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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Russia Claims To "Drastically Reduce" Troop Activity Near Kyiv; Red State Abortion Laws Leave Women With Few Options; Second Booster Shots Authorized For Adults 50 And Older. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 30, 2022 - 05:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome back. I'm John Berman in Lviv in western Ukraine.

The face-to-face talks between Russia and Ukraine -- both sides seem to suggest that there was some progress. Officials say the talks may have set the stage even for Russian president Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy to meet in person.

CNN's Nic Robertson live in Brussels with more. Nic, look, everyone obviously very skeptical of the possibility of this happening though it was raised as a possibility. What do you think?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The Russians raise it as a possibility. It was one of their two conclusions from the talks -- that, and stating that they were dialing back their offensive in the north of Ukraine around Kyiv and Chernihiv. That, if taken at its face value -- which is hard to because Russia doesn't have a lot of credibility at the moment -- seems to indicate a movement in Putin's readiness to speak with Zelenskyy.

But the reality, I suppose, of where we stand at the moment is the Ukrainians put forward some pretty complex proposals to the Russians. The issue of Crimea, for example. The future of that to be discussed over the coming 15 years, in essence, to try to park it as separate to the rest of the conflict going on in Ukraine.

And at the moment the ball is in the Russian courts and to back on the specifics of all of that. And part of the specifics of all of that are that Russia should withdraw all of its forces from Ukraine. Russia is no way preparing through its own propaganda back in Russia. No way preparing the Russian people for a complete failure in Ukraine and a complete pullout. They continue to say that they can continue to fight for their aims, particularly in Donbass in the east of the country and it appears also in the south of the country.

So it does seem at the moment when you listen to what the Kremlin says and about Mariupol yesterday, telling President Macron that the way to get humanitarian corridors for the 170,000 people trapped there is for the Ukrainian forces there to surrender and put down their weapons. [05:35:00]

So I think at the moment, the ball is very definitely in the Russian court, although the potential path of the way forward is there. But is Russia going to go down that, which might then open the door to that meeting between Zelenskyy and Putin? It's very, very, very unclear, John.

BERMAN: Very unclear. There's been a change in language. As of yet, unclear if there's any kind of a change in action. That's what everyone is watching for, at least here on the ground in Ukraine.

Nic Robertson in Brussels. Thank you so much, Nic.

I want to bring in Lesia Vasylenko. She's a member of Ukraine's parliament. Thank you so much for being with us. Do you see any change over the last 24 hours?

LESIA VASYLENKO, MEMBER OF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: I've seen over the last 24 hours that the air raids have actually intensified. Yesterday, at one point, I was looking at my phone and literally, every single message from the news which was coming in was about an air siren going off in some part of Ukraine. And at the same time, I think the majority of regions of Ukraine was covered in air sirens, meaning that there were air raids on the go. And it's just mad.

And one of these days I think -- I think it was in the last 48 hours, Putin let out 70 missiles on Ukraine in just under 24 hours. Most of them were shot down. Only eight hit their target. But still, you can just imagine the massiveness of the attacks.

And yesterday, in Kyiv, I was staying in one of the suburbs just basically on the outskirts of town and that suburb was quiet for all the 34 days of war. But yesterday, the house just started shaking and there were banging noises. There were artillery fighting going on somewhere close to us.

So there's not much sign that Putin's words means the action on the ground. And this is the point that a lot of Ukrainians, myself included, are trying to make. Do not trust Putin. Until you see it with your own very eyes, until you see that there's no more Russian soldiers in Ukraine, there's no point in believing a single word he says about retreat or concentrating on eastern Ukraine or whatever.

For us, he's just regrouping. Regrouping to make more attacks -- maybe not necessarily on Kyiv or on the cities he wanted to attack on the firsthand, but he's regrouping to attack other cities of Ukraine.

But at the same time, it still is Ukraine. It's still our Ukrainian people who are under attack. So we still have to defend ourselves and fight for the freedom that we so desperately want for our country and for Europe, and for the world as a whole.

BERMAN: Yes. I don't think anyone on the ground in Ukraine -- anyone in the West trusts this until they see concrete action. I do want to ask you -- I was spending time with some young Ukrainian men yesterday as the announcements of these proposals were being released.

And one of the proposals that they were looking at was this proposal from the Ukrainian side to suspend the issue of Crimea for 15 years. Say, you know, we'll talk about this separately over a 15-year period. In other words, in theory, the Russians could stay there for 15 years. And one of the young Ukrainian men said to me -- well, then, what are we fighting for?

I wonder what you think about that.

VASYLENKO: I feel that sentiment completely. I mean, I can tell you for sure that there is not enough information on the ground, either in the media or in the political circles, to tell you for sure what was meant by that statement. What is actually going on in the room of those negotiations nobody knows apart from the very few people who are part of those negotiations.

