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Erin Burnett Outfront

Ukraine: Missiles Kill 4, Injure 47 In City Center; Putin Tries To Portray Wagner Deal As A Victory; One-On-One With Ukrainian Foreign Minister. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired June 27, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, live deep inside eastern Ukraine where the war is playing out. Horrors striking a city center as a top Russian investigative reporter has new details for us about the phone calls leading up to the insurrection against Putin. That reporter, Christo Grozev, is my guest.

And my full explosive interview with the Ukrainian foreign minister, why he thinks the threat to Putin is far from over, and his fears of an attack on Europe's largest nuclear power plant here.

Plus, a Wagner commander speaks out to CNN about Yevgeny Prigozhin's bold coup attempt and what's next for the man who humiliated Vladimir Putin.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. Welcome to a special edition of OUTFRONT.

We are live tonight in eastern Ukraine, in the city of Dnipro, a city on the road to the front lines of Putin's war.

Behind me, you see blackness. But there is a city behind me of nearly 1 million people. It is just completely dark. After curfew completely dark, the street lights behind me are all shut off because Dnipro is a target, something that we've witnessed firsthand, the haunting sounds of air raid sirens have gone off multiple times tonight.

Since the start of this war, the city has faced relentless barrage of missile attacks. The people here know they can suffer death or destruction at any moment.

And tonight in Kramatorsk, another city in the hot zone of eastern Ukraine, a horrific scene, Russian missiles tearing through a busy city center, hitting a restaurant, a pizza restaurant, at least four people were killed including a child. Bodies still being pulled from the rubble. An area filled with restaurants that are popular both with residents and the military, we understand filled with children tonight.

In fact, Roman Trokhymets, the Ukrainian soldier, a familiar face to many of you who watch OUTFRONT, was there tonight with his sister Lila. And she posted this video.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've just been shelled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just got shelled in Kramatorsk.


BURNETT: This is more video that Lila sent exclusively to OUTFRONT of the restaurant when they were there. They were just eating dinner, right?

Lila tells OUTFRONT she felt dizzy, she went to the hospital. Of course she knows she's incredibly lucky because just feet away, people died. Others weren't lucky.

I want to warn you that the video you're about to see that she is sharing with you is graphic. You'll be able to see Lila's brother Roman in his suit trying to help save a woman's life.


BURNETT: Here's another image of the bloody aftermath of the attack. These images are incredibly hard to look at. But they bring it home. A pizza restaurant, people out eating, hit with a missile and killed.

And this is the reality for millions here in eastern Ukraine -- a disconcerting reminder that there is no escaping Putin's war. This attack also raising the question of what Putin will do, whether he will lash out more after the humiliating insurrection waged against him, an insurrection that is raising important new questions about Putin's standing in Russia and his standing, of course, around the world as a powerful leader.

We have new information about the man behind the coup attempt tonight, new satellite images show that two planes that are linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin at a Belarusian air base. Is he still in the country as the president of Belarus claims?


ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Not only will he not meet with you, he won't speak to you on the phone due to the situation. He was silent and then said, but we want justice, they want to throttle us, and we'll go to Moscow. I said, halfway there, they'll squash you like a bug.

Negotiations went on throughout the day, six or seven rounds of negotiations.


BURNETT: Well, since that deal, however, it was brokered, whatever hyperbole is in that statement from Lukashenko, we still have not seen Prigozhin, right? Not live, just that 11-minute video message that he posted addressing the insurrection -- nothing else.


Putin, though, we did see again today going before cameras. This time, he was there to thank his security forces for stopping what he is now calling a civil war.

And, earlier, I spoke exclusively to Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba about Prigozhin's rebellion.


BURNETT: Did you have any intelligence pointing to an insurrection like we saw?

DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: No, we did not have any specific information with kind of the time line of possible implementation of Prigozhin's plans. But, for us, it has always been pretty obvious that it's just a matter of time when someone in Russia will dare to challenge Putin. Because we saw how his power and authority is shrinking, and how Russia is entering very difficult turbulence.

