Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Soon: Ukraine's Zelenskyy Addresses Congress by Videolink; Russian Shells Hit Kyiv Homes, Injuring At Least Two People; NATO Defense Ministers Discuss Reinforcing Eastern Borders. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 16, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It is Wednesday, March 16th, 5:00 a.m. in New York. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us.

I'm Christine Romans. Laura has the morning off. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We begin with President Zelenskyy pleading for a more direct Western intervention to save Ukraine. In just hours, Ukraine's president will take that appeal for aid to Congress and the American people in a videolink address. Zelenskyy is expected to sharpen his calls for the Western-enforced no-fly zone, and help acquiring fighter jets.

Later today, President Biden will announce an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine. Next week, he will travel to Europe to discuss Russia's invasion at a NATO summit and a European council meeting.

And brand-new video just in overnight, as Russia intensifies bombardment of civilian areas. You see an apartment building in Kyiv hit by Russian shelling setting off fires on several floors of this 12-story building.

In Eastern Ukraine, the Russians continue to inflict more destruction. Drone footage shows damage to a town there, devastated and replaced with craters. You see what's left of homes, train station and city council building, but the Ukrainian military is not backing down.

New satellite images show at least three Russian helicopters on fire after they were hit by a Ukrainian airstrike at the Kherson airport. The U.K. defense ministry says things are going so badly for Russia, the Kremlin is calling a military reinforcements from across the country to replace losses in Ukraine.

CNN's Scott McLean live for us in Lviv, Ukraine.

Scott, we mentioned that new Russian shelling in the heart of Kyiv.

What more do we know about that? SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Christine, this seems to be a

pattern of waking up to news that Russia has hit yet more civilian sites in Kyiv. Air raid sirens were blaring in the city overnight. That is certainly not unusual there. It's not even unusual here in Lviv, but what is terrifying is that our CNN team on the ground said several explosions were heard throughout the night and we're learning where those bombs landed.

One of them hit a 12-story apartment building a few miles from the city center. Officials there say that 37 people had to be rescued. Two of them were hurt.

Now the curfew that's been announced by the mayor began last night. It's going all the way through the day today and won't lift until tomorrow morning. People have been asked to stay inside their homes. You can only hope they took that to mean in the basement or in a shelter nearby.

There is also some good news today from the besieged city of Mariupol. That is a place that's been without power, water, heat, running low on food for weeks now. People by and large have been trapped in that city for the last two weeks.

Officials in Zaporizhzhia say that some 3,000 private cars have been able to arrive in that city through a sort of semi-official corridor that appears to be working at this point to get people out, but no signs just yet of any buses full of people arriving and even 3,000 vehicles is still a drop in the bucket considering that officials believe that some 350,000 people are still trapped in that city.

Among the new arrivals, 772 children. That is good news. But even Zaporizhzhia, Christine, is still not all that safe. Officials there say that two civilian sites have been hit including the train station. But thankfully there is no word on any casualties just yet.

ROMANS: All right. Scott McLean, thank you so much for that. We'll come back to you soon.

Happening now, a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels to discuss reinforcing their eastern borders.

For that, we have CNN's Natasha Bertrand live at NATO headquarters for us.

Russian attacks are getting close to NATO's border, Natasha. Is that making defense officials nervous? What are they saying about that?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it is certainly making the preparations more urgent and Jen Stoltenberg said NATO has to get ready for the new security reality in Europe. And he said that could include substantially more preparation on the eastern flank. Of course, those eastern flank countries are feeling very, very nervous and vulnerable in the face of this Russian aggression against Ukraine.

So what NATO is trying to do, they're trying to reassure them, they're trying to send more troops and equipment in the event that Russia does try to move further west, that they do try to attack, whether on purpose or even on accident inadvertently these Eastern flank NATO countries.


Now, the discussions between Lloyd Austin, the secretary of defense, and his counterparts are going to focus on two major things. The first session is going to focus on the current military assessment of the situation on the ground and the second -- just dropped.

ROMANS: All right. We've lost Natasha's feed there but, of course, a lot going on there today. She's there in Brussels following it all for us.

Let's bring in retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center.

Thank you so much for joining us.

