Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Ukraine Won't Confirm Or Deny Strike On Russian Fuel Depot; Ukraine: Russia "Trying To Concentrate" Missile Systems In Belarus; Pentagon: "Russians Want To Reprioritize" Operations In Donbass; Ukrainian City Of Odessa Braces For Renewed Russian Assault; Russia- Ukraine Negotiations Continue With Few Signs Of Progress; Ukraine Retakes Critical Kyiv Suburb Of Irpin; U.S. Adds 431K Jobs In March, Unemployment Falls To 3.6 Percent; Biden: Putin's War Has Driven Up Food & Gas Prices Worldwide. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 01, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Today, a battlefield first, a striker behind Russian lines. But there is confusion this hour about who's responsible and what happens next.

The moment of impact look here, caught on video. You can see it low flying helicopters, firing at a Belgorod fuel depot and a bright orange burst, signaling a direct hit. The aftermath 3.5 million gallons of fuel on fire. Russian state media says, this strike set eight tanks ablaze and the fire might still spread. Video posted on social media captures another view of the strike.

Russia says, those are Ukrainian helicopters, but Ukraine's ministry of defense would not take credit or even comment on the attack. Also today, another attempt to get people out of Mariupol. That city has been in a Russian vise grip for weeks. A government official says, while some have gotten out, aid is not yet getting in.

And more on the ground signs today, that Russia is retooling. Ukraine's defense minister says Russia is now concentrating its missile systems in Belarus. Ukraine continues to make gains on the ground. This is Irpin, Kyiv suburb, now back under Ukrainian control. But the price you see in the pictures, they're just beyond steep. A drive through the city shows nowhere and nothing left on scarred by Vladimir Putin's was.

CNN, of course, is on the frontlines of Putin's invasion. Let's get first to Lviv, and CNN's Phil Black. Phil, what's the latest?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's social, the latest is that Ukrainian and its military have been and continue to be deliberately vague about who was responsible for this strike, which you have just been discussing. In their words, they have said, we can neither confirm nor deny. Now that is very different to what Russian officials have said.

They say that Ukrainian helicopters crossed the border, flew low, approach the city of Belgorod and attacked that fuel depo. We see the video. We see the fire. We see the strike. So, the question is, who did this? The implication that Ukraine did, it would seem to be that they have sophisticated capability and they have launched this bold strike in order to go after a seemingly high value target on Russian territory.

It's something that's bigger in many ways than anything we've seen over the course of this war so far. But given the vague and unclear response, it points to only a couple of possibilities here. One is that yes, Ukraine did do this, but it's choosing to be publicly ambiguous perhaps for operational reasons, or some other cause. Or this is the result of Russian action, and yet either deliberate or accidental, and yet they are choosing publicly so far, to state that Ukraine was responsible for this attack on their own territory, John?

KING: Phil Black for us live on the ground in Lviv. Phil, thanks very much for the latest. And let's get some more context now, important insights from retired Air Force Colonel, CNN military analyst, Cedric Leighton. Colonel, great to have you with us. Obviously, here's the area.

We talked about Belgorod in the early days of the war because our Fred Pleitgen was there, and we were watching it, a staging ground for Russian forces coming in. Now we have this, and with this, it says freeze frame of this helicopter. From your experience, what is that?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): This is Mi-24 helicopter. And it's one of the helicopters that the Russians and other countries have used for attacks. It is used in all kinds - has been used in all kinds of conflicts like the Chechen wars, as well as, of course, Georgia, and then there's south of such a campaign. Plus, of course---

KING: You mentioned Russian is using, but Ukraine, this Ukraine have those helicopters.

LEIGHTON: They do. They do have these helicopters. Yes.

KING: And so, Ukraine's defense ministry says no comment, the Russian say that's a Ukrainian helicopter. Can't tell from that picture.

LEIGHTON: No, you can't. No markings that you can discern from this. And it's also possible that the markings were blacked out in order to hide exactly who was flying this aircraft.

KING: And so, I just want to comment and show our viewers back to this, Phil Black, we use some of this with Phil Black. When you see something like that, though, this would be - if you are the Ukrainians, this would be a high value target. Because we've talked repeatedly for weeks about logistics, keeping your forces fueled up and fed. There's the fuel.

LEIGHTON: Absolutely, and this is a direct hit on a fuel storage facility. It's very clear from the type of fire that you see right here, John, that it's petroleum products that are burning, and what we call POL, petroleum oil lubricants. This is what you need in order to fly aircraft of multiple types. And hitting this is a perfect military target.

