Military Parade; Putin Defends Invasion of Ukraine in Victory Day Address; Zelenskyy: Russia has Forgotten Lessons of World War II; Wealthy Countries Slap New Sanctions on Russia. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 09, 2022 - 04:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a very warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and all around the world. I'm Isa Soares coming to you live from Lviv, Ukraine. And you are looking at live pictures out of Moscow where President Putin -- Vladimir Putin has delivered a defiant speech in the last 45 minutes or so as Russia commemorates the Soviet victory against Nazi Germany in World War II. These are live images coming to us from Red Square in Moscow.

Mr. Putin wrapped up his remarks about 45 minutes ago or so during Victory Day ceremonies, and during his speech Putin defended Russia's invasion of Ukraine as necessary, claiming the West was creating threats next to Russia's borders and preparing to invade. He also said that Russian soldiers fighting Ukraine are inspired by Soviet troops who fought during World War II. Have a listen.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): In Kyiv they were talking about the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons. The NATO bloc started developing -- actively developing territories adjacent to us and, therefore, in a planned way were creating an absolutely unacceptable threat immediately next to our borders. Everything pointed to a collision with the Nazis, with the Nazis and Banderites that was inevitable. And that was supported by the West.


SOARES: Well, the annual Victory Day holiday is also memorial to those killed during the war. In all the Soviet Union lost 27 million people, more than any other nation. But under Putin's leadership, Victory Day has taken on a new edge, serving, as we have been showing you in the last hour or so, the showcase of Russia's military powers. You saw those tanks rolling in just a few minutes ago.

Of course, today ceremonies in Moscow are playing out against the backdrop of a new war in Europe started by Russia itself. And just hours before Putin took the stage in Red Square, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy released his own remarks. And he says Russia failed to learn the lessons of World War II, accusing them of repeating the crimes of Hitler's regime instead and vowing that Ukraine will not give up the fight. But victory, he said for Russia in Ukraine, seems in Europe as elusive as ever, and increasingly fair to say hard to define.

And based on video released on Sunday, a Russian deputy Prime Minister has visited Mariupol. That's the country's highest ranking official to set foot there since the war started. Of course, the southern Ukrainian port city -- as we have been showing you for weeks now -- has been decimated by just relentless bombardment. And it's now almost entirely under Russian control with the exception of this, the sprawling Azovstal steel plant. That's where of course, a group of Ukrainian soldiers are still hold up refusing to surrender and vowing to fight to the death. That in the south in Mariupol.

To the east this was the scene in the Luhansk region on Saturday. Local leaders say 60 people are feared dead after Russian forces bombed the school where they were taking shelter. Only around 30 people survived the attack. And fighting in the Luhansk region has been raging for months, and it has ramped up in recent weeks as Russia's refocused invasion on eastern Ukraine. CNN's correspondent Scott McLean and Michael Bociurkiw are with me know. Michael, as you know, is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council is with me the last hour or two hours, I've lost track of time now. But thank you, Scott, for joining us. I want to get to really President Zelenskyy's message. Because we've heard President Putin, we've heard his message. What is President Zelenskyy saying?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so much has been made about this May 9 Victory in Europe. They obviously celebrated on May 8 in the rest of Europe. But because of the time difference on that date in 1945, the Russians celebrated a day later. And of course, the Russians have been framing this entire war as a battle against the Nazification of Ukraine. That's the way that they are framing it. Obviously, there's many reasons that the Ukrainians feel that is entirely a ridiculous premise.


And the thing that stood out to me about the video that President Zelenskyy had released, is that he said that the enemy dreamed that we would refuse to celebrate May 9 and the victory over Nazism so that the word de-Nazification gets a chance. And I think that's important here. And Zelenskyy clearly tried to frame things, as look, this is not just a battle on the ground, not just a battle in war, but it is also a battle of two different world views. Listen.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is not a war of two armies. This is a war of two world views. The war waged by barbarians who shell the Skovoroda Museum and believe their missiles can destroy our philosophy. 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SOARES: Also, very defiant message from President Zelenskyy. And, Michael, just for viewers who are joining us who missed -- perhaps missed what President Putin had to say, give us a sense of what you took away from it.

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, SENIOR FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Sure. Well again, more rhetoric calling Ukrainians Nazis, that Russia Federation is the victim. It's NATO and Western allies that starting this war, all part of the Russian narrative. But as you and I were talking, there was very little to signal -- so what is next? It's almost as if the speech ended very abruptly. So, Western military planners, Ukrainian planners are going to have a tough time figuring out. But my guess, if I can put it that way, would be that they're going to put more reliance on that heavy, very, very deadly artillery and then back that up, seize more lands if they can, and then put in more men to occupy.

SOARES: And on the Nazism front -- I mean, you were both talking about this, and he talked about the beginnings, our duty to keep the memory of those who defeated Nazism, the fighting for security of our nation now. Let's listen back to exactly what he said.


PUTIN (through translator): Those who defeated the Nazis showed us an example of heroism for all eternity. This was a generation of victors and we shall always look up to them. Glory to our great armed forces for Russia, for victory.