We're going to hear from President Biden announcing this $800 million in new security assistance to Ukraine, potentially including armed drones. How much of a game changer do you think this will be if it happens?

BRIG. GEN. KEVIN RYAN, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I think the inclusion because Ukraine President Zelenskyy has been asking for air power. He got armed drones from turkey even before the war. They've proved very helpful both in shooting at Russian forces but also in finding, surveilling and locating Russian targets. So anything that the U.S. can provide that goes in the air, this is going to be a big help.

ROMANS: We know that Russia is stepping up its assault on Kyiv and other parts of the country. We're now learning that Russian forces fired more than 950 missiles into Ukraine since the start of the war.

What is the off ramp here? Where is the de-escalation? At this point, I only see attacks being stepped up.

RYAN: Well, you got two basic campaigns going on, a ground campaign in eastern Ukraine that we've all been reporting on and reading about and then more recently has launched an air and missile campaign in Ukraine. The reason they're focusing on those weapons in western Ukraine is because they don't want to have to drive into that part of the country. They don't actually have the ability to get troops into that part of the country. So we're going to see a reliance on aerial bombing and missiles going forward in that part of the country. But I think most importantly is the Russian military is under a lot of stress, they're stretched very thin and this is -- this is an uptick in violence to compensate for a lack of progress.

ROMANS: Yeah, maybe a lack of preparedness, 21 days into this invasion. A senior U.S. defense official is saying Russian forces have made little to no progress in achieving their objectives.

What do you make of that? What does it mean for Putin in the next strategy? RYAN: Yeah. Well, part of that is correct. Tactically, they're having

a lot of problems. At a higher level operationally they've done some key things. They've got territory in the south and east and they are beginning -- they're almost surrounded and they're not happening in time for the Russian leadership.

What this means for Putin is this is another part of an operation and plan that's gone terribly wrong for him. If you can't pull out a military victory, he's got no victories left.

ROMANS: Yeah, what does that mean for the Ukrainian people, right? He can remain persistent and blood thirsty --

RYAN: Right.

ROMANS: -- maybe longer than they can hold up their defenses?

RYAN: Right. Well, he could halt his operation but continue to fight along the so-called line of contact and continue to throw the occasional missile or bombing raid into western Ukraine. He could do that for a long time, making big advances on the ground I think are past. That opportunity is gone.

So, the Ukrainian people are going to have an opportunity to come to some sort of peace agreement with Russia and President Putin or Putin could decide to just let this drag on much like a frozen conflict in, say, Georgia or Ukraine earlier.

ROMANS: All right. Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, thanks for stopping by. Talk to you again soon. Thanks for your expertise.

RYAN: Thank you.

ROMANS: With Ukraine's capitol under fire, President Zelenskyy turns to Congress. Will his speech put more pressure on President Biden to expand America's help to Ukraine.



ROMANS: In just a few hours, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will make his pitch to Congress and the American people for help in a virtual address. Zelenskyy wants more military help from the U.S. as Ukraine tries to stand up to Russian aggression, to Russia's invasion.

CNN's Daniella Diaz live on Capitol Hill for us this morning.

Daniella, how will the Ukrainian president appeal to Congress and an American audience?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, first of all, Christine, it's incredibly notable that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will even address Congress in a virtual speech he plans to give around 9:00 a.m. Eastern today. And we do expect him to call for several things from the West, from the United States government to help his war torn country, Russia, as they continue to invade as they have the past couple of weeks.

One of them being for the U.S. to call -- he's calling for the U.S. to enforce a no-fly zone in Ukraine and to protect civilians and provide fighter aircraft that Ukrainians can use to defend themselves.


But these two options Zelenskyy is expected to call for later this morning for his virtual address divides lawmakers on Capitol Hill with Republicans being more hawkish about providing fighter jets to Ukrainian air force and the United States in general being -- the White House and Democrats being concerned that if they were to provide what Zelenskyy is calling for, it could escalate things between Russia and Ukraine and force the United States to get more directly involved in what's going on in Ukraine.

Look, while there's a lot of bipartisan support for Ukraine, that is really the bigger picture here, Christine, is that White House, Democrats, Republicans are concerned that whatever they might do could make things worse for this conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

ROMANS: Could the speech put pressure to expand the U.S. role in helping Ukraine, do you think?

