Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Savagery, Mass Graves Uncovered In Bucha After Russian Retreat; Biden Reacts To Horror In Bucha: Putin Is A War Criminal; Global Outcry As Apocalyptic Scenes Of Barbarity Uncovered; U.S.: Russia Should Be Expelled From U.N. Human Rights Council; Zelenskyy: "Very Difficult To Negotiate" After Bucha Brutality; U.S. Official: 2/3rds Of Russian Forces Near Kyiv "Departed The Area"; Putin Efforting Victory In East Ukraine By Early May; Fuel Depot In Odessa Hit On Sunday By Russian Forces. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 04, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. It is a very troubling day. To start this hour, with savagery, apparent indiscriminate Russian killing of Ukrainian civilians. This morning, Ukraine's president visited Bucha to see the horrors up close. Volodymyr Zelenskyy calls it genocide in plain sight.

And today at the White House, just short of the White House, President Biden says, Vladimir Putin should be put on trial at the hag as a war criminal.


PRES. JOE BIDEN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: He is the war criminals. We have to gather all the detail, so this could be an actual have a war crime trial. This guy is brutal. And what's happening in Bucha is outrageous.


KING: The new images out of Ukraine depict horrors, both hard to look at and hard to describe. In words, everything. Every single image we're about to show you is graphic and sickening. This is Bucha. It's a Kyiv suburb. That's a mass grave. Ukrainians dug a trench behind the church. Slumped bodies line the streets of this town, too many dead to collect and to bury.

Here you see what looks like the aftermath of an execution style killings, multiple men shot and killed at close range, their hands bound. On the side of this road, journalist found a bicyclist, dead on his back. And in her front yard, a woman's body still there, weeks, three weeks after she was riddled with bullets by the Russians. Her mother covered her in plastic sheeting and in wooden boards.

Throughout the Kyiv region, there are searches this hour for the next Bucha. For more examples of Russian depravity, which is mayor says the Russians allegedly just hunted down civilians.


MAYOR ANATOLIY FEDORUK, BUCHA, UKRAINE: They were indiscriminately killed by the Russian occupiers. A lot of them are elderly people. We get the impression that the Russian occupiers have got the green light from Putin and Shoigu, the Russian defense minister to have a safari in Ukraine and they weren't able to take Kyiv. So, they vented their frustration on Bucha and the surrounding areas.


KING: Think of those words of safari in Ukraine. We go straight to the White House now, begin our coverage with our chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, very strong words from the president this morning. What comes next?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is the first time he's commented since these disturbing images have come out of Bucha of these mass graves that CNN verified over the weekend. And President Biden is doubling down on calling President Putin, a war criminal, saying that all of this - all of those pictures that you just showed there, John, need to be documented, so they can be used to get against Putin in a war crimes trial.

And he did stop short of going as far as some of the other leaders have gone, though, where you've seen Ukrainian President Zelenskyy say he is clear that this is a genocide that's being committed in Ukraine. That's a comment that's been echoed by the Polish prime minister, but President Biden declined to go that far.

And instead, when he was asked directly, if he considers this to be genocide, he said no, and he said he does believe Putin is a war criminal. Of course, that is a statement that he's made. Now saying that it needs to be brought to a trial for the for Russian president. And he did say also, John, that he is considering further sanctions against Russia.

Now that we've seen these disturbing images. You've seen the White House say that, based on what they were seeing would depend on how they were reacting, and they said they did have room to tighten those sanctions, tighten the screws on those sanctions.

And so, President Biden said today he is seeking more sanctions against Russia. He didn't offer details on what those could look like. But we should note the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, is going to be joining Jen Psaki at the briefing today. They may have more on that there, of course, as other European leaders say they are also considering more sanctions on Russia. John? KING: Kaitlan Collins, live to the White House. Thanks so much. Let's go back to the region now. CNN's Fred Pleitgen and his crew in Bucha to document this horror. Again, what you're about to see here is extremely disturbing.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): As Russian forces retreat from the area north of Kyiv in their wake scenes of utter destruction, whole blocks of houses flattened. Ukrainian authorities saying, they believe that dead bodies are still lying underneath. But here, the dead also lay in the open.

