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Erin Burnett Outfront

NYT: Russian General Knew About Wagner Boss' Plans; Many Russians Reject Idea Putin Is Weakened By Revolt; Ukrainian Troops Train For Fierce Close-Quarters Combat; CNN On The Ground Near Russian-Occupied Bakhmut. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired June 28, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, live from Dnipro in eastern Ukraine, questions tonight about a top Russian general who was reportedly in on the coup attempt against Putin. Where is he tonight, and were there other top Russians who may have helped Yevgeny Prigozhin?

Plus, live in Moscow where Russians are speaking out to CNN. And a U.S. marine vet here tells me why he's risking everything to fight for Ukraine.

And then preparing for battle. I'm going to take you to a Ukrainian training ground in the frontlines where troops are about to return to the fight. 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. We are just west of the front lines deep in the country where the brutal war is being raged. Now, this is a city of nearly a million people, and, as you can see in the darkness and rain right now, all city lights at night are turned off because of security concerns. And, again, tonight, we heard the sound of air raid sirens.

And, with that came this warning from the air force, quote, threat of using ballistic missiles, weapons, do not ignore the alarm signals, go to shelter. Now there are unconfirmed reports of explosions in this and other areas. That warning, though, is now over.

And the fears of an attack, constant fears come as Putin is desperately trying to contain the fallout over damning new revelations about the armed insurrection led by his one-time loyal lieutenant in the head of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Now, questions are now mounting about the whereabouts of Russia's former top commander in Ukraine, Sergei Surovikin. He reportedly hasn't been seen since Friday.

Now, Christo Grozev, you know him. He's the lead Russian investigator for Bellingcat. He tells us that his team tried called Surovikin and the phone was answered by Surovikin wife, who answered, quote, he's not back from work yet.

Well, according to "The New York Times", Surovikin may be key to a much bigger plot against Putin. The Russian general had, quote, advanced knowledge of Yevgeny Prigozhin's plans to rebel against Russia's military leadership.

Keep in mind, this is a man who has been a decision maker along with Putin, alongside him.

So, what does it say about Putin standing? If someone with such a high rain might have been complicit in the insurrection against him. It also raises the question as to whether there are more people inside of Putin's military who have aligned themselves with Prigozhin.

A European intelligence official tells CNN tonight that the top Russian security officials we have known about Prigozhin's plot before it happened and may have wanted to see how it played out.

These are stunning developments and they do suggest that there may be more than just cracks when it comes to Putin's hold on power, which may explain this rare surprise appearance by the Russian president.

Today, Putin traveling to the region in southern Russia. The video from the Kremlin issuing Putin's supporters. People cheering him on. Putin is saying that he didn't doubt the support of Russians during the insurrection.

Of course, they are putting this video out. We do want to say, though, Dagestan is a region where violent protests have broken because of the sheer number of men who have been drafted to fight in Putin's war and would die. It has been reported that ten times more men in the region of Dagestan have died in Ukraine than from Moscow.

We also hear the resentment from Russians on the frontlines. Just listen to these exclusive intercept calls from Russian soldiers. They are speaking just before Ukraine's counteroffensive. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have nothing to eat, we are starving, honestly, there's no water. We have nothing to drink, nothing to eat. We are at the very front of the very peak.

The Ukrainians (EXPLETIVE DELETED) us up every single day, three times a day. We are fighting back. But we ask for help from artillery, from mortar men, we call them and ask for help, but there is no help. Well, at this very moment, our strip is, well, almost surrounded by Ukrainians, almost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The government is bad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): These gluttonous bastards with a president at the head should be shot.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They should all be lined up against the wall, against the wall.


BURNETT: Lined up against the wall and shot, those words from a Russian soldier about Vladimir Putin.


And just think about that, that type of talk was unheard of. It is unheard of. You are hearing it.

Earlier today, I had the chance to travel close to the front lines to visit Ukrainian training grounds where soldiers from the 128th infantry brigade have just returned from the frontlines a few miles away. They go there to train for a few days and then they go right back in.

You hear the artillery in the background. They told me what they are up against right now.


UKRAINIAN SOLDIER (through translator): Yes, we've seen them, but they weren't set by professionals. If professional set them, they are impossible to see.


BURNETT: We are talking about grenade-laid booby traps, which just littered the forest. And we are going to explain more about that. We will have more from that visit from the training ground coming up.

