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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Russian Forces Stalled Across Much of Ukraine; New Round of Russia-Ukraine Talks Underway in Istanbul; Biden Budget Includes $6.9 Billion to Counter Russian Aggression. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans in New York.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Laura Jarrett. A lot to get to this morning.

We have John Berman live on the ground in Lviv, Ukraine.

John, good morning.

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

This morning, Russian forces seem to be largely stalled in several parts of Ukraine, including around Chernihiv, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv. A senior U.S. defense official says that Russian troops have made no progress in moving towards the capitol of Kyiv.

We have new video showing Ukrainian troops on patrol and burned out Russian tanks in area recently recaptured to save Ukrainians northeast of Kyiv. Battles in the outskirts of the capital are ongoing.

Around the port city, though, of Mariupol the mayor says Russian forces have consolidated some of their control with evacuation corridors mostly under Russian control. New video shows the devastation after weeks of the bombardment that has killed untold numbers of civilians. Those who have remained are enduring without heat, electricity, water.

Meantime, the Kremlin spokesperson ruled out Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine telling PBS Moscow would only use them if there were a threat to Russia's existence. Right now, crucially a new round of face-to-face talks between Russia and Ukraine is underway in Turkey according to authorities there -- well, actually, we saw them going in.

We saw them going in. Talks are underway. We see pictures taking place. Talks are happening right now. Much more on that coming up.

We begin, though, here in Kyiv with CNN's Phil Black.

Phil, let's talk about the situation in Mariupol, a city under siege, a city where Russians seem to be closing day by day. PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Increasingly, there is

the sense of inevitability there. The Ukrainian military says they are maintaining a circular defense, circular because they are surrounded, as they have been for weeks. But day by day, that patch of territory seems to get smaller and smaller.

The British ministry of defense says it's confined just to the center of the city. It seems increasingly difficult to imagine that the fall of Mariupol can be prevented at this point. All of this while we understand there are still 170,000 people in that city. That's the latest estimate from the Mariupol City council. In addition to some pretty shocking casualty and death figures, they now think about 5,000 people were killed during the course of that four weeks seem so far, including more than 200 children.

Now, these are impossible to verify, of course, but they do seem to match and fit the level of devastation and destruction we've seen there over the course of the four weeks so far. Now while Mariupol is the most bombarded of cities and the broader battlefield does seem to be stalled as you touched on, other cities are experiencing this indiscriminate bombardment.

Even in areas where the Ukrainians say they are making progress. Irpin to the west of the capitol of Kyiv where the Ukrainian military says, yes, they finally have full control of that area as of yesterday, overnight there was more Russian rocket fire felt there. And even President Zelenskyy says, yes, we have that territory but it's too soon to describe it as secure.

BERMAN: I thought it was interesting to hear President Zelenskyy after the celebrating that was happening by some that Irpin had been taken back. He said, hold on here, hold on for a second, nothing is certain at this point.

BLACK: It's very sober response. He says everything across the battlefield is tense.

BERMAN: This happens again as the negotiations are taking place in Istanbul.

Phil Black, thank you very much for being with us.

I want to bring in CNN military analyst, Major General Dana Pittard, author of "Hunting the Caliphate."

General, thank you for being with us right now.

If Mariupol is to fall, can you explain the strategic significance? Again, I want to make clear, it hasn't happened yet, but if it does fall to the Russians, what does that mean strategically.

MAJ. GEN. DANA PITTARD, AUTHOR, "HUNTING THE CALIPHATE: AMERICA'S WAR ON ISIS": Well, good morning, John. If Mariupol were to fall, what that will do, will allow the Russians to complete or just about complete the land connection between eastern Ukraine, the Donbas region, and Crimea, all along the coast of the Sea of Azov, which was one of the Russian objectives.

BERMAN: I don't think there's any question that the Russian invasion over the last five weeks hasn't gone as planned and in a number of instances, the Russian troops have under performed.


Is that correctible? A military that is under performing the way they have, with problems on the supply lines, with morale problems, with communication problems, is that something that is correctible and that Ukrainians should be concerned about?

