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Erin Burnett Outfront

Docs: Top Russian General Is Secret VIP Wagner Member; Report: Putin Knew About Wagner Boss' Plot In Advance; Interview With Former Vice President Mike Pence; Supreme Court Guts Race-Based Programs At Universities. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired June 29, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, live from Ukraine, CNN exclusive new reporting, documents showing a top Russian general was a secret VIP member of Yevgeny Prigozhin's private army. Is he part of the coup attempt against Putin? These new documents as there are new questions about where the general and Prigozhin both are tonight.

Plus, former Vice President Mike Pence making a surprise trip to Ukraine, while he is going against so many in his own party when it comes to the war. Pence is OUTFRONT, tonight.

And the seismic Supreme Court decision that has Michelle and Barack Obama speaking out forcefully tonight. Let's go OUTFRONT.

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

Tonight, a top secret VIP member, CNN has exclusive documents showing that top Russian general, Sergei Surovikin, is a VIP member of the Wagner group. Yes, a top Putin inner circle general, listed as a member of Yevgeny Prigozhin's personal army, the same army that marched on Moscow against Putin.

It is a major development, and guess what? There's more. Because in these documents obtained exclusively here, there are listed at least 30 other senior military and intelligence officials as VIP Wagner members. Now, obviously, if these are significant if true, raising even more questions, specifically, now, about what role General Surovikin played in the attempted coup against Putin.

Now, "The New York Times" reports that Surovikin was aware of Prigozhin's attempted coup, and that obviously could be -- could be very important here in these developments. It all comes in the context of a much feared Putin purge, whether this is already unfolding, General Surovikin, he has not been heard from, seen since early Saturday morning, right, hours after the insurrection began.

"The Financial Times", and other outlets, are reporting that Surovikin has been arrested. Now, we haven't been able to independently verify those specific reports, but listen to a woman who claims to be his Surovikin's daughter, on the phone.


RUSSIAN GEN. SERGEY SUROVOKIN'S DAUGHTER (through translator): Honestly, nothing has happened to him. He's at his workplace. When has he ever been in the media every day? He never makes daily statements.

From what I understand, everything is proceeding as usual. Everyone is at their workplaces, and everything is fine.


BURNETT: Everyone is at their workplace. Everything is fine. Nothing to see here.

Well, but there is something to see, we just don't know exactly what it is. Because the reality of it is, there's a lot of things that we are seeing right now. A lot of people we are seeing.

Surovikin is missing, and he's not the only one. Prigozhin, just as another example, also not seen since Saturday. He was said to have reached a deal with the Kremlin to call off his rebellion and go to Belarus.

Since then, two planes linked to Prigozhin have crisscrossed Russia. Both eventually flying to Belarus, where it was said he is holed up, but both planes since returned to Russia. It's totally unclear if Prigozhin was on either one of those planes, certainly not making it clear that he's abiding by any deal made with Putin. It's not all clear where he is, period.

But what is clear is that Russia wants the world to believe that it's business as usual, nothing to see here, everyone is at their workplaces.

Today, the Russian president appearing in public again, attending a technology affair in Moscow, where he was seen joking to others attending, at one point, Putin was even asked to draw on a magic wall of sorts. I just want to show you this.


BURNETT: Just so odd. To take the time to do that, signing his name, Vladimir. Around of applause for Putin with that, I suppose, self portrait?

Now, earlier, I spoke to the former vice president, Mike Pence, obviously running for president now.


And he made a surprise trip to Kyiv to meet with President Zelenskyy today.

And his answer to this question is sobering.


BURNETT: You mentioned Putin. And, of course, you've met him. You dealt with when you were vice president.

Do you think he has full command of his military right now?

MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I think it's an open question.


BURNETT: An open question.

Much more of my interview with the former vice president ahead.

First, so many developments to get to tonight. I want to start with Matthew Chance. He is OUTFRONT in Moscow. Nick Paton Walsh joins me here in Kyiv to cover all these developments.

Matthew, let's start with you. You have obtained these exclusive new documents -- I mean, it's incredible to look at them, that list General Sergey Surovikin as a VIP member of Wagner Group.

Tell us about this.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, it's really interesting, isn't it? Because it was well-known that General Surovikin has had close relations with the Wagner mercenary group over the past several years, working closely with them in Ukraine, but earlier than that, working with them in Syria as well, where they've also been engaged in Russian military operations alongside the Russian military.