Plus, a live report from our Matthew Chance in Moscow.

I want to begin, though, with Fred Pleitgen.

Fred, Putin is obviously trying to contain the fallout tonight. In fact, the fallout has gotten much bigger, right? At least from what we are learning. We are learning more and more damning things.

Did they have any success today, especially with the visit to Dagestan?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's certainly trying. And I think you're absolutely right. I think that the whole power structure around Vladimir Putin was deeply shaken by all of this. I think we are seeing that more and more as the time progresses.

Of course, for Vladimir Putin, he's trying to bring all of that in order, and there are still so many open questions, like who else may have been known, who else may have been involved with Yevgeny Prigozhin in trying to plan all of this and see all of it through? Of course, there are other big questions, like what happens to Wagner now, what happens to the other assets.

And in light of all of that it certainly seems as though that visit to Dagestan was extremely important for Vladimir Putin today, to show that he's still holding the reins. But also to show that the people there are still like him as well. Here is what we are seeing.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Russia's president, trying to show that he's in full control, cheered on by crowds in Dagestan.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I had no doubts about the reaction to Dagestan and throughout the country.

PLEITGEN: But the uprising led by Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin still reverberates. "The New York Times" reporting one of Russia's top generals, Sergei Surovikin, may have had advanced knowledge of the insurrection. The Kremlin trying to brush off the report.

They will now be a lot of speculation and rumors surrounding these events, the Kremlin spokesperson says. I believe that this is just another example of it.

While Surovikin was quick to call on Prigozhin to stop the insurrection --

SERGEI SUROVIKIN, RUSSIAN GENERAL (through translator): You must do this before it's too late. Obey the will and command of the elected president of the Russian federation.

PLEITGEN: There is no doubt Surovikin and Prigozhin are close. While Prigozhin continuously ripped into Russia's defense minister for alleged ammo shortages during the battle for Bakhmut, for Surovikin, nothing but praise.

YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, WAGNER CHIEF (through translator): This is the only man with the star of an army general who knows how to fight.

PLEITGEN: Surovikin led Russia's war in Ukraine for three months last year, just does Wagner's battle for Bakhmut was escalating. He was also Putin's top general in Syria in 2017, leading a brutal campaign to crush the opposition to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and they are too working side by side with Prigozhin's Wagner mercenaries.

So far, there is no indication that the Russians implicated Surovikin in the uprising, but Putin has made clear that he views those who took part as traitors.

PUTIN: The organizers of the rebellion betraying their country, their people also portrayed those who joined the crime.

PLEITGEN: A Russian general claiming Russian intelligence had advance knowledge of Prigozhin's plans, yet they couldn't stop him -- another possible problem for Vladimir Putin, as he tries to show that things are back to normal and he remains firmly at the helm.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And, you know, Erin, the video that we have in our report of Surovikin calling on Prigozhin to just stop, that was the last time that we publicly have seen Sergei Surovikin, and that was published late last Friday.

So, right now, it's unclear where he is, whether or not he is detention or whether or not he is a free man. Of course, we always have to keep in mind, this man is very important for Vladimir Putin's campaign, not just one of those in charge of it, but also the head of the air force as well, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Fred, thank you very much.

So, I want to go now to the former U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation, John Sullivan; Andrei Soldatov, the Russian investigative journalist who site has been blocked in Russia; and the retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Peter Zwack, who served as the U.S. senior defense attach to the Russian Federation. A highest rank, defense individual, of course, U.S. defense in Russia.

So, thanks very much to all of you.

Ambassador, let me start with you with that Fred was saying.


If Surovikin has indeed been detained, right, and we haven't seen him since Friday. His wife today said that he hasn't come home from work yet. Obviously, it's been days, what will happen to him, Ambassador?

JOHN SULLIVAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, if he has been detained because he was involved in what the Russians are calling this mutiny, that is not going to lead to very good things for the general. Recall that this is a general who was a junior officer who was involved in the coup in 1991 against Gorbachev. So, he has been a political actor as well in his past. So if he has been arrested, because he was involved with Prigozhin and Wagner, that's not good news for this general.

BURNETT: General Zwack, I know you've met General Surovikin in your time in Russia.

Are you surprised by all of this?