KING: So, let's come back out to the bigger map, as we look at it here in the sense that, this is just across the border, literally you're talking just to several miles across the border. If, if and we don't know that ministry again - the Ukrainian ministry of defense say no comment. If this is Ukraine, for the first time hitting a target on Russia's side of the border. Would you view that as a change in strategy or just a target of opportunity, a moment of opportunity?


LEIGHTON: In this case, I would say it's a moment of opportunity. However, it could be a harbinger of a change in strategy where they're actually trying to bring the war. The Ukrainians are trying to bring the war home to the Russians, at least in part now, it's only 18 miles from the border to Belgorod. That is an easy target from a military standpoint, in a distant standpoint. If they go further, deep into Russia, that would be a market change in the way they're conducting the war from the Ukrainian standpoint.

KING: Another thing we're heard today from the Ukrainian ministry of defense is that it believes Russia is moving missiles over here to Belarus. So, what would be the strategic meaning significance of that?

LEIGHTON: So, what they would be doing, if they moved, let's say, missiles, Kyiv being right here, and that would - that would be this area right here, you could still move missiles into places like here and still hit Kyiv without any problem. The missiles that the Russians use, have that range, most of them do. And they could easily hit targets, like Kyiv, Irpin, any of the others that are really important for that particular objective of the Russian war aims, which I believe has not changed by the way.

KING: And from a Ukrainian defense standpoint, this would be a bold new development, sending your helicopters across the border. If that is the case, what do you do? We know troops came in from Belarus. We know that Russian planes have flown from here. The Pentagon says, they usually come right around the border, then go back, they're not coming too deep into Ukraine. If there is a significant buildup of missiles here, is there much Ukraine can do from its side of the border about that?

LEIGHTON: They would have to mount attacks like they did on Belgorod. If they did that, in order to get those kinds of missiles and get their launch sites, it would be very important for them to do that. They would have to go to the source to the launching site, and be able to eliminate that, of course that then risks spreading the war out, and then Belarus could use that as an excuse to enter the war on Russia side.

KING: Let me bring you lastly over here. The Pentagon also says it expects increased has already been significant military activity over here. But in the Donbass region, obviously, sometimes the map itself, the Russian troops in these radars explains it. But why, why at this moment? Would you be looking for Russia to increase military activity in the Donbass? LEIGHTON: This is Russia moving, it is a tactical move, not a strategic move on their part, their strategic war aims remain the same. But the Russians are seeing this as a target of opportunity, in a sense, because it is one of their war aims, they wanted to expand. This area right here that you hit, where you have the separatists- controlled area, they want to expand that even further into an area about like this. And that then gets them a bigger portion of Ukraine that they can outright control. And that, of course, is the goal. They could also link that up, of course, with the Russian occupied areas down here.

KING: Cedric Leighton, grateful for your insights. And as you draw that map down the coast, you see Odessa over here still under Ukrainian control, the fighting in here. Let's go to Odessa now. It's right along the southern Ukrainian coast. That city in the middle right now preparing for unexpected renewed Russian assaults. CNN's Ed Lavandera is right there. Ed, what's the latest?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, here in southern Ukraine in Odessa, this is a key port city on the Black Sea. And many people here watching anxiously what you're just now talking about, exactly how those forces mostly in the north will be repositioning in the east. There are already Russian forces that have made their way about halfway between Odessa where I am and Mariupol.

And those Russian - those forces - those Russian forces have essentially stalled out in the last week. And it's been relatively quiet here. But given the movement that we're seeing from Russian forces in the north, many people here trying to figure out exactly what is Russia up to? What are they going to do next? And does that mean? Because early on in this war, in this invasion, there was a lot of talk that Odessa would be a key prize for the Russian forces, that that would essentially make Ukraine a landlocked country.

So, there's been a great deal of focus fortification all around the city, even as the city kind of goes route - goes about its daily business. So, because of what is happening in those troop movements that we're seeing, and the strategy shift, apparently by Russia, many people here are, John, anxiously watching what that will mean and what the timeline of all of this will be in the days if not weeks ahead. John?

KING: Ed Lavandera, live for us on the streets of Odessa. Ed, thanks so much for that important report. And next we go live to Kyiv. A member of Ukraine's parliament joins us to share her assessment of the continued Russian shelling around the capital, and her take on whether there is any hope for peace talks.



KING: There is another round of talks today between Ukraine and Russia. But there is little reason to believe there is any end to Vladimir Putin's invasion in view. A horrifying number today from Ukraine's prosecutor's office. 153 children have been killed since the start of this invasion. On the battlefields more images of the destruction caused by Russian bombs and missiles, but also reports of Ukrainian forces reclaiming towns and checkpoints.