What's new tonight is this new evidence that suggests that this prominent Russian commander was much, much closer to Wagner than previously known.


CHANCE (voice-over): This is the last time we saw General Surovikin on Saturday, looking nervous, imploring Wagner mercenaries to end their brief rebellion.

SERGEY SUROVIKIN, COMMANDER OF THE RUSSIAN AIR FORCE (through translator): We had victories together. We are the same blood, but you must do this before it's too late.

CHANCE: There was clearly pressure behind his words, to make a difference.


CHANCE: It's well known that Surovikin, nicknamed General Armageddon, through his ruthless tactics, bombing cities in Syria, was very close to Wagner.

But just how close is only now becoming clear.

Documents shared exclusively with CNN suggest he was, since 2018, a secret VIP member of the group, with a personal Wagner registration number. The document's, obtained by the Russian investigative Dossier Center, list Surovikin, along with 30 other senior Russian military and intelligence officials, who the Dossier Center says are also VIP Wagner members.

Wagner hasn't answered CNN's request for a response. It's unclear what VIP membership entails, if there's any financial benefit.

But it does imply an overly close relationship between the Russian military and the mercenaries. They failed to prevent from staging a military uprising at the weekend.

What they've been allowing Wagner fighters to take over an entire Russian city, with virtually no resistance. It all raises suspicions in the Kremlin of divided loyalty.


CHANCE: But General Surovikin, whose whereabouts remain unknown, is one of Russia's most capable, highly decorated commanders. What's unclear is if the Kremlin still trusts him.


CHANCE (on camera): Well, Erin, the Kremlin tonight is still refusing to comment on where the general might be. But the ombudsman for prisons in Moscow has come out with a denial that General Surovikin is in any of the facilities, any of the present or jails, inside Moscow, inside the capital city.

But that only further deepens the mystery of where and why this prominent Russian commander has vanished -- Erin.

BURNETT: It is incredible. The murkiness, the opaqueness, at this moment in time.

Thank you so much, Matthew, from Moscow.

Nick Paton Walsh, as we said, is here with me in Kyiv.

And, Nick, I mean, it's amazing, we don't know where Prigozhin is, a guy who loves to show where he is. We don't know where Surovikin is, and by the way, there's a lot of other people blurred out on those documents, Matthew exclusively obtained them?

So, there's a lot more we don't know that could impact things, and it all could have serious implications for this war.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. First, Prigozhin, deeply important, because he's supposed to be in Belarus, out of the picture. That's kind of the deal. He launched a rebellion, took a phone call from Lukashenko and, being in Belarus is part of him stepping to one side.

We don't know the full faith of his Wagner Group, too, suggestions they are still fighting in Luhansk, perhaps as well. So, that's utterly key in terms of Putin feeling, perhaps, safe. They don't have this element around his military. And it will of course have an impact on the war eventually, to see this extraordinary level of infighting now -- I mean, these leaks, VIP membership, we don't know what it entails. We don't know if you ask for it, or just given it.

But certainly, with that longer list coming out now, that's going to leave a lot of people exceptionally edgy to have that information running around. The general has been reported as being arrested, like oh, interrogated. Unclear, really, his exact fate.

All he has to do is pop out briefly and say I'm fine, and shut all this down. So the suspicion is going to hang over it probably for good, it's unlikely that Putin, you'd imagine, this time, utter paranoia, will trust him. But what's happening with the rest of the top brass?


WALSH: Where is Valery Gerasimov, his chief of staff? He's not being seen either.

Sometimes these guys do vanish for days, but it's not a good time to have not have unity together.

BURNETT: Right, right, and certainly shows you who you can't trust. And all of this is about trust.

All right. Nick, thank you very much.

And I want to go now to Mikhail Zygar, a top Russian reporter, knows more than almost anyone about what's happening at the Kremlin. He's a former editor in chief of the independent Russian outlet TV Rain, which Putin shut down after the start of the war. He's also written multiple bestselling books on Putin in Russia, including the forthcoming book, war and punishment.

Max Seddon is also with me, the Moscow bureau chief of "The Financial Times", with incredible reporting.

And the retired U.S. Army Lt. General Mark Hertling, former commanding general for Europe and the Seventh Army. He spent a lot of time here in Ukraine.

Now, Max, let's start with your new reporting. I know that you have some new information about when Putin found out about the coup, and what he's doing now. And the when is actually really fascinating. Tell us.

