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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Putin Delivers Defiant Speech at Moscow's Military Parade; Finland Debates Whether it Should Apply to Join NATO; First Lady Jill Biden in Slovakia After a Surprise Ukraine Visit. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 09, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, it is Monday, folks, May 9th, I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Laura Jarrett. How was your Mother's Day?

ROMANS: It was nice. How was yours?

JARRETT: Very nice. Very nice. So, we have a lot to get to this morning. We begin with Vladimir Putin delivering a defiant speech just a short time ago in Moscow's Red Square right before a military parade marking the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. Putin defended Russia's invasion of Ukraine, claiming the West was creating threats next to Russia's borders and preparing for aggression.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT, RUSSIA (through translator): In Kyiv, they were talking about the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons. The NATO bloc started developing -- actively developing territories adjacent to us and, therefore, in a planned way, were creating absolutely of unacceptable threat immediately next to our borders. Everything pointed to a collusion with the Nazism -- with the Nazis and banderites that was inevitable and that was supported by the West.


ROMANS: Joining us now from Finland, CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. Nic, you listened to that speech. The world listening to Putin's victory day speech, the pomp and circumstance finishing just last hour. And here's the logic from Vladimir Putin amid indiscriminate shelling of Ukraine's civilians inside Ukraine's borders. Putin's logic is this is self-defense for Russia.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It's an inversion of reality, but it's a -- but it's a version of reality that he sells to the Russian population. His popularity is riding high. He must sell the war as a success. It was interesting that his speech was relatively short. It was interesting that his speech spoke only about Donbas and not giving particular clues to its continuation, and the fact that he might want to take more of Ukraine or potentially the whole of Ukraine.

No clues there, but it gives a degree of ambiguity that perhaps allows him to stall out this fight in a matter of months or maybe -- or maybe years, just not clear. But it does give him the ambiguity to say that he was only ever going after Donbas. He didn't set himself a higher target, talking about the fighters of Donbas and the Russian fighters fighting for the motherland.

But really, as you and I and our audience will see, an inversion of reality that's typical of Putin and plays on points that he was making about Ukraine being a launch pad for NATO that go back before the war actually started, the criticisms he had back then.

JARRETT: Nic, he didn't -- he defended the invasion, of course, but he didn't declare war on Ukraine as some had speculated he might do. He also didn't declare victory in this war. Does it signal sort of where he thinks he might be losing this?

ROBERTSON: It certainly signals that he is not as confident as he was a few months ago going into this, where he thought he had an early -- an easy victory awaiting him and his forces. It's perhaps because he doesn't talk about getting into a wider war, and that's despite the fact that we've heard a lot of his sort of very pro-Kremlin commentators and anchors on Russian state TV talking about time to take the gloves off, time to get out of the special military operation and declare war.

He didn't do that. And perhaps, that speaks to the disconnect and the lack of sort of ground support for young men to become conscripts in a bigger Russian war here on the border of Finland and Russia just a couple of days ago. I met a young Russian who was fleeing because he told me he did not want to fight the war. He didn't want to get conscripted into war in Ukraine. And there is -- and there have been attacks on conscription centers, recruitment centers in Russia.

And perhaps, Putin recognizes this. That while his popularity is high, there perhaps isn't enough support for a war that may not go his way. So if he escalates and loses, that's worse than maintaining what he has, and finding a strategic, calculated narrative of victory that, of course, isn't.


ROMANS: Yes, there's this whole like Russian media image that's being projected inside Russia, but once you start to have more funerals, right? And more soldiers coming home, one wonders if that turns the tide. But this message today wasn't for any of us. This was not for the rest of the world. This was an internal audience he was speaking to, right?

ROBERTSON: Hugely so. And best interpreted that way, that he really needs to keep this narrative of we're fighting Nazism, this ties him with our history. This is about fighting with the motherland. I mean, it wasn't just his speech obviously. This parade is very well choreographed in advance. But every shot of

those Russian generals sort of just stop their vehicles, just stopping right where the cameras were, panning off the faces of these Russian generals onto the soldiers chanting in support of the careful shots behind President Putin of a veteran with a whole chest full of medals.

It's all designed to play into that narrative of support. But look at those people lined up behind Putin. Look at everyone who wasn't a service man on duty on parade there. They were an older generation, and this is the generation that Putin is appealing to. And I think, you know, that perhaps tells us a lot of what's going on in Russia. That he doesn't have the full and unchallenged support of the younger generation that he appears to have with the majority of the older generation. That's part I think, of what we're seeing happening in Russia today.

JARRETT: That generational divide is an interesting context. Nic, you're obviously on the ground in Finland, a country that has a pretty big decision to make. If now isn't the time for Finland to join NATO, when?

