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Fierce Fighting Across Ukraine as Russians Shell Central Kyiv; U.S. Warns China Against Providing Aid to Russia; NATO Leaders Discussing Plans to Meet Next Week in Brussels. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It is Tuesday, March 15th, 5:00 a.m. exactly here in New York. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Laura Jarrett. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world.

We begin here with more fierce fighting across Ukraine as Russian forces move even closer to the capital. New this morning, more explosions in Kyiv, four residential buildings near the Kyiv city center were hit by shelling. Those buildings caught fire. At least two people were hurt.

In western Kyiv, two people were killed in a 16-story apartment building. You can see firefighters working there trying to put out the fire. And new satellite images show widespread destruction including this village near Kyiv where nearly every house on the northwestern side of town is badly damaged. And here in the besieged southern Ukraine city of Mariupol, images of a smoldering neighborhood and a damaged intensive care hospital complex.

ROMANS: Meantime, the Ukrainian military releasing a video that proves it is still fighting back effectively. This drone footage shows an artillery strike on a Russian military position hidden in a forest outside of Kyiv.

The U.S. is warning China now against providing any military or financial aid to Russia in the midst of the sanctions crackdown. China has suggested openness to providing the aid. More on that, in a moment.

Also today, the fourth round of talks resumes after the pause yesterday afternoon, but first, CNN's Scott McLean joins us from Lviv in western Ukraine.

Scott, what more do we know about the shelling that is happening this morning in Kyiv?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Christine. It seems to be happening with more frequency. New pictures of the 16-story apartment building shows that after the explosions were lobbed at the building, it caught fire, and you can see flames racing through most if not all of it. Two people were killed but based on the dramatic pictures it would not be surprising if there were more, certainly if there were more injuries. There was undoubtedly a rescue effort to get people out of that building before it was completely engulfed in flames.

There were also explosions in other parts of the city. One was just south of the Kyiv city center where photos show that a crater was left behind next to a house that caught fire. Then there was another apartment building north of the city center, only about a mile or so away is the district where a 10-story building, the bottom five floors caught fire. Again, part of a pattern here, U.S. defense officials say that it seems like the ground offensive around the Capitol seems to have stalled largely. They didn't make any meaningful progress on the ground. It seems that for the time being, Christine, the Russians are content to simply lob explosives into the city hitting residential areas indiscriminate indiscriminately in the absence of any ability to get any closer with their ground troops.

That same U.S. official also said that the Russian forces have failed to make any meaningful progress and taking the city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, that is a strategic city there, that Russian forces are approaching from the east. It would be strategic importance. If they were to take the city, then they would be able to perhaps go west and open a new front on Odessa or go north and start attacking Kyiv from the south.

ROMANS: All right. Scott McLean for us in Lviv -- thanks, Scott.

JARRETT: All of this as the U.S. is warning China against helping Russia in its war them. Sources tell CNN, Beijing may have expressed some openness to Russian requests for financial and military assistance.

Let's bring in CNN's Steven Jiang live in Beijing for us.

Steven, good morning.

This possible partnership, if you will, between Moscow and Beijing clearly has U.S. officials concerned. So, what kind of help might China offer Russia?

STEVE JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Laura, apparently everything from drones to MREs, meals ready to eat for Russian troops according to U.S. officials. Now, for their part, of course, the Chinese have been pushing back very hard saying all of this is part of a U.S. disinformation campaign. Obviously, this kind of Russian request would put China in an even more awkward position. If they do provide help it's likely to lead to more tensions between China and the U.S. as well as the European Union, but if they don't and Putin gets undermined, or replaced, that kind of scenario would be considered worst outcome for China.

So, the real calculation facing the Beijing leadership here, according to many analysts, is whether or not the U.S. and E.U. dare to impose the kind of sanctions against Russia on China, which obviously has a bigger and deeper economic trade relationship with the west. But all the leads and talks from Washington obviously designed to put China on the spot? Because the U.S. seems to be increasingly frustrated and annoyed with Beijing because despite China's huge economic leverage with Moscow and not to mention the close personal relationship between Xi Jinping and Putin, despite them publicly calling for piece talks, there's little indication that China is doing anything to persuade the Russians to stop this increasingly bloody war, which, by the way, the Beijing leadership still refuses to call a Russian invasion -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right. Steven Jiang, thank you for that reporting. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: So, let's bring in CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton, retired Air Force colonel and former member of the joint staff of the Pentagon.