Let's get some insights now from a member of Ukraine's parliament, Kira Rudik, who is live for us in Kyiv. Let me start right there. You are in the capital city. Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin said they were going to deescalate, there will be fewer attacks in and around the capital. Are you seeing any evidence of that?

KIRA RUDIK, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER/GOLOS PARTY LEADER: Hello, thank you so much for having me. Right now, we see that the troops on the ground are really pulling off. However, the shelling of the city for the last two days had intensified. In fact, the amount of area that hacks and sirens for the last couple of days were the largest in the beginning of the war.


So, we think that in your, Russian static is to pull some troops, but to continue shelling even with increased intensity. This is again gives us additional and additional argument to the western countries saying, look, we do need the equipment to protect ourselves from the skies. We are fighting so hard on the ground that Russians are cooling off. But we need means to protect ourselves from this guy because here Russians will not be pulling off.

KING: We are watching quite provocative video of two helicopters launching a strike on Russian fuel depots, Russian tank and fuel tanks in Belgorod, on the Russian side of the border obviously, near the city of Kharkiv. The Russian say, it's the Ukrainians. The Ukrainian defense ministry is declining comment. Do you know anything about this? Do you know, do Ukrainian military forces have permission to go across the border and attack targets in Russia if they see an opportunity?

RUDIK: So today, we had the parliamentary seating, and we were asking these questions, the government, and they did not confirm nor deny that this happened on the order of Ukrainian manner. So, we will be waiting for the official statement about that, as none of us is actually a military. So, given the sensitivity of the situation from our generals.

KING: I understand the sensitivity both politically and militarily. But do you believe after enduring a more than a month of this and Russia indiscriminately bombing civilian targets. That if those opportunities present themselves, especially for something key to logistics, like fuel tanks that the Ukrainian military should, should launch strikes across the border.

RUDIK: But we should not omit a provocation because we knew that Russia was preparing something like exploding something on their own, and then claiming it on Ukraine. Especially, given that right now the negotiations are for letting the humanitarian convoys out of these huge cities. I would be really, really careful with any comment here. And every single piece of certainty that I can give our communication group to be able to get people out of the cities, I would give them, even if it's a benefit of a doubt.

KING: I certainly understand the sensitivity and the delicate nature of this. So, let's move on to those negotiations. There are more talks today. It is good that the two sides are talking, but as you know better than I, there's been very little evidence of any breakthroughs. I want you to listen to.

This is Ambassador William Taylor, the former U.S. ambassador to your country, Ukraine, saying he believes it could be possible that perhaps Russia would stand down if as part of negotiations, it's not joining NATO, Ukraine would have to say no, we will not join NATO, but some form of security guarantees could be constructed. Listen?


WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Russia is isolated and damaged and might be willing to go into some kind of an agreement that says, that the United States and Germany and Turkey can give a security guarantee to Ukraine. That would be OK with them.


KING: You mentioned the conversations among the parliament members today. What is acceptable to you? What can be sold to the parliament at large about some sort of a deal where Ukraine would give up its hope of ultimately joining NATO, but perhaps get some sort of firm security guarantees some alternative.

RUDIK: So, it only needs to start with the security guarantees that we are getting and the terms on which we are getting them. So, this is the main key point, that if we will be able to claim some security guarantees and assemble like some sort of deal, every point to second and third will come after this the first one. So, what is acceptable for Ukraine? First of all, we would not give up any further territories. This is non-negotiable. Second, we need a solution for the Crimea and Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

So, far I didn't see an acceptable ideas for these territories because Ukraine will always claim that it is Ukraine. And the NATO non - the neutral statues and all the other items that were on the negotiation list. We can talk about them later once we know that the security guarantees are in place. Because right now, we are basically talking about the air that is non confirmed and this just talk about some ideas.

Again, when we are talking about the neutral statues. We need to consider a couple of things. First, in 2014 when Ukraine didn't in fact have the neutral statues and had it written in constitution. It did not stop putting from attacking. Second, if we are talking that we will get the security guarantees from the countries that will allow us to say, OK, then the neutral statutes could be accepted, because we are getting the security different way rather than joining NATO.


So again, as I said, it will all come down to the guarantees, which countries will provide these guarantees in which form it will be given and how certain we will be that we don't need this aim of NATO and join it because we will get the same thing, the same deal somewhere else.