ROBERTSON: It is now, and the majority of Finns are saying that. The latest calculations, these are -- these are estimates of what the 200- member parliament is thinking, 122 is the latest figure in some Finnish media of those that support joining NATO. The people that we speak to on the streets here, the vast majority are in favor of supporting. And they really came to that realization very quickly after Putin invaded Ukraine.

They recognized that Finland's long history of being non-aligned, being a member of the European Union, training with NATO troops, but not actually being a member of NATO wasn't going to save them if Russia decided to act aggressively against Finland. So, really, we've seen that ground, as well a change. And later this week, parliament is expected to really make clear what its decision is going to be, the foreign affair -- the foreign ministry will give its response to parliament.

We'll hear from the prime minister, from the president later this week, and that will really set the tone and set the course. But I think it's pretty much expected without doubt, that the government here will say we would like to join NATO. That's the broad expectation.

ROMANS: And so, Vladimir Putin who says the reason he invaded Ukraine is because NATO got too close to his doorstep, that invasion of Ukraine will cause NATO to get even --


ROMANS: Closer to his doorstep.


ROMANS: So, one wonders what the reaction there will be. Nic Robertson, thank you so much for that great analysis, Nic. JARRETT: Thanks, Nic.

ROMANS: All right, coming up, the first lady Jill Biden in Europe right now. More on her surprise visit to Ukraine.

JARRETT: Plus, a surprise concert in a war zone. Hear some of the U2 show in a bomb shelter.

ROMANS: That's cool. And the battle over abortion underway this week on Capitol Hill.



ROMANS: Welcome back. Good morning. First lady Jill Biden is in Slovakia right now, fresh off of her surprise visit to Ukraine, where she met with Ukraine's first lady. CNN's Jasmine Wright is live for us this morning. Jasmine, we haven't seen Ukraine's first lady in public since the war began. A powerful moment. What brought these two first ladies together?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Christine. Look, it was a Mother's Day celebration of sorts. First lady, Dr. Jill Biden, she said she wanted to cross over the Slovakian border into the now war-torn country to show the people of Ukraine that the United States stands with them. Take a listen, here.


JILL BIDEN, U.S. FIRST LADY: I wanted to come on Mother's Day. I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war has to stop, and this war has been brutal, and that people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine.


WRIGHT: So, there we heard from Dr. Biden giving those important remarks. After she spoke, the first lady of Ukraine spoke. And then after that commenced about an hour-long closed-door bilateral between the pair. Now, this all happened about 15 miles over the Western border of Ukraine at a former school now turned into a refuge for displaced families. And, of course, this visit by Dr. Biden marks just the latest high profile visit from an official in the Biden administration.

We know that just a few weeks ago, we saw Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, of course, Nancy Pelosi was there also recently. And now also notably here, Laura, is that this marks the first time since 2008 that a first lady of the United States has visited a war-torn country.


So a very important day for Dr. Biden. And it came about three days in of a four-day eastern European trip to Romania and Slovakia where she's been meeting with government officials, humanitarian aid and of course, dozens and dozens of refugees and their families now displaced from Ukraine.

And so, today, we will see her continue on the last day of her trip. She's in Slovakia. She's going to meet with the president just momentarily there before she returns to D.C. this evening.

ROMANS: All right, Jasmine, thank you so much for that. Nice to see you this morning. Laura?

JARRETT: Meantime, American diplomats have returned to Kyiv for the first time since Russia's invasion. CNN's Scott McLean joins us live in Lviv in western Ukraine. Scott, good morning. Now, this doesn't mean the U.S. Embassy is about to reopen.

ROMANS: No, but they certainly are working toward that, they say. This visit by the chief of mission there, who is a career diplomat, not a political appointee, is largely symbolic. They'll be there for a few days to meet with local officials, meet with their Ukrainian counterparts to try to get some work done. But this is a small contingent of diplomats, this is not a full on embassy reopening that we've seen with some of the other embassies in Kyiv.

It is pretty tough, Laura, to be an American diplomat in Ukraine these days, because of course, you're working from Poland. It was about ten days or so before the war began, that the embassy in Kyiv was relocated briefly to Lviv here for about a week, and then it was just a few days before the war that they actually moved and started working permanently out of a hotel in Poland. And that is where they've been ever since.

It was actually last week for the first time that the chief of mission and a small number of staff people were here in Lviv for meetings two days out of last week. And then now, they've gone back to Kyiv. As I mentioned, largely, symbolic, but also you can imagine the amount of planning that goes into this kind of thing because the Americans are quite security conscious. They are getting bolder, though, it seems in their choices.

A couple of weeks ago, of course, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, they were here visiting with President Zelenskyy, and then yesterday, we had the first lady just going just across into Ukrainian territory in Uzhhorod there to meet with the Ukrainian first lady. In terms of the May 9th celebration, this is the day that we thought that many western officials figured Russia would capitalize on the symbolism of it, perhaps to declare war, perhaps to declare victory or announce some kind of an escalation.