Information is very much protected and it's leaked very selectively. And sometimes, also by the time it gets to the end-user (ph), the media have given it some kind of its own interpretation. I just -- I'm saying this because I'm hoping for the best. I'm hoping that there's something behind it.

There are preconditions to that phrase and that phrase was taken out of context. Because otherwise, it's not an acceptable statement for the Ukrainians who are fighting on so many fronts now for our country to remain wholesome, free, and independent.

BERMAN: Lesia Vasylenko, as always, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Appreciate your time. Stay safe.

VASYLENKO: Thank you, and you, too.

BERMAN: Christine and Laura, back to you.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks, John.

Coming up, why a bill to punish Russia is now bogged down in the U.S. Senate.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, the Russians and Americans in an out-of-this-world showing of unity.



ROMANS: A bill that punishes Russia for invading Ukraine is stalled in the Senate now even though it is backed by President Biden and 424 members of the bitterly-divided House. This measure calls for suspending trade relations with Russia and Belarus.

Daniella Diaz joins us from Capitol Hill. What's the holdup here? Why is this bill having so much trouble getting through the Senate?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Christine, it's really just one senator holding this whole bill up and that is, of course, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a conservative who opposes some of the language in this legislation that would combat human rights abuses. And the way this would work Christine is they could pass this bipartisan bill with unanimous consent in the Senate floor with all 100 senators passing this, but he objected to that, which is why this bill has not been passed yet.

But look, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is not eager to give Rand Paul floor time to debate this legislation.


And also, the priority here with Senate Democrats in the next two weeks, before they go on a two-week recess on April 11, is to pass Ketanji Brown Jackson's nomination to make her the first Black woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court. And that is really a priority, as well as some Executive Branch nominations.

These next two weeks, not so much -- this legislation. So either Senate Democrats break on this or Rand Paul break on this, but right now, it doesn't look like either is going to blink ahead of that April 11 recess, Christine, to pass this legislation that would, of course, as you said, suspend normal trade relations --


DIAZ: -- between Russia and the United States.

ROMANS: All right. Something most everybody agrees on but the Senate can't get it done -- at least not yet.

All right, Daniella, thank you so much.

JARRETT: Now to this. Reproductive freedom in the spotlight. Over the past several weeks, several Republican-led states have advanced bills restricting abortion rights, some modeled on that Texas law. You'll remember the one barring most abortions after six weeks. Meantime, Democrats in some blue states are looking for ways to shore up abortion rights.

ROMANS: All this ahead of a highly anticipated Supreme Court ruling expected later this year on Roe v. Wade -- a decision that could have major implications for abortion rights for decades to come.

I want to bring in Washington Post national political reporter Caroline Kitchener. Good morning, Caroline. Thank you so much for joining us here.

Tell us about how these laws are affecting women. You've been reporting this out for some time. How are women and abortion providers responding here?

CAROLINE KITCHENER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST (via Webex by Cisco): Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

The state that I'm focused on right now is Oklahoma. That's where I am right now. And they are about to pass basically the same exact law that has been in effect in Texas since September. And that's hugely significant because Texas women have been flooding into Oklahoma ever since September. This is where they have been going for their abortions and now that door is about to close on them as well.

JARRETT: So then, how is that going to -- how is that going to work? If they can't go to Oklahoma anymore, where are they going to go? I know you've been doing some reporting about I think the border between Illinois and Missouri?

KITCHENER: That's a great question and it's a really hard one to answer.

I was just in an abortion clinic in Texas yesterday and there were a group of women who were too far along, and they were still directing them to Oklahoma. But they were saying look, there is a chance that between the time that you leave this clinic today and the time that you arrive in Oklahoma you will no longer be able to get an abortion there. And then they give them a list. They say there's Mexico, there's Colorado.

And yes, I just spent time in an Illinois clinic that's right across the Missouri border that's really positioning itself as an abortion haven for people to go.

ROMANS: So if the Supreme Court officially overturns Roe v. Wade, are we then in the land of two Americas when it comes to reproductive rights? I mean, I guess maybe that's already happening --


ROMANS: -- now because of these state measures.

KITCHENER: We really are. I mean, Democrat-led states are watching anti-abortion legislators pass restriction after restriction and they're thinking what can we do? How can we move in the opposite direction and protect abortion access? So, you're really seeing this very stark divide come up between Republican-led states and Democrat- led states.

JARRETT: Caroline, just quickly during the time that we have here, when you -- when you talk to women as you're going around to all of these places, is there a sense that they feel like their -- these rights are not really rights if you have to jump all over the country to try to figure out where to go?

KITCHENER: I was just in that clinic yesterday where a woman was told that she was too far along. I was in the room and she started crying. She was told that she could go to Oklahoma but even that was an 8-hour drive for her.

And there was just this sense with every patient that I talked to yesterday that the walls were really closing in. That -- you know, I had a patient say well, if they're -- if they're about to pass this law in Oklahoma, they're telling me I could go to New Mexico. But how long before a law might pass there, too?