BRIG. GEN. PETER ZWACK, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I mean, there's no really word to describe it. I mean, it's extraordinary. And I met him out in the eastern military district, with a delegation, a U.S. military delegation in 2012. He is commander of the eastern military districts at that time, Vladivostok, now in Khabarovsk.

I was just there for maybe seeing him, he was correct with us, but distant. Clearly, rough but intelligent, and he would have -- you know, he had at that time, Chechnya on his resume. And later on, as reported, he went to Syria and the nickname was the butcher of Aleppo. The Russian nickname for him ahead of the aerospace was General Armageddon.

So, he is a smart guy, but he may be in too deep. And just don't know what exactly is happening. But he's in trouble, it looks like.

BURNETT: Andre, the significance of this cannot be underestimated because of the -- discussion to Putin's inner circle, right? "The New York Times" says Surovikin knew about Prigozhin's plans. And you report that Putin trusted Surovikin, right? It's putting those two things together that is so crucial.

What -- how could this happen? And, you know, what does this mean? Putin trusted Surovikin.

ANDREI SOLDATOV, RUSSIAN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Yes. I just wanted to remind you that it was Surovikin who convinced Putin to leave Kherson last fall to save the army, and Putin trusted him. And he ordered to leave the town despite all of this political consequences of this withdrawal.

So Surovikin after that was praised as someone who saved the Russian army, against complete annihilation by the Ukrainian forces. That is why he was trusted by Putin.

But now, Putin, of course, he understands that the biggest problem posed by Prigozhin is not Prigozhin himself, but the reaction of the army, and people like Surovikin. So, he needs to teach a lesson.

At same time, he needs to -- he still needs capable generals. For him, it is a tricky question. And I cannot completely rely on the reputation of the situation with the general of the FSB, of the last year when he was punished, sent to jail, and then he got back.

BURNETT: Which is amazing to even think about that, right? Some people go and languish in prison, solitary confinement, others are allowed to come back.

Ambassador Sullivan, you, of course, have met Putin many times, is he shocked by how this is unraveling now? We saw him show up in Dagestan. He's been hit by the story -- he touched the stove and been burnt. But is he shocked by this?

SULLIVAN: Oh, he has to have been shocked by this, Erin. If he wasn't, then he has suicidal, because this was a very serious threat. And his remarks on Saturday night to the Russian people reflect that. He invokes 1917. He tells the Russian people that Prigozhin and the Wagner element have stabbed him and Russia in the back. Of course, he was surprised by this.

BURNETT: General Zwack, are there more shoes to drop here? We hear Surovikin. Are there more?

ZWACK: This could just be the tip of the iceberg. What is, I think, informative for all of us tat watch it and reported it very well was this camel dash by the Wagner forces, almost 400 kilometers through Rostov, and down to Baronisk (ph), halfway to Moscow, or closer than that. And the fact that they moved, and I know that highway, it is a great

highway, but the Russian military and the security forces really made no attempt, or feeble attempt to maybe over by air.


But, look, and then you saw the crowds, the seeming adulation in places. He is a populist, and I think that he struck a chord in an aspect of the Russian population. Putin saw that.

And so, there is anything that energizes the Russian-based, if you will, beyond Putin is a threat to Putin and the regime. And there is the whole military. It must be saying loyalty versus service to the country, complicated.

BURNETT: And, Andrei, that's the question. You know, we just played those intercepts before the counteroffensive. These are Russian soldiers.

Someone is saying line Putin up against the wall and shoot him. This is them talking about Putin. It is not them criticizing tactics in the war.

Do you think that more in the military support -- if not Prigozhin, Prigozhin's plan? His goal?


BURNETT: Go ahead, Andrei.

SOLDATOV: Yeah, it looks like more and more people in the military support not Prigozhin, but the language he uses and the criticism he expresses. I remember calling on Saturday my contacts in Russian special forces asking them what do they think about Prigozhin's attack and his demand to get Shoigu and Gerasimov.

And they told me, well, we had fun with that. It is absolutely true. Our commanders are absolutely incompetent, which is what is really shocking to me.


I thank you all very much. I appreciate your time.

And next, I'm going to speak to a former speechwriter for the Russian president. Why he believes that Putin may soon appoint his successor.

Plus, a marine -- U.S. marine on the front lines here. I will speak to an American veteran who has been fighting with Ukraine since the start. Behind his wife and newborn son, he will tell you why he's doing it.

