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Inside Politics

Satellite Images Show Entire City Blocks In Mariupol Destroyed; U.S. Believes Putin Being "Misinformed" By Advisers About War; Zelenskyy: We Need Harpoon Rockets, Anti-Aircraft Missiles; This Morning: Biden Spoke With Zelenskyy For 55 Min; Today: Senators Get Classified Briefing On Russia's War In Ukraine; Sen. King: Putin Underestimated NATO, Western Unity; Ukraine: "No Areas Without Sirens" After Russia Claims Drawdown. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 30, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello everybody, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Just last hour, President Biden speaking with Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy. That conversation happening on day 35 of Vladimir Putin's invasion. And as Russia says, it is pulling back in two key battle areas. But frontline accounts tell us something very different.

A colossal attack today in Chernihiv, that according to the city's mayor. Strike after strike throughout the night wounding, the mayor says at least 25 decimating as you can see libraries, shopping malls and apartments. Near Kyiv, the capital again no sign of that promise de-escalation. The video of Irpin keep suburb, shows empty playgrounds. The tops of buildings blown clean off, scorch tomes and mangled cars.

In Mykolaiv, at least 14 are dead, following a Russian strike on a government building. Some the mayor says, still stuck under the rubble. And in Mariupol, a clear-eyed view of what look at that, at what five weeks of shelling looks like black suit covers everything inside, building after building pancaked by Russian artillery.

The sirens and explosions everywhere provide a fresh and sober reminder to not take Moscow's word at face value. In Istanbul, attempts at diplomacy, bringing fresh disappointment. The Kremlin's chief propagandist says there have been no breakthroughs in the talks between Russia and Ukraine.

And new reporting today on the theory that Putin is being kept out of the loop. An American official telling CNN that U.S. intelligence believes the Russian leader is being deliberately misled by his advisors about the poor performance of the Russian military. CNN is on the frontlines of Putin's war, and we begin our coverage this hour in Zaporizhzhia, in southeastern Ukraine. CNN's Ivan Watson right there. Ivan, what's the latest?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have claims coming from the Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol that besieged port city. These are from the eyes of brigade, saying that a Red Cross warehouse was bombed there. They're claiming that it was hit by the Russian military. We can't confirm that, but we can show is satellite images of that warehouse apparently being hit twice in the last half of March.

And the international committee of the Red Cross spokesperson saying that, they do not have people on the ground there that they were able to empty the warehouse earlier before it was apparently hit. But they don't firsthand, know what happened there. They're urging all sides to respect humanitarian, infrastructure and personnel.

But the images that have been coming out of that city over the course of the last month are, of course devastating. They are the results of a modern-day siege, where I have personally spoken with dozens of civilians who have evacuated from that city, who described day after day of Russian artillery and airstrikes and even shelling from war shops in the nearby Sea of Azov, destroying civilian homes.

And then higher profile targets like a maternity hospital and a drama theater that hundreds of people were taking shelter in. Russia has denied that it targets civilian buildings in Ukraine. But I think the wealth of evidence suggests the exact opposite.

We've also heard of upticks of fighting overnight of long-distance shelling and airstrikes against the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital and the other besieged northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv. This comes as the Russian government has said that it's going to engage in a deescalation along those front lines. The Ukrainian president responded saying, that any sounds of Russian deescalation are drowned out by the sound of Russian bombs. John?

KING: Ivan Watson, critical reporting for us in the frontlines. Ivan, thanks to you and your crew. Keep us posted as we go through the day. Now, let's go to the White House for details on that call between President Biden and Zelenskyy just last hour. Plus, this entry, a U.S. intelligence official telling CNN, The United States believes Vladimir Putin's closest advisors have misled him about the realities of the Ukraine invasion.

Our chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is live with more. Kaitlan, let's break this into, let's start. Do we know anything yet about this call between the two presidents?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We haven't heard yet that it ended, John? They just got on the phone again about in the last hour. And we know this is, of course, part of this larger discussion that's been ongoing between the United States and Ukraine about these efforts to continue to help Ukraine, something that the president said yesterday.


They are going to continue to do despite these Russian claims of scaling back their military operation, of course, given what Ivan just laid out there, and the White House says they have no evidence that that's actually happening. And instead, they think Russia is preparing for a major offensive again, maybe just in a different part of Ukraine.

And so, this also comes, John, as they have declassified this new intelligence, they have that they believe there is this widening gap. When it comes to trust between President Putin and his top military advisors. They believe there's a lot of mistrust there, because they believe that Putin feels he has been misled by his top military advisors about what is happening in Ukraine.