So, Prigozhin is just the first one who dared, but I have no doubts that others will follow, one way or another.


BURNETT: We're going to have more from the Ukrainian foreign minister in just a moment, as well as a live report from our Matthew Chance who is in Moscow tonight.

I want to begin, though, with Ben Wedeman, because he is live in eastern Ukraine as well, but he is in Kramatorsk. He was there earlier today at the site of that missile attack.

And, Ben, what did you see?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIOAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we saw, Erin, was a scene of pandemonium with rescue workers scrambling to find survivors, and Kramatorsk residents enraged that once more, their city had come under Russian attack.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Utter destruction, two missiles striking Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, one slamming into the city center.

The strike took place at precisely 7:32 in the evening. We don't know what it was that struck, but it was clearly a very large missile by -- given the level of damage here. Now, right behind me was a very popular restaurant. And given the time of the strike, there were probably many people inside.

A witness inside the restaurant says it was crammed with people when the missile struck. He saw rescuers pulling dozens of people out. Slabs of concrete collapsing at the center of the restaurant. Medics

and firefighters continuing to pull people out hours after the strike, and removing damaged cars from surrounding streets, clearing the way for more rescue work.

Air raid sirens warning of another strike, pausing the search and rescue and moving along crowds looking for loved ones. The blast knocking this woman off her feet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I was in the middle of my apartment. Then I heard a sudden explosion and was knocked off my feet by the wave. The windows were blown out on the first floor. I was very frightened.

WEDEMAN: Kramatorsk is not far from the front lines. As the war trudges on, Russia continues striking seemingly random targets and civilians are paying the ultimate price.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I just want peace for everyone, peace.


WEDEMAN (on camera): Now, this evening in his nightly address, President Vladimir Putin said that what struck Kramatorsk was an S-300 missile. That's normally a surface-to-air missile. But the Russians increasingly have used those weapons to target towns and cities near the front lines. Now, he also said that this attack on Kramatorsk was a, in his words, manifestation of terror. Erin?

BURNETT: Ben, thank you very much.

And I want to go to Moscow now. Matthew Chance is there.

And, Matthew, of course, the question remains, right, day to day as you're there, talking to people, seeing people, feeling what's going on. How is Putin handling what is a massive ongoing fallout from the mutiny there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, he's trying to draw a line under it. For instance, he's been trying to repair some of the damage to his authority, Erin, that resulted from that military uprising at the weekend. Vladimir Putin appearing at a Kremlin ceremony today in front of his military troops in what was meant as a formal show of unity.


ANNOUNCER: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

CHANCE (voice-over): This is Kremlin damage control in full swing, using the trappings of the Russian presidency to patch up Putin's battered image and to portray a deal ending the armed Wagner rebellion as a feat not of weakness but as of national unity.

[19:10:10] VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): You have defended the constitutional order, the life, security, and freedom of our citizens, saved our motherland from upheavals and actually stopped the civil war.

CHANCE: The Kremlin insists Putin's biggest challenge in 23 years of power is actually bringing Russia closer together. The problem is, that's not entirely true. Images of Russians cheering Wagner forces would've sent chills through the Kremlin.

Not all Russians welcomed the munity, but few turned out to resist it either, despite what the Kremlin says.

And what of the man who exposed this serious crack in Kremlin authority?

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner leader, has now arrived in neighboring Belarus, according to its officials, after charges of insurrection against him and his fighters in Russia were dropped.

It's possible Wagner fighters could now work alongside the Belarusian military, suggests Alexander Lukashenko, the country's leader. Though he said no camps for them had yet been built.

The Russian defense ministry says the mercenary group must first surrender its heavy weapons. And the Kremlin, which now admits fully funding Wagner, says it will investigate how more than a billion dollars recently paid for salaries and bonuses was really spent.

Back at the Kremlin, silence for the Russian pilots killed in Prigozhin's uprising.

Putin may find it hard to forgive a man who shattered his image of control and who he says stabbed Russia in the back.