MAX SEDDON, MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF, FINANCIAL TIMES: Well, this is that they know about, Erin, about Prigozhin (INAUDIBLE) not come out of the blue to Russian officials. One of Putin's closest allies, as he even said on Tuesday, they have at least a few days warning, and that the issue isn't so much, you know, whether Surovikin was aware or not, because my understanding he was pretty wildly known within the security establishment. The issue is that they completely failed to anticipate just how far Prigozhin would go. And that's really embarrassing moment to Russia here, is they were

able to seize a major army command center and march almost across the whole European part of Russia, basically unimpeded, kill at least 1,000 Russian servicemen, basically get away with it scot-free. And that just -- given that they knew that he was up to something, and had several weeks to know that he was angry after they essentially to shut Wagner down. That shows you this catastrophic failure of operation (ph), on the Russian part.

BURNETT: So, Mikhail, has Putin reached -- realize at this point, how big of a threat this was to him?

MIKHAIL ZYGAR, RUSSIAN JOURNALIST: You know, we definitely know that he was warned about the upcoming mutiny, and according to my sources, he was -- he was regularly warned by his security apparatus and by different people from -- but all the time, during all the previous months, he was refusing to believe that something could happen because, actually, the Wagner Group is not kind of Russian al-Qaeda. Wagner Group is very trusted, very trusted private military unit, that actually was financed by the Russian state.

At the same time, as far as we know, he was not -- he's not really concerned, you know, Saturday, last Saturday, he was not really nervous about what was happening, because, as we know, he had left Moscow on the same day, about 6:00 p.m., and he left for St. Petersburg for a party, and he was partying at a luxurious yacht (INAUDIBLE) because there was a huge holiday for high school grade students that they had in St. Petersburg. So Putin is not really, as far as we know, in touch with reality.

BURNETT: Which is amazing, right? A high school graduation party, would show a real lack of connection with reality.

General, you have met General Gerasimov, and Nick Paton Walsh was just reporting, right, we haven't seen him either, right? Another person who is currently missing in action, and obviously, he is supposedly running the war. How hard will it be to continue to command a war of this magnitude, while all of this uncertainty is going on, fear of a putsch, fear of reprisal, fear of arrest, or worse?


MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yeah, Erin, what I'd say is, I did meet Gerasimov on one occasion. I'm not friends with him certainly. But what I would tell you is, he is the chief of a general staff. Putin put him in charge of the operation in Ukraine, in January over Surovikin who failed in some of his missions.


HERTLING: So you had a guy that is Surovikin who was demoted, and then the chief of the general staff, which was the equivalent of the chairman of the joint chiefs, should be in Moscow giving support to the president is now on the front lines of the battlefield. It's a very bizarre situation, to have that kind of command relationship. I'm watching very closely to see what happens to Gerasimov, who has

been in offense since 2012, that's the chief of the general staff. I met him when he was the commander of the Russian central military district, a much exalted position, but he certainly wasn't the chief of the staff.

And truthfully, it's bizarre that he's on the frontlines. All of these things are fascinating, and, you know, the kind of rumors going around about Surovikin, and some of the intermediaries that may have been relieved or put on the back bench, are fascinating, because it will affect the war effort. I'm certain of that.

BURNETT: Yeah, I mean, which is absolutely incredible to think. You know, what the foreign minister told me, a force majeure event, right, that the absolutely unexpected, the black swam, right, in some senses.

Max, what are you learning about General Surovikin right now, and what's likely happening to him? Is he being interrogated somewhere, or what?

SEDDON: Well, we reported today that the General Surovikin was detained following -- following the coup. We don't know if he was arrested or not. It could be that he was detained, or held for questioning. There is nothing to indicate that he has been imprisoned as well, that he might release.

So we don't know that yet. What we do know is that this is the start of a big attempt by Putin, and his most loyal security services, to find who was responsible for all of these disasters, failures -- and, to try to do something about that.

But, it really is just a colossal failure on Putin's part, for -- you know, for most, because this was a guy who was basically going around for months, you know, saying that he was going to do this, with his private army, that Putin let him have and completely financed, and, it was all happening for this person who was loyal to Putin. He was allowed to publicly clash with the defense ministry and undermine their authority, because Putin let him do that.

And now, Putin is acting all surprised, any thought he could who control him because, he is so a defendant, and said he betrayed him. And that now is really scrambling to try to find the guilty, like potentially, Surovikin.

BURNETT: That's interesting, an amazing how this all comes down to trust and betrayal of these unbelievable human emotional realities.