And really it seems like it's been quite quiet for now. There have been some -- according to local officials, missile strikes in Odessa, but there was not the parade that some predicted to take place in Mariupol. In terms of the battle lines right now, according to the Ukrainians, they say that the Russians continue to keep their powder dry in the eastern part of the country in anticipation of this Ukrainian counter offensive that is taking place as the Ukrainians slowly inch by inch take back land. They have thousands of troops, according to the Ukrainians just inside

the Russian border in Belgorod ready to be deployed in the event that the Ukrainians get close to that border. The most intense fighting is taking place in Donetsk where the Russians are trying to push through those frontlines. But they're not having very much success according to the Ukrainians. And as we've seen, time and time again, when the Russians don't make progress on the ground, they seem to shell the towns and villages on the other side of the frontline.

And that is what we've seen, especially in Luhansk region where, of course, that school was just bombed and officials there say that they are not able to fully excavate that site to see if there are survivors still trapped there, Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Scott McLean, thank you for your reporting.

ROMANS: Yes, more on that school believed to be shelled. Ukrainian officials say they believe as many as 60 people killed over the weekend in that bombing of a school being used as a shelter in eastern Ukraine. It comes in the final hours before President Putin's victory day address. CNN's Sam Kiley has the story.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This for Vladimir Putin is what a modern Russian victory looks like. Dozens dead or missing from a Russian air-strike on a Russian-speaking village as part of a Russian campaign that Putin says is to protect his kin folk in Ukraine. The rescuers are saying the heat is overwhelming.

Local authorities fear about 60 people died here. This was a school in Bilohorivka, in eastern Ukraine. Villagers were sheltering in its basement. Some had been there for weeks. Survivors were left with little, but grief. We asked if his family had been with him. His mother didn't survive.


(on camera): It is not lost on anybody here that on the eve of Vladimir Putin's celebration of the Soviet victory in the Second World War over Nazi Germany, it is civilians who are suffering the most in the name of Vladimir Putin's denazification of Ukraine. A country with a Jewish president.

"I got slammed down by a slap, bent into a bull. Then another explosion, small rocks sprinkled darkness. Then, I looked and the dust settled and a ray of light appeared. Sergey(ph) crawled out, then he dug me out. Dug uncle Tolia(ph) out. Dug aunt Ira(ph) out. We crawled all in a fog", he said. Ukraine has stalled Russia's plans for conquest. So the Kremlin's added strategic sites like oil supplies to its target list and stepped up its airstrikes against civilians in eastern Ukraine, this week hitting a residential block in the strategic city of Kramatorsk.

Ukrainian politicians refer to Putin's campaign ideology as a fascist creed they call Russism. Speaking soon after their latest airstrike, he said they shoot prisoners, they torture women and children, they rape, they loot, they go step-by-step towards Nazism. Such explanations for what is happening here don't really answer the painful question, why? Sam Kiley, CNN, Bakhmut.


JARRETT: Sam, thank you for that report. Coming up for you this week, we are going to find out where every U.S. Senator stands on abortion. We have all those details just ahead.

ROMANS: And gas prices are rising again. We'll also find out what Joe Biden plans to do about inflation. More next.



JARRETT: The fight over abortion rights heats up on Capitol Hill this week. A Democratic bill to write the essence of Roe versus Wade into law is headed for a Senate vote on Wednesday. But it's going nowhere fast. Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, nevertheless, says the vote will put every member on the record on abortion.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): This is no longer an abstract exercise. This is the real deal, and everyone's eyes are on them. So we can always hope and we must have this vote, every senator must show where he or she stands.


JARRETT: Two prominent GOP supporters of some abortion rights, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have signaled they will oppose the Democrats' bill. They said they will introduce their own narrower abortion rights bill, allowing states to keep some restrictions in place.

Meantime, police in Madison, Wisconsin, are investigating vandalism and arson at the offices of a political organization that lobbies against abortion rights and same-sex marriage -- sorry for the graphic at the beginning there to throw you off. The fire at the Wisconsin Family Action Office broke out early on Sunday morning. Graffiti written on the building's wall reads, "if abortions aren't safe, then you aren't either."

ROMANS: OK, now here comes the graphic. Inflation --

JARRETT: There you go --

ROMANS: Issue number one for the White House and likely for voters heading into the Midterm elections. President Biden set to lay out a plan to fight inflation Tuesday. Inflation running hot since last August, the annual inflation rate well above the normal 2 percent to 4 percent range for a full year now. A CNN poll last week found 8 in 10 American adults said the government wasn't doing enough to curb inflation.

And majorities said the president's policies have hurt the economy. The White House says the president will also contrast his inflation plan with what it calls Republicans' ultra mega plan to raise taxes and phase out popular programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

JARRETT: Just ahead, why China's President Xi should be careful not to take a page from Vladimir Putin's playbook.

ROMANS: Plus, Bono and the Edge go underground their live set inside a bomb shelter.