SOARES: He also said something that stood out to me and I noted it down. He talked about moral degradation. He continued to call it, Michael, a special military operation, but he talked about the moral degradation. What is the message for his home audience at home on that?

BOCIURKIW: Well, you know, that's very ironic and interesting because where do Russian leaders, those in Putin's very inner circle like to send their kids for education? To the West. Where do Western oligarchs and politicians like to buy property? In the West. Places like the United Kingdom. So, that's why I've been talking for the longest time about we have to put more bite into these sanctions, stop issuing visas for education to his inner circle and stop the sales of those luxury properties to Russian oligarchs and inner circle of Putin.

SOARES: And, Scott, we didn't -- at least I didn't hear the word war or, you know, declaration of war. For weeks now we've been talking about perhaps that he may signal, he may officially call it a war. He's still calling it a special military operation. But he did focus on the Donbas, and that's important given what you and I and all the teams in the field have been seeing for now 70-plus days.

MCLEAN: I honestly have no idea what we should take from this speech because, I mean, as Michael mentions, the West has been predicting that perhaps President Putin would seize on the symbolism on this day to declare war or to declare an escalation or to sort of rally the troops to push even harder, or perhaps even oddly declare victory in some way. I don't know. I just read back the transcript and I didn't hear any of this. And so, I'm not really sure what to make of it.

But you mentioned the fighting in the Donbas in Donetsk in particular is where some of the heaviest fighting is where we're seeing as the Russians are trying to sort of push through those Ukrainian front lines. And we know that when the Russians are having a difficult time on the ground, they tend to just bomb and shell everything in their path. And that's what we're seeing there.

And I just want to take a pause now because, of course, this is Victory Day. It's the tomb of the unknown. And this Victory Day is obviously the day of the defeat of Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Let's just take a listen, please.


SOARES: Live images from Moscow there where President Putin there just laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown. Of course, today is Victory Day in Russia. It's when Russia marks defeat of Nazi Germany during the Second World War. And of course, it comes under the shadow of really a new war in Europe, an event that this year has added significance. Michael Bociurkiw is with me. Scott McLean is with me now as we look at these live pictures coming in. And Michael, no doubt the irony not lost on the Ukrainians as, of course, President Putin as he said in his speech continues the special operation, military operation in Ukraine.

BOCIURKIW: And dealing a heavy, heavy toll on Ukraine, and especially Ukrainians, especially the civilian infrastructure. It's hard to come by the number of civilian deaths, but we do know that the number of children and that number is very high. The other thing, by the way, and I expected Mr. Putin perhaps to do a PR play out of this. Is don't forget hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians forcibly deported into Russia. 500,000 according to the Ukrainians, as much as a million according to the Russians. Often being taken to the far east to remote areas. I thought he might have said these people willingly volunteered to go. But you know, I'm very, very worried about their fate as well.

But to the Ukrainian kind of psyche, including my parents where they were born from here, is, of course, memories of gulag and people being tortured at church, other institutions being liquidated. So, this stealing of grain brings back memories of the Holodomor, of the famine of '32, '33. So, a lot of the rhetoric, but a lot of the Russian actions are just absolutely horrifying to the Ukrainians here.

SOARES: Yes, and of course, you and I and the rest of the world and Scott, too, we've all been covering the atrocities here on the ground, not just in Mariupol, which has been truly decimated. But just outside of Kyiv where the tombs, just countless, countless people dead. And one deputy -- the deputy minister said to me in Mariupol alone, they expect 20,000 people to have died and just in the city of Mariupol. So, this important, of course, we put all this in context of course, as Russia marks Victory Day in the country. We're going to take a short break. We'll come back in just a few minutes. Do stay right here with CNN.



SOARES: You are looking at live pictures there coming to us from Moscow where a military parade was held to commemorate Victory Day. The Russian president spoke in Red Square, defending the invasion of Ukraine saying it was necessary to protect the motherland. He also accused NATO and the West of refusing to listen to Russia ahead of what the Kremlin calls the special operation.

I want to turn now to Lesia Vasylenko. She is a member of Ukrainian Parliament who joins me now live from Kyiv, Ukraine. And Alessia, great to have you on the show. I just really want to get your thoughts from what you heard from President Putin about an hour or so ago.

LESIA VASYLENKO, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: I mean, it's just the usual mumbo-jumbo of a lunatic, power-crazed leader who makes no sense. I don't think he makes any sense to his own people really, to the international community, what I see in the media and after hearing him, that the most common comment is that while he never said anything interesting (INAUDIBLE) and I think this is how Putin is actually going down in history as a power-crazed leader who never said anything interesting.

SOARES: He said during the speech, Lesia, that they're still calling it special military operation. He said that was needed, and it was a needed and timely measure, you know, defiant speech. But what do you think this would mean, this would translate in the battle field? What would this mean for Ukraine, do you think?

VASYLENKO: Well, Ukraine it means that Putin is set on continuing the war which he started eight years ago and escalated to unprecedented levels on the 24th of February, 2022. And for Ukraine it means that we have to stand stronger than ever right now to push back on Russia's aggression. But it's also a message not just to Ukraine, but to the entire world. We as an international community of free states need to stand in solidarity right now, to push back (INAUDIBLE) aggression, on aggression as a fact in principle.

