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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Fourth Round of Ukraine-Russia Talks Resume; White House In Early Discussions About Biden Trip To Europe; U.S. Warns China Against Providing Aid To Russia. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 15, 2022 - 05:30   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: This drone video of a strike against Russian forces sheltering in a forest outside Kyiv.

Returning now is Scott McLean in Lviv, Ukraine. Scott, the fourth round of talks between Russia and Ukrainian negotiators resume again today. What exactly is on the table when these two sides are clearly diametrically opposed here -- diametrically opposed interests?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you are absolutely right about that and previous rounds of talks have not borne a whole lot of fruit here.

But going into these talks Laura, both sides actually expressed some level of optimism that there could be progress. The Russian side said that there had already been significant amounts of progress going into this fourth round of talks, and the Ukrainian said that the Russians started to talk more constructively and they seem to be more sensitive to the Ukrainian point of view. And so, it seems that at this point, neither side is simply shouting ultimatums at the other. They actually seem to be having somewhat of a dialogue.

So, where they left things yesterday is that they didn't break off talks, which were held by VideoLink, by the way. They paused them until today so that they could go back, clarify some things with their respective parties, and come back and perhaps have the answers today.

So, there is a chance that maybe there will be some kind of a breakthrough and there may be something announced. What that is we don't know. They have not been specific about the talks, saying that they don't want to have the negotiations out in open -- out in the open. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, though, said that he was told by his negotiating team that things were going pretty good, but let's see.

Now Laura, you also mentioned the situation in Kyiv, which seems to be becoming more and more dangerous with these artillery strikes in residential neighborhoods.

Today also happens to be the day when a delegation of European leaders is en route to the city as we speak right now. They left earlier this morning -- maybe two, two and a half hours ago or so -- and they are going there by train to meet with the president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in the capital. The delegation is sent on behalf of the European Council. It includes the prime minister of Czech Republic, the prime of Slovenia, and the deputy prime minister of Poland. They're there to show their solidarity with Ukraine.

The Polish prime minister said in a statement earlier today that first, it's Georgia, then maybe it's Ukraine. And maybe sometime down the road, it could be Poland or other European countries. So it is important now to show solidarity.

Today, European finance ministers have also agreed to a broad new package of sanctions that they are calling historic.

JARRETT: All right, Scott McLean. Thank you for your reporting as always.

So, Putin's war on Ukraine is driving an unprecedented refugee crisis. The numbers from the U.N. Refugee Agency are simply staggering here. More than 2.8 million refugees have now fled Ukraine; 1.7 million of them to Poland.

Joining us live from Krakow, Poland is Adam Keehn, director of Complex Emergencies for the group Americares. Adam, so nice to have you on EARLY START.


JARRETT: Thank you for all that you're doing.

Tell us about what you're seeing in Poland and how the refugees are doing there on the ground.


As you said, there's almost half -- or more than half of the refugees leaving Ukraine are coming into Poland. And here in Krakow where I'm based, you can definitely see an increase in the numbers of people on the streets. A lot more Ukrainian license plates on the cars coming through town. There are reports of shortages in housing and so on.

The government and local civic groups are doing as much as they can to provide for the refugees coming in but it's a desperate situation.

When I was down at the border -- a couple of hours drive east of here -- recently, we saw scenes of families -- mostly women and children and lots of elderly people as well -- coming across the border just hoping for the best and looking for -- looking for a future for themselves.

ROMANS: What do -- what do they need? What do the refugees need, and what are you providing for them?

KEEHN: Sure. Well, their needs are immense and they cross the spectrum from healthcare to everything else. And we are a -- Americares is a health-focused organization so we're

bringing in shipments of medicines, medical supplies, and so on. We have three tons of supplies crossing the border today, actually, into Ukraine from Poland. And there are medicines that are needed, and supplies are everything from antibiotics, insulin, IV fluids, wound care treatments, trauma kits. So, we're bringing in supplies like those and other things.

We're also procuring items here in Poland and providing them to hospitals and health facilities in Lviv on the Ukrainian side, as well as other hospitals. We have a relationship now with a hospital in Kharkiv on -- in the north of Ukraine where we're trying to get a shipment of supplies as quickly as we can.

JARRETT: How hard is it to get the supplies to the places that need it the most? What are some of the biggest challenges you're facing?


KEEHN: The logistical challenges are real. Despite the goodwill of everybody trying to move products across the border and across Ukraine, there's a shortage of trucks at times. There's -- you know, we've also been exploring train as an option to get products across.