There was just a real --

JARRETT: And how am I supposed to get there? Am I supposed to take off work? I mean --


JARRETT: -- right? Yes.

KITCHENER: Childcare and all of those considerations. And, of course, that's affecting low-income women, especially.

JARRETT: The most -- yes, of course. Abortions are not going away. It just means you have to jump through more hoops to get one.

You have a great quote from someone talking about getting one and them paying for her 15-year-old child to come with her and her saying, "Is this a dream?" A pregnant mother from western Missouri.

Just incredible reporting. Thank you for --


JARRETT: -- staying on top of this story. Given everything else that's going on, it's important to still cover this. We appreciate it.

ROMANS: Caroline Kitchener, Washington Post --


ROMANS: -- political report. Thanks, Caroline.

JARRETT: All right, second booster shots on the way for people 50 and up. The FDA officially gave Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines the greenlight Tuesday to help increase protection levels against severe illness. You can get your additional shot as early as four months after your first booster dose of any of vaccine -- of those vaccines.


The FDA says it determined the potential benefits of second booster shots outweigh the potential risks.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, a new reason to doubt Russia's claims that it's scaling back its war in Ukraine.

JARRETT: Plus, Americans and Russians in space not letting the war on earth get between them.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

A Russian superyacht is being detained in the U.K. Britain's transportation secretary announcing the first-ever detention under the government's new Russian sanctions. The ship is said to belong to a Russian businessman with ties to the Putin regime. U.K. officials say its ownership was deliberately well-hidden. The superyacht is docked in East London and had been scheduled to depart Tuesday.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this Wednesday morning.

Looking at markets around the world, a mixed performance in Asia. Those markets are closed now. Europe has opened and has opened I would say narrowly mixed there, though a little bit more than 1% down in Frankfurt. On Wall Street, stock index futures leaning a little bit lower.

It was a higher day Tuesday following those promising talks -- at least that's how it was perceived on Wall Street -- between Russia and Ukraine. The fourth-straight gain for both the Dow and the S&P.

Also, some relief in the energy market after Russia said it would drastically reduce military activity in northern Ukraine. That sent oil lower for the second day. We'll see if doubts emerge on that today. Prices had already been dropping over COVID lockdowns in Shanghai.

And the great resignation continues. The BLS says 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs last month, up slightly from January, while U.S. businesses had 11.3 million open jobs, just below December's all- time high. This jobs data comes Friday with the March jobs report, so we'll get another real clear picture of what's happening in the labor market.

Inflation watch -- a red-hot housing market. Home prices up 19.2% in January compared to the year before. Prices rising even faster than they did in December. Phoenix -- look at this -- leading the way among the 20 cities in the S&P Home Price Index. Home prices there, nearly 33% higher from a year ago. Tampa, Miami close behind.

This is where the Fed comes in. The central bank has signaled much more aggressive inflation control. Planned interest rate hikes will increase the cost of mortgages. That, in turn, could cool off the red- hot housing market in the coming months.

The higher cost of living is a growing concern among Americans. Take a look at this new Gallup Poll. Seventeen percent of Americans say inflation the single-most-important problem facing the U.S. today. Eleven percent say it's the economy in general. Four percent zero in specifically on gas prices.

Put it all together, one in three Americans identify the economy as the nation's top problem. The government and poor leadership topped the list of non-economic concerns.

JARRETT: Finally, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is returning to Earth right now, along with two Russian cosmonauts after a record-breaking 355 days in space -- wow. Their return getting perhaps more attention than usual due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

During a change of command ceremony aboard the International Space Station, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov spoke of how Russian and American crew members work together despite the obvious geopolitical tensions here on Earth.


ANTON SHKAPLEROV, RUSSIAN COSMONAUT: People have problem on Earth. On orbit, we are like -- we are not like -- we are one crew. And I think ISS is like symbol of the friendship and cooperation and like symbol of future of exploration of space. And thank you very much, my crew mentors. We are like my space brothers and space sister.


JARRETT: NASA says it continues to work closely with the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos. Vande Hei and the two cosmonauts are due to land in their Soyuz spacecraft in just a couple of hours, coming down in Kazakhstan. Very cool.

ROMANS: Oh, very cool. And wouldn't it be great if we could be brothers and sisters on Earth and not just in orbit?

Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, March 30. I'm John Berman in Lviv in western Ukraine. Brianna Keilar is in Washington.

We do begin with breaking news. Explosions overnight across Ukraine despite Russia's claim that it is scaling back the war. A skeptical West, a skeptical Ukraine calling for more action and less talk from the Kremlin.

Just last night, artillery and rocket fire heard in Kyiv. A senior Ukrainian official tells CNN, quote, "No areas without sirens overnight."

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says, quote, "Don't be fooled by Russian forces pulling back from the capital.

And just moments ago, I spoke to the mayor of Chernihiv. This is one of the areas where Russia specifically said it would be scaling back operations. The mayor of that city told me Russia is full of lies.