Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Pentagon: Russia "Frustrated" By Failure to Achieve Objectives; Tabloid Cited Russian Defense Ministry for 10K Death Figure; Biden Warns U.S. Businesses to Prepare for Russian Cyberattacks. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired March 22, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It's Tuesday, March 22nd, 5:00 a.m. exactly here in New York. I'm Christine Romans.


John Berman starts us off in Lviv, Ukraine.

John, good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCOHR: Good morning to both of you.

And we do begin here with Russia's ground forces stalled in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance. The Russian fighter jets still unable to command the skies over Ukraine. Stalemate is what one senior NATO official calls it.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: They've been frustrated. They have failed to achieve a lot of their objectives on the ground.


BERMAN: A senior U.S. defense official says Vladimir Putin's forces are having, quote, command and control problems, struggling with decision making and communications. Multiple sources tell CNN the U.S. can't figure out if Russia even has a top field commander in charge, leading to a clumsy, disorganized assault. Two U.S. defense officials say Russian units appear to be competing for resources instead of coordinating.

Then there's equipment failure. A senior U.S. defense official said they have inventory issues. They failed to hit the target or failed to explode on contact. The Pentagon assesses the Russians are, quote, near desperate right now to gain any momentum.

I'm joined here in Lviv by CNN's Phil Black.

And, Phil, on top of this all, there are pockets of success for the Ukrainian resistance.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Key example, that's why Ukrainian armed forces overnight is them regaining the town of Makariv. Now, this is a town that's only a short distance west of the capital Kyiv, short drive away which is the site of some very intense fighting from the earliest days of the war particularly over the last 24 hours. By all accounts there is not much of this town left.

But it is significant, regaining control is significant. Drawing a line there is significant in the context of slowing Russia's advance and its plans to get close to, encircle and then ultimately take the capital Kyiv. And it fits with what analysis of Western governments is saying which is that that sort of fierce defense up close is proving to be a very demoralizing factor for Russian forces and that is why they are increasingly, wherever possible, firing their munitions at a distance, sometimes in a targeted way, more often in a discriminated way.

Now, John, a quick update on the story we're talking about yesterday and this is in Kherson, the southern occupied there, where videos emerged of Russian forces using force to suppress a crowd of local Ukrainian civilian protesters.

We've spoken to one of the protesters and she says they protest there every day. There's nothing exceptional about it. She describes it as routine. On this occasion new Russian forces broke through and that is why the video there shows them using very different crowd control measures. Some live fire it would seem. Stand grenades and tear gas.

At least one person was injured. Shot in the leg. That elderly man is now in hospital.

BERMAN: The sounds are terrifying.

BLACK: Yeah, it is a terrifying video.

BERMAN: And Mariupol, meanwhile, still under siege.

BLACK: Still under siege, under blockade. But it remains and increasingly becomes this really important symbol of Ukraine's defiance, of its resistance, because this most bombarded city there is yet to fall so as we've been talking about, this is why it's taken on very symbolic importance, but also this very practical importance, because it is drawing Russia's fire away from other significant cities.

BERMAN: Phil Black, great to have you here. Thank you so much for that.

So a pro-Putin tabloid reporting this morning that nearly 10,000 Russians have died in Ukraine. Again, that's a pro-Putin tabloid in Russia with that very high number of killed in action. Now moments after posting the report, the publication scrubbed all references to it. Again, that's far higher than anything Russia has released publicly.

I want to bring in CNN's Nada Bashir for the latest on this -- Nada.

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Yeah. Well, John, Russia hasn't officially issued an update on the troop death toll since early March, but as you've mentioned there, we've heard the report from a tabloid shortly after midnight local time on Monday, that nearly 10,000 members of the Russian forces killed in the war in Ukraine. More than 16,000 injured.

But those parts of the article were quickly omitted in an update. The publication actually saying the site was hacked and false information published there.


But that, of course, has been met with a degree of skepticism. We have over recent days heard from both NATO and other Western sources that the death toll amongst the Russian armed forces is likely in the thousands. Estimates say 3,000 and as high as 10,000.

And, of course, we have heard reports of waning troop morale, logistical challenges earlier in the show. We've heard from the Pentagon that the Russian armed forces haven't been making the progress that they hoped to make, anticipated to make. We've also seen pockets of opposition to the war within Ukraine so the fact we are hearing of this really significant death toll reportedly.