And I will take you to a training ground just miles from the front lines where Ukrainians, tonight, are preparing once again to face Russian forces.


BURNETT: This looks like a forest, it is a forest, except for inside, deeply entrenched and embedded really camouflaged are Ukrainian troops. And they are all there, embedded like this, because we are so close to the front lines.




BURNETT: Welcome back to his special edition of OUTFRONT, live from Dnipro in eastern Ukraine.

OUTFRONT has obtained exclusive intercepts from Ukraine that appeared to show Russian soldiers talking about the war and slamming the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Now, the conversation we are going to play occurred just before the insurrection, before the insurrection against Putin, but it does appear to give great insight into the morale amongst some Russian troops and their feelings towards their countries' leaders.


RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): They have electronics everywhere. Motion sensors, cameras -- they've got it all. We've got nothing anywhere. They just kill their people, those (EXPLETIVE DELETED). These schmucks, Shoigu and Putin, they're just bastards. They don't even consider people as people. They are just expandable materials. They care more about politics than about people. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) holes.


BURNETT: So, how do Russians at home view the insurrection and the war right now?

Matthew Chance is in Moscow.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I've come to the center of the Russian capital to try to get a sense of how the city feels in the aftermath of that attempted military uprising.

They feel pretty relaxed here. You can see, there are a lot of Russians, a lot of tourists, that are here taking photographs of these iconic sites. I was trying to get into Red Square, actually, which is just here. But you can see that there are barricades up and in fact, there are barricades since the weekend when that military uprising took place. You can just make out the dome of some castles over there.

Anyway, back to the people, I thought that it would be a great opportunity to have a word with some Russians about how secure they feel right now in the aftermath of that uprising. (voice-over): People like 86 year old Nikolai. Unfazed, he told me, by

events of recent days.

Russia is its people, he says. Not some individual show offs. And regardless of what they do, Russia was, is, and will continue to be strong, he says.

But will its leader, Vladimir Putin, sealed off behind these Kremlin gates?


How many people want to speak to me about Putin?


But those who would reject the suggestion, recently made by President Biden, that Putin has been weakened by the revolt in Russia.

I think he will be around for a long time, says Elia (ph), all the country's resources are in his hands. There is no real opposition, and there won't be anytime soon, he says.

But now he is an exile, the Wagner leader who staged and reported the rebellion appears to be fair game.

You speak English, right?


CHANCE: Right. Let me ask you, what do you think about Yevgeny Prigozhin?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yevgeny Prigozhin, no, we like it.

CHANCE: You do like, or you don't like?


CHANCE: You don't like?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, we don't like.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. But he is not good.

CHANCE: Well, it's pretty understandable, I suppose, that given what has happened over the past few days, people definitely want to talk to us that much on camera. Because despite what most of them will say to us, about everything being fine here, I think there's genuinely a sense of apprehension, about what the coming weeks and months and this country may hold.



BURNETT: And, Matthew's with me now.

Matthew, I was riveting just to watch you walking, obviously seeing Russian tourists there. What I am curious about also is how it goes over them what Putin did? I mean, he obviously felt the need to do something. He goes out to meet people surrounded by flux of people in Dagestan, right, where so many young men have died in this war in Ukraine.

How rare is such a visit like that for him?

CHANCE: Really rare. Very surprising to see this reaction by these crowds in Dagestan. I mean, they are treating Vladimir Putin like a rock star. Trying to get to him, touch him, he's been in power for 23 years. You would think that they got used to it by now.

But it also is very reminiscent of the scenes we saw on Sunday evening in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia when crowds were cheering at Wagner and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner leader, and I think those images of Russians cheering this rebel, essentially, really cut to the quick with the Kremlin. So this is perhaps their attempt to replicate that, or their response to it.

In terms of how rare it is, remember, the pandemic, Putin is notoriously germophobic. He hasn't met anybody this close-up since I can't remember. You remember the big, long table where he kept his distance from world leaders.


CHANCE: This is extraordinary to see.

BURNETT: Right. When you said that literally, that image at that table, and how at the beginning of the war, everybody was across such a bizarre length.

Matthew, thank you very much.