Always like your expertise here, sir.

You know, Colonel, Russia being in need of drones, MREs, financial help potentially from China, does that suggest Russia is running out of resources in this stage of the invasion? What does this say about the Russian military?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Christine, good morning.

It did. Basically says that the Russian military was not prepared to do this. So, you have to wonder how this actually worked in the chain of command when they gave the orders to do this and they had the exercises, you know, going all the way into Belarus and, of course, extending all the way around Ukraine, you know, what they were -- what they were actually thinking. Did they really think the military leadership, that they were just going in for an excursion so to speak or that they were actually just training? They were woefully unprepared for this.

And, you know, as far as the Chinese of this is concerned, Christine, it definitely shows the Russians did not have, you know, what would be called a tooth to tail ratio -- in other words, the representative logistical support that they needed in order to execute this. They need the Chinese to step in and fill the breach.

JARRETT: And, Colonel, every day it seems like we're seeing more and more strikes near Kyiv. How is the Ukraine military holding up some 20 days in here?

LEIGHTON: Well, they're doing much better, Laura, than we expected them to. What we're seeing is a very determined resistance. Historically it kind of reminds you what the Finns were able to do in 1939, 1940 against the old Soviet Union when they held off a much larger Soviet army moving into Finland.

So, you're looking at what the Ukrainians are up against here. It's pretty massive. In many ways the Russians enjoy a 10 to 1 advantage in certain ratios. In some cases, it's less, in some cases it's more. The big idea here is I think the defenders definitely have that advantage but that advantage is exactly, extenuated, I would say, by the fact that they have morale on their side. The Russians don't have the same morale, the same as esprit de corps, as the Ukrainians do and it definitely showed.

ROMANS: You know, there has been so much discussion of a no-fly zone. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said yesterday that if Vladimir Putin were to use chemical weapons, then he would be in favor of the allies running a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

We know what the consequence of that would be. That would be American pilots and Russian pilots in the air shooting each other if you're enforcing a no-fly zone. How likely is this scenario? How dangerous is the scenario?

LEIGHTON: Well, the scenario, Christine, is incredibly dangerous. We have to go into something like this with eyes wide open. The fact of the matter is enforcing a no fly zone gets to be a little bit complicated with you want them a powered hands, the resources that Russia ostensibly has. I mean, over 500 aircraft were deployed in or near Ukrainian air force before this invasion started.

So, that's a heck of a lot more than the 56 or so that the Ukrainians staff, and that tells you that, the advantage in the air would be with the Russians. So, it's very hard to enforce that. You have to bring a lot of American and NATO air power to bear.

The other thing to know about is the fact that the Russians are actually shooting a lot of their missiles from aircraft from places outside of Ukrainian air space. They're doing it from the Sea of Azov, Black Sea and Russia.

JARRETT: That's so important to remember here. So, it's sort of suggest what exactly the no fly zone is, that's where they're doing it, that's where they're coming from.

ROMANS: Yeah, the focus is on getting the right armaments to the Ukrainians, not necessarily the no-fly zone.


Colonel Cedric Leighton, so nice to see you. Thank you for your expertise.

JARRETT: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. NATO leaders seeking to meet next week as Russia's attacks on Ukraine move closer to NATO's doorstep.


JARRETT: Welcome back.

U.S. officials saying NATO leaders are discussing a potential meeting next week, a high level show of force in the face of Russia's escalating attacks on Ukraine. President Biden may be making plans to attend that meeting as well, though both his travel and the NATO meeting are not yet finalized at this point.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand is live in Brussels, Belgium, with more on this.

Natasha, good morning.

How realistic do we think this meeting really is?


And what would be the goal?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it could happen, Laura, and the goal of this meeting would be, again, as you said, to express the support, the solidarity among NATO allies in the -- in the face of this Russian aggression in Ukraine. And, of course, it comes at a time when NATO is becoming extremely nervous about the trajectory of the war in Ukraine here.

Of course, we saw earlier this week that Russian missiles were fired just miles from the polish border. Poland, of course, is a NATO ally. The sanctions that have been imposed by the E.U., by NATO, by the U.S. have not had any deterrent effect to date on Russia's behavior. So, they hope that by meeting, if they do meet, then this will be an opportunity for them to essentially reassess the situation, to discuss obviously the consequences if Russia does, actually target whether inadvertently or on purpose any of that NATO territory.