CHANCE (on camera): Well, Erin, I don't have to tell you what happened to some of Putin's enemies in the past -- poisoned, jailed, killed, and it's hard to see what real security guarantees Yevgeny Prigozhin could have in a country like Belarus where Vladimir Putin has such a powerful influence.

Back to you.

BURNETT: Absolutely. Matthew, thank you, in Moscow.

Well, I began the day in Kyiv. I spoke there with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. And I asked him whether Ukraine had any intelligence, whether Ukraine had any intelligence pointing to this insurrection from Yevgeny Prigozhin.

And here's what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRIANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: No, we did not have any specific information with kind of the timeline of possible implementation of Prigozhin's plans. But, for us, it has always been pretty obvious that it's just a matter of time when someone in Russia will dare to challenge Putin, because we saw how his power and authority is shrinking and how Russia is entering very difficult turbulence.

So, Prigozhin is just the first one who dared. But I have no doubts that others will follow one way or another.

BURNETT: Do you think that Vladimir Putin is fully in command and in power in Moscow right now?

KULEBA: Well, that's a tricky question. Formally, yes, I think he is still the center of power in sys -- in the system. But too many parts or elements of the system saw the obvious, that he can be challenged and that some decisions can be taken without his clearance.

So what he is probably trying to do now is to reassert his control over the system. I doubt he will succeed, but that's my -- that's my assessment.

What we've seen is just another -- the next phase of the disintegration of Russia, of Putin's power vertical. And it's unavoidable. This is not -- this is the process you can try to slow down, but you cannot stop it. We saw similar processes in the past.

BURNETT: I want to ask you one important thing about this. We understand from our reporting that U.S. officials had extremely detailed advance warning of Prigozhin's plans, the Wagner troop movements, and everything that we saw unfold this weekend.

But they did not share this with Ukraine because they were concerned that those communications would be intercepted, right?


There was a concern about interception. Do you think that's a fair concern?

KULEBA: Well, we enjoy very good level of intelligence cooperation with the United States. But, of course, in the end, the United States decides on the volume of information that can be shared.

What is important, I think, since the events were taking place in the territory of Russia, that's one thing. But if anything had been planned in the territory of Ukraine, I have no doubts that the U.S. administrat -- the Biden administration would have shared -- would share this information with us. But when it comes to Russia, this is -- it's slightly different, slightly different story.

BURNETT: So you're not angry that they didn't share that information?

KULEBA: No, no, no. I'm -- I feel -- I only feel -- listen, I only feel frustrated with the United States when decisions on delivering certain types of weapons to Ukraine --


KULEBA: -- take more time than I wish it took.

But, overall, we're extremely grateful to the Biden administration and to the people of the United States for everything they are doing for Ukraine.


Has the rebellion in Russia, as you've seen over just these past few days, and I know it's sort of still the fog and chaos of it, but has it changed anything on the front lines?

You know, I spoke to a drone operator, Ukrainian drone operator, he's operating near Bakhmut. And he was saying, on Saturday, they felt a palpable panic from the Russians but that it then subsequently returned to what he said would be, quote/unquote, normal in terms of their behavior.

KULEBA: If this mutiny had lasted for 48 hours more, I -- I'm pretty certain we would have felt a demoralizing impact on the Russian forces fighting in the south and east of Ukraine. Unfortunately, Prigozhin gave up too quickly. So there was no time for this stabili -- demoralizing effect to penetrate Russian trenches.


BURNETT: All right. We're going to have much more of my interview with Ukrainian foreign minister ahead.

But I want to go now to Christo Grozev, the lead Russia investigator for Bellingcat because he, of course, has been put on Russia's wanted list after his work uncovering the men who poisoned Putin critic Alexey Navalny. And he's been doing a lot of work on this rebellion, insurrection, coup -- I think we're still working to find out what the right word is.

And, Christo, I know you've been investigating how this -- let me give another word, mutiny -- began, that you've actually uncovered phone calls prior to the start of Prigozhin's march that are relevant, perhaps crucial. Tell me about them.

