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Ukrainian Forces in Mariupol Reject Russian Order to Surrender; Zelenskyy Warns of Coming Russian Offensive in Eastern Ukraine; Austrian Chancellor Says He Doesn't Think Putin will Use Nuclear Weapons. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 18, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

KRISTIN FISHER, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Monday, April 18th, I'm Kristen Fisher, Laura Jarrett and Christine Romans are off this morning. Our breaking news coverage of the war in Ukraine begins with the fight from Mariupol. Ukrainian forces still defending the southeastern port city, rejecting a Russian order to surrender.

Russia's military responding that any further resistance will be eliminated. Russian forces say no one will be allowed in or out of Mariupol starting today, and that men left in the city will be filtered, meaning relocated for screening by Russian troops. That's according to an adviser to Mariupol's mayor. Two hundred miles to the north, Russian shelling in Kharkiv has killed at least five civilians and wounded 15 others.

CNN's Matt Rivers joins me now from Lviv in western Ukraine. And Matt, we understand that you've had a series of missile strikes there a short time ago after a bit of a break. What more can you tell us?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we were all awoken by air raid sirens this morning, and it was right around 8:00 a.m., maybe a little after local time here, that Ukrainian officials say at least four different missile strikes struck across Lviv. Three of them we're told were hitting military infrastructure. The fourth, which is a scene that we actually just visited was just a tire repair shop.

It was a civilian location, we're not actually allowed to broadcast live from there right now due to Ukrainian military restrictions. At least, six people killed, at least eleven injured. And yet, what we are seeing in Lviv is really nothing compared to the scale of destruction and the ongoing fighting in the southern city of Mariupol.


RIVERS (voice-over): A Russian ultimatum to Mariupol's defenders, surrender by 1:00 p.m. Sunday. The Ukrainians did not listen. "Our defenders continue to hold the defense", said an adviser to Mariupol's mayor in response. DENYS SHMYHAL, PRIME MINISTER, UKRAINE: Our city still has not

fallen. There is still our military forces, our soldiers, so they will fight until the end. And as for now, they still are in Mariupol.

RIVERS: A main pocket of resistance centered here at the Azovstal Steel Plant. It's unclear how many fighters remain in the city, still difficult for CNN to gather verified information. A lack of internet service makes reliably contacting people in the city extremely hard. Still, what is coming out of the city shows that it is now almost completely occupied by Russian troops, keen to show off their handing off rations to starving civilians.

But the Ukrainian Parliament Human Rights Commissioner says such handouts are mere propaganda, amounting to no more than a loaf of bread and a bottle of water per day. It is the Russian military, remember, that has caused such suffering. It's weeks-long bombardment of Mariupol, cutting off its population from food, water, and medical supplies.

President Zelenskyy says the situation in Mariupol remains as severe as possible, just inhuman, this is what the Russian federation did, deliberately did, and deliberately continues to destroy cities. Russia is deliberately trying to destroy everyone who is there in Mariupol. An estimated 100,000 people remain in and around Mariupol and need to be evacuated, but they remain trapped.

On Sunday, not one humanitarian corridor was open, meaning getting large numbers of people out remained impossible. Russia's military goals are clear, dominate Mariupol and move on.

SAMUEL RAMANI, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD: Mariupol has to fall before they can move those forces back up to the rest of eastern Ukraine.

RIVERS: And those Russian forces getting freed up to move does what?

RAMANI: If they free up those forces, that means that they'll be able to be more aggressively conquer Kharkiv. For example, which is where they're already launching a challenge almost every single day. And also, they'll be able to move more of those forces towards Odessa.

RIVERS: But for now, Mariupol still has not fallen. Destruction from previous battles litter the city's landscape. And as Ukraine's remaining forces declined to surrender on Sunday, Russia, with a chilling response, its Defense Ministry saying in part, quote, "in case of further resistance, all of them will be eliminated."


RIVERS: And so once again, the Russians saying that they are restricting both entry and exit for Mariupol at this point. Unclear if that means there is no chance at any humanitarian corridors to open either today or in the near future.


But the point being here that all of those people that are in Mariupol in those horrific conditions, they remain trapped right now with no obvious way to get them out to safety. Kristin?

FISHER: Yes, and they've been in those conditions for weeks now. Matt Rivers live in Lviv for us, Matt, thank you so much. So, joining us now, CNN national security analyst Shawn Turner; former director of Communications for U.S. National Intelligence. Shawn, I'd like to start by talking about something Matt Rivers was just reporting on, Kharkiv facing heavy shelling over the weekend. Can you help us understand why this city in particular is so strategically important for Russia?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, you know, it's a great question, Kristin, good morning, thanks for having me.

FISHER: Good morning.

TURNER: You know, even as Putin makes his push in Mariupol area, one of the things he wants to be very clear about is that he is not giving up his desires to take all of Ukraine. And so, we know that Mariupol is key, we know that it's extremely important in order for him to achieve the military objective of moving further into the east.

