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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Sinking of Russian Warship a Major Hit to Military & Morale; Ukrainians Living on Front Lines Under Constant Bombardment; Palestinians: At Least 153 Injured in Clashes at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 15, 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. It is Friday, April 15th. Good Friday. I'm Christine Romans.


Brianna Keilar is in Lviv, Ukraine, for us.

Brianna, good morning. What's the latest there?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Christine and Laura, good morning to you.

We are actually under air raid alert here in the Lviv region. We just heard sirens here moments ago. This is the case -- I'm actually looking at a map right now -- of all of Ukraine -- and almost every region is under an air raid alert, which is something pretty unusual here for recent days.

In the meantime, and perhaps connected, a major setback for Russia this morning. A huge blow to the country's military and to its morale. The sinking of a key Russian warship, the "Moskva," which Ukraine claims it hit with Neptune missiles.

Now, CNN can't independently confirm what caused the damage to the ship, but remember, this is the same ship that attacked Snake Island, was part of that attack on day one of this invasion, that spawned that famous saying, cursed out by Ukrainian soldiers on the island, who said: "Russian warship, go F yourself," now commemorated on a stamp with that phrase, as well.

In a CNN interview, Ukraine's national security adviser says that this is just the beginning. There will be more than one "Moskva."

And moments ago, the Russian military said it had struck what it described as a military facility on the outskirts of Kyiv. Just putting those air raid alerts into context there after warning that they would hit decision-making centers. Vladimir Putin is now desperate for a win and the CIA is warning that he might turn to nuclear weapons.


BILL BURNS, CIA DIRECTOR: Given the potential desperation of president Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they've faced so far, militarily, none of this can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low- yield nuclear weapons.


KEILAR: U.S. defense officials saying the first Russian troops to pull out of northern Ukraine are beginning to appear in the eastern Donbas region. Widespread shelling that has already been reported there in the area.

CNN's Matt Rivers is joining me now.

And let's talk about what we just got word of, Matt, which is a missile strike on the outskirts of Kyiv, of the capital.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. And this is something that the Russians have been saying was possibility, Brianna, just from what we've seen -- what the Russians say is they have been threatening to strike these decision-making centers, what they call them, in response to what they call Ukrainian provocations. The Ukrainians would dispute that characterization. But they're talking about things like Ukrainian incursions into Russian territory, which the Russians say some Ukrainian forces have engaged in recently.

We're also seeing this warship that sank, and that is something that the Ukrainians are saying they were responsible. Moscow isn't saying exactly what this missile strike of this military facility outside of Kyiv was specifically in retaliation for, but this is something that they say that they're willing to do, and apparently carried out overnight.

KEILAR: So, it's interesting, because yesterday, we woke up to Ukrainians rejoicing with memes about how the Russian warship had been promoted to a submarine. And then we understood from the Russians it was actually still afloat and it was being transported. This morning we woke up to the Russians saying, actually, yes, it did sink.

RIVERS: It's amazing. 24 hours ago, we were sitting here not knowing what the future of this ship would be. Now we know from all sides, the Americans, the Russians, everyone is confirming that it is now sitting at the bottom of the Black Sea. That is a staggering development and a huge setback for Russia, no matter which way you look at it. Now, we don't have firm confirmation of exactly what caused the ship

to sink. The Russians said as it was being towed to port, it actually suffered more damage, the hull couldn't withstand the force of being towed, and it ended up sinking. The Ukrainians have obviously said that they fired several cruise missiles at this ship and that's what caused it to sink. The United States says now according to some sources that have spoken to CNN within the intelligence community, they believe that the Ukrainian allegation here that they did send several cruise missiles is credible, although they haven't fully verified that that is exactly what happened here.

KEILAR: All right. Matt, thank you so much. It is beginning here in Ukraine, a rather busy day with lots of activity, it does appear.

I want to bring in retired Army Major General Dana Pittard, CNN military analyst, and also author of "Hunting the Caliphate: America's War on ISIS."

General, first, just this uptick in activity of air raid alerts. And air raid alerts mean that something is happening, there is a concern of something entering the air space. Overnight, we saw every region in Ukraine on air raid alert.


What does that signify to you?