CHRIISTO GROZEV, LEAD RUSSIA INVESTIGATOR, BELLINGCAT: Sure. First of all, I have to say that this coup, which was qualified as a coup by Russia's investigative authorities, was something that I agree with from months ago when we talked about it on your show and I've been on the record predicting that Prigozhin will try to do something like this. But what we do see now is that the Kremlin did have some advance warning that something is about to happen. We can not have insight into the phone conversations that we received the metadata for.

But it was clear that there was a spike of communication, at least the night before the mutiny or the coup began. So, the 23rd -- the night of the 23rd of June, there was an extreme spike of communication between the GRU, the presidential administration, the FSO, which is the secret service or the presidential protection service, and the special operations of the military of Russia.

And something was different than the usual pattern of communication that we've seen before. And then it was followed by clearly another night of restless, sleepless communication the following night. And what we do see in the communication also is that a few minutes before it became public that Prigozhin has launched his crusade on Rostov and subsequently to Moscow, the GRU, the Russian military intelligence began talking to a very important person in the coup, who was Alexei Dyumin.

Dyumin is the person who essentially had been called the godfather of Wagner, the private military company. He used to be the person who Putin promoted him to a political position. He was very close to Prigozhin. He was very close to Putin. Apparently, he got engaged in a negotiation with Prigozhin early on before it became public that something is going on.


BURNETT: It's fascinating because it shows, and you're saying two nights, right, that they knew something was happening. Maybe they knew a lot, maybe they knew exactly what was happening. Certainly, we know U.S. intelligence did. So I would presume they did. Yet, they were unable to stop it.

And that's the big question. You've been looking at why Prigozhin stopped. Because he is the one who stopped. He was marching unchallenged to Moscow. What could the reason have been that he stopped?

GROZEV: Again, at this point, we have to hypothesize nobody knows exactly what happened in those final hours before he stopped suddenly. But I know from people inside the Wagner organization that they wanted to proceed to Moscow, that that was the intent, that was the wish of the 8,000 people who were sort of answering Prigozhin's beckoning and call.

And they were told it was against their wishes. Now, one thing we can imagine that this was probably corroborated by some British intelligence that was leaked was that there may have been some pressure on relatives of either Prigozhin or on other senior members of the Wagner private military company.

Now, this has happened before Russian domestic intelligence services have put pressure, for example, in the Chechen war, they would kidnap members of the family of the Chechen warlords at that time. And that was seen as one of the reasons that the sort of demise of the uprising in Chechnya was accelerated. So, I can imagine that something similar came to the minds of the FSB this time as well.

BURNETT: All right. Christo, thank you very much, as always, with those crucial new details of going through those phone calls is incredible. Thank you. And next, a story that you'll see first OUTFRONT, a former Wagner

commander speaks out to CNN for the first time since the insurrection. So what does he think of Prigozhin and the fact that he backed down from that march on Moscow?

Plus, Putin's PR machine is now trying to fire on all cylinders. State television trying to shift attention away from the armed rebellion that Putin today called an attempted civil war.

And more of my exclusive interview with Ukraine's foreign minister. I ask him if he thinks Putin will use a nuclear weapon.



BURNETT: We're back with a special edition of OUTFRONT. We are live from Dnipro in eastern Ukraine, deep in the east where the war is playing out.

Tonight, Russia's security services are dropping criminal investigation into the Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin after he launched an armed insurrection inside Russia and marched on Moscow. But here's the thing, one of Prigozhin's own commanders is now speaking out, speaking out to CNN for the first time since the rebellion.

And Melissa Bell has more on this story that you will see first here OUTFRONT.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Shadowy mercenaries and their enigmatic leader thrust into the sunlight with their charge towards Moscow. Ukraine will have been both Wagner's making and its undoing. Its men inspiring a grudging respect even from their Ukrainian enemies, its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin hailed a hero by Moscow until he became the enemy.

MARAT GABIDULLIN, FORMER WAGNER COMMANDER (through translator): He miscalculated. He made a mistake. Generally speaking, the system rejects rational thinking.

BELL: A former Wagner commander himself, Marat Gabidullin says that Prigozhin's hubris was fueled by battlefield frustrations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, bro, I'm sorry.

