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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Russia Claims to "Drastically Reduce" Troop Activity Near Kyiv; Putin Chairing Meeting to Discuss Struggling Russian Airlines; Over 30 Million Americans Facing the Threat to Deadly Tornadoes; Reports: Tiger Practicing in Augusta Ahead of Masters. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans here in New York.

Let's begin with John Berman reporting for us in Lviv, Ukraine. Hi, John.

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

So, overnight here in Ukraine, a senior government official says there were no areas without sirens. Yes, here in Lviv we heard them as well. This came after the day the Russian defense ministry said it would drastically reduce military activity on two fronts in Kyiv and Chernihiv.

That move follows face to face talks -- with that claim I should say -- follows face to face talks between Russia and Ukraine and Istanbul, that both sides suggested were productive.

U.S. officials, though, are skeptical of the Russian promises.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll see. I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does. We're focused on the latter.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We are not being fooled and nobody should not be fooling ourselves by the Kremlin's now recent claim that it will suddenly just reduce military attacks near Kyiv or any reports that it's going to withdraw all its forces.


BERMAN: The Pentagon believes that Russian troop movements near Kyiv are a repositioning, not a withdrawal. We do have new video this morning showing the full extent of the devastation at the town of Irpin. This is just outside Kyiv. This footage from a Ukrainian NGO was filmed after Ukraine forces pushed Russian troops out of the suburb northwest of the Capitol over the past 36 hours. We also have brand new satellite images showing that entire city blocks in central and eastern Mariupol.

This is from Mariupol now. They've been flattened by Russian shelling. This is a level of destruction we have not previously seen in pictures of that city in southern Ukraine.

Joining me now, CNN's Phil Black live in Lviv.

And, Phil, I'm not mistaken, right on cue, I think that's the beginning of an air raid siren that's about to go off here.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it does sound like it, John. So, it backs up what we've been hearing from Ukrainian government officials this morning that while there is some evidence Russia has began moving some units and equipment north across the border into Belarus, broadly across the battle front and across the country sirens have been going off, rocket fire, artillery fire has been felt everywhere notably and crucially around Chernihiv, that city of the north and the capital Kyiv.

These are two areas where Russia says as a goodwill gesture, in order to create an atmosphere where talks with prosper. It is going to reduce military activity. Now, I think overwhelmingly, the consensus is that goodwill gesture is really just a cover for the acceptance of reality on the ground, which is these are the areas where Russian forces have been forming very poorly, where they have essentially failed in their tasks of seizing these cities quickly. In the case of Kyiv, also failing to encircle the capitol once their attempts have failed.

So, the Ukrainian response at the moment is to assume that this is -- these forces are being pulled out to resupply, to lick their wounds in the words of one official and redeploy. The question is where? Russia said it wants to focus attention, but the Ukrainian government, its military is not yet assuming that Russia has given up its ambitions on the capital just yet.

BERMAN: I think that's really a good point. There are two things going on here. Number one, it's not out of benevolence or good will that Russia is doing. It's because they're being beaten to an extent in the area around Kyiv or Chernihiv, and secondly is no one fully will believe that the Russians are reducing, withdrawing, doing anything until they see it and they're not quite seeing it yet.

BLACK: Not seeing it yet. No. The aggression is still there. The violence is still there. These places are still being shelled.

BERMAN: Everyone in this country very much waiting and watching.

Phil Black, great to have you here. Thank you very much.

Joining me now is retired U.S. Army Major General Michael Repass.

General, thank you so much for being with us.

What specifically would you look for in terms of proof that the Russians are frankly changing anything right now?

MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL S. REPASS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, we know they're changing their approach on the ground. First off, they violated the principle objective and the principles of war in that they didn't designate the main effort. They attacked everywhere, and as a result, they failed on three fronts. Therefore, they're regrouping. They have as your previous reporter stated, they're going back to refit, to rest their troops, and they're going after to reorganize because of combat losses.


As a result of that they're going to reposition their forces back around to the east, to achieve their political objective that they've stated, which is the administrative boundaries of Luhansk and Donetsk area, where Donbass.

That is one of their stated objectives that they say that they want to have, and perhaps that's Putin's climb-down position is I've got to have that.

BERMAN: So, they're not the only ones that have a say. The Ukrainians have a say. They're performing I think better than anyone expected, maybe anyone besides who I know was involved over the years with making sure that Ukrainians were up to speed military. But what would you be doing if you were the Ukrainian military right now in these strange, weary days?

REPASS: I think I would continue doing what I'm doing which is counter-attacking northern of Kyiv. That would fix those forces in place and not allow them to reposition en masse to the east over there to overwhelmed the Ukrainian defenders in the East. So, I would continue to attack them as they go into Belarus to get refitted or Russia to get refitted.

I would not give them a free pass to go back and reorganize to come back around the east. So I suspect not only the Ukrainian main defending units, the Ukrainian army, but also the Ukrainian resistance are wreaking havoc in the rear areas.