And, just a short time ago, I spoke to one of Putin's former speechwriter, someone who knows him, Abbas Gallyamov. We talked about how much he thinks Putin can stay in power. This comes as "The New York Times" reports that U.S. intelligence shows that Sergei Surovikin did have advanced knowledge of Yevgeny Prigozhin's plans to rebel against Putin.

Here's our conversation.


ABBAS GALLYAMOV, FORMER PUTIN SPEECHWRITER, RUSSIAN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, to mean, this whole matter stems a little bit contrived. I am afraid -- you know, I Surovikin used to be allied with Prigozhin. That's for sure.

But I don't think that he was actually planning a coup. He didn't have any strategy. He just knew he didn't like the course of events. He understands the situation, at war like nobody else in Russia.

So he understood that if everything goes like it goes, it will ultimately lead to a defeat, which he hates that -- he hates this idea because they will both end up in jail. And since the system didn't react to his signals, he was trying to strengthen pressure step-by- step, and definitely Surovikin was part of this plan. He was an ally of Prigozhin. But there was no intent of overthrowing the regime now.

So I think that now, the security forces of Putin, FSB, they are trying to prove to Putin that they are working hard, and that they found conspiracy, and Putin is ready to listen for them, so they are creating a conspiracy were actually there was no -- originally, there was no conspiracy.

BURNETT: Do you think, Abbas, that what is happening with Surovikin could be the beginning of a much larger purge by Putin?

GALLYAMOV: On the one hand, yes. If they decided that there was a conspiracy, they would be making a big conspiracy, though they try to find new spies, new conspirators. But, you know, on the other hand, there is another incentive. Putin is trying to show that the system is functioning well.

Look at his activity over the last several days. He is grateful to everyone. He's shaking hands with everyone. He's praising everyone, like he's trying to show that the system is functioning.

But in this case, you can't be arresting too many people. It will obviously show that something is going wrong, which contradicts his public stance, so to say. So, which of the incentives will win, it's hard to tell.

BURNETT: Abbas, how much power do you think that Putin actually has in Russia? How under threat is he?

GALLYAMOV: Well, definitely, he is weakening. Again, everyone understands that this is a system, which -- this is a problem which he created by himself. It is not that it is the CIA organizing something.


OK. Any system can come across a strong enemy and can have problems. It can happen to anyone. But this particular case, this is the case of mortal threat coming from one part of the system to another part of the system. This is just total malfunctioning of the system.

Putin is the creator of the system and the chief manager and owner of the system. So, all the -- this is all his fault. Everybody understands it. And the worst thing is that Putin understands that everybody understands this. So I think that this fall, we will -- we might really see the start of the operation of successor.

Putin has to be reelected next March. So, probably, the elites will convince him to just not try to be reelected. Just choose a successor and try to elect him, the successor, to try to change the way the system is functioning, because it is not functioning at all. BURNETT: Abbas, thank you very much.

GALLYAMOV: Thank you.


ROMANS: And OUTFRONT next, I'm going to talk to a U.S. marine veteran here in Ukraine, risking everything to fight in the trenches alongside Ukrainian forces as you can see on his exclusive body cam video here. Why did he leave the safety of his own home to come here?

Plus, we were given incredible access to a training ground where Ukrainian forces along the front lines are preparing for battle.


BURNETT: We are just a few miles from the front line. It is a heavily militarized area. You could hear the thudding of artillery in the background. Coming up later, you're going to meet some soldiers who just returned from the front lines.



BURNETT: Welcome back to a special addition of OUTFRONT. I'm live in Dnipro in eastern Ukraine.

Deep in the country with a closer look at where this war is being fought. So, today, we went to visit members of Ukraine's 128th infantry brigade. They are operating in southern Ukraine on the counter offensive front line.

This group we were with had just returned from the front lines, they're preparing to go back. They're training now for more hand to hand combat, simulating trench warfare, laying grenades. They know better than anyone the dangers that they face in this war. But they are still undeterred.



BURNETT (voice-over): About 15 miles from the counteroffensive frontline, members of the 128th infantry brigade are here training. They are the ones doing the hand to hand frontline combat. They train here for 2 to 3 days.

After that, they go right back to the front line. Then they stay there for 3 to 4 and they do the cycle again.

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER (through translator): Yes, we are ready, we are waiting for this.

(GUNFIRE) BURNETT: What you are watching right now is practicing storming the Russian trenches. This is what they would do actually going into takeover and enemy trench.

