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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Russian Airstrikes Hit Base Near Lviv and Polish Border; Zelenskyy Says Ukraine will Win the War; Russian Bombardment Targets Civilian Areas in Southern Cities of Ukraine. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 14, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It is Monday, March 14th, 5:00 a.m. here in New York. Thanks for getting an early start with us, I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to be back with you, Christine. I'm Laura Jarrett. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. We begin this week with a significant escalation in Putin's war. A Russian airstrike right at NATO's doorstep, at least 35 people were killed when Russian missiles hit a large military base close to the Polish border. Now, despite the escalation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's resolve only stiffened here as he posted another video message to his people.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT, UKRAINE (through translator): We are going through the worst ordeal in our history, in our lives. We protect the most precious thing we have. We must hold on, we must fight and we will win. I know that, I believe in that.


JARRETT: And more proof that Russians are targeting civilians.




JARRETT: You're looking at Russian tanks blasting away at residential buildings, yet another sign President Putin is set on destruction. This is the southern city of Mariupol where the situation is increasingly dire. A large convoy of humanitarian aid destined for the city is stuck in the city held by Russian troops about 50 miles to the west. One resident there posting on Twitter, quote, "this is horror".

ROMANS: Civilians also under attack in another southern Ukrainian city Mykolaiv. Watch the man in the parking lot turn and run as shells rain down around him. Local officials say nine people were killed in Russian bombardment yesterday. And moments ago, we are now learning that two people were killed, three others wounded after shelling hit another Kyiv residential building. As of now, the United Nations says more than 2.7 million Ukrainians have fled their home country since Russia invaded.

Two-point-seven million people on the move. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins us live from Lviv, Ukraine. Salma, what more do we know about the Russian airstrikes, not far from where you are right now? What are the implications for the western alliance?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Christine, let's start by talking about the strike on that military base yesterday. I was actually just on the perimeter of that base after the strike, trying to find out more about what happened. And I'm going to tell you why it's so important. It's called the International Peace Keeping and Security Center, but what it is really, is just a sprawling military campus with these huge training grounds, just about 10 miles from the Polish border.

And it's on that base that the Ukrainian military opens itself up to its allies. It is on that base that NATO has in the past held training exercises. It's on that base that just a few months ago, U.S. troops were training Ukrainian troops to prepare for the potential of a Russian attack. So hitting that base at the heart of the Ukrainian military presents a huge logistical challenge for this country. That's why you hear President Zelenskyy yet again calling for a no-fly zone over this country, so that it can continue to operate from spaces like that.

And it is a major blow because in the past over the course of the last few weeks, that's been considered a safe forward operating base for Ukrainian forces. Again, right up on the Polish border, right up on NATO's doorstep. Of course, the illusion of that security now shattered, 35 killed after more than 30 missiles struck that base. More than 130 wounded as well, and it comes after the U.S. has promised more than $200 million in immediate defense support for Ukraine.

But Russian forces say that any weapons shipments will be considered legitimate targets. So the question is, how can Ukraine continue to receive the support it needs, the weapons it needs, the aid it needs if it's being hit from the skies?

ROMANS: Right, all right, Salma Abdelaziz, thank you so much for that. Laura, on the Polish side of the border, so many people said they could feel the ground --


ROMANS: Shaking. And it shows you just how close it was to Poland, a member of NATO. Lots of room for error and miscommunication mistakes there.

JARRETT: Yes, let's bring in retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges; former commander of the U.S. Army Forces in Europe. Lieutenant General Hodges, so nice to have you bright and early this morning. Help us explain where the significance of this attack on the military base near the Poland border.


This is the worst attack in this fight so far, this close to NATO land.

BEN HODGES, FORMER COMMANDER OF U.S. ARMY FORCES IN EUROPE: Well, this is a strike by the Russians using a bomber to deliver those 30 cruise missiles or demonstrating that they have the reach, that they are aware of the lines of communication from Poland into Ukraine. So they're demonstrating and indicating that they are prepared to attack those lines of communication.

And of course, that's not a surprise to anybody. I'm more concerned about their impact on the logistics than on the proximity to the border with Poland. But I anticipate that Ukraine will figure out a way to have redundancy in these lines of communication so that we can continue this essential aid into Ukraine.

ROMANS: Still, there is no no-fly zone yet over the -- Ukraine. NATO has not imposed that. What can be done to prevent further airstrikes? Does there need to be a no-fly zone?

HODGES: You know, I have to confess I have personally struggled with this. I signed a letter with several other retired officers and ambassadors advocating for some sort of a no-fly zone. But at the same time, the reality of the situation is, if you have a no-fly zone, as most of your viewers know, you have to have NATO aircraft in the air to shoot down Russian aircraft. You have to have NATO aircraft prepared to hit Russian air defense systems and yet be prepared to go on and pick up a pilot who gets shot down.