Thank you also very much.

And next, Ukraine launching emergency drills for what we understand what they say is unapproved planned by Putin to attack Europe's biggest nuclear power plant, which of course is here. Is Putin desperate enough to actually pull the trigger, on that approved plan?

Plus, Vice President Mike Pence makes a surprise visit here to Ukraine. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)(

BURNETT: Do you think it's possible, that Prigozhin had inside help from key members of Putin's inner circle?

PENCE: I -- I just -- I just wouldn't doubt it.


BURNETT: And in other major stories tonight, the Supreme Court gutting affirmative action, and college a missions, overturning Bakke, right? I mean, this has been 45 years of a policy, and it is in effect that will be felt across the United States.



BURNETT: Welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT. We are live in Kyiv tonight.

Ukraine launching large-scale emergency response exercises, to prepare for a, quote, possible terrorist attack, at the Russian occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. It is the largest nuclear power plant in all of Europe. It is an attack that would impact the world.

And this comes just days after Ukraine's military intelligence chief said, that plans for an attack on the plant have been both drafted, and approved.

OUTFRONT now, the former Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

And, Secretary, I very much appreciate your time.

So, you see the preparations by Ukraine. You hear the military intelligence chief here saying plans for the attack have been drafted, and approved. Right, these aren't general words, these are very specific words. What does that make you think? How real is this threat?

MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, it's hard to tell, Erin. You know, we've heard these threats, these possibilities for many, many months now about separation being bombed or sabotaged or whatnot. I assume it would have some tactical effect, if Ukraine was gaining ground if you will on this counteroffensive and if it really grows out.

But strategically, I don't see how it benefits Russia, frankly, because whatever fallout, radioactive fallout that is it would be from the plant destroyed, the reactors exposed, et cetera, would really drift across Russia, and, the parts of Ukraine that are being defended now by pro-Russian Ukrainians.

So, I think it would be a terrible strategic impact for Russia itself, let alone the rest of the world, as it would blow around, blow -- continue to blow eastward. BURNETT: And, you know, I know the foreign minister here, he told me

that Putin loves life, and those around him love life more. Which I think was the most significant part of his statement. But, still you are at a point where Putin's power may be out of a dirt tire front from within.

And, the whole question has always been, if he has nothing to lose on the battlefield, or in terms of his own longevity, his own ability to remain the leader of Russia, that that's when he might do something. Are you worried that we could be at a point like that, and that we might not actually realize we are at that point? Because what's happening in Moscow right now is so opaque?

ESPER: Well, Erin, you're right, you don't know when you don't know when you don't know it. And there is so much happening in Moscow, that further confuses the situation. But, I don't think practically, on the battlefield with Ukraine, that he's in that position yet.


That he might consider more extreme measures.

But, blowing up the dam that was further downstream made some sense tactically, and it made the ground that the southern Ukraine impassible for Ukrainian forces, but in this case, with again attacking, destroying, blowing up a reactor in Zaporizhzhia, I don't see the tactical gain it has. And I think it just creates more strategic and political problems for Vladimir Putin.

There are other things he could do, but that doesn't seem likely one. It doesn't mean we shouldn't dismissive or be prepared for, but it seems unlikely.

BURNETT: Secretary, I want to ask you about Matthew Chance's exclusive reporting. And those are the documents that he's obtained, that you know, they blur out 29 names, or at least 30 under other names, I'm sorry. But the name that we can see is a crucial one that he has, that Russian General Sergey Surovikin was a secret, VIP member, they are saying, of Prigozhin's Wagner group.

They have his personal registration number on the documents. Matthew obtained, and the context of this is "The New York Times" reporting that one Surovikin had advance knowledge of Prigozhin's rebellion. So, just how involved do you think Surovikin could have been in the insurrection? And again, to emphasize, General Surovikin is the person in charge of running the war here in Ukraine.

ESPER: Well, first of all, we don't know what this list is about, right? It could be some type of honorary thing that has no bearing, no weight whatsoever. Or, it could be an oath, if you will, that replaces Surovikin's oath to Russia and to Putin.

But we don't know about that, but, look, as I've been saying for a few days now, and when this first happened. I doubt that Prigozhin made this deal on his own. I suspect he thought others are going to be with him. But when the time came, on that Saturday, with his forces beginning to move to Moscow, he realized that that support wasn't going to materialize. Whether was from the Russian military, or people in other parts of the security apparatus, it didn't materialize, which is why he took the off rope, off-ramps to Belarus.