Some of them are wearing lasers on their bulletproof vest. And when the lasers light up, it means they are dead.

Nathan (ph) was working at an online retailer before the war, after fighting this past year, he has now a trainer.

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER (through translator): It is very important even for defenses, already know the tactics of your enemy, what they will do.

BURNETT: The front line, of course, is massive. But most of the fighting is happening in incredibly small spaces, just like these, along tree lines on the counteroffensive front lines. What the soldiers are doing are actually practicing laying trip wires with grenades at the end, and that is what so much of the combat is right now. Both offensively and defensively, finding and laying these trip wires.

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER (through translator): Yes, we've seen them, but they were not sent by professionals. If professionals set them, they are impossible to see.

BURNETT: With real artillery booming in the business, these troops are practicing to see if they could find these traps, and practicing to see whether they would live or die.

We heard the explosion. We see the smoke, that is the practice grenade. Something they're practicing for here, but just a couple of days on the front line will be the grim reality.

It is a reality that all of these men embrace. Men like Vlad, he was a history teacher, and he hasn't seen his family in a year. His commitment is not wavering.

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER (through translator): Yes, I missed them, I really want to see them, but not later, a little later after our victory.


BURNETT: And still, we see the resilience and commitment, optimism.

OUTFRONT now with me here in Dnipro is Garrison Foster. He was with the infantry with U.S. Marine Corps for six years, now fighting alongside Ukrainian forces. I am glad to see you, obviously a dark, chilly, wet night here in Dnipro.

So, you are obviously off of the front lines nearby as well. You shared some GoPro footage when you are in, on your chest, that shows your perspective as you are gathering intelligence to target Russian forces. I know you have been here since April of last year. A brief visit home after the birth of your son.

GARRISON FOSTER, FORMER U.S. MARINE: Yes. BURNETT: You are putting your life in danger to help another country. I think everyone wants to understand what drives you? What drives you to do this, Garrison?

FOSTER: Well, part of it is, a lot of people aren't aware of this, but the Ukrainians sent soldiers to Afghanistan after 9/11. They were part of the forces that were there. They were under no obligation to do so.

And so, to me, it is -- they came to us in our time of need, and I see no reason not to go to them in their time of need as well. This is a very resourced area. I don't want Russia to get a hold of those resources and then leverage that to kind of destabilize the world and, you know, create more war.

BURNETT: So, you've made this great personal sacrifice. I want to show some of the things that you've experienced that you're willing to share. This was a really intense confrontation that you had with Russian forces recently, just a few weeks ago in a counteroffensive.


FOSTER: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

BURNETT: You came under fire and you had to retreat. And I just want to play that part, people can actually see a little bit.


BURNETT: Get a sense of what it's like in those moments.

Just listen.

FOSTER: Sure, sure.



FOSTER: I think we're pulling back. Moving!




FOSTER: I don't remember the mine is.

That was (EXPLETIVE DELETED) close.

This is not a good spot to be, guys. We got to move. Get some counter battery up or something.

Okay. Go!

Bunker, bunker. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inside, inside.

FOSTER: You have more room? Get in further.


BURNETT: So, watching that just so people have a sense of that one moment. What's been the hardest part of the counteroffensive so far?

FOSTER: Well, right now, we are conducting probing attacks because we need to figure out where the weak spots are. We need to figure out where the strong points are. And we need to figure out what to do about both of those and how to make it work together.

There's been a lot of time since the last offensive. So the Russians are very, very dug in.

BURNETT: Trenched positions, lots of mines.

FOSTER: Yes. And in order to dislodge them, sometimes the artillery won't do it because the bunkers they have, the artillery just can't penetrate. So we have to physically go up there and try and dislodge them.

BURNETT: And you were doing that in one of these videos. You were trying to sneak up on a Russian position and they saw you. And they saw you from the air.


BURNETT: Tell me about what we're looking at.

FOSTER: Yeah. Drones, these small commercial available drones are a big problem. It's good for us because the Ukrainians have a lot more of them.

The ones they have are a lot more capable. But they happened to see us. They weren't even looking in our area. They just turned and happened to see us, and then basically set up an ambush for us while we were in the middle of a mine field approaching a position.

