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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Ukraine Concedes Loss of Several Towns in East to Russia; Russia Shutting Off Gas Supplies to Poland and Bulgaria; NYT: Audio Shows McCarthy Feared GOP Inciting Violence After 1/6. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 27, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Laura Jarrett. Christine Romans has the morning off.

We begin of course in Ukraine with Russian attacks intensifying in the east. Ukraine's armed forces admitted a short time ago they have now lost several towns and villages as heavy fighting rages on. Three fronts in the region. Ukraine says Russian troops are being reinforced from bases inside Russia. Something Putin's forces could not do during their failed assault on far away Kyiv.

Russia, however, is failing in the air. The UK now says Ukraine has retained control of the majority of its air space. Russia unable to conquer Ukraine's air force or its air defenses despite having more planes in the sky.

There is also new evidence emerging from Bucha showing Russian forces were indeed operating in the exact locations where the bodies of civilians were found after Russia's retreat.

CNN's Isa Soares is on the ground in Ukraine for us this morning.

Isa, good morning.

Russia has repeatedly denied that its troops had anything do with all the atrocities that we saw, but of course the pictures don't lie.

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pictures do not lie. Good morning to you.

What we are seeing is a very different story from what we're hearing from the Russians. The very disturbing story, disturbing images we've seen this morning of the atrocities being committed in Bucha and the cities just outside of Kyiv of course where scores of civilians were killed. If you remember back in April.

Now, Ukraine's top prosecutor who is compiling the evidence of Russia's -- of war crimes committed in Bucha provided our Anderson Cooper with some of the images that he's come across, that he's been really looking into, and these images are incredibly disturbing. So, a warning to our viewers for their graphic nature.

And really these photos, Laura, were taken in March and they show just ordinary civilians in Bucha going about their daily lives, some of them clearly riding their bicycles because that moment there, that is when their life was taken. Incredibly hard to watch, to look at these images. So many bodies across the streets.

And, of course, Russia as claimed time and time again that these images are fake and that this was staged. But CNN has new drone footage that really pours cold water on that claim.

I want to show you some of the drone footage. This is from March 13, and this has been authenticated and geo-located by CNN. And it shows you Russian military vehicles in the middle of that Bucha high street, that Bucha intersection. The March 13th also shows Russian soldiers parked on that Bucha main road. So incredibly worrying indeed.

In the meantime, President Putin basically pouring cold water yet again on all these claims, saying that the talk of Bucha in itself was enough to derail peace talks. Have a listen.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Unfortunately, after reaching agreements and after our clearly demonstrated intentions to create conditions for favorable conditions for the continuation of negotiations, we encountered a provocation in the village of Bucha to which the Russian army has nothing to do.


SOARES: Those comments from President Putin coming, of course, as he met with the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Moscow on Tuesday. He agreed -- President Putin agreed in principle to involve the U.N. and Red Cross in trying to evacuate civilians from Mariupol. Of course, those people I've spoken to this morning are hesitant about that because of course the many humanitarian corridors that have been open here have failed.

So far, there are about 100,000 people still trying to get out of Mariupol and about 1,000 stuck holed up inside the Azovstal steel plant -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right. Isa, thank you for your reporting, starting us off this morning.

Meantime, Russia is cutting off natural gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria now after both countries refuse to pay in rubles. Ukraine and the European Union called the move gas blackmail.

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins me now on this angle.

Clare, what is the impact of this shutoff so far?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Laura, the impact so far is extreme concern, I will say, rather than economic impact in terms of Poland and Bulgaria, lights are still on.


Poland, for example, says that it has enough gas in storage and can source it from other places for the moment, but this is a warning shot to the rest of Europe which relies on Russia for about 40 percent of its gas supplies and will struggle overall to find alternative sources. If you look at the map there, the pipeline Poland says supplies are no longer flowing through, that is there in green. And of course we expect that the flows are still going through Poland to Germany. Russia says any sign that they are siphoning off gas for transit, they will stop their supplies by that same amount.