Ukrainian national police showed us this mass grave in Bucha, saying they believed up to 150 civilians might be buried here, but no one knows the exact number. People killed while the Russian army occupied this town. This is what it looks like when the hope is crushed.


Volodymyr has been searching for his younger brother, Dmitry. Now He's convinced Dmitry lies here even though he can't be 100 percent sure. We met a family just returning to their house in Borodyanka, which they say was occupied by Russian soldiers. They show us the body of a dead men, and civilian clothes they had found in the backyard. His hands and feet tied with severe bruises and a shell casing still laying nearby.


KING: We know these images are shocking and horrifying, but it is important to share them to document this history, to document what is happening yesterday and today, hopefully not tomorrow in Ukraine. And that important reporting from our Fred Pleitgen and from other journalists in Bucha is prompting swift and loud international condemnation today.

The United States says it will seek to suspend Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council. European Union says it will work with Ukraine on a war crimes investigation. CNN's Natasha Bertrand is tracking this global outrage. Natasha, what are we learning?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE & NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, John. So, the U.N. ambassador to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, saying that she believes now is the time to take a vote on expelling Russia from the human rights council. She said that it is a farce and that it is wrong, that Russia remains on that council, especially considering the massacre that the international community has witnessed in Bucha over the weekend.

Now, it is important to note that, of course, the human rights council is largely a symbolic body. They can authorize investigations, but this is largely a political message that would be sent if Russia was indeed suspended from the body, it would require a two-thirds vote within the 193-member council there. And they do believe at this point that they do have those votes, and they are pretty confident that this could actually happen.

Now, this all comes of course, as the international community has been calling for war crimes investigations, Antony Blinken said this past weekend that there needs to be accountability by Russia, and European leaders have also been saying, going as far as to say that this is a genocide and that these war crimes need to be documented and submitted to the International Criminal Court for further investigation. And of course, to ultimately hold Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials accountable.

But of course, as Kaitlan had noted, the Biden administration is not going as far yet as to call this a genocide. However, we do expect this massacre that we saw these images to spur even more global action. John?

KING: Natasha Bertrand, grateful for that important reporting. Let's get some more insights now and expertise from the former director, Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Beth Sanner. I want to get to the process in a minute, but I want to get to first, what I think is an immediate impact of this.

You see these pictures and your stomach turns. These are men, women and children. These are civilians. Citizens in a peaceful country that was attacked by Vladimir Putin. President Zelenskyy went there today. He said he wanted the world to see. This is though, is how it impacted him.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: It's very difficult to negotiate when you see what they have done here. And every day, we find people in barrels, strangled, tortured in the basement. So, I think if they have anything still left to think with, they should think faster.


KING: So, you see these images and you think, my God, stop this war. These images make it harder to stop the war, not that Vladimir Putin has been interested in diplomacy so far anyway. But President Zelenskyy has been. Now this makes it harder for him.

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It makes it harder for him, you know, just the moral outrage. We all feel so much that Ukraine is in the right, and the Ukrainian people are going to feel even more outraged, and say, I agree with Zelenskyy. We cannot give up one inch of this territory. So, a negotiated settlement that Putin could live with becomes harder and harder.

KING: And so, then you get to the accountability question. You heard President Biden, he says, he believes this is a war crime. He wants to document it. Let's add in the German chancellor right here. Chancellor Scholz saying, the world must, must figure out exactly what happened.


OLAF SCHOLZ, GERMAN CHANCELLOR: The murder of civilians is a war crime. We must relentlessly investigate these crimes committed by the Russian armed forces. I demand that international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross be given access to these areas to document the atrocities, the perpetrators, and those in charge of them must be held accountable.


