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Russia Gathers Forces for New Assault on Eastern Ukraine; Putin Appoints New General to Lead Ukraine War; Kramatorsk Train Station Missile Attack Death Toll Rises to 57. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 11, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: Good morning, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Christine Romans here in New York, Brianna Keilar is in Lviv, Ukraine. Good morning Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: Good morning Christine, Russia's war in Ukraine appears headed for a brutal new turn. Vladimir Putin placing a new general in charge of this invasion after Russian troops failed to take the capital of Kyiv and topple Ukraine's government. Now, the next target seems to be the Donbas region in Ukraine's southeast where Russian forces are gathering this very moment.

Ukraine's foreign minister says after the atrocities in the town of Bucha and the missile strike on the train station in Kramatorsk will be extremely difficult to even think about negotiating with Russia. The station was packed with people trying to flee the fighting there. The death toll, in that attack, has now risen to 57. CNN's Ben Wedeman is on the ground in Kramatorsk. Ben, tell us how the people of that city are dealing with this deadly strike?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, they're dealing with it by leaving. If you go around the city, it is almost empty. There's a few people who are sticking it out, but most people have either left or in the process of leaving. And when you just see what happened at this station, you can understand why this has added extra impetus to the desire to get out of here. I mean, right over here is one of the impact points.

We're right next to the tracks, so there were hundreds -- in fact, according to local officials, there were 4,000 people crowded in and around the station. And you can tell where the shrapnel just sprayed in every direction and there were people everywhere. So, right here is -- this is the remains of blood and also it is fact that comes when you rip a body apart, it stains the pavement. And there are several impact points here.

And the station itself, you can see some of the windows were broken, and it appears that another round or another object, shall we say, or a bomb, late hit that building as well. Now, this train station is no longer functioning. We saw that one of the strikes hit some of the wires. It controlled the switches on the tracks. They're repairing them right now. People are being essentially bused to the north of here to the city of Sloviansk where the trains are still running.

Now, we saw one of those trains leaving from there yesterday, and it wasn't packed because almost everybody as I said before, has left the city because Kramatorsk is basically in the middle of a pincer. Russian forces to the north, Russian forces to the south. This is one of the cities it is believed that the Russians will try to encircle, besiege and perhaps in the process, probably, destroy. Brianna?

KEILAR: It's a horrific aftermath there, Ben, thank you so much for that report. I do want to bring in CNN military analyst and retired army, Major General Dana Pittard. He is the author of "Hunting the Caliphate: America's War on ISIS". Sir, let's talk first about this new general who served -- was a key figure in Russia's involvement in Syria. He doesn't have much regard for civilian life which I would say, what's new then? But what is your expectation with him now being the lead?

DANA PITTARD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, good morning Brianna. Yes, you're right. General Aleksandr Dvornikov has a reputation for being brutal and not caring about civilian casualties when he was in charge of Russian forces in Syria. I think what we'll see is an attempt by General Dvornikov and his subordinates to re-energize Russian forces and to push -- to take not only the Donbas region, but all of eastern Ukraine in the near future.

KEILAR: So, we are looking at this convoy, sir, this 8-mile long convoy outside of Kharkiv. What are you expecting?

PITTARD: Sure. You know, tactically, somewhere we saw outside that the capital of Kyiv is a Russian logistics moving slowly. Russian vehicles moving slowly, and, unfortunately, Ukrainians can't fully take advantage of that because they do not have all the assistance they need. And that's tactics. What we need to look at though is operational strategically as the U.S. and NATO, though they've given lots of weapons to Ukraine, and that is certainly been helpful.


But they need to seize the strategic initiative from Russia instead of Russia or the U.S. always reacting to Russia. It is time for Russia to react to the U.S. and NATO. And there are several steps that can be done.

KEILAR: General, can you talk about something they're seeing in the Kharkiv area that is of -- I think utmost concern? This is happening in civilian areas. This type of mine that is been launched and it actually scatters other mines that can go off on a time delay. Tell us about this.

PITTARD: Yes, they are called scramble mines and are fired normally from artillery. They kill individuals, but what we've seen throughout the world when those are used, they linger for a while, sometimes for weeks, months, and it causes civilian casualties. Most stations in the world have signed treaties so that they don't use them. Russia is obviously not one of them. But they kill civilians more than they kill military.

KEILAR: You've said it's time for NATO to get Russia to react to it, not NATO reacting to Russia. What would that look like in your opinion?

PITTARD: Absolutely Brianna. There's a number of things that could be done. You know, first, would be for the U.S. and NATO to declare Russia-Ukraine as a humanitarian assistance zone. And based on the success of the Ukrainian forces that humanitarian assistance zone should be from east of Kyiv all the way down to Odessa. And that would require NATO and U.S. troops to enforce that on the ground in Russia- Ukraine where there aren't Russian forces at this point.

