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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Ukraine Rejects Russia's Demand to Surrender Mariupol; Zelenskyy Says He's "Ready for Negotiations" with Putin; Biden Prepares to Travel to Europe for NATO Summit. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 21, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

LAURA JARRETT, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: Good morning everyone, it is 5:00 a.m. in New York on this Monday, March 21st. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: Welcome back, I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman in Lviv where the air raid sirens just went off again. It happens every few hours here, but it's on the other side of Ukraine this morning where there is real tragedy. No surrender in Mariupol. Russia gave the leaders that besieged port city an ultimatum, surrender before dawn or else. That ultimatum flat-out rejected.

The deadline came and went now 7 hours ago, but not before the Russians bombed an art school in the city where as many as 400 people may have been taking shelter. Rescue efforts still under way there right now.

Also this morning, new video capturing an explosion in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. One person there was killed, a shopping center and some cars were seen burning after what Ukraine's emergency services calls a Russian attack. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tells CNN, he is ready for talks with Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, more on him in a few minutes.

Just hours from now, President Biden will speak with the leaders of Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom. Later this week, he heads to a NATO Summit in Brussels. We also learned the president will go to Warsaw in neighboring Poland. But we do begin here in Ukraine, I'm joined by Phil Black. Phil, again, as we hear the air raid sirens, a regular occurrence here, and yes, there was an attack on the outskirts of the city. But this city by and large say, it's a very different story in besieged Mariupol.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's unthinkable. Unimaginable just what's happening in Mariupol, John. But as you say, they are determined to hold out there. There's this offer from Russia overnight to lay down weapons, to leave the city safely, to allow aid to come in. They had until 4:00 a.m. local time this morning to decide. The city council said we don't need that long. Here's their answer, followed by a colorful expletive.

That leaves Russia -- we have the same two options now in terms of what it can do in order to take this city if it is determined to do so, and it clearly is. It can move in street to street, take it that way, that is costly and difficult or it can maintain the siege. And we had another powerful, distressing example of just what that looks like over the weekend. Take a look.


BLACK (voice-over): The sum of the buildings being destroyed in Mariupol had been crowded with desperate people. Civilians hoping to find refuge from Russia's assault. The city council says that now includes a bombed school thought to be sheltering hundreds of people including women, children, the elderly. Have any survived? No one knows for sure. A local official says there is nowhere to get the information from.

Mariupol's civil collapse is total. It's been days since we heard anything about efforts to rescue people from this side. The last report said 130 people were pulled from the debris of the theater where around a 1,000 or more were said to be sheltering, mostly, In the basement. This video was shot inside the theater before the attack. The Russian word for children spelled out on the ground outside in huge letters didn't prevent the strike which destroyed most of this building.

Catarina Yaskaya(ph) lived across from that theater, and delivered food and other aid to the people hiding out there. She says it's difficult to describe the sympathy she felt for them. They were terrified, cowering in horror at the sounds of planes overhead, always afraid of a bomb dropping. Elvintina Sholsova(ph) lived under Russian attack in Mariupol for 21 days. "This is not just the city", she says, "this is my whole life."

She survived without power in freezing conditions, with little food, with eight other members of her family, until the building was hit. They pulled dead neighbors from the rubble and decided to leave the city. Elvintina(ph) said she can't imagine life without Mariupol. She would return, but now in her burning city, there are lots of people, lots of children under rubble, others in shelters. The journey out of the besieged city is slow and dangerous.

But every day, relatively small numbers are leaving whatever way they can along what are supposed to be agreed corridors. A local official says some people have been fired upon, others have had their vehicles seized at Russian checkpoints. The people of Mariupol have no good options.


Stay and endure the horror of Russia's bombardment or face danger and uncertainty, leaving all they know behind.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLACK: What the collapse of services in the city means is that when

there is a strike on a big shelter like this, there's simply nothing the authorities can do to help. They don't have the people, the resources to mount any sort of rescue operation, and to look for survivors or even to look for bodies.