In a certain respect, also, it's just a question of traffic. There are so many people and groups like Americares sending products across the border that it's -- there can be backups at the border crossings themselves. There are eight border crossings here --


KEEHN: -- in Poland into Ukraine.

ROMANS: I can't imagine the -- how traumatized people are, right? I mean, there must be immense need for mental health -- mental health treatment as well.

KEEHN: Absolutely, and that's another area that Americares is focusing on. We have a mental health expert on our team here in Krakow at the moment.

And we've been working with a mental health psychosocial support organization in Lviv. We've provided them a small grant to do -- conduct training of professionals in how to provide psychological first aid and other counseling services to refugees -- those who have fled their homes in Ukraine. And we've done similar work with Polish NGOs here on this side of the border. Yes, you can imagine the trauma -- the psychological and emotional trauma that people are going through.

We have Ukrainian people on staff helping us with translation and other things. And they're doing work but at the same time, they're dealing with their families --

ROMANS: Right.

KEEHN: -- many of whom still remain in Ukraine --

ROMANS: Just awful.

KEEHN: -- in those difficult conditions.

ROMANS: Just awful.

Adam Keehn, thank you so much for your time and everything you're doing there.

JARRETT: Thank you for all your work.

KEEHN: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Tumbling oil prices will mean relief at the gas pump soon for inflation-weary drivers. We've got that just ahead.



JARRETT: White House officials are discussing a possible visit to Europe soon by President Biden. Sources tell CNN a potential stop in Poland is on the agenda. The leaders of NATO could also meet in person in Brussels as soon as next week.

Let's go live to Washington and bring in CNN's Jasmine Wright. Jasmine, this would be one of the most presidential -- most-watched presidential trips to Europe in some time. What would be the goal here for President Biden?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN REPORTER: Well, Laura, President Biden has said repeatedly that one of his main goals since the invasion began and even before then has been to keep NATO allies, as well as other European partners, all united when it comes to punishing President Putin for his continued aggression.

So, no doubt, that is going to be one of the top priorities for President Biden if he does, in fact, go to Europe. Again, we have no confirmation that he is, in fact, going. They -- officials say -- sources tell CNN that no trip has been finalized and nothing has been announced.

But if he does go, rest assured that there's likely something to be on the docket, as well as trying to reassure allies and, of course, continue to keep that pressure on President Putin, on the Russian economy, trying to squeeze them as they try to deter any more continued action from the Russians.

And now, this trip would come -- again, nothing has been confirmed but this trip would come after President Biden has sent some of his top emissaries to the region trying to do just that. We, of course, now that Sec. Antony Blinken was there recently.

And we know that just last week, Vice President Harris returned from a trip to Poland and Romania where she met with both of their presidents as well as other top officials, really trying to reassure both those countries and also trying to smooth over a spat with Poland over some fighter jets.

And now, also on that trip -- it lasted a couple of days, Laura -- she also met with refugees as the number of displaced people from Ukraine continue to grow and grow, especially as we know that the U.S. has tried to figure out ways to increase the allocation and try to bring more -- or try to resettle more Ukrainian people in the country as this conflict goes on.

So, those are all things, really, that the president could be talking about. Of course, no shortage of issues if he were to go over to Europe, especially as we know the president has been really being pressured by the Ukrainian president in that phone call that happened on Friday for him to do more. For him to do more in sanctions against President Putin, essentially trying to cut him off from the international trade market as they continue trying to sanction Putin -- try to sanction Russia.

So, definitely, a lot of things on the docket here for President Biden to talk about if he does go to Europe. Like you said, it would be one of the most-watched presidential trips to Europe in decades -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Jasmine, and we know you're staying on top of it. Thank you.

ROMANS: As we've been reporting, the U.S. is warning China of significant consequences if it provides any military or financial aid to Russia. U.S. sources say there are signs China has expressed openness to providing such aid.

I want to bring in CNN political analyst Josh Rogin, columnist for The Washington Post. Nice to see you, Josh.

You've been on top of this for some time now. You call Chinese President Xi Jinping Putin's co-conspirator. I mean, it sort of sets up the potential here for a new world order of east versus west.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST (via Webex by Cisco): Well, that's exactly right, and that's the way that Putin and Xi Jinping want it. And we know that because they issued a 5,000-plus-word statement to that effect when they met at the Beijing Olympics just days before the invasion.

And, you know, I think that the Chinese leadership has been playing a double game this whole time. They have been telling the West that they're really conflicted about this whole Ukraine thing and they're really unhappy about Vladimir Putin's invasion.