Now, the question is, who was supporting him? And, look, he and Surovikin go back to Syria together. They knew each other. They both respected one another on the battlefield. And they were both supported by the hard right in Russia, which is another political dynamic that Putin has to be concerned about, as he makes his way through these next few days.

BURNETT: All right. Secretary, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

ESPER: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, we are just learning that the Biden administration could now be on the verge of sending controversial cluster munitions to Ukraine. It would be a very significant development, and it comes as former Vice President Mike Pence tells me that Ukraine is making advances on the battlefield. He supports those long range missiles being sent here now, that's next.

And 40 years of precedent, gone. The Supreme Court rejecting affirmative action in American colleges, Michelle and Barack Obama are speaking out tonight.



BURNETT: Welcome back to this special edition of OUTFRONT live in Kyiv.

As CNN is learning tonight that the Biden administration is now strongly considering giving deadly cluster munition warheads to Ukraine. Now, these are weapons banned by more than 100 countries, not by the United States though. Russia has been using them with devastating effects in Ukraine.

We'll just show you some explosions from cluster munitions hitting a civilian area in Kharkiv. When they obviously hit a civilian area, it spreads out. That's the design. They scatter dozens of bombs. That's across large areas of more than 320 feet.

Ukraine says that would be useful in striking Russian troop areas. Of course, the Russians have used them against civilians as well.

The Ukrainians have been asking for these controversial weapons for many months. Sources tell our Natasha Bertrand that U.S. officials are now looking at this seriously as Ukraine is struggling to make major gains in its counteroffensive.

It comes as the former vice president and 2024 GOP candidate, Mike Pence, made a surprise visit here to Kyiv, vowing to stand with Ukraine until victory is achieved. He was very passionate about this. He was unequivocal. I spoke with

him earlier today.


BURNETT: Mr. Vice President, it is so nice to see you here in Kyiv.


BURNETT: I know you met with President Zelenskyy today. You were in Bucha. You were in Irpin.

Your fellow Republican presidential candidates meantime are in early primary states. They're holding fundraisers. Why does it matter to you to be here?

PENCE: America's the leader of the free world. We're the arsenal of democracy. And from the very moment that Russia engaged in this unprovoked active aggression, invading a neighboring country, I strongly supported American efforts to give Ukrainian fighters what they need to fight and win.

And I must tell you, traveling across those battlefields today, meeting with soldiers, meeting with families, meeting with President Zelenskyy and then seeing that division that we're seeing in Russia over the last week, I'm more convinced than ever that the support of the American people have provided, the free world has provided is making it possible for Ukraine to reclaim their sovereignty, reclaim their territory, and -- and do a great service to peace in the world.

Look, I think that repelling Russian aggression is not just in the interest of people here in Kyiv and in Ukraine, I think it's our national interest because --

BURNETT: America's?

PENCE: I think it's in the interest of the United States of America and free countries around the world, because by giving Ukraine what they need to repel the Russian invasion, we're not only going to send a message to Russia, that their efforts to redraw international lines by force will not be tolerated. But other nations like China, that's continuing to engage in menacing military actions across the Asian Pacific will get the message that the free world will stand together, and precisely as we've done here.


And watching the courageous fighters here in Ukraine today --


PENCE: -- it's been deeply inspiring.

BURNETT: We've just returned from the frontlines in southern Ukraine and we saw the troops living camouflaged in the woods. Literally every woods -- PENCE: Right.

BURNETT: -- and there'd be a farm field, right?

But in that strip of woods, they're camouflaged, their heavy equipment, and they're living their full time, Ukrainian troops. They are dealing with just fields littered with mines --

PENCE: Right.

BURNETT: -- and grenades, where these little tiny wires that no one would see littering the wood.

Do you see an end in sight to a war like this?

PENCE: I do. And when I met with President Zelenskyy today, he said that after a slow start this spring, largely owing to a very rainy season, that they've been seeing in recent weeks a steady advance against those Russian lines.

And I have to tell you, remember, wars are fought with soldiers, with munitions, and with morale.


PENCE: And what I'm sure you saw on the frontlines today, and what I witnessed talking not only to the leadership of this country but to rank-and-file soldiers, was a genuine spirit. They see the progress. They see the fight they put up.