John, what that means more broadly is that, going forward from here, the situation is going to remain the same. Hundreds of thousands of people sheltering wherever they can, no heat, no water, very little food, and under daily, almost constant Russian bombardment.

BERMAN: And what Ukrainians are saying is Mariupol is now Grozny, Aleppo, cities that have been flattened either by the Russians or with Russian help is horrible to see. Phil, thank you so much, nice to see you here in Ukraine --

BLACK: The same too.

BERMAN: I'm joined now by CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton, retired Air Force colonel and former member of the Pentagon's joint staff. Cedric, thank you so much for being with us. Mariupol, the city under siege right now, explain the strategic Importance, if there is any, for the Russians.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, so, John, good morning. There are actually quite a few strategic implications for the Russians here. Basically what they want is that connection between Crimea, the area that they have taken over in the south back in 2014, with the other area that they had taken over through surrogates in the east, the Donbas region.

And with that, they will have a land bridge that connects the two entities. And that then could annex those entities to Russia itself. So, Mariupol is a key element there, you know, as part of that effort. And then the other part of it is that it helps make Russia's case to actually take Ukraine out of it being a sea-faring nation and makes it a land-locked nation. And that is another strategic aspect to their efforts to take Mariupol.

BERMAN: The fact that the Russians are having to flatten it almost, to destroy it, a sign of weakness or a sign of strength?

LEIGHTON: In modern warfare, a sign of weakness, John. And the reason I say that is, you know, if you take over a particular piece of territory, what you want to do is you want to keep the infrastructure viable. You want to, if you can, get the people that live there on your side. You convince them to at least not resist you. Obviously, that is not happening in the case of Mariupol. Mariupol is going down fighting and fighting hard.

And what they're doing here is really the exact opposite of what they should be doing. They're not pacifying. They're actually intensifying the hatred and the despair that the people feel in this case.

BERMAN: It's a similar question with these hypersonic weapons the Russians are now using to engage in some of these missile strikes. Yes, very advanced technology, technology the United States doesn't have as effectively right now. But the use, the fact that they have to resort to these weapons to strike some of the areas in the country closer to where I am in the western part of this country, is that, is the Russians flexing or again a sign of weakness in a way?

LEIGHTON: Well, in this case, I think it's a little bit of both. You know, in a way, it's a sign of weakness because they may be out of other kinds of precision-guided ammunitions. And if they want to strike a particular target and make sure it's that target and nothing else, no collateral damage as we say, then, you know, it shows that they have this advanced capability, and they're demonstrating it to the U.S. and to the other NATO countries.

As far as the weakness part is concerned, that definitely shows that, you know, they are not moving their war material the way they should. Their weapons systems are not keeping up with the demand. They don't have the resources that they need in order to prosecute this combat operation. That's what this use of hypersonic weapons tells me.

BERMAN: Colonel Cedric Leighton, as always, great to have you on this morning. Thanks so much for being with us.

LEIGHTON: You bet, John.


BERMAN: Laura and Christine?

JARRETT: As all this is happening, John, officials from the U.S. and NATO are having a hard time judging the status of peace talks between Ukraine and Russia. There is plenty of skepticism in the West about the credibility of the Kremlin's engagement. Natasha Bertrand is in Brussels with the very latest for us. Natasha, good morning. How involved is the U.S. in giving advice on what to accept or reject from Russia at this point?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Laura, U.S. officials are telling us that they are really not involved in any meaningful way in the discussions that are going on between the Ukrainian and Russian delegations.


Of course, the Ukrainians and Russians have met about four times since Russia invaded Ukraine. And what they have told us is that, this is really President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians negotiations to determine that the positions that they have, and the positions that they will take in order to save their country, save their people, it is not the United States' place or the West's place to tell them what they should and should not accept in this desperate situation.

Now, we do know a bit about what the Ukrainians have said that they want, which is of course a full ceasefire, a complete withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees. They have said that they might be willing to accept some kind of a neutral position in terms of NATO, maybe not or you know, putting themselves in NATO, but actually, you know, having some other kind of security guarantees from the West and from Europe.