KING: Is the international system prepared to investigate, have the accountability document and do it right, especially when Russia and China sit on the U.N. security council and it could veto any effort to do it there, which is how if you go back to the Yugoslavia days, the Milosevic days, that's where it started.

SANNER: Exactly. There's no blueprint for this kind of situation. We cannot use the blueprint that we had for the ICTY, the international tribunal that did successfully prosecute Milosevic, Karadzic, other Balkan figures, because that has to be approved by the UNSC and Russia will definitely veto that.


So, now is the time that the international community has to be creative in getting a system, maybe using this vote to kick out the Russians from the U.N. Human Rights Committee. If they can get two thirds there, maybe it tells us there's a possibility to get that same two thirds that would vote for a tribunal, but it would be unprecedented.

KING: So, help me through the intelligence assets. If you think of this as a crime scene, and it is a horrific crime scene.

SANNER: Absolutely.

KING: We have the images. The journalists are getting wake when there. We have before and after satellite images from above. We know the U.S. intelligence has been tracking Russian radio transmissions, you know, the military on the ground. What else if you were in your old job? And the president, you got a call from the White House. The president wants to build the file. What assets do you have at your disposal to try to do that?

SANNER: Well, you have all of the intelligence that you just mentioned, but you also want the intelligence from all the Europeans, and you want the intelligence that the Ukrainians are collecting themselves a lot of this tactical information. Because what you're trying to prove is like a court of law. You're trying to prove intent. Who ordered this? Was it rogue soldiers? Or is this a systemic pattern?

And so, you're trying to develop that chain of command all the way up the line. And so, you're going to be looking at intercepts, if you can of the most senior military leadership, and figuring out from that, who ordered this. And it's going to be whole of government and it's got to be whole of international community to do that.

KING: And lastly, if those images are the playbook, the Russian playbook, if Russian troops are pulling out of an area, they do so with a horrific path home, if you will, elsewhere. Is there anything short of putting assets on the ground, which the president has said he will not do, cannot do, he says in his view. Anything to help the Ukrainians prevent it from happening in the next town and the town after that?

SANNER: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think that unless the Ukrainians can, you know, bring the fight to every single place, we could see the exact carnage, this trail of terror that the Russians could leave, especially if it turns out that this isn't just a one off that it actually is a more systemic effort. And I'm fearful that that's going to be the case.

KING: Difficult conversation, Beth Sanner, but grateful for your expertise to as we need to have it, we need to have it. Up next, we move to the shifting battlefield, the port city of Odessa. One new target and new intelligence suggests check the map there, Russia will focus on expanding its hold on in eastern Ukraine.




KING: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy visited Bucha today as part of what he called a "show the world moment." Ukrainian leader says, yes, more sanctions on Russia are welcome, but are not enough, especially if you look at these graphic images of what appeared to be clear atrocities. Let's get some insights now from retired Major General, CNN military analyst, Paul Eaton. General Eaton, grateful for your time today.

I just want to warn our viewers. I'm going to show one more picture from Bucha because I want to check your expertise. I just want to give people a graphic warning about that because these images are horrific. But this is just one of a man, bag of groceries, looks like potatoes here, is shot dead in the street. You see a body bag being pulled out, out of here into an ambulance or a car to take it away.

You've sought see the other images from our Fred Pleitgen, general, and other journalists. I want to come off this. I don't want to dwell on it, to a map right now that shows us just where the suburb Bucha is. But you have experienced that this of trying to document preserve the evidence, if you will to build the case, while also prosecuting a war. How will that play out?

MAJ. GEN. PAUL EATON, FORMER COMMANDING GEN. COALITION MILITARY ASSISTANCE TRAINING TEAM IN IRAQ: John, thank you very much. I was the deputy commander for a multinational division north in Bosnia, in 98, about two and a half years after NATO forces occupied the former Yugoslavia, subset of Bosnia. And one of the missions that we had was to provide logistic support security for investigation teams from international agencies, all in support of the UN ICQI, the international commission for war crime investigation that perpetrated by Serbian. So, we've seen the mass graves. You stand next to a mass grave that's not been on Earth for some time, and it's a tough experience. But it's police work. And we know how to do this. We shall do it again in Ukraine. I have every confidence and we need to support Ukrainian people to ensure that the perpetrators of this this mass atrocity, this war crime is taken care of.