I mean, it's amazing to think, Erin, Russia went from having the second most powerful military in the world to having the second most powerful military in Ukraine. I mean, Ukrainian fighters have demonstrated their toughness, equipped so well by the United States and other allies, that we marshaled some 50 countries around the world.

But I -- I think the morale here in Ukraine, the progress that I heard about from President Zelenskyy today, and the division that we're seeing -- the leader of the Wagner group literally marching on Moscow, and now being exiled to Belarus, and Vladimir Putin literally flying troops from those front lines back to Moscow to reinforce, I mean -- I mean, that's what happens when you engage in an unprovoked act of naked aggression against your neighbor.

Innocent lives are lost. Your soldiers' lives are lost. And you only sow division in your country.

That's what's happening in Russia today. And the morale that you saw today on those front lines, I think it's going to carry them forward to victory.

BURNETT: You mentioned Putin. And, of course, you've met him.

PENCE: Right.

BURNETT: You've dealt with him when you were vice president. Do you think he has full command of his military right now?

PENCE: I think it's an open question. It is.

Now, the Wagner group is a specialty group we have some familiarity with. We -- American forces encountered the Wagner group in Syria back in 2018 --


PENCE: -- when they moved against our forces, and after being warned multiple times, the order was given and we took them out without one American casualty.

But they are understood to be some of the most elite forces in Russia. Now they've been dispersed. They're being invited back into the military. But I did hear today that they are decamping in Belarus along with their leader, who is now in exile.

And I must just tell you that we don't know what we don't know about what's happening in Russia. But that's always true about Russia and about Vladimir Putin.

But what I do know being here in Ukraine today is the resolve of Ukrainians, from President Zelenskyy down to the mother that I met in Irpin whose home had been rebuilt. She was there when the rockets landed. She lost a nephew in the attack.

But she never left. She rebuilt her home and she -- and the Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom. And with the support of the free world, with America as a leader of the free world, I know they can win.

BURNETT: So, there are a lot of reports. And as you point out, we don't know what we don't know --

PENCE: Right.

BURNETT: -- about what's going on in Moscow. That -- that is normal. But we don't know.

But there are reports about what top Putin inner circle members knew and did regarding Prigozhin's attempted rebellion.

PENCE: Right.

BURNETT: Do you think it's possible that Prigozhin had inside help from key members of Putin's inner circle?

PENCE: I -- I just wouldn't doubt it, but I wouldn't know.


PENCE: I mean, look -- I mean, to hear the way Prigozhin is speaking about this and talking about how the children of the elites in Moscow are putting cream on their face while the -- while the sons of the people are dying in Ukraine, suggests to me that something is afoot in Russia, that sees that not only was this an unjustified war.

Remember, when Vladimir Putin launched this invasion of Ukraine, he said it'd be over in a week. But he underestimated the Ukrainian military and candidly, he underestimated the resolve of the free world.

But I have to believe in my heart of hearts that there are good and decent people among the populace in Russia who are getting fed up with this failed invasion, with the loss of life, and my hope is that that's actually reached all the way into the highest levels of government as well.


BURNETT: And to that point, the foreign minister here in Ukraine earlier this week told me, and his quote was, Prigozhin is just the first one who dared. But I have no doubts that others will follow.

Do you think that's what the U.S. should be prepared for? A Russia without Putin? His power waning?

PENCE: Well, I think the United States should continue to be prepared to provide the courageous military here in Ukraine with resources they need to fight and win.

But I will say to you, Erin, while I strongly support American involvement here, I heard again today frustration about how slow the Biden administration has been in providing that military support. Thirty-three Abrams tanks were pledged in January. And now, they are being told they won't be here until September.

They've now authorized, allowing people to be trained in F-16s, but the United States continues to hold back on allowing --

BURNETT: The foreign minister said they're not going to get them, he doesn't think, until the beginning of next year. Yeah.

PENCE: Well, what good does that? My hope is that this war is over by the beginning of next year.

BURNETT: So, you think the aid needs to come faster?

PENCE: Look, I want to say -- I want to say very sincerely, President Biden said in his last State of the Union Address, we're there as long as it takes. So, I think it shouldn't take that long.

We're the most powerful nation on Earth. We have the most powerful military on Earth. And we ought to be providing them with the tanks, with the missiles, with the aircraft, and what the -- what the Ukrainian soldiers have proved, those soldiers that you saw on the front line today --


PENCE: -- you give them the means to fight the Russians, they're going to fight them -- BURNETT: Yeah.