But the Russians so far have not backed off of their original positions. And that is something that the West does say that they have pretty clear visibility into. That Putin, while, you know, they have been conducting these talks with the Ukrainians, they're still bombing cities in Ukraine, they have not de-escalated in any meaningful way. And they are unlikely to until they get exactly what they want. That's what these western officials tell us.

And so, there is not a lot of optimism among the use and its allies about the state of these negotiations not only because they have so little visibility, and to what is actually happening during those talks. One European defense official called it a bit of a dark avenue right now. But also, because they see no meaningful signs from Vladimir Putin that he is actually taking any steps during these talks to de-escalate the situation, Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Natasha, thank you for that.

ROMANS: All right, today, President Biden meets with top business leaders to talk about the U.S. response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, this as oil companies are raking huge profits as energy prices soar, driven by the double hit of Ukraine and inflation. Huge oil company profits in focus here even before this oil surge above $100 a barrel.

These were earnings last year, ExxonMobil made a $23 billion profit last year, Shell took in $20 billion, Chevron nearly $16 billion and BP 13 billion, and bigger profits likely this year. It's a boom for investors with practically no extra investment from the companies. Queue the calls for a windfall profit tax on big oil, money that could be used for direct aid to consumers who are struggling at the gas station with high energy costs.

The U.S. has imposed a windfall tax in the past. But so far, the drive for a special tax on big oil has come from the left. The White House has not weighed in on the tax in particular. But the president has called for gas prices to fall as quickly as they rose and urged oil companies to use their largest to invest in more domestic drilling to bring down costs.

Of course, the energy companies have point out that exactly two years ago, oil prices were negative $40 a barrel, right? And no one was calling on, you know, coming and rescuing them when -- but such a huge super cycle the last couple of years --

JARRETT: Is there a political appetite for that? .

ROMANS: You know, there's a lot of talk about it --


ROMANS: It puts the White House in a very tough position because they want to show the American people that I feel your pain --

JARRETT: Right -- ROMANS: But they have limited levers to move.

JARRETT: Yes. Well, still ahead for you, a new warning from Ukraine's president. The scenario he says could mean World War III. And Joe Biden preparing for what could be the biggest foreign trip of his presidency.



BERMAN: John Berman here in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. Russian attacks escalated over the weekend in cities including the capital of Kyiv and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. That led the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to issue his strongest appeal yet for a ceasefire.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT, UKRAINE (through translator): I am ready for negotiations with him. If these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third world war.


BERMAN: All right, joining me now is Ukrainian lawmaker Sviatoslav Yurash, he is live in Kyiv this morning. I know there were attacks over the weekend, including a shopping center hit. Why don't you just tell me what the situation is where you are this morning.

SVIATOSLAV YURASH, UKRAINIAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: It wasn't just the weekend, it was every day, every night. We had some attacks inside of Kyiv last night. And the reality is, these were completely civilian, residential parts of town, residential homes being hit. Russia doesn't really care what it shoots and reality is in Kyiv. You don't know what is going to happen in the next moment. And the city is prepared and getting more prepared for a battle of Kyiv happening what the Russians throw at us. .

BERMAN: You never know what's going to happen the next moment, preparing for it to be a battlefield. That's the environment where your President Zelenskyy is calling for negotiations with Russia direct with Vladimir Putin. What would that look like? What is Ukraine hoping for?

YURASH: From the very beginning -- video by Mr. Putin in which he basically was declaring that he will destroy the Ukrainian nation, he will destroy Ukrainian state. The response to that video has been, again, appeal to diplomacy, appeal to diplomatic path forward. But the reality at hand is that, after that Putin launched and raid, and diplomatic talks that have been dented basically, every single time resulted in one agreement, humanitarian corridors.


The agreement that was violated by Russia every single time with scores of civilians dying. As far as the negotiations with Mr. Putin, it is certainly something that we are trying every pathway imaginable. But again, for Ukraine, it's very important that we are fighting right now for our sovereignty and independence and our integrity. And none of those shall be compromised. So, the point here is that we should negotiate, but we should try and find ways that work -- and that lies with Kremlin and through Mr. Putin.