At the same time, they've been already helping Vladimir Putin a lot. They haven't joined the sanctions. They've joined in the conspiracy theory, such as that U.S. biolabs in Ukraine are doing mischievous things. And now, the Biden administration is finally pushing them to clarify that contradiction.

[05:45:00] And it's not clear which way they're going to go but if they had to ask me, I think in the end, if they're pushed, they'll side with their friend, Russia. Because as you said, they see a world order where the autocrats are in charge. And sure, they don't want to get sanctioned but at the same time, that's enough for them to break with their interest and join the West. That's just simply not going to happen.

JARRETT: OK, so Josh -- so then, say more about that because it seems that you think it's highly likely that China will actually go ahead and provide some actual military assistance or financial assistance, or both?

ROGIN: Well, I think the financial assistance is already there just by the fact that they're keeping up the trade, that Chinese banks are finding ways to evade the restrictions, and that all Chinese companies, including energy companies, are waiting to see if they're really going to get sanctioned for continuing business with the Russians. And to the extent that they're not going to get sanctioned, they will continue that business.

And that is exactly what it sounds like. It's bailing out the Russian economy and undermining Western sanctions in the middle of the war.

Now, when it comes to military assistance, that's another line and that's a line that, as far as we know, they haven't crossed yet. And I think that's exactly why Jake Sullivan threw down the gauntlet to his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Rome yesterday. They don't want the Chinese to start arming the Russians because that would -- could really have tipped the war in Putin's favor once and for all.

But on the financial side, I think they've been aiding the Russians. I think absent real secondary sanctions, which don't exist, by the way -- right now, there are no secondary sanctions. Unless we get some of those, China will continue to bail out the Russian economy and continue to essentially underwrite the war by making sure Putin has enough money to continue killing Ukrainians as long as he wants.

ROMANS: But in terms of paying its bills -- you know, Russia could default on its foreign debt as early as, I think, tomorrow. The ruble has been rendered almost worthless here.

What Chinese assistance would be enough to stop Russia spiraling into a financial crisis?

ROGIN: Right. Well, they could do a number of things, Christine.

First of all, they could start buying up all of this Russian gas and oil that is no longer on its way to the United States or other Western markets that may soon cut it off. Second of all, they can use their financial system to evade SWIFT sanctions. And they can use their currency to process transactions for the Russian government.

So, if the Russian government defaults on its head and continues to become cut off from the Western financial system, the Chinese are very happy to step in and establish what they've always wanted, which is a system with Russia where they can avoid U.S. financial pressures. And they're doing that for a good reason because if Xi Jinping decides to go ahead and attack Taiwan then they're going to get sanctions, too. And so, they want to make sure that this kindness will be repaid.

And you can be sure that we're heading into a new world where the power of our financial sanctions is diminishing. But hopefully, that hasn't come yet. At least, that's what the Ukrainians are praying for.

ROMANS: Oh, wow.

JARRETT: All right, Josh Rogin. Thank you for your expertise and analysis on all of this.

ROMANS: Thanks, Josh.

JARRETT: It's so helpful.

ROGIN: Any time.

JARRETT: All right, now to some breaking news. Just in to CNN, a 35- hour curfew will be imposed in Kyiv tonight at 8:00 p.m. and will last until 7:00 a.m. Thursday. That's according to the city's mayor. A curfew is already currently in place in Kyiv but only during nighttime.

Residents will be prohibited from leaving their homes without special permits during the curfew but the mayor added that people will, of course, still be able to leave to go into bomb shelters. This, after more explosions rocked Kyiv this morning.

ROMANS: All right. Putin's aggression ricocheting around the world in global markets for some time now. Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning.

Looking at markets right now, global stock markets -- look at Hong Kong, down more than five percent. Shanghai down big as well. There are lockdowns there because of COVID -- a big problem. And then you see Europe opening sharply lower here. On Wall Street, stock index futures also leaning down.

Here is the stock market close for Monday. U.S. stocks eyeing those COVID-19 lockdowns in China -- worries that those lockdowns will amplify supply chain issues.

The real story though, folks, is oil. Red-hot crude prices cooling, finally. Those China lockdowns, part of the story. Closed factories need less fuel.

U.S. crude tumbled as much as eight percent Monday. Bye-bye 100 bucks a barrel. Oil down hard again overnight, currently at about $97.00 a barrel. Patrick De Haan at GasBuddy says that means lower prices for drivers in a week or so. The average gas price already falling here, down a penny from yesterday.