BELL: For months, the Wagner chief had railed against Russia's military leaders, claiming they were starving the mercenaries of much- needed ammunition.

YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, WAGNER CHIEF (through translator): You think you can dispose of their lives? You think because you have warehouses full of ammunition that you have that right? BELL: Those powerless battlefield struggles, a far cry from the bold

insurrection that was to follow. A fact not lost on the Wagner leader himself.

PRIGOZHIN (through translator): If, at the beginning of the special military operation, the tasks were performed by a unit on the same skill level, level of morale and preparedness as the Wagner PMC, perhaps the special operation in Ukraine would've lasted a day.

BELL: Unsurprisingly, the betrayal has been fell most keenly by the man most directly threatened.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The organizers of the rebellion betraying their country, their people, also betrayed those who were drawn into the crime.

BELL: Wagner's now infamous role in Ukraine perhaps a thing of the past.

GABIDULLIN (through translator): Prigozhin completely faulted his mission in Ukraine.

BELL: The reasons for Putin's clemency not yet clear. But they may be linked to the philosophy at the heart of Wagner's operations as Gabidullin told CNN last year.

GABIDULLIN: Russian peace costs American dollars.

BELL: For years Wagner has operated the Kremlin's shadow foreign policy across the Middle East and Africa, and much closer to home.

GABIDULLIN (through translator): Putin sees Prigozhin as a really effective commander, the more so that the successful functioning of the African project speaks in his favor.

BELL: But it wasn't in Prigozhin's strength that his danger lay as Vladimir Putin found over the weekend in the biggest challenge to his power in more than 20 years.


BELL (on camera): There are, of course, Erin, in all of the questions that this now raises for the Ukrainian battlefields, but there are also those questions far beyond all of those Wagner soldiers for all of those years who have played such an important role across the African continent in the Middle East propping up this regime or that regime. What becomes of them? Does the Russian president simply become a more openly, more overtly neocolonial presence? What does that mean for the sometimes rickety piece that that has meant in very volatile parts of the world?

These questions tonight unanswered. The point is that the collapse of that machine within a machine raises questions, Erin, far beyond the borders of Russia.

BURNETT: All right. Melissa, thank you very much. I want to go OUTFRONT now to Andrei Soldatov, the Russian

investigative journalist, and author of "The Compatriots: The Russian Exiles Who Fought Against the Kremlin".

And, Andrei, of course, it's always good to see you.

So, you know, you just saw Melissa's reporting, and the former Wagner commander saying that Prigozhin's insurrection was a mistake. He says fueled by battlefield frustrate by also by hubris. How do you see it?

ANDREI SOLDATOV, RUSSIAN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, I think that Prigozhin had no choice but to try to do something, because he was clearly losing. His group, Wagner group, plead almost no part right now. Now it is the Russian army which is fighting the Ukrainian forces trying to stop the Ukrainian counteroffensive, not Wagner.

And the memory of this big victory in Bakhmut is getting more and more distant, and given the fact that the minister of defense decided to change the rule for companies like Wagner's, Prigozhin needed to do something. So he completely miscalculated, but he was, in a way, he needed to do something.

BURNETT: You know, Andrei, I'm curious. I know Christo Grozev has this reporting. They know that he also looked at all the phone data, you know, incredible reporting and he's found that in the two days before the rebellion, the insurrection, there was this flurry of calls in the night and through the night, including the GRU to the FSB, that there were calls.

And now the FSB says that the criminal charges against Prigozhin and other Wagner members are being dropped. They had put them on, then we had heard they'd gone off. But they said they were still October now they are saying they are actually dropping them. What do you make of what's going on here? And was the FSB somehow humiliated in this?

SOLDATOV: Yes, absolutely. And I think it started the very first day of the insurrection. Because, back then, on Saturday night, the FSB made a big statement accusing Prigozhin of treason. But, at the same time, calling the Wagner soldiers to go and arrest Prigozhin, which is absolutely incredible, because in Russia there is a right to conduct arrest is given to law enforcement agencies, to the security services, including the FSB but not to the Wagner soldiers.