BERMAN: Is there anything that can be done from a military standpoint for Mariupol right now?

REPASS: Wow, that's a tough one. That is a real -- that's a -- that is an unfortunate situation. The only thing that can be done is they have to conduct an offensive operation to free a zone, a lane, if you will, by shoring up the flanks of an access into Mariupol through which they can evacuate people.

That is a very time and resource intensive operation. It takes a lot of combat forces to pull that off and I think it would be very difficult to do that. At the same time, Russia is repositioning forces to the east. Perhaps we've missed the window of opportunity to pull off that relief operation.

BERMAN: General, you've had an eye on the Russians for years. How much do you trust them at this point? Do you trust when they say they're going to reduce the intensity of their operations?

REPASS: No, that's just a propaganda cover for everything they've been doing that's failed so far so they're pulling out the units that have failed north of Kyiv and west of Kyiv and they're going to have to reorganize them because they're basically destroyed by Ukrainian offensive operations. They're going to have to reorganize them and move them around to the east. That's just a cover.

So, "Russia says" is synonymous with "once upon a time". Both of those are fairy tales. I do not trust anything the Russians say. We have to watch to see what they're doing like President Biden and all the leaders of the NATO nations have said.

BERMAN: Retired Major General Michael Repass, thank you so much for being with us this morning. This is really helpful and understanding what we're seeing here.

REPASS: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: All right. Happening right now, the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, he is making an appearance in Moscow. We will tell you what he has been saying.

And CNN on the ground near the front lines in Ukraine where the fighting has become too much to bear for many.



BERMAN: Welcome back. I'm John Berman in Lviv in western Ukraine.

There are announcements being put out over speakers as the air raid sirens are going off. People here on very high alert. As that happens in this city, we may hear from the Russian President Vladimir Putin just minutes from now. He's chairing a special meeting to discuss supporting Russian airlines that are struggling because of Western sanctions, but really everyone is waiting to hear if he goes off script there and talks about the situation in the country overall.

I want to get to CNN's Clare Sebastian who is monitoring this speech.

Hi, Clare.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Yes, we don't believe the meeting has started yet or at least not the televised portion of it yet. But as you say, President Putin is expected to talk about measures to support the airline industry in Russia, an industry that has been staggering under the wait of sanctions. Russian planes essentially barred from all E.U. and U.S. air space. They're also unable to assess spare parts from foreign manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus. Russia operates at least 600 planes made by Boeing and Airbus and they would not be able to be maintained.

And I can tell you that one thing Putin has done so far to try to support the industry is to pass a law allowing the industry to hold on to planes that are leased from foreign leasing companies. That affects hundreds of planes in Russia, essentially illegal according to sanctions, because those releasing are supposed to repossess those planes. But that is something that he's already done. And that could affect hundreds of planes worth billions of dollars. So we're waiting to hear what more he could do to support the staggering industry.

BERMAN: All right. Clare Sebastian, I know you're watching this carefully. Let us know when he starts speaking and what he says.


Appreciate it.

A deadly strike on a government building in southern Ukraine. We have new video that shows the moment a missile hit the regional military governor's office in Mykolaiv. Officials say at least 12 people were killed in this attack. Thirty-three injured. Ukrainian troops have forced Russian soldiers out of the city but Mykolaiv remains on the path of the city to Odessa, a city they always wanted.

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The blasted burned out hawks of Russia's might lie on the road outside Mykolaiv. More rumbles in the distance.

Lt. Colonel Yaroslav Chepurny doubts peace or even a pause is at hand.

Russia, he says, put such a huge effort into invading Ukrainian territory, it's hard to imagine they will leave so easily. As fighting raged on a road, just a few minutes drive from here where civilians huddled in their cellars for protection, scared of the fighting, but terrified of the danger they tried to flee.

This house in the nearby village took a direct hit. Bombardment is less frequent now. It's just calm enough for 72-year-old Natalia to pack up and go.

It's impossible to tolerate this anymore, she says. I'm already an old woman.

A neighbor will drive her to a nearby Mykolaiv. Shrapnel riddled his car and shattered the back window.

I'm not afraid to die, says Natalia, but I'm just not ready. I haven't gone to confession yet.

In an adjacent town, Lubya shows me the potato cellar she hid in for days. It's cold here, she says. There was no electricity for two weeks.

As fate would have it, she did well to stay down there. One day a rocket landed in her backyard. Tongue in cheek she told us the Russians left a gift for her. The gift keeps on ticking. We have to leave this spot because this rocket has not exploded.

Many of the villages have been largely abandoned. Only the most stubborn stay behind.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, outside Mykolaiv.


ROMANS: Just the disruption for so many people who have left and who are still there.

Still ahead, near London, a Russian owned super yacht that won't be setting sail any time soon.

JARRETT: And a tornado watch in effect now in parts of the American south. That's next.



JARRETT: Twenty-two minutes back now.