But this is first time we see a gas stop and it's something that Russian has threatened, Russia now weaponizing its energy exports. And the EU commission president saying that they have convened a meeting of the EU gas committee, that they will come up with an EU unified response because make no mistake, this is not just a Poland and Bulgaria problem, this is an EU problem. And it could plunge large economies like Germany into a recession if we see more gas stoppages from Russia.

JARRETT: Clare, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

I want to bring in now, Major General Michael Repass, former commanding general of the U.S. Special Operations Command for Europe. He's also been in involved in education programs with the Ukrainian military since 2016.

General, so nice to have you on EARLY START this morning.

I want to start with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov calling the threat of nuclear war serious and real. Joint Chiefs chairman, General Mark Milley, said that was completely irresponsible with our Jim Sciutto in an interview yesterday, a rare interview I should mention. What do you make of the threat and Milley's comments in response?

MAJ. GENERAL MICHAEL S. REPASS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): So the threat is obviously escalatory. He has made the threat before. The comments that he made early on, probably about a month ago, and it got everybody's attention back then. And it has been calmed down since then. He brought it up again and it tells me that Russia is getting increasingly desperate.

The reality is that Russia will not use nuclear weapons unless its sovereignty is directly and materially threatened. The ten-year doctrine, they have been very open with it, I think that it is empty rhetoric out of Russia at this moment.

General Milley's comment in response was I think measured as well. He recognized that it is a serious threat, something that we need to consider, but it is not viable at this point in time.

JARRETT: Putin meantime is saying that Russia and Ukraine had managed to achieve a serious breakthrough, those are his words, during negotiations in Istanbul, but that the situation changed dramatically following the allegations against Russia for the crimes -- essentially crimes against humanity that we have seen in Bucha. Is that more empty rhetoric as well?

REPASS: It is not empty rhetoric, it is an actual problem that they have, is that Russia has committed these crimes. And that changes the nature of the negotiation there. What one side or the other is willing to give up or to compromise on. There can be no compromise on human rights violations to the magnitude that we're seeing in Ukraine now.

Many people have said this is genocide. The president of the United States said it is genocide. And I think that that is a reasonable deduction based on what we've seen in many places like Bucha and beyond.

JARRETT: Defense officials have said that there have been close encounters between U.S. forces and Russia armament, specifically unmanned aerial vehicles or drones during this ongoing war. That seems like those are not close encounters that you want.

REPASS: Of course not. We don't -- we are not at war with Russia. It is a war between Ukraine and Russia. We are enabling Ukraine's success by providing them the armaments that they need to be able to counter the invasion from Russia, and more importantly, to push Russia out of Ukrainian territory.

We are there to enable them. We are not at war with Russia. So these encounters are brought on by Russian recklessness in my opinion.

JARRETT: All right. General Michael Repass, thank you so much for getting up bright and early for me this morning. Always nice to have your insight.

REPASS: Thank you, Laura.

JARRETT: Coming up, new intrigue surrounds Vladimir Putin's alleged mistress, how the U.S. could leverage their secret relationship.

Plus, new recession warnings from a big Wall Street bank.

And four astronauts right now rocketing into history high above the earth.



JARRETT: The city of Kharkiv has been a primary target for Putin's forces with residential neighborhoods shelled nearly around the clock.

CNN's Clarissa Ward found a group of people facing the onslaught with remarkable grit.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's no rest at night for the people of Kharkiv. Flares light up the sky as artillery thunders through the air.

For nearly nine weeks, Ukraine's second largest city has been shelled relentlessly. Only by day do you see the full scale of the destruction.

The neighborhood was hit repeatedly last month, as Russian forces try to push into the city.


No site was spared, not even the local nursery school.

So it looks like this was some kind of a dormitory. You can see children's beds here all around. And then in the next room over there was their classroom.

Their shoes still litter the locker room. Mercifully, the school had been evacuated, so no children were killed in the strikes.

The mayor of Kharkiv says that 67 schools and 54 kindergartens have been hit here since the war began. What's so striking when you look around is that it's so clearly not a military target. This is a residential neighborhood.

Just a few blocks away, the bare skeleton of an apartment building. Authorities say more than 2,000 houses have been hit here. Sounds of war are never far away.

You can see this is what's left of the bedroom here. It's just astonishing.