And also no-fly zone of western Ukraine. The use of special operations forces from U.S. and NATO to help advise and train Ukrainians. And it would bring a heck of a lot of combat enablers, Intelligence, logistics, even at times, airstrikes as necessary would be a part of that. And then, strategically, Russia has shown a number of weaknesses.

It is time to push other nations that are currently under the thumb of Russia such as Kazakhstan, such as Armenia and such as Georgia to rebel against Russia's foot on their -- on their countries.

Again, this will cause more dilemmas for Putin. And of course, urging the Russian people to change their government, ideally, legally.

KEILAR: Major General Pittard, do appreciate you being with us, thank you for your analysis this morning. Russia's Vladimir Putin doing something today that he hasn't done since his invasion of Ukraine began. We're going to have some details next. And President Biden today personally pushing another world leader to take a hard line on Russian energy.



ROMANS: Austria's chancellor is in Moscow right now, about to become the first European leader to meet face-to-face with Vladimir Putin since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began. Let's bring in CNN's Nic Robertson live with more for us. Nic, what can we expect when these two leaders talk today?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Nehammer, Karl Nehammer; the Austrian chancellor is really coming with a lot of moral authority when he speaks to President Putin. Because just this weekend, he was in Ukraine and Kyiv and Bucha, was able to see what he's described as war crimes, hear evidence from witnesses, listen to what the government has, the Ukrainian government has had to say about it.

So he will be able to put all this directly face-to-face with President Putin, the Austrian chancellor has called for an investigation into war crimes. He will be telling President Putin to stop the war, to have a ceasefire, to allow humanitarian corridors. It isn't clear how much President Putin will actually pay attention to what the Austrian chancellor has to say, because for Putin, he denies to his people, denies to the world that his troops are involved in these atrocities and war crimes.

Yet, he will be the Austrian chancellor who has borne witness to it, who has seen the aftermath and who will be able to confront him directly. But Putin's propaganda continues to pedal the narrative that it's the Ukrainians that are at fault. And it's very likely that this is what the Austrian chancellor will hear back from President -- from President Putin. But it is significant that he is the first European Union leader to visit.

And he will not only be able to talk about what he has seen in Ukraine, but he would be able to point out that Putin, that he can expect more sanctions from the European Union. The European Union foreign ministers are meeting today, they're discussing a sixth round of sanctions that could potentially involve cutting off Russian oil supplies to the European Union. That they will stop buying those supplies of oil, which give a huge financial boost to President Putin.

The reality is that, this meeting however, is unlikely to bring an end to the war. Putin is likely to continue to fight it the way he's been fighting it until now, and this looks like an increased offensive in Donbas with the targeting continuing of civilians.


ROMANS: And a continued propaganda war as well. I mean, the Russian Ministry of Defense just yesterday saying that it had targeted foreign mercenaries and nationalist battalions. So, again, not admitting that it is targeting civilians or the depth of the misery there in Ukraine. Thank you so much for that, Nic. Just ahead, the Ukrainian man who called in an airstrike on his own home, and what President Biden will announce today about guns in America.



ROMANS: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy warning that Russia will launch a new full-scale offensive in the eastern part of his country. But in an address to his nation, Sunday, he said we are ready. Joining me here Vladislav Davidzon; a fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of "From Odessa with Love". Thank you so much for joining us this morning. I'm interested in the story you have of a friend of yours who essentially called in an airstrike on his own home.

He saw it through his security camera on his phone, he could see that the Russians were installing, you know, equipment in his backyard. Tell me what happened.

VLADISLAV DAVIDZON, FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: My pal, a guy from Odessa, well known -- a well-known man about town, a businessman, one of the owners of a major port business by the name of Andre Stefnisev(ph) who is now in charge of a lot of the Ukrainian logistics.

He and I -- he and I were speaking at a Ukrainian fundraiser here in New York a couple of days ago. The day afterwards, he looks at his phone, sees that the Russian army has taken over his home in suburban Kyiv right on a hill, overlooking a place perfectly situated to fire howitzers and the Oregon(ph) class tactical rockets at the city center.

Without thinking twice, he calls intelligence services, gives them the coordinates of his own roof, orders a missile strike on his own rooftop.

ROMANS: That's amazing.


ROMANS: You say that Vladimir Putin miscalculated the Ukrainian people. You know, you say he thought he was going --


ROMANS: To bring Ukraine back into the fold --


ROMANS: And teach it a lesson like you know, a spoiled child or a wayward child. Tell me what you think he miscalculated.