We heard from Zelenskyy over the weekend describing the death toll as unprecedented amongst the armed forces. This is certainly not going to have a great impact on morale or on public opinion in Russia towards this war. The Kremlin has described it as a special military option of the full-scale war now in Ukraine -- John.

BERMAN: Nada Bashir, thank you so much for that report. Appreciate it.

Joining me is now is Asami Terajima. She's a political reporter for "The Kyiv Independent".

So nice to meet you in person. I've been talking to you for weeks in the United States. Now I'm sitting here beside you.

Two things can be true at once, that sure, the Russian plans have been frustrated but that might mean there's increased suffering for Ukrainian civilians.

ASAMI TERAJIMA, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE KYIV INDEPENDENT: Yes. Unfortunately because of Ukraine's strong resistance in military side on land it's been difficult -- it is a good thing -- it's been difficult for Russian forces to capture more. This has led to Russians using the sky to bombard Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure, including residential buildings, hospitals, schools, kindergartens and thousands of Ukrainians have already died. We don't have the official number yet, which is concerning. Especially what's happening in Mariupol, there are lots of people who unfortunately died and we're all worried for what's going to happen.

BERMAN: I spoke to an elderly couple that escaped from Mariupol last night and they confirmed there are people being buried in the streets, bodies on the streets. They have nowhere to put them. They're burying them in the streets.

That city and aides to President Zelenskyy saying the defiance of that city may have saved tens of thousands of people elsewhere. That's cold comfort.

TERAJIMA: Yeah, the situation in Mariupol has been under siege for several weeks already. It's very difficult because we don't know how many, you know, even children, even children are being attacked. Yes, the bodies are on the ground for two weeks and they haven't been able to collect the bodies yet because Russia continues to shell the city and an official from Mariupol said they've been shelled for every ten minutes.

People that I also talked to, they also told me that shelling is nonstop, it continues and it's really scary.

BERMAN: Every ten minutes. Imagine that. What we're seeing here on the ground is the locations where the refugees are coming from are changing. Initially I think it was people from Kyiv or from the central part of the country got out but now we're seeing so many more people from Mariupol, from Kharkiv, from some of these cities that are under siege trying to get out here. Those are people in Lviv right now or at the borders.

What are you seeing?

TERAJIMA: Yes. I'm seeing more people, more families who came from eastern part of Ukraine. This is good they were able to escape but also at the same time we need to keep in mind there are still hundreds of thousands of people still in Mariupol and also in Kharkiv. Kharkiv is the second biggest city of Ukraine, however, it's been bombarded 24/7. This is why it's very important. Yes, we've had some success in evacuation but there are many people left in the cities.

BERMAN: Asami Terajima, very nice to see you in person. Thank you so much for coming in.

TERAJIMA: Thank you so much for having me.

BERMAN: Be safe.


BERMAN: All right. Christine, Laura, back to you.

ROMANS: All right, John. Thank you so much for that.

It's coming. Cyber attacks could be the next front in Russia's war. President Biden warning U.S. business leaders, strengthen your company's cyber defenses immediately. The president says the war in Ukraine not going well for Vladimir Putin and the Russian leader is likely to retaliate against American businesses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the tools he's most likely to use in my view, in our view, is cyber. Cyber attacks. They have a very sophisticated cyber capability.


BERMAN: And it's a tool in their toolbox that the Russians are likely to use, the president says.

Jasmine Wright has the latest from Washington.

Jasmine, there have been classified briefings with companies and sectors vulnerable to Russian cyber attacks we're told.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN REPORTER: That's right. And, look, the president said yesterday there is evolving intelligence that attacks like this could come no doubt suggesting the threat level is raised, Christine. Though we don't know exactly what U.S. intelligence is telling officials to merit that warning.


Still, the president was very clear yesterday when he told business leaders that an attack like this could come from President Putin, a cyber attack, because of retaliation just how the war is going and the amount of crippling sanctions that the U.S. and allies have put on Russia trying to isolate it economically.

And, of course, this is not necessarily the first time that America has warned business leaders to beef up their securities. This is coming at a time of war no doubt amplifying the urgency. And, of course, we know that the president said this is a part of Putin's playbook.