PENCE: -- defeat them and they're going to win a victory not just for Ukraine, but they're going to win a victory for the free world. And America and nations across the globe will be more secure as a result.

BURNETT: And you're clear on F-16s where you stand? Sooner -- sooner rather than later. But also, you mentioned missiles, ATACMS, number one on the wish list here. You think that should be now?

PENCE: I do. I heard about the need for more mortar shells. I mean, that -- not getting into the technical part of it but --


PENCE: -- they need more ammunition. And I think it's -- I think it's imperative that we continue to provide that.

Look, we should never send American forces into this fight.


PENCE: The war here in Ukraine is not our war. But freedom is our fight. And since the days of the Reagan administration, America has always taken the position that if you're willing to fight America's enemies on your soil, we'll give you the means to fight them there so we don't have to fight them here.


PENCE: That's what this has been about from the very beginning. I know there's a debate, both in my party and around the country, about American involvement here.

But I really believe that the majority of the American people understand that we are the leader of the free world. And standing for freedom and supporting those that are fighting for their freedom is always the American cause.

BURNETT: All of this in the context of, of course, the election, and your race for the White House.

We have obtained here at CNN the audiotape of former President Trump talking about classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago this week. Here's what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I just found, isn't that amazing? This totally once my case, you know.


TRUMP: Except it is, like, highly confidential, secret.

(LAUGHTER) TRUMP: It is secret information.

See as president, I could have declassified it.


TRUMP: Now I can't, you know, but this is still a secret.


BURNETT: So, this tape relates to just one of the allegations, right, in the indictment, that says that Trump not only obstructed, but also -- justice, but that he also disseminated classified information.

Are you comfortable with his behavior, as you know it, as you hear it on that tape?

PENCE: Well, what I can tell you, Erin, is that handling classified materials is a very serious matter, and the allegations in the indictment against the former president are serious. But he does deserve his day in court.


PENCE: This shouldn't be litigated --


PENCE: -- in the media. It should -- it should be litigated in a court of law. The president is entitled to bring his defense. I want to let that process work out.

Everybody is entitled to a presumption of innocence, so we'll -- we'll stand on that presumption of innocence. But, I don't want to diminish the seriousness of these allegations, or diminish the former president's right to defend himself.

BURNETT: All right. Mr. Vice President, thank you very much for your time here in Kyiv.

PENCE: Thank you, Erin. It's good to see you here.

BURNETT: All right.


BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, Putin, the rock star? At least that is how state media is portraying the Russian president, as he tries to lead a surge of a strongman image inside of Russia, after taking such a hit. We have more, in a special report, and wait to see when we put all this together.

Plus, another major story we've been following tonight. And that is the Supreme Court ruling colleges can no longer explicitly consider and applicants race when it comes to admissions in the United States.



BURNETT: Welcome back, to a special edition of OUTFRONT. And our other big story tonight, is that huge decision by the Supreme Court, to essentially got affirmative action in college admissions.

The conservative majority saying it in a 6-3 ruling, that it is unconstitutional for colleges and universities to take race into consideration as a specific basis for granting admission to students.

Athena Jones is OUTFRONT.



ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Affirmative action, as we know it, it's no more.

CALVIN YANG, MEMBER OF STUDENTS FOR FAIR ADMISSIONS: Today's victory transcends far beyond those that are sitting in this room today. It belongs to thousands of sleepless high schoolers, applying to colleges.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will comply with the court's decision, but it does not change our values.

JONES: Reversing decades of precedent, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling colleges and universities can no longer take race into account, as a specific basis for granting admission.

In a 6-3 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts saying admission programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, because they fail to offer measurable objectives to justify the use of race. Unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points.

Roberts' majority opinion suggests how and applicants life has been affected by race can still be considered.

Justice Clarence Thomas writing in his concurrent opinion: Even in the segregated South, where I grew up, individuals were not the sum of their skin color.


But an attorney for UNC student who argued in defense of affirmative action, stressing colleges still want to consider a race, now face a challenge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be much more difficult to try and demonstrate your lawful program if you do consider race.

JONES: Students for Fair Admissions, the conservative group behind both challenges, applauded the ruling.

EDWARD BLUM, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT FOR FAIR ADMISSIONS: The opinion issue today by the United States Supreme Court marks the beginning of the restoration of the color blind, legal covenant that binds together our multi-racial, multi-ethnic nation.