What it signifies is that, obviously the Russians are embarrassed, Putin is personally embarrassed by the sinking of the "Moskva" and the setbacks that they've had. So they're trying to strike back in some way and have a win somewhere. But that's what it means to me.

KEILAR: It's also interesting, because there are discrepancies about what happened to this warship. Russians saying that there was a fire, that detonated ammunition -- and of course, there is a lot of ammunition on that flagship. Ukrainians saying they used Neptune anti- ship missiles to take out the "Moskva," but we should note according to a defense official that the rest of -- or other ships in the black sea fleet have moved farther away from Ukraine.

What does that tell you?

PITTARD: Well, the sinking of the warship "Moskva" is huge in so many ways. What my sources have told me is that Ukrainians used two anti- ship cruise missiles called the Neptune missiles, and the way they did it -- they used a TB2 drone to keep the radar busy on the "Moskva" ship, on the seaside, not the land side, the seaside. So the radar was looking a different direction. There was some rain going on, so the cruise missiles went wavetop and hit the ship.

And the destruction of the "Moskva" is the largest warship to be destroyed in combat, really since World War II. Because the "Moskva" is actually larger than General Belgrano that was destroyed by the British Royal Navy in 1982, Falklands war. Now that is causing some fear in the Russian Black Sea feet. This was

the most powerful warship in the Black Sea Fleet as well as the flagship. The other ships are now moving farther and farther away.

What that will mean to Ukrainians is, the ships will have less ability now to support with naval gunfire and missiles to any land operations near Odessa and other places.

KEILAR: You said wavetop. What does -- to the uninitiated, such as myself, what does that mean?

PITTARD: Well, that means, what the Ukrainians did, and they had to be -- it was bold and audacious. The movement of the Neptune anti-ship missile battery had to be done very carefully, because if they had -- if they sent off a radar signature, it would alert the "Moskva." so when the missiles were fired, they were shot and they -- their trajectory was just above the water. So it was very difficult for any radar to see that. So, wavetop is just above the water, as it hit the "Moskva".

KEILAR: And that's what you're hearing from U.S. sources?

PITTARD: I'm hearing that from my own sources in the region.

KEILAR: In the region, interesting.

So I also want to ask you, sir, "The Washington Post" is reporting that Russia sent this formal diplomatic note, they're warning the U.S. to stop arming Ukraine, which has been going for some time, right, for weeks and weeks. What do you make of this?

PITTARD: Well, the Russians have got to do something to stop and interject the movement of weapons, munitions in Ukraine. So, that's a part of that.

However, the U.S. must take the strategic initiative, the U.S. and NATO. They must force Russia to react to what the U.S. is doing. That's a part of that.

But there's more active measures that can be taken, such as declaring humanitarian assistance in Western Ukraine, which would help protect Kyiv, all the way down to Odessa, all near western Ukraine, with NATO force on the ground, where there aren't Russian forces right now, but also a no-fly zone in western Ukraine. With air defense systems that could protect places like Lviv from Russian missile and aircraft attacks.

KEILAR: General, it is always great to see you and get your insights. Thank you so much for being with us this morning, Major General Dana Pittard.

PITTARD: You, too, Brianna. Be safe.

KEILAR: Laura and Christine, back to you, guys.

ROMANS: Great conversation. Thank you so much, Brianna. Unable to escape, hundreds of Ukrainians are living under constant

Russian bombardment. CNN reports from a front line town as Russia prepares a major offensive in the east.

Plus, crises at home and abroad losing President Biden popularity appoints. What his approval ratings now show.

JARRETT: And Prince Harry and Meghan making a visit to the UK. The royal family member they visited, that's just ahead.



KEILAR: In Eastern Ukraine, hundreds of people unable to evacuate are now stuck without water or electricity. They've been living on the front lines for years, but as Russia's war intensifies, they now live in constant fear.

CNN's Clarissa Ward has more.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The town of Avdiivka is no stranger to war. For eight years, this has been the front line of Ukraine's battle with Russian-backed separatists.

People here are used to shelling, but they have never experienced anything like this.

A missile can be heard overhead as an emotional man approaches us.


They smashed the old part of town, he says.

As we talk, the artillery intensifies.

I told him it's better to go home now because there's a lot of shelling. He said there's more shelling where he lives.

As Russia prepares a major offensive in the east, front line towns like Avdiivka are getting pummeled.