And we need to mobilize all efforts to end this war as quickly as possible, and to end it with Ukraine's victory. But also, with democracy's victory. And it's in all of our interests to secure this victory as quickly as possible. Putin's game is to wage long wars and to make people tired of these long wars. And Europe and the world and Ukraine cannot afford that.

SOARES: What will that mean then, in terms of, you know, we've looking here from what you're saying and what we heard from Putin possibly at a protracted conflict. What would the challenges for the Ukrainian people and President Zelenskyy as he tries, of course, to counterattack the aggression that we see in eastern -- east of the country?

VASYLENKO: Essentially a protracted conflict means that there needs to be a lot of resources, constantly eaten up by the need to counter aggressive action from Russia. Protracted conflict also means that the media attention span and international community's attention span will die out eventually. We have seen this back in 2014, 2015, and as a result of that Putin has no chance of encroaching -- impressing forward his agenda without having some kind of peace like the one in the Minsk agreements, that were in place and that like were just another war.

And I think that for the free world leaders, it's important to remember that peace in Europe and in the world can only be secured once Russia's aggression is stopped completely and once Russia is essentially dismembered as an authoritarian country. Where there's one leader who is keeping a terrorist regime over his own people but also over the neighboring countries of Europe.

And I think this is a goal that we need to also work towards and essentially no resources may be spared for that. I mean, Ukraine has been calling on for weapons, has been calling on for economic sanctions and for economic support of Ukraine. And all of these things need to be happening, ongoingly, but also pretty much quickly because time is of the essence here, and time is going to be working against all of us if we don't act quickly and efficiently, and if we don't act now.

SOARES: Ukrainian member of Parliament Lesia Vasylenko. Lesia, always great to have you on the show, appreciate your perspective. Thank you very much.

VASYLENKO: Thank you.

SOARES: Now President Putin's defiant message comes hours after some of the world's wealthiest countries slapped new sanctions on Russia. Japan announced an embargo of sorts on Russia crude imports. The U.K. is targeting trades with new import tariffs and bands on exports. And the U.S. is going after Kremlin-controlled media companies.

Clare Sebastian's been keeping an eye on all of this. She joins me now live from London. And Clare, critically -- as you probably heard from my guest -- she's basically saying if we look at a protracted conflict, then we need the world's attention to remain on Ukraine and the support, and obviously, economic sanctions and financial support, to keep oncoming.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I think, Isa, there's a realization certainly in the halls of power in the United States and in the European Union increasingly this is going to be expensive. It's going to be something they're going to be paying for, for years. And it's going to be a redrawing of sort of economic maps, the order of the way things worked before. We see that with energy. For example, Europe has not actually agreed or pushed through its sixth package of sanctions yet which includes a sort of phased in oil embargo.

But there is a realization that they are going to have to phase out Russian fossil fuels. They are going to have to stop funneling money to the Kremlin. And you know, the same thing and we see a show of unity here. The sanctions that U.S. has announced over the weekend, really mirror what we've seen from the European Union in their sixth package, you know, targeting media, consulting services, things like that. The U.S. took one interesting step further and sanctioned executives from Gazprombank which is the bank that handles transactions for Gazprom obviously, Russia's gas giant. They said that it wasn't a full block, there's no freezing of assets for Gazprombank.

Obviously, it's critically important to continue those transactions while countries phase out Russian gas, but it is a sign that they are willing to go further. That they still believe they have some leverage over Russia. Very unclear on the other side, though, Isa, whether there is any deterrent effect from these sanctions.

SOARES: Yes, that was kind of my obvious question really, Clare. I mean, we've seen the sanctions pile in. Is that having an impact at all on Russia, on the Russian economy?


SEBASTIAN: On the Russian economy it is to an extent. The Central Bank has projected a 10 percent fall in the economy this year. So that is highly significant. We know, for example, that the authorities are very worried about potential mass unemployment because of the impact that could have on society and critically on views of the Putin administration. So, they are trying to guard against that.

That is why sanctions on trade matter and certainly on energy. Because if Russia has to contract those industries and layoff people, that could be very damaging to populations. But they have, on the other hand, stabilized the financial system, Isa. The ruble today 68 to the dollar, that's stronger than it has been since before the pandemic.

SOARES: And like you pointed out, this is in many ways the Russian central bank propping it up. So that says a lot. Clare Sebastian for us in London. Thanks very much, Clare.

And we've much more ahead on Russia's Victory Day celebrations just ahead. So do stay right here with CNN.


SOARES: I'm Isa Soares coming to you live from Lviv, Ukraine. And just minutes ago the Russian president -- as you can see there -- laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. This as well as a military parade, a part of the pomp as well as ceremony that we see on Victory Day which is being celebrated, not just in Moscow, but also across Russia. And he commemorates the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union's triumph over Nazi Germany.

President Putin used the occasion to defend Russia's invasion of Ukraine drawing really parallels to the Second World War and blaming the West for not listening to the Kremlin's complaints. He also accused Ukraine of trying to acquire nukes. Have a listen.