Also at play, hopes for those Russia-Ukraine talks. Putin's war has been sending energy prices soaring, worsening the global inflation story. To cool that inflation, interest rate hikes are coming, folks. The

Federal Reserve will likely raise interest rates Wednesday for the first time since 2018.

And we get more inflation news today. February's Producer Price Index -- that's what factory-level inflation is -- that comes out this morning.

Vladimir Putin signing a new law that will make it harder for global leasing companies to repossess jets that are now being flown by Russian airlines. It means the planes can be registered by Russia to fly domestically -- something barred by international law since the planes are already registered to Bermuda or Ireland. Both of those countries -- they have suspended airworthiness certificates of Russian jets because they can no longer be sure the planes are safe.


International sanctions require the leasing companies to repossess hundreds of jetliners by March 28th. Putin stepping in and rewriting the rules of global law in business.

JARRETT: All right, a little sports now. Mets slugger Pete Alonso says he's thankful to be alive after a serious car wreck.

Andy Scholes has it all covered in this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy. What happened?


So, Mets first baseman Pete Alonso -- he was leaving his home in Tampa to go to spring training in Port St. Lucie in Florida. Five minutes away from his house he was hit by someone who ran a red light. Alonso's wife Haley and their dogs were in another car right behind him and witnessed the whole thing. Alonso, amazingly, was able to kick out his windshield and exit his Ford truck with only a few scratches.


PETE ALONSO, NEW YORK METS FIRST BASEMAN: Yesterday was a really close experience to death. My car flipped over probably about three times. And a guy ran a -- a guy ran a red light, t-boned me.

And to me, I'm just really thankful to be alive. I'm really thankful that I'm healthy. I'm very thankful to be here. It's just -- anything can happen at any given moment and I'm just super, super blessed to be here.


SCHOLES: Yes. Alonso says everyone in the wreck was OK. He was able to take batting practice and field ground balls yesterday, and he hopes to resume full workouts with the team later today.

All right, the NBA, meanwhile, has fined the Nets $50,000 for allowing Kyrie Irving to enter the team's locker room at halftime of Sunday's game against the Knicks. Kyrie can't play in home games in New York because of a vaccine mandate for workers in the city. But he is allowed to sit in the stands, which he did, sitting courtside Saturday night to watch Duke in the ACC tournament, and then on Sunday to watch his Nets.

Kevin Durant called the rule ridiculous and he walked back those comments a little bit yesterday in a statement.

Now, on the court, Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns put on a record-setting performance against the Spurs last night. He was on fire in the third quarter. He scored 32 points on his way to a new career-high and franchise-record 60 points on the night. Towns, the first center to score 60 since Shaq did it back in 2000. The T-wolves got the win 149-139 over the Spurs.

And March Madness tips off tonight with a pair of the first four games. Texas Southern and Texas A&M Corpus Christie are going to get things started at 6:40 eastern. That's followed by Wyoming and Indiana just after 9:00. You can watch both of those games on our sister channel truTV.

And even though the games are getting started Laura, those brackets still not due until Thursday morning, so you've got some time.

JARRETT: Well, that's good because I have not even started to think about that. All right, Andy, thank you.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: All right. Ukraine introducing a new postage stamp to commemorate the Snake Island soldiers who defied a Russian warship with profanity when the war began.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am repeating, I am Russian military ship. Propose to put down arms or you will be hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russian warship, go f*** yourself.


ROMANS: The stamp design was the landslide winner of a competition to honor the 13 Ukrainian soldiers. It shows a soldier standing on Snake Island, giving the finger to a menacing warship.

Those soldiers were initially feared dead but the Ukrainian Navy later said they were alive. They were forced to surrender due to a lack of ammunition.

JARRETT: And finally this morning, a special concert hosted by New York's Metropolitan Opera last night in support of Ukraine.


METROPOLITAN OPERA: Singing the Ukrainian national anthem. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: The 70-minute concert opened with a stirring rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem and was broadcast on radio stations around the world. The show also featured a performance of the song "Prayer for Ukraine," with all ticket sales and donations supporting relief efforts. It's nice to see.

ROMANS: It's just amazing.

All right, thanks for joining us, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" is next.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Tuesday, March 15th and I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

We are following breaking news this morning. The Ukrainian capital of Kyiv setting a two-day curfew as Russian forces close in on the city and escalate attacks on civilians.

CNN's team on the ground reports hearing two very loud explosions overnight in the central part of the Ukrainian capital. At least four residential buildings were hit by separate strikes just hours ago. Two people were killed in this apartment building in western Kyiv.