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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Russian Bombs Still Falling After Promise to Reduce Attacks; U.S. Officials: Putin Being "Misinformed" About Status of War; Biden Mulls Releasing 1M Barrels Per Day From U.S. Oil Reserve; Chris Rock Publicly Addresses Oscars Incident For First Time. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 31, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Laura Jarrett in New York. John Berman continues our live coverage in Lviv, Ukraine.

John, what's happening this morning?

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

So, this morning, Russian bombs still falling on Kyiv in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv. This is the day after Moscow promised it would drastically reduce its assault on the two cities.

Even so, Ukrainian troops do appear to be making gains here in Chernihiv. This is new video it shows a burning Russian tank and Russian troops in the nearby village of, in a suburb, and Ukrainian troops say they're in control.

Minutes ago, Ukraine says that Russia has agreed to an evacuation corridor for the besieged port city of Mariupol which has endured weeks of intense bombardment. In the meantime, Ukraine says Russian forces may be regrouping in Belarus. They've moved north out of Ukraine into Belarus. The Pentagon said earlier about 20 percent of Russian forces targeting Kyiv are now repositioning with some of them headed to Belarus.

And U.S. officials are saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin that he's being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing here in Ukraine.

Joining me now, CNN's Phil Black.

Phil, we're watching these military operations and movements, maybe 20 percent of Russian forces removed from the Kyiv area. What do you see happening?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, the rule of Patton suggests that a transition is taking place. We're already hearing about a major uptick in the intensity of Russian attacks, and they say that is at least partly because of Russian hardware, new Russian hardware, being relocated there from other parts the battlefield. So, it fits what we're being told what is happening around Kyiv, around Chernihiv. These are areas where Russia says it's pulling back to some degree. Russian and Ukrainian officials believe yes, that's the case.

U.S. officials believe 20 percent of Russian hardware being held back, in some cases to Belarus. There's some indication they will be replenished and also sent east. So, you do have this movement it seems taking place. But crucially, what that does not mean yet is that Russia has given up assault on either the capital or outskirts of Chernihiv, but the military strikes still continues somewhat continues.

BERMAN: And Mariupol, I want to preface by saying we've been here before. But both the Russians and Ukrainians are saying that a humanitarian corridor has opened up right now with a number of buses being brought in to get civilians out. What's the hope at least here?

BLACK: So, the hope is this could be the first relatively large-scale operation by the Ukrainian where is they manage to get a fleet of busses in to pick up people who aren't able to leave in private vehicles. So far, they've had very little success getting buses into Mariupol to pick up people who have no transportation. Today, they're going to try to send in 45 buses.

If that happens then it could perhaps pick up a sizable number who have been stranded there throughout.

BERMAN: Yeah, again, we've heard this before. It hasn't worked out. It was a little different this time if the Russians are saying the Ukrainians are saying it, and Ukrainians are saying that the Russians have agreed to it. There does seem to be a broad agreement.

BLACK: There is a sense of hope here. But as you said, you have been here before.

BERMAN: All right. Phil Black, thank you very much for that.

Joining me now CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton. He's a retired Air Force colonel and former member of the Pentagon joint staff.

Cedric, we talk about 20 percent maybe of troops around Kyiv repositioning. And then the idea that some of them have gone up into Belarus. What exactly does that mean?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Well, John, I think that's the mystery for the morning, we're trying to figure that out. But I believe what it is that they are repositioning some of their forces. And when you think about this, 20 percent of those troops, coupled with casualties that may be as high as 20 percent, that's a significant reduction in the number of forces that are actually stations in and around Kyiv, actually deployed to that location.

So it seems there is a fairly large reduction in force going on, based on these kinds of attrition numbers, as well as the movement of the forces possibly to the east.


But, of course, that's going to take a long time for them to get there. And that's so very skeptical that they're not letting up on Kyiv at the moment.

BERMAN: This idea of the Russian troops moving or repositioning or refocusing on the east. And maybe we can put up a map so people can see what we're talking about, we're talking largely in the Donbas region. Leaving the area of Kyiv and Chernihiv, leaving to fight in the east, where they've been fighting for years, to be clear. What can Ukrainians do, if in fact that is what is happening and the Russians are doing that, what should the Ukrainian response be? Should they change anything they're doing?

LEIGHTON: Well, perhaps a change of reposition of forces in the east. You're pointing out something, that they've been fighting since 2014, about eight years. The static line that is existent now, kind of reminiscent of the trench war where there was movement in types of troop placements and there were no advances to speak of until, you know, much later in the conflict.

So, in this particular case, what the Ukrainians have to be careful of is that there aren't any major breakthroughs of the Russians along those lines. The Russians are, of course, intent on taking over the entire Donbas region. They have about half of it now in those two republics that they created under Putin. So, I think that if we're really looking at that kind of a movement, they have to have a holding place, a holding pattern in place for Kyiv. Move some forces perhaps to Kyiv. But they have to be very careful they're not distracted by what the Russians are doing.