But Kharkiv is one of those areas where he wants to send a very clear message because of its strategic importance, that he is not going to stop. And we're seeing the same thing in Lviv and other areas. Putin wants to send a very clear message that while we clearly understand what his objective is with regards to redefining success and focusing on the Donbas region, that he still has military objectives that include all of Ukraine. So this just sends a very clear message that he's not done.

FISHER: Yes, and when you talk about redefining success, what do you think that now means or looks like for Russian President Vladimir Putin?

TURNER: You know, Putin has had a series of losses and blunders and military failures since he started this campaign more than 50 days ago. And so, we knew that at some point he was going to have to take a step back and look at what it meant to be able to say that he was successful. So, what does that look like today? First of all, you know, as we saw when he was pushed back from areas in the north that he decided he was going to do what a lot of us thought he would do at the beginning, and that's to focus on the Donbas region.

So that looks like doing what he's doing now in terms of taking Mariupol. Mariupol is key. Once he gets Mariupol, then he's going to move on to the greater Donbas region, and there is a scenario, Kristin, in which he could look at taking Mariupol and Donbas region, annexing those areas, and at least calling this phase of this war a success.

We know at this point, Putin is very frustrated that he has not been able to say he's had a clear and decisive victory. And so, once he gets the Donbas region, even though he continues to focus on other areas, we anticipate that we will see some rhetoric, some communication out of Russia with Vladimir Putin claiming some sort of success. FISHER: But Shawn, what you were just referring to, Russia taking

some of those regions in the east of Ukraine, that's something that Ukrainian President Zelenskyy said over the weekend that Ukraine simply would not agree to. So, do you see --

TURNER: Yes --

FISHER: Any room for negotiation there? And is there any possible off-ramp, if Zelenskyy is saying, hey, no, we're just not going to do that?

TURNER: Yes, you know, I want to be very clear, I take President Zelenskyy at his word. And that's one of the reasons why I think that the fighting that the Ukrainian forces are about to see in the Donbas region will be unlike anything they faced during the entire time of this conflict. You know, it's -- for Putin, this is critical. And so when we look at what he was willing to do in the north, and we look at his willingness to hold troops back, and to adjust and to move troops from other areas, that is not an option for him anymore.

He must push forward. And so, for the Ukrainians, you know, I see -- I see fighting unlike they've ever seen before. I think we're going to see more violence, I think we're going to see more bloodshed, I think we're going to see more death unfortunately, because I don't -- I think you basically have two opposing forces, neither of which is willing to give here. I do give --

FISHER: I mean, when you --

TURNER: Go ahead --

FISHER: When you -- sorry to interrupt, but when you say that Shawn, I mean, that's a very ominous thing to say, that the Donbas region is going to see things like nothing the Ukrainians have seen in the past, six weeks of conflict. I mean, they've seen a lot already. So, I mean, what else are you expecting and do you think that they'll see?

TURNER: You know, I think that what will happen here is, look, the Ukrainians are coming off of a moral victory with regard to the sinking of the Moskva. They are buoyed by the fact that the United States is sending a new round of weapons, weapons systems that they've never seen before and that it will really help them in this fight. And so what I think we will see is a situation in which Putin will be very clear that, if he is not achieving some sort of military victory here, it's not clear that he's going to see a military victory.


This is where I begin to worry about what Putin's next step will be. We talk about this whole mad men theory and what he may do ultimately, but you know, for Putin, as I said before, this is critical. And so I'm thinking about things like the language and the diplomatic note that he sent the United States where he talks about unpredictable consequences. I'm thinking about the civilian atrocities we've seen and the use of nuclear weapons. You know, all of those things are on the table at this point, simply

because we know that there is no other option for Putin. This is the last card in the deck and he has to succeed here.

FISHER: Well, Shawn, I think all of Ukraine certainly hopes that you're wrong on some of these predictions. But we appreciate your insights all the same. Shawn Turner; CNN's --

TURNER: Thank you --

FISHER: National security analyst, thank you so much.

TURNER: Thanks.

FISHER: Coming up, Ukraine's defiant president drawing the line on giving up territory to Russia. Plus, Russian propaganda spilling across the border despite its efforts -- despite efforts to stop it. First though, the stunning revelation from Austria's leader. Why Vladimir Putin believes he's actually winning the war.



FISHER: Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer says that he came away from a recent visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin with the idea that Putin is ruling in his own world on the war with Ukraine. The Austrian chancellor says that Putin actually believes his own lies about the war.


KARL NEHAMMER, CHANCELLOR, AUSTRIA: I think he is now in his own war logic. You know, he thinks the war is necessary for security guarantees for the Russian Federation. He doesn't trust the international community. He blames Ukrainians for genocide in the Donbas region. I think he believes he is winning the war.


FISHER: So the Austrian chancellor added that he believes Putin knows exactly what is going on because the Russian President warned him in German, said that it is better that the war ends earlier than later. CNN's Nada Bashir live in London with more. So Nada, what exactly does the Austrian chancellor say about concerns that President Putin is going to resort to nuclear weapons?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, Kristin, the nuclear question has been a point of concern for weeks. And now -- but according to Chancellor Nehammer, he said that he can't say for sure whether or not Putin would resort to using some sort of tactical nuclear weapon if he was backed into a corner.

And of course, he also noted that Putin, in his conversation with him clearly understood the threat that such weapons would pose. But also, in particular, understood that he could use these weapons to threaten the rest of the world. So clearly, an understanding of the leverage that perhaps using these weapons could opposed to the western world. But in particular, in the last few days, we've heard from Kremlin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, he said that Russia would only resort to using such weapons if there was a threat to the existence of the Russian state.

So clearly, somewhat defining terms there from Peskov. But Putin has long held that if Ukraine was to join NATO, that in itself would pose a major security threat to Russia, to the Russian state. And we heard from Nehammer in his interview with "NBC", he said that Putin was very clear on these terms. That he was clear that he believed that the war was necessary in order to ensure Russia's security guarantees.

And as he mentioned there, he believes that Russia is winning this war. Now while Nehammer noted that he couldn't 100 percent understand Putin's war logic. Putin was very clear on his concerns and on his demands. And separately from that, he reiterated the claim that we've long heard from the Kremlin that Russia is carrying out this invasion as a result of what they claim to be genocide in the Donbas region.

Now, it clearly stands in contrast from what we're hearing from western leaders, from western Intelligence. But of course, over the weekend, we heard from Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskyy warning of what he expects to be an intensification of Russia's military campaign, military invasion in the Donbas region, in that eastern part of Ukraine. So clearly, some concerns there. And as you said, he did warn that he would see -- rather see this war end sooner rather than later. Kristin?

FISHER: Yes, absolutely. Nada Bashir live in London for us. Nada, thank you so much. Coming up, a former Soviet state trying to block Kremlin propaganda, but not always succeeding. Plus, North Korea's Kim Jong-un personally supervising a new weapon's test.



FISHER: Estonia shares a border with Russia and used to share news and information as well. But now, it's working to fight the hold that Russian state media has over some members of its population. CNN's Scott McLean has the story.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In eastern Estonia, the vast birch forest and open planes dotted with industry, concrete apartment blocks can feel a lot like Russia. Most people are ethnically Russian, many signs are in Russian, and Russia itself is just across the river. In the Estonian border town of Narva, more than 86 percent of the population speaks Russian.

(on camera): Even on this side of the river, native Russian speakers make up a substantial chunk of the Estonian population, one of the many lasting legacies of the Soviet era. Many older people don't speak Estonian well, and in the absence of a whole lot of Russian language media in Estonia, Russian state media has been left to fill the void, giving people a steady dose of Kremlin propaganda.

(voice-over): That is until the start of the war in Ukraine, when Estonia blocked many Russian news outlets and TV channels, a decision that came with plenty of controversy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why I don't agree? Because I think it's a great democracy can't be afraid of any propaganda. Many people here are buying some systems to pick up the Russian channels. It's not the way. Restrict is not the way.


MCLEAN: Antennas are suddenly a popular item at electronic stores, for Russian speakers to easily pick up Russian TV channels. Others watch online through VPS. Llya Fedorov(ph) and his father, Oleg(ph), have an even better set up in their home right across the river from Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is just a lineup of the channels people usually get in their Russian households as well.

MCLEAN: They've got this TV hooked up to a Russian satellite dish, another to an antenna, both picking up all the Russian channels. Though some, they'd rather not watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can only watch 10-15 seconds maximum, because of the levels of aggression and paranoia and the lies of blatant lies is crazy.

MCLEAN: A lot of people here are still very connected to Russia. Do you think that they believe everything that the Kremlin is saying about the war in Ukraine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I just don't think, I know there are a lot of people who think Russian state media is the truth. But for sure, it's a lot of false news and lies. And only a minority in Narva don't believe Russian propaganda.

MCLEAN: Some of those true believers were reluctantly tuning in to this channel. "ETV-Plus" was launched in 2015 to give Russian-speaking Estonian's access to reliable news about their own country and the world.

MARGARITA TANAJEVA, ETV-PLUS ANCHOR: We don't have propaganda. We can make news about corrupt ministers or presidents in our country -- or politics. Many Russian journalists can't do it.

MCLEAN: On Friday, "ETV-Plus" reported on the sinking of Russia's flagship, the Moskva, giving both Ukraine's claim that its missiles sunk the ship, and the more benign Russian version that it sank after a fire. Since the channel's launch, "ETV-Plus" ratings have made gains, but gaining trust is much tougher.

TANAJEVA: Many of our viewers are ready to blame us, are ready to judge us because they don't believe us. But we are ready to speak with them, I do not want to judge them. I am ready to wait, I am ready to give those people a time to make them believe me.

MCLEAN: Scott McLean, CNN, Narva, Estonia.


FISHER: Just ahead, what Ukraine's president is not willing to do to end Russia's war. And the big problems weighing in on Joe Biden's presidency. What, if anything, can he do about them?