More than 30 million Americans are facing the threat of potentially deadly tornado today. Many of them living in places that were hit by devastating twisters just last week.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri is tracking the system. He has the very latest.

Pedram, good morning.


It's a similar setup to what we saw this time last week when it comes to placement of the severe weather, the area of potential impacts and, of course, the level of concern when it comes to these tornadoes and the strength potentially when they do develop. You'll notice a pretty active line of storms across the Dallas Metroplex working northward towards Tulsa towards areas of Portsmouth, Arkansas. That's where the line of active weather is, and that's where the National Weather Service has prompted a tornado watch for 7:00 a.m. local time where some rotations could be possible.

But the energy really picks up in intensity here as we go in towards the early afternoon hours, and that is a level 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 as indicated in red. It includes Memphis, Jackson, Alexandria, as far south, approaching areas across New Orleans where this level 4 is in place. The biggest concern for the storms are going to be streamlined winds for times 70 plus miles an hour. Timing this out for you, you notice the linear action. The storms,

winds are going to be a primary concern. Early afternoon, 1:00, 2:00 p.m. you see this push across portions of Louisiana; 4:00, 5:00 p.m., into areas of Mississippi and Alabama. Through overnight hours through Georgia and severe threat really diminishes. Wind gusts 40, 50. Times up to 60 miles per hour and then there's the tornado threat with some tornadoes, potentially as strong as EF-2 or greater.

Guys, if you think we've talked a lot about tornadoes, that's because we have 187 preliminary reports. Eighty is what is normal. So, incredible run back to a severe weather in recent weeks.

JARRETT: Wow. All right. Pedram, thank you for staying on top of us. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. Tiger Woods is practicing in Augusta, this is according to reports. Could he play in next week's Masters?

Carolyn Manno is here with this morning's "Bleacher Report".

That would be remarkable.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: You wouldn't put it past him, would you, I mean, considering what he's doing. At one point he wasn't sure if he could walk again after that horrific car crash 14 months ago. He's made a remarkable return and now he seems ready to test himself on golf's biggest stage.

Still reading the tea leaves. "Sports Illustrated" and ESPN reporting that the five-time Masters time flew to Augusta yesterday to play an 18-hole practice round with Charlie and fellow PGA tour star Justin Thomas.


CNN waiting for official word from Tigers' agent in Augusta National on the round. Woods hasn't played an official event since the masters in 2020. He has been candid to talk about needing time to develop strength in his leg and keep in mind that Augusta National is a formidable course, guys. It is quite long, hilly terrain, considered one of the most difficult walks in professional golf. So, we will see.

Tiger did team up with this son to play an official tournament unofficially in December while using a cart. The first major championship tees off next Thursday, and we'll see if he'll make an official return to golf.

Meantime, the NFL is changing overtime rules just for the playoffs. Yesterday, owners approved a new plan allowing both teams to get at least one possession in the post-season. If they're still tied, the next score would win.

So, overtime rules in the regular season, remaining the same, but this move comes after Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Buffalo's high flying offense never touched the ball and their overtime loss to the Chiefs in the divisional playoffs. A lot of people talking about it at the time.

Since 2010, seven of the ten overtime wins have been the team that won the coin toss in the post-season, scoring on that first position. So, Rich McKay, the head of the competition committee said not a huge sample size here, but it is enough to make the change for the postseason.

Duke officially in New Orleans for Coach K's record-setting 14th Final Four appearance, and the last of his storied career. His team facing their archival North Carolina for the first time in history, but Coach K says he is not getting caught up in the hype.


MIKE KRZYZEWSKI, DUKE HEAD COACH: I know there's going to be on TV, radio, Duke guy, Carolina guy, going to be talking stupid stuff to one another. And that means nothing but that's what sport for fans is about. It's not -- it's not for coaches.


MANNO: We'll see if that message remains in the locker room. I'm not sure I'm buying it.

Duke-UNC following the Kansas-Villanova showdown Saturday night, you can watch both on our sister network TBS beginning at 6:00 Eastern. And lastly this morning for you guys, what a moment for Danish soccer star Christian Eriksen yesterday. The midfielder receiving a huge ovation in returning to the safe field where he suffered a cardiac arrest on the field less than a year ago.

The crowd going into an absolute frenzy when he scored from around 20 yards out, in the second half. Denmark beating Serbia 3-0. He said he had goose bumps and it was an incredible moment and you can see the fans just elated.

I remember the three of us talking about what a scary moment this was, when that happens. So, fantastic to see him out there.

ROMANS: He's back. Wow. Fans love it, too.

JARRETT: Glad to see he's doing well.

ROMANS: Carolyn, thanks.

JARRETT: Nice to see you on set.

All right. Coming up for you, how yesterday's peace talks in Turkey may lead to a direct meeting between Presidents Putin and Zelenskyy.

ROMANS: And several states not waiting for the Supreme Court to gut Roe v. Wade. They're already taking action on abortion.