Two doors down, we see a figure peeking out -- 73-year-old Larissa Krenina (ph) is still living there alone.

So she's saying she does have a sister who she could stay with, but she also lives in an area that's being heavily hit, and she's living in a shelter at the moment. It's from all sides, she says. From there and there, they can shell.

With her fresh lipstick, Larissa is a picture of pride and resilience -- much like this city, still standing tall in the face of a ruthless enemy.

Clarissa Ward, CNN, Kharkiv.


JARRETT: Thanks for Clarissa for another extraordinary report there.

Well, it was a symbol of Russian/Ukrainian friendship, and now, this Kyiv monument is being dismantled in the midst of a brutal war. It stood tall in the center of Ukraine's capital since it was erected back in 1982 to commemorate the reunification of Ukraine and Russia. Kyiv's mayor says the sculpture of two workers is being removed to Russia, demonstrating its, quote, barbaric desire to destroy our state and peaceful Ukrainians. Just ahead for you, the lawmakers who have a major beef with the top

bosses in the meat industry.

Plus, there are more tapes. New audio just released of Kevin McCarthy saying in private what he wouldn't say in public around January 6.



JARRETT: This morning, new audio obtained shows after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the Republican leader of the House knew his party had a problem. In frank conversations with colleagues, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, he sounds generally worried that some of the rhetoric from his fellow House Republicans could incite violence against other lawmakers.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The tension is too high. The country is too crazy. I don't want to look back and think that we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don't want to play politics with any of that.


JARRETT: That was then. And that wasn't in public.

CNN's Zachary Cohen is live in Washington, D.C. with more on this story for us. What the tapes really show to me is a man who says one thing in private and another thing in public. But if he won't hold the people that he thinks are actually doing damage to the country accountable, the people in his own party that he is talking about, where does any of this go?


I think that is the big question here and one that I think that the January 6th committee really wants to ask Kevin McCarthy.

Again, the Chairman Bennie Thompson said yesterday that the committee is weighing approaching McCarthy again and asking him to voluntarily come before the committee and talk about what he knows. We are more than a year removed from January 6 and we know that the concerns that McCarthy was voicing in this audio about the safety of lawmakers and the potential for the kind of rhetoric we were hearing from some lawmakers and continue to hear from some lawmakers could incite violence are legitimate.

Now, the USDP, the FBI and other agencies have consistently been warning about that since January 6. Now, some people have taken to heart, others have it. What is interesting here about McCarthy, despite how worried and concerned he sounds, he shifted back to his natural posture pretty quickly after this, and all of this is happening with Trump in the background and really top of mind for Kevin McCarthy going forward, especially if he wants to one day be speaker of the House.

Now, we have to see what happens there and we have to see if he can continue to keep the support of his own party. We were already seeing a lot of criticism from people like Matt Gaetz who Kevin McCarthy does name as one of the people that he is worried about. Gaetz actually pits Liz Cheney who is the vice chair of the January 6th committee and McCarthy against Gaetz and Trump.

And so, this sort of line is already being drawn there. We know the committee wants to hear from Kevin McCarthy, but that being said, we have to expect that he is probably not going to be willing to do that if he wants to be speaker of the House one day.


JARRETT: So what exactly do they want to hear from him? Haven't we heard basically everything, the unvarnished version already? What more do they want from him?

COHEN: Yeah, that is a great question because what you said, we know that Kevin McCarthy has voiced concerns like this, what is on the audiotape and there has been a lot of public reporting about his comments about Trump and the immediate aftermath of January 6. But as you pointed out at the top of segment, Laura, there is a big difference between what somebody says in private and what they say in public.

We know that the January 6 committee at the end of the day wants to hold public hearings, they want to produce a really comprehensive report that outlines what happened in the lead up to January 6 and proposes ways to make sure that it never happens again. And they think that Kevin McCarthy could share information that would help them do that.

JARRETT: Fair enough.

All right. Zach, thank you.

Up next for you, Russian leader's alleged mistress. Could the U.S. find a way to use her proximity to Putin to their advantage?

And the meat executives about to get grilled on Capitol Hill.