PITTARD: Well, one thing about the Russian force, yes. They've had command and control problems, logistical problems, but they still have immense capability and lethality, and there's something to be said about their numbers and modern equipment. They're taking a tactical and operational pause outside of Kyiv so they can reinforce, even reconstitute units. Let there be no doubt, they're still going to try to encircle Kyiv.

Ukrainians should be concerned that Russia still maintains that capability. Also, I think a key factor as far as morale and Russia period will be this Friday. This Friday, April 1st, will be Conscription Day in Russia. And Russia expects to get 130,000 new recruits at that time. So, we'll see if that happens.

BERMAN: Yeah, that will be interesting to see.

In terms of restocking on the Ukrainian side, the United States, the Pentagon says it's going to increase production of certain missiles, I imagine Javelins and Stingers. Any risk the United States and NATO won't be able to meet the need the Ukrainian forces have?

PITTARD: There is risk in doing that. If we're waiting on the production of javelins and stingers, that's a problem. Obviously that should be for the next couple months. Immediately stocks should be used in all NATO nations so that Ukrainians can get what they need. Also, Ukraine, just like the Russians, were victims of their own over extended supply lines. The same thing with Ukraine, and that's one thing that Russian forces are trying to do, they're trying to interdict the supply lines coming out Poland and Romania to resupply the Ukrainians.

BERMAN: Major General Dana Pittard, I really appreciate you being with us this early. Thanks for waking up.

PITTARD: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: All right. Representatives from Russia and Ukraine meeting face to face at this moment. These are crucial meetings taking place in Turkey. More ceremony, I would say, surrounding this round of talks than we have seen yet. Unclear whether there's any reason for optimism but we're watching that situation closely.

Plus, the cost of war in the United States. U.S. consumer already paying more for gas and consumer goods. Stick around. Much more ahead.



BERMAN: All right. Happening at this very moment, this new round of in-person talks between Russia and Ukraine. It's underway in Istanbul.

I want to bring in international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson.

Nic, I have to say, this is round five here. The first four didn't go well. I don't want to get overly optimistic about this. But I will say the pomp surrounding this round seems to be at a different level than we've seen before.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It has, and we may get some of the contours of what a future deal may look like. But when the battles are still being fought on the ground and fought with intensity, there's certainly the sense if you look at other sort of peace negotiations in the past where when the war is going on and one side thinking they can make gains against the other despite what's being said at talks, then things can continue to play out on the battlefield for some time.

I think if we look at where Russia and Ukraine are, President Zelenskyy saying he's willing to consider neutrality, that is attractive to the Kremlin. The Kremlin appears to have indicated but of course any value in their words cannot be matched by expectations. They got such a poor track record of credibility. They have indicated they're no longer indicated in regime change. They've dropped the denazification claim, that that was part of what their invasion was about.

But there are huge caveats. The Ukrainians believe that Russia is trying to cut off the south of the country and that's clearly a no go for the Ukrainians because President Zelenskyy said any changes in the future of Ukraine need to happen with agreement of the Ukrainian people. It's hard to see the Kremlin agreeing to pull out of tactical gains it's made on the ground that it thinks are important to supply the southern corridor to Crimea, the important peninsula in the Black Sea for them.

Interestingly in all this, even Turkish officials have indicated it's not a given that Crimea that Russia illegally annexed in 2014 can remain in the hands of Russia at this stage. Going into all of this, Russia said even before the war that the future of Crimea was not up for debate.


It was Russian, end of story, period.

So, there are big, big differences here. So what we may have learned is what the future could look like but not necessarily what it will look like, John. BERMAN: Great points, huge differences as in how do you declare a

cease-fire if you are Ukraine if there are Russian troops on your land.

Nic Robertson, thank you very much. Keep us posted.

Laura, Christine, back to you.

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

Fifteen minutes past the hour.

Consumers everywhere paying a price for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, while the U.S. economy is healthy and it is. Inflation is beginning to wear down millions of Americans. The top White House economic adviser Cecilia Rouse thinks the war in Ukraine could accelerate it.


CECILIA ROUSE, CHAIR OF COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: This may well put upward pressure on energy and food prices. That could reinforce inflation which was an issue due to the pandemic, supply chain constraints and strong demand for goods.


ROMANS: Inflation shot up to 7.9 percent in February mostly driven by big cost increases for basic necessities and that data was collected before the economic fallout of Russia's invasion could be calculated.