So you can hear constant bombardment. This is the bomb shelter down here, but you can see this building has already been hit.

More than 40 people are now living in what used to be a clothing store.

Leta (ph) and her two sons have been here for three weeks. She wants to leave, but says her boys are too scared to go outside.

We're afraid to stay and afraid to go, she tells us. But it's fate, whether you run or don't run. On an apartment block, an icon of the Virgin Mary has been painted, a

plea for protection. But there is no respite in the bombardment.

If you look over here, you can see the remnants of some fresh strikes.

Thirty-seven-year-old government worker Rodnislav (ph) looks at what remains of his family home. He takes us inside to see the full scale of the destruction.

It's completely destroyed.

Mercifully, no one was at home at the time of the strike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was for photo albums. My children's photo.

WARD: His family has already left, but he says he plans to stay.

I'm afraid like anybody else, only the dead aren't afraid, he tells us. But a lot of people are still here in Avdiivka living in bomb shelters and we need to support them.

Authorities say roughly 2,000 people remain in this town. There is no water, no heat, electricity is spotty.

The local school has become a hub to gather aid and distribute it to the community.

Volunteer Igor Golotov (ph) spends his days visiting the elderly and disabled. Today, he is checking in on 86-year-old Lydia. Petrified and alone, he has yet to find an organization willing to come and evacuate her.

When there's no electricity and it's so dark and there's shelling, she says, you can't imagine how scary it is.

She tells us she recites prayers to get through the night. I never imagined that my end would be like this, she says. You can't even die here because there's no one to provide a burial ceremony.

For Igor, it is agony not to be able to do more. I promise you, he says, I will help you to be evacuated.

As we leave, Lydia is reluctant to say good-bye. It is terrifying to live through this time. To do it alone is torture.

It's so nice to see real people, she says. Probably it's going to get worse.

A prediction all but certain to come true, as a second Russian offensive draws near.


KEILAR: That report from Clarissa Ward and we thank her for that.

Christine and Laura, back to you. JARRETT: All right. We are getting breaking news out of Jerusalem.

Clashes erupting between Palestinians and Israeli police at a holy site. CNN is live on the ground.



ROMANS: All right. Breaking overnight, violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces at the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of Jerusalem's holiest sites, more than 150 people reportedly injured.

I want to go live to Jerusalem now and bring in CNN's Hadas Gold.

Tensions were already high with Ramadan, Good Friday, and Passover all overlapping here. What do we know?

HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Christine, a holy day for so many people here in Jerusalem that began with violence. I'm standing at the Damascus Gate, one of the entryways into the old city for so many Muslim worshippers.

But around 5:00 a.m. this morning, as the dawn prayers were wrapping up, clashes began between Palestinian and Israeli security forces. Now, Israeli police said they were responding to what they call violent rioters that they say were throwing rocks and launching fireworks. The Red Crescent society say that more than 150 people were injured by things like stun grenades and rubber bullets. Israeli police say that three of their officers were injured.

A few hours later, we started seeing videos of what seemed to be Israeli police within the Al Aqsa Mosque itself.


That is seen as very provocative and offensive to many Muslims. Now, the Israeli police say they only entered the mosque to secure it for those who asked to pray safely. Now, tensions had already opinion rising in Israel and across the West Bank, as these Israeli military operations and raids had increased in the West Bank in response to a series of terror attacks in Israel that killed 14 people in the span of less than three weeks.

In addition, there was a threat my some Jewish extremists who go up to the Al Aqsa compound, which is also known as the Temple Mount to Jews and performed these sort of ancient Passover sacrifices.

Now, they didn't actually do so. But just the threat of that riled up a lot of tension. Hamas called on all of their supporters to go to the Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it. The question now is what will, the military group that controls Gaza do next, because keep in mind, it was clashes like these at Al-Aqsa last year that helped spark that 11- day war between Hamas militants in Gaza and Israel -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yeah, good perspective there. Hadas Gold, thank you so much for. All right. So, a huge influx of refugees has countries getting

creative with accommodations. CNN has a report from the country that's chattering a cruise ship. That's next.

JARRETT: Plus, a royal surprise. Harry and Meghan returning to the UK together for the first time in two years and paying a secret visit to Queen Elizabeth.