So, this is -- this is our challenge. And, of course, I think it was a mistake not to let this transaction of MIGs from Poland to Ukraine to stop that. I think that could have made a difference. In the meanwhile, we have got to find ways to go after the long-range artillery and rockets --

ROMANS: Right --

HODGES: And cruise missiles that actually cause most of the damage.

JARRETT: So how do we do that?

HODGES: Well, Intelligence, number one. We can tell where these things are coming from. Sharing that with the Ukrainians, giving them more counter-fire radar so they can identify the point of origin. More longer range systems that help them reach where those things are coming from, and especially, anti-ship missiles because Russian Navy Black Sea fleet ships that are launching cruise missiles into Mariupol for example. We've got to help Ukraine be able to go out and test them.

ROMANS: Are we doing that? Through best of your knowledge, are we doing that well enough?

HODGES: No, there's -- we're not yet at the speed and the quantity that is needed. Now, U.S. logistics is the best in the world once we get going. And I would anticipate within a week or so, it's going to get better. But in the meanwhile, we started too late frankly.

JARRETT: So, we also have new satellite images this morning. One showing a bridge built across the Irpin river, and another image shows that bridge destroyed. What do you make of this in terms of the additional threat to Kyiv? Of course, that's the -- you know, the worry here, is they're circling in on Kyiv.

HODGES: Look, I think it's important as you guys help educate your listeners and viewers about the geography and what's going on. But I'm going to tell you that I believe that we probably are about ten days away from Russia culminating. In other words, running out of time, running out of people, and running out of ammunition. Kyiv is a huge city. I was there 5 weeks ago, met President Zelenskyy there. It is a very large city, very complex urban terrain separated by one of the biggest rivers in Europe.

I do not believe that the Russians have the numbers actually to encircle it, let alone capture it or even clear it. Now, they're having ammunition shortages already because of the poor planning that they've done. They have serious manpower shortages, this is why they're recruiting Syrians to come in and help fight. Numerous accounts of mutiny, desertion, low morale. Now is the time for us to pour on the gas to make it clear that we are in this for the long haul.

President Zelenskyy is right. Ukraine is going to win this thing, but the next ten days are going to be decisive.

ROMANS: All right. The next ten days --

JARRETT: A lot can happen in ten days as we've seen --

ROMANS: Sure can. All right, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, thank you so much for your time this morning.

HODGES: Thanks again, thanks.

ROMANS: All right, tributes pouring in for the American journalist Brent Renaud who was shot and killed by Russian forces in the Ukrainian city of Irpin this weekend. He was an award-winning filmmaker, producer and journalist who lived and worked in New York. He and his brother Craig had spent years telling human interest stories from the Middle East, from Haiti, from Libya. Friends say his work affected many people deeply.


CHRISTOF PUTZEL, FRIEND & COLLEAGUE OF BRENT RENAUD: He could get into any location. He had this ability just to blend in wherever he was. The career that he had, his ability to reach people, his ability to capture the humanity behind people's suffering is something I've never seen before, and I was just honored to work with him as long as I did.



ROMANS: His colleagues say he was so talented. Another American journalist, Juan Arredondo was wounded. We know he was working on a documentary about Kyiv refugees when he was killed.

JARRETT: In just a couple of hours, a new round of diplomatic talks between Ukraine and Russia is set to resume in an effort to establish a ceasefire and more humanitarian corridors. Ukraine's President Zelenskyy will also address the Council of Europe. CNN's Natasha Bertrand is live in Brussels, Belgium with more on this. Natasha, good morning. Are Russia and Ukrainian negotiators anywhere close to setting up a meeting between Zelenskyy and Putin? And at this point, are more talks really going to help? We see where they've gone so far.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, with regard to a potential meeting between Zelenskyy and Putin, that is still very unclear. Zelenskyy has indicated that he is willing to meet directly with Vladimir Putin to discuss ending the war, or at least, to discuss more concrete measures like a ceasefire or keeping open those humanitarian corridors. But so far, the negotiations have only been taking place between the two delegations.

We saw last week that there was a meeting between the Russian foreign ministers and the Ukrainian foreign ministers in Turkey, and that yielded really no major breakthroughs. And the reason for that, of course, is that the decision-maker here is Vladimir Putin. That was something that an aid to Zelenskyy told CNN last week. Said these negotiations are going to be very difficult moving forward because, really, the person that is dictating all of this is Putin himself.

So unless there is that direct communication, it's unlikely there will be any major breakthroughs here. But you know, the United States has been watching essentially as these European leaders, France and Germany in particular, have been engaging with Putin directly. They have been having these conversations with Putin. And again, it's yielded no major breakthroughs here. They have been saying that they are pushing him to implement these ceasefires, to implement these humanitarian corridors. But Putin right now just seems intent upon destroying Ukraine and maintaining this war.