DIAZ: Well, it will depend on what Zelenskyy actually says later this morning. You know, we have some preview of that. He addressed the Canadian government yesterday. We know he's going to call for these two things. But we will hear directly from President Joe Biden after Zelenskyy addresses them after 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

He is expected to announce an $800 million of aid for Ukraine, totaling that aid just announce last week to $1 billion. But we also expect President Joe Biden to stop short of announcing the no-fly zone the Ukrainian president is calling for as well as the fighter jets, because, Christine, I cannot emphasize enough, there is a lot of concern here on Capitol Hill that at the White House if they were to do those two things, that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is calling for the West to do, it could force America to be involved in World War III, which is not what America wants, not what Americans want and the United States government wants, which is why, of course, the White House is treading carefully.

ROMANS: Sure. Daniella Diaz, I know you'll be watching that speech for us when it happens. Thank you so much.

The cost of war, Russia on the verge of defaulting on its obligations, unable or unwilling to pay its foreign debt. It could happen as soon as today. What does that mean to the U.S. economy? What happened to the woman who crashed the live network newscast to protest the war in Ukraine?



ROMANS: All right. Russia has a big bill to pay today. A $117 million interest payment that must be paid in U.S. dollars. Half of its foreign reserves frozen by sanctions, will the Russians dig deep and pay it or default on their obligations for the first time since the Bolshevik revolution more than a century ago?

Nina Dos Santos is in London with the latest.

You know, this could happen as early as today. There is a 30-day grace period on this bill that is due essentially. The big question is, will Russia send scarce hard currency abroad?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN EUROPE EDITOR: Well, they're making it very clear to countries they deem unfriendly, Christine, the answer is no. They're intimating they would repay these interest payments that have to be paid in dollars, otherwise as you said, Russia would be deemed in default for the first time in a century, they would repay them to countries like, for instance, the United States in rubles. If the ruble is devalued well into the double digits, that will be painful for many foreign investors holding Russian debt.

JPMorgan estimates there are $40 billion worth of these types of bonds in circulation in foreign-denominated currencies, about $20 billion of that is held by foreign investors who could be impacted by this. What you can expect in the short term is if Russia decides to pay that debt back in rubles while their interest payments on other types of debt will skyrocket, it will have a massive ripple effect in the short term on other emerging market bond prices as well.

I should caution Russia did default on the domestic debt back in 1998. You may remember the long-term capital management saga. This is the first time since Lenin came to power and decided not to pay the debts of the czar in 1918.

ROMANS: Right. Which is another example Putin putting his economy and his people backward here.

I mean, I guess in the simplest terms, for investors holding this debt, it means losses for them essentially. It means higher interest rate essentially cross the board. I mean, if Russia wants to borrow money, it's not paying back its creditors, it shows that it's not a fair partner, that means interest rates go up.

DOS SANTOS: Yeah, absolutely. It's also being reflected in the fact many ratings agencies have relegated it to junk status a week and a half ago after the invasion of Ukraine and the imposition and gradually ratcheting up of sanctions by international countries around the world, in particular the United States, desperate to try and shut parts of the economy out of the dollar system.

What's particularly important about all of this as you and I know, Christine, is that Russia is a commodities-based economy. This means naturally irrespective of the debt, because it's based on the price of oil, gas, other commodities priced in dollars, it is a dollar-pegged economy. And if they're shut-out to the U.S. financial system, that has a huge impact not just on Russian debt abroad they have to service but all other parts of the economy, too.

How they can sell those commodities to, again, replenish those foreign currency reserves they need so badly -- Christine.

ROMANS: Whether they can make deals with countries like China and others to sell their commodities in other denominated currencies. We'll see if that comes to bear.


All right. Nina Dos Santos, nice to see you. Thank you so much.

All right. That Russian TV journalist who stormed a live TV broadcast, remember, to protest the invasion of Ukraine, she has been found guilty of organizing an unauthorized public event. Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at Channel One, appeared in a Moscow district court Tuesday where she was found guilty and fined an equivalent of $280.

The lawyer says the charge was based solely in a video statement she recorded before her on-air protest.

The shelling of civilians in Kyiv intensifies as Russian forces inch closer. We have a report from a journalist on the ground there, next.