When it comes to their military operation, who from the Russian military is actually there and what is happening on the ground. And the White House says that they can point to this by saying right now that he did not know that they were using conscripts in Ukraine, and of course, losing them in battles.

We've talked about Russian military deaths and the numbers there's they've tried to nail that down here. At the White House, John, and it comes as they said, we believe "that Putin is being misinformed" by his advisors about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions.

They say, John, and this is key because his senior advisors are too afraid to tell him the truth. So that really speaks to the landscape of what they believe is happening inside Russia. It comes of course, as the Pentagon has said, they've had trouble getting in touch with their Russian counterparts in the last several weeks since this invasion began.

And they're obviously declassifying that this for a reason, John, to show what they believe is happening, but it does speak to what they believe is this mistrust between Putin and his top military leadership over what's happening inside Ukraine.

KING: Kaitlan Collins, critical reporting from the White House. Come back if we learn anything else about the call between the presidents. Kaitlan, thanks so much. Just this morning before his call with President Biden, Ukraine's president repeating a demand for more weapons. Harpoon rockets he wants, anti-aircraft missiles or and anti- tank guns. Speaking to Norway's parliament, Zelenskyy again warning what is happening in Ukraine won't stop in Ukraine.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: The future of the entire continent from north to south, from east to west is being decided right now on our land, Ukrainian land, in Ukrainian airspace, in Ukrainian waters, so that your soldiers won't have to protect the countries of NATO's east.


KING: With us to share her expertise and her insights, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas. Grateful to have you in person. Let's pick up their - start there with President Zelenskyy. He says he wants more. President Biden says, he's doing everything he can, he won't give Zelenskyy some of what he wants, which is a no-fly zone. But he says he's doing everything he can to rush U.S. as weapons.

What do we know, your sources are better than ours in this area in the sense of, you know, when it gets to the countries who have Russian made weapons, that the Ukrainians can use in a snap? What do we know? How quickly are the other NATO allies, including the United States doing enough?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASST. SECY. FOR RUSSIA/UKRAINE/EURASIA: Well, so John, they're not doing enough, because obviously Ukraine hasn't prevailed, and the Russians are on the run. I mean, I think all your reporting is showing that you do not believe what the Russians say. They said they weren't invading in the first place.

So, don't believe them now, when they say they are going to, you know, essentially cease operations in one area or ratchet down. We have to watch very closely what they're doing. And this is an opportunity now for Ukraine to use the momentum they have. They have a little bit of momentum. If we can get more weapons in. I know that the administration is trying.

I don't have all the inside information as to what's in the pipeline, and how whether it can be sped up. But we need to do more. I mean, if Zelenskyy says, he doesn't have enough, and we don't see enough forward movement, then we can assume they need more. They need air defense, and of course, all the equipment for going on the office.

KING: So, walk through, put your hat on, imagine you're back in the Pentagon, in the sense of we're 35 days into this now. Every day, we get an intriguing nugget, I want to come back to what Kaitlan Collins was just saying about, your U.S. intelligence saying there's some disagreement or at least distrust some tension between Putin and his top advisors.

You have the Russians promising public yesterday. You're right to say, don't believe it. Trust your eyes, don't trust their words. They're going to - from a policy perspective, 35 days in knowing that Putin takes a long view. This invasion really started back in 2014. It's just started again. Now, how does that impact your policy? When you're getting these new pieces of intelligence or new public promises every day, but you know, this could go on for months and months and months?

FARKAS: Well, we need to first of all, source everything. So, take equipment from our allies, because that's closer to Ukraine. So, you've heard reports of, you know, equipment coming from U.S. stocks in Germany. Do things like that, as much as possible, get the equipment from the allies in the region.

I mean, I sincerely hope that the fighter pilots, the Ukrainian fighter pilots are training somewhere in NATO territory on those MiGs, frankly. But the MiGs aren't the only thing. They need S-300 for higher altitude air defense. There's a lot more we could be doing.


But I want to also say a quick thing about the humanitarian issue, John, because that's where there's a huge gap. And this is not just on the United States and NATO, the international community, the United Nations, where is the rest of the world when these people in Mariupol, they've been over 30 days in the cold, in the dark, with no toilet facilities, no water, no food. I mean, it's unconscionable that more is not being done on that front.

KING: And help me from your perspective on how we should be thinking about Vladimir Putin again, in the sense that, you know, we want to score this every day. He decides how he thinks. Bret Stephens writing in The New York Times today. Evelyn, western military analysts argue that Putin can't win militarily in Ukraine.