BERMAN: So, NATO leaders meet this week in Brussels, including President Biden. What do you want from that meeting, and what do you expect from that meeting, and are the two things different?

YURASH: Well, West has a number of instruments to apply here. The West has awesome might that they can exercise to stop the attempt by the biggest nation on earth to destroy and consume the biggest state in Europe, catastrophe, humanitarian catastrophe which is developing in the West right now with millions of my countrymen and women fleeing the conflict to Europe. And millions taking up arms against Russia.

So, the point here is that the West has the might to exercise against Russia. As far as NATO is concerned, NATO is one of the pursuits of my nation in an attempt to join the West community of nations in every way, and giving Ukraine membership, action plan, which is by no means a guarantee of exertion to European Union, something that Ukraine would like to see as the means to see the West is serious about protection of nation's sovereignty, its right to choose its alliance and the direction in the future.

BERMAN: Now, this war is such an affront to the 40 million people in Ukraine. It's deeply personal to everyone. And everyone has suffered including you. I know you lost your girlfriend. How are you doing and how are you staying safe?

YURASH: She wasn't my girlfriend. She was something far dearer and far closer in those -- that decade in which we were everything going to imagine so much more. The reality is, it's as painful as can be when you see with your own eyes as those people who you never expected to be touched by this war, are. But in this war, everybody will be touched and everybody will be -- will suffer because of this.

The reality is that Lord Alexandra(ph) is one of many who are dying, and there are thousands every single day. And the point is the West can stop all these Alexandras all around Ukraine from dying, and all their dreams and ambitions from being shattered and all those lives that loved them -- former me, chatter as well. And the sooner the West understands that and acts on that, the better. Again, the point is, so we don't understand how much more blood on my nation is to be spilled before the West takes its final step.

BERMAN: I am so sorry for your loss, I really am, and I wish you better days ahead. Sviatoslav Yurash, thank you very much for being with us.

YURASH: Thank you very much.

JARRETT: So many stories --

BERMAN: Laura, Christine, back to you.

JARRRETT: So many stories of heartbreak, and now to this one. A Ukrainian mother protecting her newborn baby after a Russian missile strike on their building. Olga(ph) and her husband were feeding at home, feeding that baby when the building was hit. She shielded the one-month old from flying shrapnel and shattered glass with her own body.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I was wounded in the head and blood started flowing. And it all flowed on the baby, and I couldn't understand. I thought it was her blood. Dimitri(ph) was taking the baby away and screaming that she's covered all in glass, all in blood. He tells me, Olga(ph), it's your blood, it's not hers.


JARRETT: Olga(ph), the mom there sustained multiple injuries and is recovering in the hospital. The father, Dimitri(ph) was treated for wounds to his leg.

ROMANS: Just heartbreaking, and you think that 10 million people on the move and affected by all of this, just heartbreaking. All right, coming up, faster than the speed of sound. A battlefield first. The new weapon Russia admitted unleashed on Ukraine.



JARRETT: Welcome back. Top-seeded Arizona heads to the Sweet Sixteen, narrowly missing a huge upset in a thrilling overtime win. Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "BLEACHER REPORT". Hey, Andy?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Laura, what a weekend. You know, March Madness, one thing is for sure, it never disappoints. Arizona needing overtime against TCU to avoid being the first one-seed to lose in the tournament. And we had a dunk at the tournament in this one. Bennedict Mathurin rising up and throwing down the monster slam over the TCU defender right here. That had everyone on their feet.

This game was tied at 75 with 3 seconds left. Arizona's Dalen Terry forces the turnover, races down the court for what appear to be the game-winning dunk. But the officials say he didn't get the shot off before time expired. So we head to overtime. Under 20 seconds to go in the extra period, Wildcats have the ball, they're going to miss the three, but Christian Koloko comes through with the put-back slam.