When U.S. officials use that language a lot of times in the past few weeks, we have seen that things that they have warned have actually materialized coming to fruition. And so, the president here, he made it personal when he talked to business leaders. He said that it was part of the national interests and part of their patriotic obligation to do exactly what they could, invest what they could to try to beef up the security.

And no doubt this brave warning, Christine, comes a few days before President Biden heads to Europe on the very high profile, very closely watched trip. A part of the U.S.'s response to President Putin's aggression -- Christine.

ROMANS: I can tell you, jasmine, the banking sector and other very critical sectors have been spending billions of dollars for this moment and a lot of analysts in Wall Street have actually been gaming out what kinds of attacks you could see, what could happen to the U.S. economy, how long it would take to fix them. So, this is top of mind in corporate America even before the president says so.

Jasmine, nice to see you. Thank you.

JARRETT: Joining us now, CNN global affairs analyst Kim Dozier, a "Time Magazine" contributor.

Kim, so nice to see you there this morning.

Let's start right there on the cyber attacks, how worrying is this? And to Christine's point, how prepared are U.S. companies to take this on?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, U.S. companies have been trying to shore up their defenses, especially since the SolarWinds attack of several months back in which Russian hackers infiltrated contractor systems and then got into government system. So, that was a warning that even government systems can be infiltrated.

Now, the U.S. and Russia have both left messages inside each other's critical systems. But the U.S. has been reluctant to use that. It's sort of like having a cyber gun to each other's head. But if the U.S. triggers this cyber weaponry in Russian systems, it could hit civilians and the U.S. doesn't want to do that. Also, Russia would surely counter attack.

And while many larger companies with great resources have been able to shore up their defenses like the banking system as Christine was saying, think of smaller towns, municipalities that have been hit with ransomware attacks. Those are the places they could take down threatening our water, our electricity, and our transportation supply.

ROMANS: Yeah, hospitals. We've seen a few attacks where they've frozen all of the computer systems in hospitals trying to treat COVID patients. There are a lot of ways that could go sideways.

Kim, you know, CNN is reporting it appears Russia is operating without a military commander on the ground. How could that affect the Russia's efforts in Ukraine. What does that say about the Russian strategy?

DOZIER: Well, the ironic thing is everything we're seeing that's going wrong with the Russian military operation is stuff that NATO advisers had to fix in the Ukrainian military when they implemented reforms at Ukraine's request since 2014. The Ukrainian military got basically driven out of Crimea and so they replaced their senior commanders, they installed what's called a non-commissioned -- non- commissioned officer corps. These are the officers that take care of the troops on the ground and they also fixed their logistics problems.

These are all issues now that we see with the Russian military that haven't been fixed. The old Soviet style of making war means that it's very hierarchical but a bunch of generals we know now have been killed on the ground by the Ukrainian military. And so, the Russian forces are operating in a sort of disjointed fashion, with poor resupply, and that's got to be bad for the morale of the troops who have been taking heavy casualties on the ground, even though we don't know exactly how many thousands have been killed.

JARRETT: Yeah, the numbers here are still being sorted out.

But, Kim Dozier, always great to have your analysis and expertise, appreciate it.

DOZIER: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. A corporate mass exodus from Russia, the likes we haven't seen since apartheid in South Africa. FedEx, Microsoft, Coca- Cola, American Express, Disney, Delta, Hyatt just to name a few. There are some 400 companies on the list.


But some companies are not fully severing ties from the Kremlin. Critics call them half exits. One foot in the country, one foot out. The Swiss food giant Nestle in the spotlight. Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, used Nestle's own slogan to scold the firm in his address to the people of Switzerland.




ROMANS: Nestle claims it has significantly scaled back activities in Russia, stopping all imports and exports except for what it calls essential products.

Koch Industries, this is that conglomerate ran by billionaire Charles Koch, it's also staying in Russia. It's going to keep operating two glass plants that employ nearly 600 people. The Koch Company's president there says we will not walk away from our employees there or hand over these manufacturing facilities to the Russian government so it can operate and benefit from them. Doing so would do more harm than good.

We've heard from Procter and Gamble makes baby formula. They're going to continue doing that. That's an important service to the Russian people.