KING: And obviously, another complication that what you know, to all of Vladimir Putin, finally, at some point negotiating in good faith, which has not happened as yet. Kira Rudik, grateful for your insights, important insights from the parliament and your personal perspective from Kyiv. Thank you very much. We'll circle back in the days ahead.

Up next for us. We returned to domestic news here in the United States and other blockbuster jobs report, hiring is booming. The unemployment rate is falling, inflation though, clouds what in normal times, would be a giant political gift for the Biden White House.



KING: President Biden celebrating strong new jobs numbers today and with good reason. Take a look. the United States economy adding 431,000 jobs in March. The unemployment rate dipping to a new pandemic low. You see it right there, just 3.6 percent, inflation remains high though. So, the president not getting the political boost that such great jobs numbers might normally bring.


JOE BIDEN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PRESIDENT: Even though we created a record number of jobs, we know, I know that this job is not finished. We need to do more to get prices under control.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, Kasie Hunt, CNN plus anchor of "The Source with Kasie Hunt," Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times, and CNN's Kaitlan Collins. You can even see it Kaitlan Collins right there and the president.

This is a day where they should be doing high fives and handstands at the White House. It is another, not just one month, it is after months and months of good jobs reports. And yet, even a little bit of resignation in the president's tone, because he knows he can't over celebrate these numbers because people every day are getting kicked with inflation.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And his own poll numbers that are reflecting what the economy is showing and what people are feeling. And so, they're trying to hammer home this good news that's showing up in these reports that manufacturing gains are up, retail, leisure, all of these sectors that they have been focusing on, ever since this pandemic started.

The fact that demand for workers is the highest it's ever been in decades, you know, you see 93 percent of the jobs that were lost during the pandemic have been regained. But they still have to balance it with inflation, because that is casting the shadow over all of this. And that's what's showing up in his poll numbers. And so, it is something he has asked about regularly, it is something they talk about.

He's releasing oil from the strategic reserve to try to lower gas prices, taking all of these steps because they realize how much it's affecting them. But what they're working on and what he's doing there, is just trying to work on the messaging aspect of this by saying, you know, I do understand that you're paying more at the grocery store, I do understand you're paying more to fill your car up. But those problems persist and of course, they are becoming political problems for the president and for Democrats.

KING: Right. And the political challenge is that, you know, once a month, you see, I just want to show the jobless rate. Once a month, you have this report, and most Americans trying to get to work, get their kids to school. Don't look at this every day, you just see that drop from the pandemic high and then bam, unemployment below 4 percent. Generally, economists say, that's full employment. That's what you see.

And if you just look at that, say, hey, the Biden economy is doing great, or the jobs going up. But every day you see this, a gas prices, vehicle prices, energy prices, meat prices, food prices, that's what you see in your everyday life, which is why the president, you know, again, he could be doing high fives today, but he can't, because people would see disconnect.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR. "THE SOURCE WITH KASIE HUNT": They would see very much see disconnect. And I think the issue here is that, think about where jobs are not coming back. I mean, the hospitality sector is still adding lots of jobs, but they're not back to their pre pandemic highs. Those are jobs that people who make on the low end of the income spectrum, typically have those people were hammered by the pandemic, they didn't work from home, or they were essential.

They were going and they were risking getting sick. They maybe don't have 401(k)s or investments in a stock market that went crazy during the pandemic. And now they're the ones who are hit the hardest when gas prices go up, when grocery bills go up. These are not people who necessarily can absorb those kinds of hits. And so, the president risks looking really out of touch, if he celebrates this too much.

KING: And so, that's the challenge. So, how do you communicate this? This is great news. It's great news for the American people. The economy is creating jobs, the unemployment rate is down, workers have more power, and asking maybe for higher wages or different benefit structure. Maybe I work from home some and go to the office. That part of the economy is great, and the president says so. But how do you communicate this? And let's listen, the president seems to have not settled on, just what to say.


PRES. BIDEN: Putin's invasion of Ukraine has driven up gas prices and food prices all over the world. It was the previous administrations whose reckless policies and mismanagement led to the record budget deficits. We need to make sure corporations in the super wealthy began to pay their fair share. Our policies are working, and we're getting results for the American people, which is what it's all about to state the obvious.


KING: It was almost a grab bag there. And again, you know, the president is making his case, and I don't know the answer. Well, the challenge is what do you pick to say, follow me? I'm going to try to help you on the inflation stuff. But look, this stuff's better.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It seems like they did two - he did two main things there, not only putting blame on the previous administration, but trying to draw connection between the high prices that families may be facing at, the pump and grocery stores.