And the stakes are extremely high right now. Extraordinarily, we actually see the leaders on three NATO member countries traveling to Kyiv to meet with president Zelenskyy and show their support, the NATO alliance support for Ukraine, even though, of course, it is not a member itself.

But the considerations here are extremely urgent because of how the Russian onslaught in Ukraine has been expanding further and further West towards Poland, towards that NATO and E.U. territory, Laura.

JARRETT: All right. Natasha, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. The danger facing journalists on the ground in Ukraine covering this war. Those dangers grow by the day. Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall in the hospital this morning wounded while reporting near Kyiv. A network official says she has only minimal details about what happened to Hall and the nature of his injuries.

Over the weekend, award-winning journalist Brent Renaud was shot and killed by Russian forces in the city of Irpin.

And then this, an employee at a Russian state TV channel interrupting a live news broadcast to protest the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now her lawyer says he can't find her.


ROMANS: And this remarkable moment, an employee of a Russian-state television network interrupting a live news broadcast to protest the invasion of Ukraine.


ROMANS: Content on the outlet Russia TV 1 is, of course, tightly controlled by the Russian government. The woman's sign read in Russian and English, stop the war. Do not believe propaganda. They tell you lies here.

CNN's Nina Dos Santos live in London with more.

Nina, we know she's an employee, right, an editor at the station?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN EUROPE EDITOR: That's right, Christine. Her name is Marina Ovsyannikova, and she's also reportedly potentially a mother of two children. So the risks here are enormous for a journalist to take this type of move, during the main evening bulletin of a state- controlled television network.

And remember that the Kremlin has very tightly tried to control the message that this is not a war. In fact, that word is being banned now in Russia. It is just a special military operations.

Now, Ms. Ovsyannikova it turned out has prerecorded a statement that she'd already released previously to human rights organizations, in case she was arrested. This is part of why she took this drastic action.


MARINA OVSYANNIKOVA, RUSSIAN TV EDITOR (through translator): It's happening now in Ukraine, it's a crime and Russia is the aggressor country. The responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of only one person. This man is Vladimir Putin. Go to the rallies and do not be afraid. They cannot arrest us all.


DOS SANTOS: Well, she's half Ukrainian, half Russian. She said what's going on is genocide. If a lot of people stand up in big protests or even on the streets, essentially the critical mass will get this invasion thwarted in its tracks. That may be hopeful thinking, though, because this is an extremely dangerous move for journalists to make. Just two weeks ago, Russia again tightened the levers of free space. She may be facing, Christine, somewhere between three and 15 years in jail now.

ROMANS: Nina, do we know where she is right now?

DOS SANTOS: We believe that she's under arrest. Her lawyer says she was arrested soon after this protest. We've seen the tightening of freedom of speech on a day-to-day basis, 850 people arrested just on Sunday alone after protests across 37 cities, 15,000 so far have tried to protest in just the last two weeks since the start of the invasion -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Clearly, censorship is the rule there. Thank you so much, Nina Dos Santos.


JARRETT: All right .The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, surveying scenes of damage Monday after a Russian airstrike in a suburb of Kyiv. The mayor visited the bombed out site along with his brother who posted this video on Twitter.


WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO, BROTHER OF KYIV MAYOR: That's what the Russians war against the civilians look like. Destroyed buildings, destroyed infrastructure. City bus just got hit with a rocket. Lives are getting lost.

That's the war that Russia started. That's the city of Kyiv and many cities in Ukraine were destroyed. Lives were taken. That's the truth.

These images are the truth of Russian war against Ukraine, Putin's war against Ukraine.


That's what it looks like.


JARRETT: The mayor added he is ready to fight any attempt by Russian military forces to kidnap him. Mayors of at least two Ukrainian cities have been reported captured so far in this war.

Still ahead for you, another round of talks between Ukraine and Russia this morning. Is there any reason to hope they can stop the bloodshed? That's next for you.


JARRETT: Twenty-nine minutes back here.

A new sign that Russian forces are closing in on Kyiv. This morning, at least two people were killed when Russians shelled Western Kyiv, hitting a 16 story apartment building there. New satellite pictures show heavy damage to this village near Kyiv as well as the besieged city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine.

The battle is not one sided of course, though. Ukrainian military releasing this drone video of a strike against Russian forces sheltering in a forest outside of Kyiv.

Returning now is Scott McLean in Lviv, Ukraine.