So it was absolutely clear for many people that the FSB became afraid of making the move. And I know from my sources that local department of the FSB in Rostov-o-Don, they just barricaded in its headquarters.

BURNETT: All right. Andrei, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

And next, the president of Belarus says that he is now in possession of Putin's nuclear weapons. Well, just how concerned is Ukraine about a nuclear attack? We're going to have more of our exclusive conversation with the Ukrainian foreign minister speaking out today.

Plus, Putin's propagandist doing an about-face on Yevgeny Prigozhin, once appearing in promotional videos of the Wagner chief now saving their most ugly insults for him.



BURNETT: Welcome back to this special edition of OUTFRONT, live from Dnipro in eastern Ukraine, where air sirens have been blaring tonight multiple times. This comes as the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko says that many nuclear weapons from Russia are now actually in his country.


ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The part of nuclear weapons, I'm not going to say how many, a big part has already been brought to Belarus. It is here, it's surprising that they didn't trace it.


BURNETT: Now, the closest Putin ally in the region, of course, that's what Lukashenko is, Belarus, not only helping Putin with nuclear fear- mongering, but also, of course, has been key to trying to squash the uprising in Russia.

Here's more of my exclusive interview with the Ukrainian foreign minister.


BURNETT: When Putin finally spoke, he obviously didn't mention Prigozhin by name. He talked about traitor and treason, but he didn't -- he didn't use his name.

Lukashenko supposedly brokered the whole deal, did a press conference today. Guess what? He didn't mention Prigozhin at all.

What do you think is happening here? And because it is so significant for Wagner, which has been so important in this war, do you have any sense as to where Prigozhin is?

DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINSTER: I don't care, really. But there was a picture of a Wagner tank being stuck in between the gates of the circus in the city of Rostov. And I think that this is the best picture to explain, in a nutshell, the current situation of Wagner. Stuck in the middle of -- it is still a war machine, but it is stuck in a circus of Russian politics.

I don't -- I think Wagner will not continue its existence as -- in the -- in the current form. But I don't really care what is -- what is going to happen to them because, you know, we think about what is happening in Ukraine.

BURNETT: But if it changes its existence in its current form, that could have huge implications for you. I mean, we've been talking about in Bakhmut for months, right, Wagner troops being so central. So, if it changes its existence --


KULEBA: That remains to be seen. You -- when you fight a war, what really matters is the type of engagement on the battlefield. So, yeah, if Wagner -- if Wagner disintegrates or falls into pieces, but part of it will move to the regular -- will become part of the regular army -- Russian army and end up on the front line fighting in exactly the same way as they did --



KULEBA: -- being part of Wagner, then the change will not be that visible.

But if something deeper and more damaging will happen to them, and some of them, some -- for example, some of the veterans with excellent fighting records will decide to retire entirely, yes, that helps.

BURNETT: And what is your -- the greatest challenge that you're facing in doing that right now, on those front lines, where that daily fighting is happening?

KULEBA: Mine fields, reinforced defensive lines, and Russia's domination in the air. These are the three factors that cause the biggest problems for us. But against the background of these factors, we're still moving forward steadily.

I understand that people, you know, we are a generation of Netflix and everyone wants a blockbuster. But sometimes, things take time to evolve --


KULEBA: -- especially when life of people, of real human beings, is at take.

BURNETT: One big question out there remains the nuclear question. And obviously, the Ukrainian intelligence chief says Putin has drafted and approved, those are his words, plans to attack the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which, as we know, is the largest in Europe. President Zelenskyy has also warned of such a possible attack recently.

How real is this risk, do you think?

KULEBA: As long as Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant remains in the hands of Russia, the risk is real. The question I think Russia is struggling with is the problem of attribution, because, of course, they don't want to be blamed for causing another nuclear disaster. So, I think they're struggling to find a way to perform it as a false flag operation or as something else that would not be directly attributable to them. And this is why it gets so important, and I want really to take the

opportunity of this conversation to really call a spade a spade. Because what international media did was the explosion at the Nova Kakhovka dam when they cast doubt about, like, who did it, that is exactly what Russia is looking for -- to cast doubt and throw shadow.