The cost of the war is reflected in President Biden's $1.3 trillion budget proposal which came out yesterday. That includes $6.9 billion for NATO and other programs to counter Russian aggression.

Also, in his budget, budget blueprint, Laura, there is a mandatory 20 percent income tax on the super rich in the U.S., and more funding for military and for local police in the U.S. so that's a big improvement.

JARRETT: You don't think that tax will be done?

ROMANS: I think that will be difficult to get done by November, yeah.

JARRETT: Christine Romans speak for not happening.

All right. Coming up, President Biden is trying hard to tamp down all of the blow back from an ad lib that he had on Vladimir Putin. What he says now he really meant.

ROMANS: And CNN+ is here. Stay informed with live news, stream exclusive films and original series and participate in interactive interviews. Learn more today at



JARRETT: UConn is heading to its 14th straight women's final four but needed double overtime to do it.

Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Andy.


So, death, taxes, UConn women's basketball team in the final four, those seem to be the three guaranteed things in life. But UConn and NC State, they're putting on an instant classic, playing in the first overtime game in women's elite eight history. This was a fantastic game. NC State had a chance to win it in regulation but they missed the three.

So, we head to overtime. The Huskies who had been 0 for 5 had the lead until the Wolfpack's Jakia Brown-Turner hit a three from the corner with less than a second left. That sent it into overtime.

But the reigning player of the year, Paige Bueckers, would not be denied, scored 15 of her 27 points in the extra period. And Christyn Williams ceiling it with a lay-in in the closing seconds.

UConn getting the win, 91-87 to advance to the Final Four for a 14th straight season. This year, the Final Four in Minneapolis. Ten miles from where Bueckers grew up.


PAIGE BUECKERS, UCONN GBUARD: Two days go, I said, win or go home, but we won and I'm still going home. So, this is crazy. I don't know. I'm so excited no matter the location, no matter where it is. I just keep playing with my team.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Couldn't have done it without both of you. Without both of you.


SCHOLES: All right. Louisville heading to the final four for the fourth time in history. Sophomore guard Hailey Van Lith leading the way with 22 points in the 62-50 win. This is her fourth straight game with at least 20 points.

Next up, the Cardinals going to face overall number one seed South Carolina in the final four Friday night. It's going to be UConn facing defending champion Stanford. The winners will meet in the championship game on Sunday.

All right. Elsewhere, the NFL is stepping up its efforts to create more diversity amongst its coaching staff. The league owners adopting a policy saying all 32 teams must hire a minority to be an offensive assistant. The head of NFL's diversity committee, Al Rooney, says there's been a clear trend in offensive coordinators becoming coaches. There aren't enough minorities in those positions right now.

The league also creating a six-person diversity advisory panel to review all of their hiring practices.

And, finally, three-time National League MVP Albert Pujols is back where it all begins. The 42-year-old receiving a hero's welcome yesterday, at spring training, after signing a one-year deal to return to the team. Pujols play the first 11 years of his career in St. Louis, leading the team to a pair of World Series titles. He returns needing 24 more home runs to hit 700 in a career.


ALBERT PUJOLS, ST. LOUIS CARDINALS FIRST BASEMEN: The organization never closed the door on me, you know? I didn't never close the door on their conversation either. I think it's a great opportunity, you know? Just everything is always happening in God's time. This is perfect time right now and I'm back here, really excited, just getting ready to go.


SCHOLES: Yeah, guys, pretty cool to see Pujols back with the Cardinals with the Cardinals for his 22nd season. And he said it's going to be his last.

ROMANS: That's amazing. Forty is the new 30, right? These guys are ageless the way that they're playing it. I love it. I love it.

SCHOLES: Seems like it.

ROMANS: All right. Nice to see you, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: The unthinkable, would Russia use nuclear weapons in Ukraine?


The Kremlin offering an answer to that question just ahead.

JARRETT: And what Jared Kushner could tell the January 6th committee as soon as this week.

Plus, a coup in search of a legal theory. The scathing ruling from a federal judge on Donald Trump's plan to overturn the 2020 election.


BERMAN: The Kremlin's chief spokesperson facing questions about Russia's nuclear arsenal, specifically would Russia use it in Ukraine?

Atika Shubert joins us now.