BERMAN: So, Cedric, there's this other titillating piece of intelligence by the United States saying Vladimir Putin is not being adequately briefed by his military leaders. They haven't given him a sense of how badly the Russian military is doing here. We're not being told how the U.S. intelligence knows that.

As I said, it's titillating, what would be the practical impact of Putin not having a real window of what's happening here?

LEIGHTON: Well, what it could be that he's sending forces after forces into an area where they're not succeeding.

So, if it's true, and if these reports are correct, what could have been happening is that he's -- he's moving a lot of his forces into areas where they're not succeeding. Those forces are basically stopped at those locations, such as around Kyiv, for example, around Kharkiv in the east. And because of that, what they're seeing then is a lot of losses.

And I think the major impact on Russian forces is this, they're losing a lot of their equipment. A lot of their personnel, due to this failure at the top, to understand exactly what is happening to those forces. They're not being allowed to move tactically, and because of that, they can't respond to what the Ukrainians are doing in real- time.

BERMAN: And may be throwing good money after bad in economic terms. Just in military terms it means sending troops in to fight a battle they haven't been winning anyway.

You brought up morale. There are also reports that Russian morale is low. What impact does that have on the battlefield? And again, this far into a fight, can that be corrected?

LEIGHTON: It's very difficult to correct it. It takes extraordinary leadership to do something like that. It has happened in the past, in past conflicts where an extraordinary leader has turned things around for a country. In the case of the Soviet Union, World War II would be an example of that.

In a case like this, what they end up doing, they need to explain to the troops exactly what's happening. Change the way they conduct their tactics. Conduct their operations. Be more innovative in their approach to these kinds of things. We haven't seen them do that yet but it doesn't mean it can't happen.

BERMAN: Colonel Cedric Leighton, CNN military analyst, I thank you for that discussion. I feel like I understand it better now.

Laura and Christine -- see that economics term there?


BERMAN: Christine Romans teaches me economics and I know how to use the terms.

ROMANS: Now, that was a great -- that was a great discussion, thanks John.

All right. President Biden has blamed the current spike in gas on Putin's war. The White House eager to show Americans trying to ease the pain., the president considering releasing a record 1 million barrels of oil per day from the nation's emergency supplies. A source says this daily release could continue for several months.

The president delivers remarks later today on gas prices which have spiked since Russia invade Ukraine. An announcement could come then. President Biden also looking at invoking the Defense Production Act this week to ramp up mining of those critical minerals used to manufacture electric vehicle batteries.

It would give the president emergency authority to expand production of lithium, nickel, graphite, cobalt.


It would be one of the Biden administration's most aggressive steps to shift the country towards electric cars and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign supply chains. If we learned anything over steps to shift the country towards electric cars and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign supply chains. If we learned anything over the past years, the pandemic and then the

war, Putin's war has shown how global supply chains have been messed up with political events and the U.S. has to do more.

JARRETT: Is the reserve -- this is a simple question, but I know you'll know the answer -- is the reserve a thing that can get replenished or once it's gone, it's gone?

ROMANS: When the supplies are low -- the U.S. buys -- like these salt caves that are so interesting, they're saved for an emergency. This is the White House saying this is an emergency. Putin's war is an emergency for American consumers.

JARRETT: All right. Coming up for you, attack planes and suicide drones. Congress considers sending more weapons to Ukraine now.

ROMANS: Plus, Chris Rock speaks for the first time since Will Smith slapped him at the Oscars.

JARRETT: And the diagnosis that's forcing Bruce Willis to step away from acting.



ROMANS: All right. Time for some sports this morning with Tampa Bay Buccaneers wild off season takes another turn. Tom Brady is back but now his head coach is the one retiring.

Carolyn Manno has this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hey there.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi. A wild off-season just keeps getting crazier.

The timing of this is very curious, especially since Bruce Arians said he is coming back before Tom Brady un-retired. Now he's stunned the football world by stepping down after three seasons as the Bucs head coach. While Arians may not be on the sideline, he'll still be part of the team. The 69-year-old is moving to the front office in a consultant rule. In a statement, he offered an initial explanation saying: So why now? The simple answer is I've accomplished more than I ever dreamed I could during this incredible coaching journey. Winning Super Bowl LV at our home stadium with my mom and family in attendance was really the last item I wanted to check off my career bucket list.

His defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will fill the role. Bowles has had head-coaching experience already. He previously led the Jets for four seasons. So, promotion comes at a critical time as the league continues to struggle to address a lot of hiring diversity. Bowles now one of six minority head coaches in the league.