So, it's -- that's obviously a continual problem, but it's something we deal with regularly now. So --

BURNETT: And do you feel progress? We hear the optimism we just heard from those Ukrainian troops, they're about to go right back in, do their training and go back in. Is that the same optimism that you hear from the Ukrainians, that you feel?

FOSTER: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

We have a very high degree of freedom within our area of operations. We're not just in one specific spot. We kind of bounce around that A.O., so we get to talk to a lot of different units, and their morale is extremely high, and, at the same time, there are Russians who are in the middle of the day leaving their gear and equipment and their positions, walking to the Ukrainian positions with their hands up and basically saying that they're done, they don't want to fight anymore.

BURNETT: And you've seen that.

FOSTER: Uh-huh. It happened -- yeah, it happened about four weeks ago to a position that was directly next to us. The Russian soldiers just walked over to the Ukrainians, and, you know, they're, like, we're done, please give us food and water, and we'd rather be a prisoner than continue fighting.

BURNETT: Wow. Garrison, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

And everyone should understand, obviously, Garrison is operating on the front lines here. And we very much you being here with us tonight.

FOSTER: Yeah, thank you for having me on.

And next, we're going to see how Ukraine's forces are pushing Putin's men back in another part of Eastern Ukraine.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The counteroffensive is just over (INAUDIBLE) old. So far, the Ukrainians are only inching forward.


BURNETT: Plus, I'll talk to Roman Trokhymets, the Ukrainian soldier who's been on this show several times and was at the restaurant in Kramatorsk when it was hit yesterday. The death toll there going up. What is his response to the Kremlin claiming they were targeting an army command post?



BURNETT: We're back with the special edition of OUTFRONT live from Dnipro. More from the exclusive excerpts that OUTFRONT has obtained of Russian soldiers just before the Ukrainian counteroffensive. This excerpt is of a soldier mocking one of the few recent Russian successes in Bakhmut.


RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): I am so full with Bakhmut. I enter a dining hall, it's all Bakhmut, Bakhmut, Bakhmut everywhere. There is a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) club around TV, and talking about (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Bakhmut. So, they took over a building there and (EXPLETIVE DELETED) what? What's the population of Bakhmut? Seven thousand people, (EXPLETIVE DELETED).


BURNETT: Ben Wedeman is OUTFRONT tonight in eastern Ukraine.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): In the woods outside the Russian occupied town of Bakhmut, the Ukrainian crew of a Soviet-era self-propelled gun prepares to open fire, cleaning the barrel, getting the grounds ready, and then the order to fire comes over the radio.

This counteroffensive is just over (INAUDIBLE) old. So far, the Ukrainians are only inching forward, taking a small village here and a slice of territory there.

Here, it's still a grinding war of attrition for the troops of the 57th motorized infantry brigade. Small advances followed by Russian counterattacks. But most of the time they hunker down under cover and wait.

When we have targets, we fire fast and precise, says the gun commander whose call sign is "Diesel". We hit infantry, tanks, vehicles, but, most of all, infantry.


They're targeting is helped by the brigade's drone operators. This drone video shows a successful strike on Russian troops on the edge of Bakhmut.

But these eyes in the sky can fall victim to friendly fire. The gun fire from nervous troops trying to shoot down their own drone.

Here, they heard about the brief mutiny led by Wagner boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and shrugged it off.

I said from the start, it's a lie, says this drone operator. It was theater.

Their more immediate concern, getting enough ammunition. Crates of freshly manufactured 152 millimeter rounds from Pakistan are strewn about near the gun. The battery commander, call sign Shekano (ph), says he'll believe there's a counteroffensive when he sees it.

Until he take a major town or get a tactical advantage, he tells me, there is no counteroffensive.

Here, believing is seeing. The only certainty, the war goes on.


WEDEMAN (on camera): The troops we have spoken to on the front line are practical and down to earth. All the talk about a weakened Putin and disarray in Russian ranks doesn't mean much to them. They face the same enemy and the same dangers every single day -- Erin.

BURNETT: Ben, thank you.

And coming up on "AC360," the legendary reporting duo of Woodward and Bernstein joining Anderson for their reaction to the recording of Trump. Next here, OUTFRONT, we are going to be speaking to a Ukrainian

soldier, Roman Trokhymets. He was at that restaurant in Kramatorsk with his sister when he was hit yesterday. The death toll is climbing today. They were injured. We'll see how they are doing tonight.