What they really mean is that he can't win clean. Since when has Putin ever played clean. And we know this, you know, from Chechnya, we know this from Syria. We know this because of the concerns about chemical weapons. So, in the sense of the - you have to take a long view here. When you see Putin is losing on the ground right now, that's a fair statement. But that gives you no comfort, because when Putin loses the reaction?

FARKAS: Right. And this is the problem because we all want a peace agreement, right? But if Vladimir Putin is still in the Kremlin, any agreement we have will be effectively a ceasefire. I mean, because the man will not change his objective, which is to have political control over all of Ukraine.

KING: Evelyn Farkas, grateful for coming in. And just want to note to our viewers that call between President Biden and Zelenskyy ended, as Kaitlan Collins was on the air at the top of the show ended at 12:03pm. We will try to get some new information on that. Plus, when we come back, senators today, a bit later this afternoon get a classified briefing on the situation in Ukraine. A key member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committee, joins us live next.




KING: Just a couple of hours from now, senators will get a classified briefing from Biden administration officials on Russia's war in Ukraine. Let's discuss that now with independent Senator Angus King of Maine. He's a member of both the Senate Intelligence and Services Committee. Senator King, grateful for your time today.

You're just back from the region as well, a trip to Poland. You're going to be in this briefing today. What are your one, two and three questions to the administration as we are at day 35? And the challenge is what do you do in a second month and third, fourth and beyond month of Putin's war?

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME): Well, I think one of the questions is, how fast are we getting the aid there? It's sort of a logistical question. How fast are we getting both the humanitarian and the military aid into the country? How long does it take from the president signing the order to when it hits the Ukrainian border? I think that's one of the important questions.

The other is, what's the assessment, particularly of the intelligence community of the moves that the Russians have made in the last few days? Are they really pulling back from Kyiv? Are they really moving their forces to back to the east? And what does that portend? Because there is a danger of them having an enclosure a pincer movement on the Ukrainian forces in the east that could really sort of make that extremely difficult situation for the Ukrainian.

So, lots of questions. We had a briefing yesterday, both open, both classified and unclassified with General Wolters, who's the EUCOM Commander. He's the commander of all the NATO forces in Europe. So, I had a little practice yesterday on some of these questions.

KING: Well, you also have access to information that we don't. Are you satisfied, not only with the pace of the U.S. getting what it can there, but also the other NATO allies, especially those who have Russian made equipment, Soviet made equipment, or that the Ukrainians are already trained to use? Is it moving fast enough?

SEN. KING: John, I think it is. It's been an absolutely extraordinary. And I have to call out the poles who have really stepped up, they've absorbed 4 million refugees. They've gotten assistance in their maintaining border. I was at a refugee center. What they've done is, is really amazing. And the assistance is coming from all over NATO. So, it's been that - I think that's one of the - one of Putin's major miscalculations was under estimating NATO, under estimating Joe Biden, under estimating the unity in the west.

When I came back from Poland something, somebody said, summarize what you saw in one sentence. I said, the Europeans are united, and the Ukrainians are determined. And that's certainly what's proven itself to be the case over the past month.

KING: And so, the potential heartbreak here, though, as we go into month two, the day 35 today. As we move into the eighth week and beyond, is that that resilience of the Ukrainian people, also puts them in continued danger that their fight is admirable? But we know from Chechnya, we know from Syria, Putin plays a much longer game.

So, as we move into that, does the United States have to rethink its lines, whether it's no-fly zone, whether it's those MiGs, whether it's something else? I'm not thinking about this, the president United States and NATO allies have to rethink and do more?

SEN. KING: Well, I think we're going to have to rethink depending upon Putin's next moves. I think you're absolutely right. My suspicion is that his next move will be increased bombardment of Ukrainian cities. As you say, that was the pattern in Chechnya in Grozny, and what he enabled Assad to do in Libya. And that's a brutal way of war, but that's Putin's modus operandi.

The other question, John, we're going to have to face is, what if he goes to chemical weapons? What does that mean? And what is our response? He's going to do something. I mean, he's stalled out on the battlefield. I think what they're trying to do now is move back to the east. One of his goals, his strategic goals is a land bridge from Russia across southern Ukraine along the Black Sea to Crimea.


And I think that's what the purpose, the strategic purpose of this reconstituting of the forces in the east. So, it's very much up in the air, but I'll tell you that the Ukrainians are absolutely determined. When we met with them in Poland, they were so fired up about winning this war, I leaned over to one of my colleagues and I said, Zelenskyy is going to have trouble selling a compromise, because the Ukrainians want to just flat out beat them. And I think that's going to be one of the difficulties.