And Arians made diversity a priority over the course of his career. He's made opportunities on his staff available to women, in addition to hiring a number of black coaches. Tom Brady thanking Arians on Instagram describing him as a true NFL legend and pioneer for all the work he has done to make the league more diverse and inclusive.

Well, despite losing to Costa Rica, the U.S. men's national soccer team qualified for the World Cup. They're heading to Qatar in November. The Americans only needed to avoid losing via six goal margin, and they lost by two. But it's been eight years since the U.S. men's team last played in the World Cup, so soccer fans excited about that.

And about this, history made in Barcelona yesterday on the women's side as fans packed the largest stadium in Europe to watch a women's soccer match, a crowd of 91,553 on hand to watch Barcelona reach the semifinals of the Women's Champion League with the win over Real Madrid.

So, that broke the previous record set at the Rose Bowl during the 1999 Women's Cup Final when 90,000 were on hand to watch the U.S. beat China on penalties.

And listen, we still don't know if Tiger Woods is making a comeback at next week's masters. But four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy said he wouldn't be surprised to see Tiger tee it up.


RORY MCILROY, 4-TIME MAJOR WINNER: He likes to prove people. He likes to prove himself wrong, I think. Regardless of when he does come back, whether it's next week or a few months down the line, you know, he's a wonderful addition to the game. And the game of golf is better when he's playing and when he's playing well.


MANNO: If he does play, it will be nothing short of miraculous. He wasn't sure if he would be able to walk again after a horrific car crash just over a year ago and now finds himself in potentially the position to come back to the Masters.

Everybody is waiting with bated breath, guys. He can let us know on Thursday morning. There's no rush, but everybody excited.

ROMANS: I love that video with his son Charlie. They walk exactly alike. Just like a mini me. It's so great.

All right. Carolyn Manno, thank you very much.

JARRETT: Thanks, Carolyn.

Just ahead, another new round of talks now scheduled between Russia and Ukraine.

ROMANS: And refugees from Ukraine still looking for a way out. We're live just across the border in Poland, next.


JARRETT: Comedian Chris Rock appearing in public for the first time since being on the receiving end of Will Smith's Oscar slap. Rock did his stand up in back-to-back sets last night in Boston.

Let's bring in reporter Mari Salazar from our affiliate, WHDS, in Boston.

Good morning to you. What did he say, sounds like he wasn't going to go there?

MARI SALAZAR, REPORTER, WHDH-TV: I think that people were expecting a little bit more of a joke or comment from Chris Rock about this shocking slap. But this is what they say happened.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was an amazing show.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chris rock is one of the best comedians of all time. So, he did

SALAZAR (voice-over): Chris Rock fans spilling out of the Wilbur Theater Wednesday night, happy with the comedy show, while Rock didn't crack any jokes about the infamous slapping at the Oscars Sunday. He did acknowledge it, starting the show by asking the audience how was your weekend.

Everyone laughed and rock went on to say, I don't have a bunch of expletives about what happened, so if you came to hear that, I'm not. I had like a whole show I wrote before this weekend and I'm still kind of processing what happened. So at some point, I'll talk about that. It will be serious. It will be funny. But right now, I'm going to tell some jokes.

7 News was inside the theater for Rock's performance. Our Caroline Goggin said when Rock took the stage, the energy was electric.

CAROLINE GOGGIN, WHDH-TV: They were on their feet for a standing ovation. You could tell he was really touched. There were a lot of people say his eyes were welling up with tears. But a lot of people last night think they were pretty disappointed they didn't get to hear more about the incident with Will Smith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't as great as I thought it was. He didn't address the issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was disappointed. I hoping he would say something.

SALAZAR: Others were good with how Rock handled.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess I respect him for not saying anything. Obviously I would have loved to hear something but I respect him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't really get into the situation. But, you know, I think, overall, he was trying to get through the night. Not try to speak about the situation, kind of keep it to himself. I kind of respect that.


SALAZAR (on camera): And now people are anxiously awaiting that statement or comment from Chris Rock which he says is coming eventually.

We're live from Boston. I'm Mari Salazar, Christine, Laura, back to you.

JARRETT: All right. Mari, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

You know, our culture is so used to having an immediate reaction to something like this, essentially something as shocking as this. I think it's interesting. He decided to take a minute, process it a little more.

ROMANS: Figure out what he wants to say about it, right?

JARRETT: Figure out what he wants to say at his own time.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

JARRETT: Interesting.

ROMANS: The Academy, by the way, said they asked Will Smith to leave the Oscars that night that it happened, and he didn't. They're now still investigating this incident. So, the new cycle is not over for this.

JARRETT: I'm not ready to move on. I know John Berman is not ready to move on. You're not ready to move on.

All right. Up next, the spies who now say Vladimir Putin massively misjudged the situation in Ukraine.

ROMANS: And why action star Bruce Willis says he's stepping away from acting.