There are other companies that are still paying their workforce there in the hopes that they will be able to return some day. The Russian government has threatened to just nationalize these properties.

JARRETT: All right. Up next, brand-new video of the explosions all but leveling a once bustling port city in Ukraine.



BERMAN: Welcome back. John Berman in Lviv.

And we do have brand new video just out of Mariupol. A drone captured these explosions at factories in the city. It was once home to 450,000 people. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the city has been reduced to ashes. Joining me now is Michael Bociurkiw, a senior fellow at the Atlantic

Council and former spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Michael, great to see you in person. We see these images from Mariupol. We hear the stories coming out from that city and you get a sense of the immense suffering, purposeful, at the hands of Vladimir Putin.

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, SENIOR FELLLOW AT THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Purposeful and grave violation of international humanitarian law, denying people access to water, agriculture, things like that. I think what the Ukrainians are doing given all of its destruction and human suffering is very wise. What they're doing is documenting a lat of the war crimes, alleged war crimes that are happening.

This will be very, very important later on, because Ukraine actually has a very experienced team of people who are experts in doing these kind of legal trials, international legal trials and they come in very useful a few weeks or months down the road to press this case against the Russians.

BERMAN: You have a fear that the deliberate suffering being inflicted in Mariupol might be repeated in other parts of the country?

BOCIURKIW: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I spent a lot of time ion Donbas, behind the front line there, and we saw with our own eyes the Russian-backed fight and what they're capable of doing. We'll see the Russian playbook being played out again and again and again until they're stopped. That is a lot of use of unguided weapons to pound these communities into submission.

But I think the West still has an opportunity now to intervene before we see more massive slaughter of people. For example, we had an Atlantic Council say you can have a no fly zone without planes coming over Ukraine. I think every possible action needs to be explored. Now, to deal with Mr. Putin now on our terms versus on his terms later on.

BERMAN: Joe Biden, the president of the United States coming into Europe this Thursday, what do you want to see come from that?

BOCIURKIW: Well, like he's promised, a lot of weaponry and funding. I watch a lot of Ukrainian television and speak to Ukrainians, they're very hardened to see already money being committed to the reconstruction, because the costs are going to be huge. But I think Mr. Biden needs to show that the West has a spine and stop being afraid Mr. Putin will use nuclear weapons, or chemical weapons, but I think that's held back the West.

Now, it's time to grow that spine and say we're going to do this. What the Ukrainians need is air superiority because as I said, the Russians will turn to much more destructive means, long range weaponry that could even easily hit a city like this.

BERMAN: Just a few miles from here, the missile stuff.

Michael Bociurkiw, great to see you in person. Thanks so much for joining us.

BOCIURKIW: My pleasure.

BERMAN: All right. Still ahead, Russian ground forces now stalled. Why that can be so dangerous for civilians here in Ukraine.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

Severe storms tearing across Texas Monday causing serious damage in two towns in Jacksboro, just northwest of Fort Worth, high winds have ripped up homes, businesses and two schools. Thankfully, no injuries were reported there.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri is live this morning.

Pedram, a new tornado watch is now in effect for parts of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. How bad is this going to get?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's going to be a pretty impressive line of storms here, Laura, when you take a look at what is in store potentially over the next few hours. And already in the early morning hours, the activity really beginning to ramp up across portions of Eastern Texas, including in and around Houston here over the next couple of hours. Line of active thunderstorms stretching about 800 miles, lightning strike frequently on the order of 500 strikes per minute.

So, it really speaks to the intensity of the storm system here. And again, the severe threat has already produced a severe amount of severe weather in the past 24 hours, left about 50,000 people in the dark across the state of Texas. That energy again spawning upwards of 20 tornadoes, that is all shifting in towards the east and the severe weather threat now increases on a scale of 1 to 5, that's a 4 in place there across places such as Jackson, Hattiesburg, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles.

This is the area of concern for the typical severe weather elements of, say, strong winds 50, 60, 70 miles per hour or large golf ball sized hail. But significant tornado threats 15 percent chance across the hashed area indicated in red where you could see some EF2, potentially EF3 tornadoes into the afternoon and evening hours in this landscape, certainly a day to take very -- weather very seriously and follow all the guidelines across this region.