JONES: Critics argue it will hurt Black and Latino enrolment, and roll back decades of progress.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined in her dissenting opinion by Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson, and Elena Kagan, blasting the decision as an indefensible reading of the Constitution that is not grounded in law.

Jackson arguing, the majority opinion ignores America's past and present, writing: Deeming race irrelevant and, law does not make it so in life.

Vice President Kamala Harris calling it a step backwards for our nation. Former President Barack Obama also weighing in, saying, now, it's up to all of us to give young people the opportunities they deserve, and help students everywhere benefit from new perspectives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was disheartening to see.


JONES: A major decision sparking outrage, and questions about its impact.

GABEAU: We live in such a racialized society, like that is not a an argument. No argument can be made against that. My race is not, you know, something I tack on and take off like a shirt. It's my -- it's me, it's my identity.


JONES (on camera): And we should note, today's decision exempts U.S. military academies from this ban on race conscious admissions, something that Justice Jackson says showed interest in preserving racial diversity for the bunker but not for the boardroom -- Erin.

BURNETT: Athena, thank you very much. A momentous day.

And next, the way Putin wants the world to view him, right, a strongman. But after the insurrection, see what's happening, it's pretty amazing. They're trying to rebuild his reputation, and we're going to show you how.



BURNETT: Welcome back to OUTFRONT.

We are live in Kyiv here in Ukraine. Russia's state media tonight going to great lengths to try to promote Putin, comparing him to a rock star -- yeah, literally -- just days after facing the biggest threat ever to his presidency.


OLGA SKABEYEVA, RUSSIAN STATE TV HOST (through translator): Screaming, squealing, applause, literally pleased for photos with him. The president has been greeted in such a way that rock stars have nothing on him.


BURNETT: Rock stars.

Nick Paton Walsh is OUTFRONT with more on how Putin is trying to reassert that macho image he is so known for inside Russia.


WALSH (voice-over): Well, he's a strongman when he's no longer that strong, just a guy with a horse and needs a shirt. We've been so accustomed to these images of Vladimir Putin as some sort of Superman, manipulating the known world in a genius game of five dimensional chess, when wrestling his opponents to the mat intellectually.

Now the world is coming to terms with a completely new concept -- a weak Putin who seems almost to play the clown. Here today at a trade fair, making a sketch, living in a parallel reality from the near collapse over the weekend.

While the weekend's armed rebellion by his former confidant, Prigozhin, failed, it had one catastrophic success, bursting the bubble of Putin's impregnability.

The Kremlin head didn't even appear in public for two and a half days popping up only outside the Kremlin Tuesday to deliver a surreal "thank you" to the military and step back and let Wagner march on Moscow. Putin is now in a place he's never been before, hunting for traitors in his inner circle.

He was set to have isolated himself so much during the pandemic, keeping visitors at a distance, that perhaps he no longer could find his way back down the table to reality. The Moscow elites' gentle bubble of assured autocracy has also been burst. It is a place where riches were earned through unquestioning loyalty, but now, after the Ukrainian invasion, contends with drones attack luxury suburbs, and even the Kremlin.

None of this was meant to happen. None of this is what Putin sold Russia. And none of this can be easily answered by a strong man who no longer seems strong.


WALSH (on camera): Now, you can see there how Putin is clearly still at the task of trying to remind Russia how popular he is with those remarkable displays. But you also have to ask yourself how quickly is he dealing with the ultimate challenges of working, out frankly, what to do with Prigozhin or even where he is and whether or not those genuine dissent still inside his military.

BURNETT: And that's the crucial question. The fear he will live with, the paranoia.

Nick, thank you very much.

And, you know, we end the show this evening in Kyiv. This morning, though, we woke up in Dnipro, and eastern Ukraine. And we saw this. How many of you see something similar on any given day? Preschoolers going on a walk.

But these preschoolers her this last night.




BURNETT: You know, a warning, in that particular case, of ballistic missiles in the middle of the night. The air force alert that came with it, do not ignore the alarm, take shelter. Then more sirens warning of drone attacks. That's every single night.

And missiles hit in these kids' hometown. And they are now too young to know any other way of life. Many children there, even here in Kyiv, they sleep in apartment loading hallways so they don't need to wake them up and move them to shelters. We couldn't stop thinking about their small little sleeping bodies, as we stayed up through the night for our broadcast we looked out on this.

An absolute pitch darkness, just not a pitch darkness that you want at night, for peace and rest and comfort, it was one of worry and waiting and in some moments fear.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts.