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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Russia Strikes Five Railway Stations in Central and Western Ukraine; U.S. Secretaries of Defense and State Visit President Zelenskyy in Kyiv; President Macron Defeats Far-Right Rival Marine Le Pen to Win Second Term. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 25, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

LAURA JARRETT, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Good morning and welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world, I'm Laura Jarrett, Christine has the morning off. And we begin with breaking news out of Ukraine this morning. New Russian attacks on train stations in central and western Ukraine. The head of the country's rail systems says five stations were hit, there are casualties.

At least, one of those stations near Lviv, we will have more in a live report from there in just a moment. Also, we're following a short time ago, two Biden cabinet secretaries talking about their visit to Ukraine's capital. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin both there, the top officials from the U.S. to visit Kyiv since the Russian invasion began. Secretary Blinken revealing U.S. plans to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Ukraine.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: We will have American diplomats back in Ukraine starting next week. They'll then start the process of looking at how we actually reopen the embassy itself in Kyiv. I think that will take place over a couple of weeks will be my expectation. We're doing it carefully, we're doing it with the security of our personnel foremost in mind, but we're doing it.


JARRETT: Defense Secretary Austin also talked about the other thing Ukraine desperately needs, more weapons.


LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, UNITED STATES: We are doing everything that we can to get them the types of support, the types artillery, ammunitions that will be effective in this stage of fight.


JARRETT: CNN's Isa Soares joins me now live from Lviv, Ukraine. Isa, good morning. Talk to me about these new Russian attacks on these train stations. What more do we know?

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Laura. Let me bring viewers up to date because it's announced in the last 20 minutes or so. We know that Russian strikes have hit five railway stations in central and western Ukraine here. We know that about these airstrikes all happened within about a period of an hour or so.

One of the stations that was hit, it's about 35 miles or so from our live location here in Lviv, but this obviously a brazen attack by Russia as we see their offensive, not just the east, not just in the south, but now in central and western Ukraine. We know that there have been casualties, but we are trying to ascertain, get more details as to the extent of the damage and the attacks that's taken place in the last hour or so.

We also know that 16 trains are being held in the central-western -- Lviv area, of course, Lviv has been mostly spared, Laura, by the attacks or by Russia. But of course, it's seen by many as a place of refuge where people try to escape this war and these attacks. We've seen in the east and in the west. But incredibly worrying, we've also heard from the head of the railway station, the Russian troops -- his words here, "continue to systematically destroy railway infrastructure."

As soon as we have more details on any casualties on any more details as well, is images we shall bring that to you. But this really gives you a sense of what people have to live with day in, day out. Siren sounded about an hour or so ago In my live-shot position right here, we haven't been given the all clear. And it's against this backdrop, Laura, that we've seen the U.S. highest officials come and visit President Zelenskyy.

That visit taking place on Sunday in Kyiv. A meeting that took lastly about 3 hours or so, and it was said to be productive as well as engaging. And really, in terms of the top lines that we heard from Secretary Blinken was, Ukraine is winning, Russia is losing, as it tries to subjugate and terrorize its population. Have a listen.


BLINKEN: It's also true that Russia continues to try to brutalize parts of the country, and the death and destruction that we continue to see is horrific. But Ukrainians are standing up, they're standing strong, and they're doing that with the support that we have coordinated from literally around the world.

AUSTIN: They believe that we can win. We believe that they -- we can win -- they can win if they have the right equipment, the right support.


SOARES: And Secretary Blinken, Laura, also said -- also praised the courage of ordinary Ukrainian civilians as well as the Ukrainian troops for being -- in his words, he called them magnificent for standing up and pushing back Russian aggression. And something that really stood out for me when he spoke next in Poland, he said, "sovereign Ukraine will be around for much longer than Putin will be on the scene."


But just not words, Laura, but also deliverables. We know that also U.S. diplomats will be mixed -- will be returning to Ukraine as early as this week. We also heard from Secretary Blinken that President Biden will also announce and nominate an ambassador to Ukraine. Of course, Ukraine hasn't had an ambassador here since 2009.

And on top of that, the support that President Zelenskyy was looking for, $730 million in additional military support coming this way, important, given of course, that brutal offensive that we have seen today and in the last 60 days right here in Ukraine, Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Isa, thank you so much. A lot to digest here. Joining me now, CNN global affairs analyst Kim Dozier; she's a contributor to "Time Magazine" as well. Kim, so nice to see you this morning. As you heard Isa just mention, Blinken and Austin promises return of diplomats this week to Ukraine, and the president apparently nominating an ambassador to Ukraine after so much time. How important are these types of steps? Are they symbolic or do they go further?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, they're both. And this trip was all about -- it's a massive confidence building measure. It's also putting down a marker that the U.S., the Biden administration are not going to let Ukraine fall to a Russian invasion. It might look like Russia is on the back foot right now, but Russia is a country of more than 140 million people. If Vladimir Putin decides to have a massive recruitment drive and declare this a war, then things could change.

And the Biden administration is mindful of that, and this was a chance to have a face-to-face, frank conversation with Zelenskyy about what's working, what's not. And also to clear up some of the disagreements and friction that have soaked in, in terms of comments that Zelenskyy has made about the Biden administration, which had caught them off guard, and to have a real, just direct conversation about things like training and some of those misunderstanding.

JARRETT: So, is that why in your view, a meeting of high-level officials like this could have in some ways an even more significant impact than some of the aid that the U.S. has provided? Obviously, the weapons are important. But is that sort of where that view is coming from?

DOZIER: Absolutely. This is a chance for the officials to directly brief Zelenskyy on the kind of intelligence that they're hearing. Things that are perhaps too sensitive to say over encrypted lines, or to say things like, you know, you keep giving Germany a hard time about energy sales purchases it's making for Russia, we've got a plan for that. Back off on this, or we suggest you back off on this, because here is the choreography that we've laid out. It's a chance for Zelenskyy to say -- to report the real morale and

perhaps troop losses of Ukrainian troops, a figure that he has not made public so that they can have this back and forth. Another controversial topic is how far should Ukraine go into Ukraine -- into Russia to attack its war-fighting capability? Legally, Ukraine is within its right to attack well within Russia supply lines, et cetera, things that you see the Russians attacking.

Russia is likely attacking trains and train stations because it's trying to stop the flow of weapons and supplies to Ukrainian troops in the east of the country. This is the back and forth the U.S. officials say, look, if you do too many public attacks inside Russia, while it's legal right, you make it hard for us to keep the European coalition together. It's that kind of freight discussion they can have.

JARRETT: You know, also these officials have faced some questions about why the president didn't make the trip himself. But Zelenskyy said Saturday that Ukraine expects that when the security will allow for it, that the president -- President Biden will actually visit. Do you think that we will actually see President Biden in Kyiv? Do we need to?

DOZIER: Well, it's going to take several months as long as Russia is still lobbing rocket fire into Kyiv and to Lviv and across the country, I can't see the Secret Service saying yes to this. But this was a good dry run. One of the main things that they have learnt to head off is Zelenskyy preemptively announcing to the world that, oh, yes, they're coming.


DOZIER: He apparently, even though he's the leader, that he didn't know what the tradition is, these are unannounced surprise visits. You let the leaders get in and get out, and then you reveal to the world that they came.

JARRETT: Yes, certainly, their safety is paramount there. Kim, always great to have your expertise and analysis. Thank you for getting up bright and early for me on a Monday. Appreciate.


DOZIER: Thanks.

JARRETT: Just ahead for you, the Biden White House getting ready to announce more help for Ukraine. Plus, what Emmanuel Macron's victory in the French election could mean for the war in Ukraine. And this, a praying football coach about to get his day before the U.S. Supreme Court.


JARRETT: Welcome back. A top national security official says more aid is heading to Ukraine from the United States with an announcement due sometime this week. CNN's Jasmine Wright joins me now from Washington D.C. Jasmine, the U.S. announced two $800 million aid packages to Ukraine in just the last two weeks alone.


So, what do we know that's new about this one?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Laura, these are all about trying to prevent Russia from re-establishing itself after they've suffered real losses in its invasion at -- in the face of this Ukrainian resistance. So, while the details are likely still being hammering out by U.S. officials, I think we can take a look at what deputy National Security adviser Jon Finer said yesterday when he was kind of describing the goal of these continued assistance to Ukraine. Take a listen.


JONATHAN FINER, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We've been announcing deliverables, which is a fancy word for things that we are providing to Ukrainians to enable their fight just about every day, and if not every day, every week. And we will have more to say about that in the week ahead. Our objective is to continue to enable the types of activity that allowed Ukrainians to win a victory in the battle for Kyiv.


WRIGHT: Finer made a critical point there, because, listen, the U.S. has steadily been providing Ukraine with assistance from weaponry growing, kind of more high-powered as the shipments come, as well as assistance in money, really trying up to -- showing on the screen here, you can see just part of that aid from last week, more howitzers, tactical vehicles, field equipment, not exactly some of the things like fighter jets that President Zelenskyy has advocated for.

But still some high-powered weaponry here, really as the U.S. notices that the fighting is shifting not only to the Donbas region, but also in the kind of fighting that they are expected to do. So, this is just another one of these security assistance really at this point, totaling about $3.4 billion.

But I think one important thing to note here is what President Biden said last week when he was announcing that last $800 million package. He said that eventually, Congress is going to have to step in again to provide some of these assistance as well, really putting a fine point there I think we can say, Laura, on the idea from U.S. officials that this war is far from over, and that they're going to need continued assistance as they view it to be very critical here to Ukraine's success on the battlefield. Laura?

JARRETT: All right, Jasmine, thank you for your reporting as usual. Meantime, in France, President Emmanuel Macron beat back a historic challenge from a far-right opponent to win a second term. Macron defeated Marine Le Pen in Sunday's runoff vote to become the first French leader in 20 years to win re-election. CNN's Jim Bittermann is live in Paris for us. Jim, this race had pretty big consequences even far beyond France.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I think there was a collective sigh of relief across Europe, you could almost hear that Emmanuel Macron got re-elected mainly because his opponent Marine Le Pen would have brought all sorts of challenges to the European institutions like NATO, like the European Union -- she was against those. Although she's pro-Putin, and so her impact and the consequences for the Ukrainian war might have changed.

Mr. Macron of course has been quite supportive, before the war, he tried to head it off with some tireless diplomacy. And once it got started, he's been a great supporter of President Zelenskyy and Ukraine. And it's kind of an indication of an acknowledgment of his role as intermediary here that he received within 24 hours of his victory last night. He received congratulations both from Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Laura?

JARRETT: All right, Jim Bittermann, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Coming up, sanctions on Russia has thousands of luxury cars stuck in park. But first, a football coach gets his case heard before the Supreme Court. Does he have a prayer?



JARRETT: U.S. Supreme Court today returns to the question of prayer in public schools. The justices will hear arguments in a case involving a high school football coach in Washington State who was reprimanded and eventually lost his job for quietly praying on the field after each game. Let's bring in CNN's Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue. Ariane, good morning. This is the second time this case has actually reached the high court. What are you watching for today?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right, you're right. This case did briefly come before the Supreme Court, and the justices didn't rule on the merits back then. But several of the conservative justices, they seek just -- they were sympathetic with the coach's case. Because the coach, as soon as he started his job back in 2008, he started quietly praying on the sidelines.

And the school districts seemed OK with that, but then things got much bigger. Other players started joining him, fans, even players from the other team at one point, and that's when the school district said, this goes too far. And they offered him an accommodation and said, look, don't pray on the 50-yard line, but you can go to a classroom to say your prayer. And he rejected that.

He said that, that made him feel like he had to go into hiding into hiding, and he eventually turned around and sued them on First Amendment grounds. But the school district, Laura, comes back and says looks, we cannot look like we're endorsing religion. And if you're on the 50-yard line, while the fans are still there, it really does look like that. And they said that some players might feel coerced into praying. So, that's the heart of this dispute, and it comes of course, with

this conservative court as bolstered by some of President Trump's nominees that has really been working in recent years to expand the religious rights of religious believers.

JARRETT: You mentioned that some of the justices already seemed somewhat sympathetic to his --

DE VOGUE: Yes --

JARRETT: Case here.


How do you think the current alignment of the court is going to affect the arguments? Which justices in particular are you watching for today?

DE VOGUE: Well, you've got to look at that right-wing of this court. Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, Alito, Barrett, Kavanaugh. They have all looked at religious -- religion cases and really expanded rights with the liberals on the bench like Justice Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor, they look at this, they're saying, look, we have to have a wall between church and state. That's the tension here. And so of course, you know, the conservatives on this court are in the majority.

JARRETT: So, it's interesting. The coach, his name is Joe Kennedy. He wrote an op-ed about what's going on, where he says this. "Teachers could be fired for praying over their lunch in the cafeteria if students can see them." I think that's an interesting argument. What is the school district's response to that type of claim?

DE VOGUE: Right, you're right. But the school district says what happened here is nothing like a school teacher in the cafeteria silently for a moment bowing their head. They see a big difference because this is much more of a spectacle. It's on the 50-yard line. It's after the game.

Fans very often are still in the stands. And they said, the difference is, is that prayer looked much more like it was Joe Kennedy as a coach versus Joe Kennedy as a private individual, and that's where the school district gets worried when a coach looks like he is endorsing one religion for his players.

That's the difference that they're going to try to make in court today. But, you know, the conservatives may see this differently. They may see this as just a private person who has the right to prayer. So it's an interesting line that they're going to have to draw today.

JARRETT: Do you know if any students or parents have objected to what he's doing? Have you seen any interesting amicus briefs on this?

DE VOGUE: So, in the record, there is some thought that some students said, look, I didn't want to pray, but had to pray because I really wanted to get time on the field with the coach. Now, I interviewed the coach and he came back and he said, look, I made it clear that nobody had to pray. He was really pretty forceful about that. But you can see the delicate line here because who knows what the student is feeling about a prayer especially if it's a coach and maybe the student wants some more playing time.

So that has come up a little bit in the record, and they're sure to bring it up in the arguments.

JARRETT: Oh, yes, for sure. If a student feels at all sort of compelled one way or another because of what he's doing to get more playing time, that is certainly going to be interesting to see how the justices treat that. All right --

DE VOGUE: Yes --

JARRETT: Ariane, thank you so much for bringing us up to speed on this case. Very interesting.

DE VOGUE: Thanks.

JARRETT: All right. Just a short time ago, the U.S. Defense Secretary talking about his trip to Kyiv. What he said about Ukraine's troops and winning. And Twitter executives now said to be taking Elon Musk's buyout offer seriously. What could have changed their minds? That's next.