JARRETT: Yes, been no respect for that so far. Natasha, thank you for your reporting as usual. Still ahead for you, Russia turning to China for help on the battle field in Ukraine. What it could mean as the shelling intensifies.



ROMANS: All right, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine intensifies, CNN has learned Russia is reaching out to China for military and economic aid. One official says Russia asked for help after Putin had already started this war. Listen to what National Security adviser Jake Sullivan told our Dana Bash on "STATE OF THE UNION".


JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It is a concern of ours, and we have communicated to Beijing that we will not stand by and allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses from the economic sanctions. We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions, invasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them.

We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a life-line to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world.


ROMANS: CNN's Steven Jiang live in Beijing for us. Sullivan due to meet with his Chinese counterpart face-to-face in Rome today. What else do you think they're hoping to make clear to China? Because, you know, the party to come in and blunt the force of the world isolating Russia would be China.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: That's right, Christine. That's why Sullivan is likely to tell his counterpart that China should do more to pressure Russia to end this war, given their close bilateral ties. But the timing of that leak and Sullivan's remarks of course is very interesting. It's putting China under this intense global spotlight just as he is about to meet his Chinese counterpart in Rome in the coming hours.

That's why the Chinese have been pushing back with a Chinese Foreign Ministry official dismissing reports about Russia seeking China's economic and military support. And saying, this is again, U.S. officials peddling false information with sinister intentions. Now, ever since the war broke out, of course, China has been trying to strike this almost impossible balance, and are standing by Russia especially parroting a lot of the propaganda and some would say disinformation from the Kremlin.

But they're also trying to say the right things at least on a global stage in terms of respecting all countries' sovereignty and calling for peace talks. And then again, of course, they're trying to minimize Chinese companies' exposure to increasingly severe western sanctions. That's why at the end of day, most experts we talk to say the Chinese leadership is very pragmatic. They don't see any major upside to get deeply involved in this war not fought on their soil at this stage.

So, the way they see it, eventually, a weakened and bitter Russia would have almost no choice but to move even closer into China's orbit as a junior partner in this relationship. That's why most experts are skeptical at this stage of China getting involved in this war directly by providing arms to Russia --

ROMANS: Yes --

JIANG: Christine. ROMANS: Yes, that pragmatism very key here as you try to game out the

near-term and a long-term for Chinese officials. Steven Jiang, thank you so much for that. Right, 2.7 million people on the move. Families torn apart, fleeing the bloodshed in Ukraine. We're following the exodus to Poland and throughout eastern Europe.



JARRETT: Welcome back. The U.N. says 2.7 million people have now fled the violence in Ukraine to neighboring countries Most of those are refugees, women and children. As of Sunday, Romania has taken in more than 85,000 of them. CNN's Miguel Marquez joining us on the phone from Isaccea, Romania. Miguel, you've been doing remarkable work. You've heard so many incredible stories. Tell us what you're seeing and how Romanian officials are now preparing for this influx of refugees.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, interestingly, the numbers have moderated just a little bit in the last few days. But the Romanians are now concerned that there are so many Ukrainians just on the other side of the border internally displaced, that as the Russians move west, they are afraid that they're going to get a massive influx in the days or possibly weeks ahead.


So they are now preparing for that. Isaccea, where we are headed today, that is one of many border crossings between Ukraine and Romania. It has been at times thousands and thousands of people coming across daily, sometimes hundreds. It's very difficult for them to sort of plan, which is also part of the problem here. They are getting much better at moving Ukrainians from point A, from the borders to -- through Romania and to other places.

Over 400,000, about 412,000 Ukrainians have now come into Romania, about 80,000 remain here. Most are moving on to other countries. But the story you hear of these people, it is people with cancer, with tons of children, their entire lives upset, many of them are trying to get from here to third countries, to relatives in other places. It has just created a level of uncertainty and stress for so many people across this area.

And at the same time, Romanians are stepping up. As horrible as what is happening in Ukraine is, it is heartening to see how people step up and are housing Ukrainians by the dozens, in some cases in homes, the cities, the country. They have all opened up refugee centers to try to help out. They're also collecting humanitarian aid from across Europe that is being gathered in Romania, sort of an Amazon warehouse basically in Romania to move aid en masse into Ukraine.

So, all the -- all the effort is there, but the great uncertainty is just how much are there the Russians willing to push, and what sort of mass migration is that going to create into places like Romania? Back to you guys. JARRETT: It has been just incredible to watch, it just open arms

places like Romania have done for these refugees. Miguel, thank you for your reporting, appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right, two mayors now kidnapped from Ukrainian cities. What one of Russia's puppet replacements has been telling residents to do. That's next.