BURNETT: And we're back with a special edition of OUTFRONT live from Dnipro, Ukraine, in the east of the country.

The Russian defense ministry claiming that it hit a Ukrainian army command post in a missile strike, the one yesterday in which at least 11 people are dead, scores are injured, including children. Children are dead as well.

Ukrainian authorities say that a missile hit a pizza restaurant. And that's the reality. It hit a pizza restaurant in the center of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine.

My next guest is Ukrainian soldier named Roman Trokhymets, who has been on this show several times. He was at that restaurant with his sister, Lila.

And you're looking at graphic video that Lila took, where you see Roman helping a severely injured woman. And I spoke with roman earlier about that experience.


BURNETT: Roman, I'm so glad to be speaking to you again. I know you and your sister both suffered concussions from the attack. You were actually hospitalized because of the injuries you sustained. How are you doing? How is your sister doing tonight?

ROMAN TROKHYMETS, UKRAINIAN SOLDIER SURVIVED YESTERDAY'S ATTACK IN KRAMATORSK: Yeah, thank you very much for asking. I was pretty lucky, with our friend from Australia. We survived most likely because some people who've been with us, they died.

BURNETT: The restaurant where you and Lila were, your sister, is popular for everyone, popular for soldiers, popular for civilians, popular for journalists. And in some of the video that your sister filmed, we see the chairs, the tables spread around that outdoor space, just spread around, what you would expect at a restaurant. It's a pizza restaurant.

But I know you know, Roman, the Russian defense ministry is claiming the missile strike hit a temporary command post. That's what they say, that they hit a temporary command post.

What do you say to them?

TROKHYMETS: Okay. Long story short, there were so many foreigners -- I write about it in my social media, there was guys from Colombia, from Spain, from Australia, from U.S., and Canada. And many people who was there, they filmed, they videoed, they do an interview. And so, there's so many different foreigners exist on secret base camp

is first of all. Second, how it's possible on military base camp children die or civilian die? It's impossible.

So, most victim is regular civilian who were just victim of this lying and terroristic country. That's what I'm going to say. That's the fact of different people and different cameras.

BURNETT: I want to play some more video of what happened. This is what your sister, Lila, filmed. I want to warn our viewers who are watching tonight that what I'm about to show, as we're talking here, roman, is graphic.

And what we see is you, others, helping a woman who is severely injured by the missile strike. She's at the restaurant, missile strike. She's severely injured. There's chaos, confusion.

You're trying to gently lay her down, sort of, on a couch, or a banquette at the restaurant. Can you describe to me what you were thinking in those moments immediately after the strike?

TROKHYMETS: I heard lots of scream. People start screaming because there was almost all of them were civilian. They didn't know what to do. We realized we should handle this because me and a few other guys was calm and also soldiers.

So, we take the situation under our control and try to help the most badly injured first of all. And people start organized so fast, my sister called emergency. And Mark, my friend from Australia, also help us to grade (ph) people and to help them.

So, it was first second, First it was chaotic, but then it was well organized.

BURNETT: You know, you were there, Roman, because you were just taking a break from the actual fighting on the frontlines. This is supposed to be your leave. And, of course, you're fighting amidst the counteroffensive here in Ukraine. And there's competing claims about exactly how it's going.

Ukraine saying some success. Russia saying Ukraine is suffering heavy losses.

Just from your perspective, what you're actually seeing yourself on the frontline, Roman, what can you tell me?

TROKHYMETS: From the front line, I can only say that we have --way less forces than they -- they outnumber us. But we storm their position and take it. Of course, it's tough fight, but we're highly motivated and we were well-prepared.

Still, we paid the price. It's obvious. But our motivation and our counteroffensive is -- I can say it's successful because step by step, we show results when no one, not the commanders, say it's possible. No one say it's possible. No military books say it's possible, but we did really impossible things. When we had 20 soldiers, they had 100 soldiers, and we successfully take their position in such cooperation. That's why we are motivated. And you can see the result on the map, you know? It's the best -- the best result -- the best fact.

BURNETT: Roman, thank you so very much. I appreciate your time, and I hope that you continue and you quickly feel better.


BURNETT: All right. That was Roman Trokhymets joining us, of course, from near the frontlines.

And here from eastern Ukraine, in Dnipro, thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" begins right now.