BURNETT: In the context of Putin's situation right now, do you think that his decision to use nuclear forces in some way is a real possibility?

KULEBA: Frankly, I believe that the fear of nuclear weapons is the last argument Putin has in his pocket. I think it's nothing more than a fear game, because Putin loves life too much.

BURNETT: Even if his power is threatened?

KULEBA: And people around him love life even more.

And, of course, we are not wizards to speak about, you know, to forecast future developments. But the West will make a big mistake if it decides to play the nuclear fear game with Putin. And I would like to say, once again, that the West should recall that its nuclear deterrence strategy in the Cold War was extremely successful.

And instead of saying, let's not do this because that will provoke Putin to -- the line of thinking should be, let's do this and put an end to this aggression and terror sooner -- rather sooner than later.

And there's a big test that the West will be facing in this regard in the coming two weeks, which is the NATO summit in Vilnius. As they say, like make hay when the sun shines, right? This is really -- this is really the moment, the moment to make strong decisions on the prospect of Ukraine's membership in NATO, and be very clear about that.

Some countries are even afraid of mentioning the word "invitation". But we actually believe that --

BURNETT: Yeah, they haven't invited you to the summit, yeah (ph).

KULEBA: Yeah. There are -- no, we got invited, but not to the summit itself but to participate in the NATO/Ukraine council taking place on the modest (ph) part, on the margins of the summit.


But some countries are arguing now that we shouldn't be inviting Ukraine because that will escalate -- exactly the same logic.


KULEBA: We think completely differently. All conditions are there to extend the invitation to Ukraine. But if NATO fails to deliver strong decision on Ukraine's membership, it means that, again, this logic of fear will prevail, and it means that Putin will, again, benefit from it. And that's what we are fed up with, really. BURNETT: All right. Mr. Kuleba, thank you very much for your time.

KULEBA: Thank you.


BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, the stars of Russian state television, you know, they used to love Prigozhin. Now, though, listen to this, very different story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Any attempt to organize a rebellion is a weakness, not a strength.


BURNETT: Plus, jailed, shot and killed, poisoned, these are just some of the things that have happened to Putin's critics. You'll see what else.


BURNETT: Welcome back to this special edition of OUTFRONT, live from Eastern Ukraine. Russian state television is trying to help Putin, deflect attention away from what he called a civil war.

Well, at least it was this -- it was a rebellion and it is embarrassing on the world stage. Kremlin's propagandists are now blaming the West and talking about nuclear war.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): American diplomats were ordered to say they were following the information and this was all.


As you understand, we can't trust these words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is a country jam-packed with nuclear weapons. Why wouldn't we hit those who wish this on us?

The most nuclear, the most, as they say, the most radical of radical. They wouldn't even be able to blink their eyes. Just send a Poseidon to the right place.


BURNETT: Send a Poseidon at the right place. Well, OUTFRONT now, Julia Davis, she is the creator of the Russian media monitor and "Daily Beast" columnist.

Julia, I'm so glad to have you with us tonight.

So, you know, you have been watching a lot of Russian-state television here and I know you noticed a major escalation in terms of how they are talking about Prigozhin himself, right? So, just a few months ago when we were watching Russian-state television, the top television anchors there appeared in a recruitment video, they actually appeared in recruitment video for Prigozhin.

Here is what he said immediately after the armed rebellion.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Nothing in Russia can ever be solved with an uprising. Never. Any attempt to organize a rebellion is a weakness, not strength.


BURNETT: And it has come as we see videos of, you know, Russians cheering Prigozhin's troops as they were marching towards Moscow. People seemed happy to see him, Wagner flags.

So, how much has the tone on Russian state television about Prigozhin changed after this attack or attempted attack on Moscow?

JULIA DAVIS, ANALYST OF RUSSIAN MEDIA: Hi, Erin. This was an episode that was enormously humiliating and embarrassing not only for Putin but also for his propagandists. And immediately after the rebellion was over, they were calling for Prigozhin to be shot. But then they received another message and now they have softened their tone since they still need those Wagner fighters to continue participating in their war in Ukraine.

So, they are trying to walk this line in between calling for Prigozhin to be held accountable in some way, but at the same time trying to retain his fighters to continue the fight and ending up with a big egg on their face.

BURNETT: You know, it's amazing, because you track this like no one else. Some Russian anchors are praising Putin's leadership. But what's amazing is you found that was not the initial reaction uniformly to the armed rebellion. I mean, this is a pretty stunning clip that you flagged when it -- that happened when it wasn't clear, you know, about what would happen to Putin, right, what would happen to him over the weekend.

Here it is.


ANDREY BEZRUKOV, FORMER KGB AGENT AND PROF. OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS (through translator): It is a phenomenon of a weak government. It's a phenomenon of is a decision. It's a phenomenon of the absence of a truly strong state authority.

This couldn't happen in a strong nation. A strong nation has a power structure. A strong nation has accountability.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Julia, I mean, that's incredible. He is a former KGB agent. I mean, I'm not going to ask you what happens to that guy. I don't know. What's the significance of something like that having been said?

DAVIS: I think that what's so important here is that right after the mutiny folded, they haven't had the chance to receive their talking points. So they were being pretty sincere. And this is what came out.

So this is what they are feeling. It actually makes perfect sense. It's a symbol of the weakness of Putin's regime. They are not the kind of a country they have been portraying themselves to be. As for Bezrukov, he will return with an amended point of view as usually happens to them.

BURNETT: An amended point of view. Interesting way to phrase it.

All right. Julia, thank you very much. Great to talk to you.

DAVIS: Thank you so much.

BURNETT: All right. And next, Prigozhin may have found a safe haven in Belarus, for now. But he joins a long list of Putin enemies, and so many of those enemies aren't safely in Belarus. They are jailed, they are poisoned and they're dead.



BURNETT: Tonight, jailed, shot, killed, poisoned. These are some of the things that have happened to Putin's critics, just some of them.

So, what could happen to Yevgeny Prigozhin after his armed rebellion?

Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): A march of justice is how Wagner's leader Prigozhin justified it. For others such as Russia's leader, Putin himself, this was betrayal, a red line not many dare to cross.

PUTIN (through translator): All those who deliberately chose the path of treachery, who prepared an armed mutiny, who chose the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will face inevitable punishment and will answer both to the law and to our people.

PLEITGEN: Just as quickly as the insurrection became reality, a deal was brokered with the Belarusian president. While the situation appears diffused for now, many who dare to defy Putin paid a heavy price.

A fierce Kremlin critic, Boris Nemtsov, was once one of Russia's promising opposition leaders. Jailed several times for speaking out against Putin's government. But in 2015, on a Friday night, just steps away from the Kremlin,

Nemtsov was shot and killed. A dissident voice silenced.

Five Chechen men were later found guilty and sentenced to over a decade in prison. Oppose Mr. Putin's rule, threaten his establishment, and life can turn into one behind bars.

Once the wealthiest man in Russia, former oil tycoon, Mikhail Khodorkovsky crossed the line with Putin when he began to promote reform and accused him of corruption. Khodorkovsky was charged with tax fraud, a charge he says was politically motivated. Putin, then the prime minister, was asked about the case, and he replied, a thief should be in prison.

The maximum prison sentence was given to the Kremlin critic and he spent years behind bars.

Alexey Navalny, a stanched Russian opposition leader, critical of Putin, fell into a coma on a flight returning to Moscow three years ago. He was later medevaced to Germany where he recovered, investigations later concluded he was poisoned with a nerve agent.

Navalny vowed to keep fighting, an opposition threat lingered. As he landed in Russia months later, he was arrested. Now, held in a maximum security prison, Navalny faces a term extension that could see him behind bars for decades. It's a fate seen many times over when someone crosses Mr. Putin, and not all can escape, not even living in exile.

Wagner's Yevgeny Prigozhin may have found a haven in Belarus for now but his safety seems fragile at best.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.


BURNETT: Thanks so much to Fred, and thanks to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.