They can probably come to some agreement on neutrality and the kinds of things they've been talking about the last couple days, but Putin wants land. And if he's talking about securing eastern - making eastern Ukraine part of Russia and holding on to Crimea, that's going to be a tough pill for the Ukrainians because they feel right now anyway, that they're on the front foot in this war.

KING: Senator Angus King in Maine, grateful for your time today. Senator King, and we'll touch base again, as in the days ahead, especially after this briefing, CP (Ph) learn new information. Appreciate, sir. Thank you.

SEN. KING: Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you. Up next, the battlefield latest new attacks in places, Russia has said, it would ease up and new reports of Russian supply line problems.




KING: Just now, a new Twitter readout from the Ukrainian president about his call with President Biden, President Zelenskyy says of the nearly hour-long call, "shared assessment of the situation on the battlefield and that's a negotiating table." Talked about specific defensive support, a new package of enhanced sanctions, macro financial and humanitarian aid. That from President Zelenskyy just moments ago.

And to that battlefield he was talking about, listen to this. There were "no areas without sirens" that from a senior Ukrainian official and that just our remember after Russia pledged to drastically reduce hostility. Kyiv's mayor says the capital was among the target, more proof to him, Russia lies.


MAYOR VITALI KLITSCHKO, KYIV. UKRAINE: It's not true, whole nights we listened to sirens. This mean, this records a day and we listened to a huge explosion. Instead of Kyiv and north of Kyiv is mean is battles there. The people died, still died. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's get some perspective from our CNN military analyst, retired Major General, Dana Pittard. He's the author of Hunting the Caliphate: America's War on ISIS and the Dawn of the Strike Cell. General, grateful for your time today. I know you were skeptical to begin with, but Russia said 24 hours ago, it would back off here and back off here. Kyiv and Chernihiv attacks in both places. So, you didn't buy it to begin with and your take is it could soon, maybe there's going to be a regrouping, but it could soon get worse.

MAJ. GEN. DANA PITTARD, U.S. ARMY (RET): Well, good afternoon, John. Absolutely. I wouldn't trust the Russians at this point. What they're doing is a tactical operational pause outside of Kyiv because they have to, because Ukrainians have repelled them, at least temporarily. They're continuing with their objectives in the south and in the east, to unite the Donbass region with the Crimean Peninsula. That's why Mariupol probably only has days before it may fall. But the Russians are on the move as much as they can be.

KING: And so, to your point about the south. Let me break this out and come back to just the south region. You see the red here. These are Russian gains along the port areas. If Russia has some under its control, if it's successful and taking others, there's NATO then and it's supportive the Ukrainians, in your view, need to change its posture. The specifics of what aid is willing to give if Russia gets that land bridge.

GEN. PITTARD: Well, I do think that NATO should change its posture. I mean, earlier in the show, when the people talked about waiting or reacting to Putin. Well, at this point, Putin should be reacting to NATO. And he should be wondering what NATO is going to do next.

I do think that it is time for several options. One could be humanitarian assistance zone, been declared by NATO, led by the U.S. in western Ukraine, taking it all the way from west of Kyiv, all the way south to Odessa. And that would call for NATO troops on the ground to protect that humanitarian assistance zone, air defense systems, as well as a no-fly zone.

The U.S. and NATO could also approve of Poland, which has been very supportive Ukraine, of conducting or protecting supply line convoys, in a limited way into Ukraine. They could also approve, and this might be a little more controversial, but special operations forces doing advise and assist missions, assisting the Ukrainian forces, and they bring immense capability of intelligence, and even overwatch with aircraft.

KING: Those are military options that you see as potentially helpful here. But do you see any sense President Biden has been very clear, no U.S. boots on the ground in Ukraine. The other NATO allies have been very clear even on the issue of a no-fly zone, which is a very dangerous thing. But you're talking about, if I come back to this map here, if you're talking about a humanitarian corridor here.

I mean, from Kyiv down to Odessa in the western part of the state, you're talking about a giant landmass, that would take significant number of western troops. Do you see any political will to do that, even though you think militarily it could be necessary?

GEN. PITTARD: Well, I do in some ways, it's a humanitarian mission to take care of refugees and civilians, who as we're seeing, the Russians have very few forces there. But every now and then are lobbing missiles and long-range artillery into that area, which is their imprecise weapons, so they're killing civilians.