DAVIDZON: Well, President Putin simply didn't think that the Ukrainians are real. I mean, for him, they're not a real political nation, they aren't real people. They are wayward little Russians. They are (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) or little Russians. They're just, you know, confused, maybe they watch too much the wrong television, they have the bad ideology from some bandit or something like that.

He just didn't think that they're real people. He didn't believe that they're a real political nation, that they would fight for their homes, for their land, that they don't want to live like Russians do. That they want to be, you know, not brotherly nations, but cousins as in -- you know, fences and doors --

ROMANS: Right --

DAVIDZON: And borders and boundaries.

ROMANS: You say he has set back the Russian-speaking culture inside Ukraine. Set it back generations now.

DAVIDZON: No, people are not going to forget this. The Ukrainians are not going to forget this. This will be a -- already is, actually not, will be, but already is a trauma that will last generations. This will last 100 yards that the Ukrainians will remember what has happened in Bucha and Irpin and Mariupol and Kharkiv. You know, if anyone has done anything to get Russian speakers to start speaking Ukrainian in places like Mariupol, what's left of it or Kharkiv or amongst intelligence in Kyiv, it's Putin. Which is ironic.

ROMANS: Right. You tell me, do you think the next couple of weeks are critical here for what happens next. Why?

DAVIDZON: Sadly, I do think that we're going to be seeing a tremendous assault. An offensive on the Donbas, which is going to be a tank battle of a kind that we have not seen in Europe since World War II. We have not seen full-on tank maneuvers, BMPs, AMPs, tanks, counter artillery fire of a kind we're about to see for several generations in Europe. It's going to be really bad. I hope the Ukrainian state, you know, holds out because I believe --

ROMANS: Do you think they have what they need?

DAVIDZON: I don't. Actually, I think they are desperate and they're desperately pleading for more. They have enough and they had enough in order to win a defensive assault. But the -- I mean, I just saw the defense minister and the foreign minister of Ukraine in Warsaw two weeks ago, I mean quietly, not so quietly, they're pleading for more stuff. They're pleading for offensive weaponry. They're pleading for tanks. They're pleading for long-range artillery, for more drones. They need as much technology and as much weaponry as they can get.

ROMANS: How do you rate the performance of your -- the president of Ukraine? I mean, he is speaking just a few hours ago, he is speaking to the South Korean parliament, you know, he's been on "60 Minutes". He's been making this plea over and over again.


ROMANS: How do you think he's doing?

DAVIDZON: I mean, look, he's a great man unlike the 19th century Nichiv Sens(ph), he's a great man, he's a world historical personality. I count myself lucky having had the opportunity to have dinner with him once right before he became president. I mean, like I didn't know I was having dinner with Churchill when I was sitting with him, you know, in 2019. It's -- in retrospect, it's a great privilege that I had a sense -- a chance to have dinner with him.

He's really grown into a tremendous war leader. It's -- I don't know where he gets it. But the Ukrainian people in 2019 were all skeptical, we were all laughing, we thought it was funny that they elected a president who was a TV actor playing a president.


But it turns out that they've had real understanding. They saw something in him that I didn't watching his TV show. They saw him as one of them and representing their best character traits.

ROMANS: You called -- you used the word "trauma", which I think is absolutely right. Tell me about the toll this has taken on you and your friends, your family. The personal toll as you watch what's happening in your country. DAVIDZON: You know, everyone I know, for the most part has left. I

think two-thirds of the people that I knew, socialized with, my wife's business partners, my wife is in the -- in the -- in the -- in the film business, she's a producer. This morning, right before I was going here, she says, oh, my accountant from Odessa is now texting me, can I get her out to Lithuania or Poland?

ROMANS: Yes --

DAVIDZON: What can I do about visas? And I joked, who is going to do her -- who is going to do her company's accounting if she's living in Lithuania? I mean it's a grim joke, but in dark times you make -- you make dark jokes --

ROMANS: Right.

DAVIDZON: My family, the women and children in my family, I personally got out. The men --

ROMANS: Obviously --

DAVIDZON: Obviously, I can't do anything for, the accountant, wherever she is now in Lithuania or Poland, I hope she's fine. Most of the people that I know in Kyiv and Odessa are now living in Lithuania, Poland and France, Germany -- it's horrible.

You know, this is the best people in the society, this is the people that build things. They create things. They make businesses, they create projects, their families, and now, the best part of the population is living somewhere else.

ROMANS: Just so many people on the move and --

DAVIDZON: Millions.

ROMANS: How disruptive that is and how unsettling it is. Vladislav Davidzon, nice to see you, thank you so much for dropping by this morning.

DAVIDZON: Thank you for having me.

ROMANS: Right, just ahead, the world leader Joe Biden is preparing to press on Russia just hours from now. And France's Emmanuel Macron facing a familiar challenger as he runs for re-election.