KING: I want to get your insights now in the latest from the battlefield in terms of troop movements and like. I just want to show, this as the Antonov airport, which is northwest of Kyiv. It's a little bit of a then and now, might be a little grainy for people watching at home. But if you go back to late March on the 21st, you see these little dugout bunkers here, there's tank and this one, armored vehicles here. You see artillery around it.

And then you come forward now, back on Thursday in general, they're gone. The Russians are gone. We know that senior U.S. defense official, says about two thirds of the Russian forces that had been around Kyiv have moved out. What does it tell you when you see that? Is it a repositioning? Is it a retreat? What do you call it?

GEN. EATON: So, when a force in contact retires from the battlefield, either a retreat or withdrawal determined by the conditions that they've been subjected to, but when an opposing force breaks contact, it's either to rearm refit and reengage, remission. Or to change the plan, audible if you will, a branch of a plan if they have it to go somewhere else. And in this case, all indications are that it's to the east.


And I believe that, we see President Putin setting up an off ramp to admit that he's going to accept victory, perhaps of some sort in Donbass, Crimea. But he is definitely indicating, if you leave an airport, you've signaled that you're not staying, you're not coming back. So, I think he's repositioning to remission his troops, rearm refit and then go to work in contested Donbass.

KING: And so, as you mentioned that point, look that airport is way over here, you know, northwest of Kyiv. The focus U.S. defense officials agree with you, the Ukrainians agree with you. We've seen some bombing in Odessa, which is still in the Ukrainian control, a port city here. You have the Donbass here. You have Crimea, of course, which Putin took back in 2014.

Do you see it as an effort to take this control the eastern part and then down into the southern coastal parts of the country? And the question is, if you're the United States, and you're Ukraine, how does your military strategy on the ground? If you're Ukraine change and how does the U.S., the NATO's others willing to help with military equipment? Does it change the dynamic at all?

GEN. EATON: John, we need to deny. We need to prioritize the effort that we have. Odessa ought to be our main effort. If we lose Odessa that is a significant blow economically to the Ukrainian people. And we've got to deny that. We need to see more activity from NATO's naval forces---

KING: Out here, out here in the Black Sea. Out in the Black Sea, NATO forces out in the Black Sea.

GEN. EATON: Absolutely. And a clear threat to Mr. Putin. They open up something else for him to consider in Kaliningrad, outside the port city of Kaliningrad, where he keeps his Baltic Fleet. A little bit more aggressive, Vladivostok. We need to present multiple problems to President Putin.

But the first is the Black Sea, where I have seen reports that the Russians are laying mines outside of Bulgaria. And this is opening up an opportunity to say, look, you're attacking NATO, and we are moving NATO forces, naval forces, and we're going to consider our options to attack.

KING: General Eaton, grateful for your insight. Sir, we'll continue the conversation in these important days ahead. But thank you for your time today. And ahead for us. There are major new calls for tougher sanctions on Russia after the carnage in Bucha. Plus, to go live to Odessa for a closer look at those overnight airstrikes.




KING: Ukrainian port city of Odessa is on edge after new Russian strikes. Russia says it targeted critical infrastructure in the weekend assault. A CNN team report seeing a burning fuel depot in that city. And just moments ago, a senior U.S. defense official telling reporters, yes, the United States does assess that it was Russian forces conducting airstrikes on Odessa. Let's get straight to Odessa. CNN's Ed Lavandera is there live with us. Ed, what are you learning?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you know, this city here in the south of Ukraine head enjoyed several days of relative peace and quiet, all of that was shattered yesterday, double airstrikes in the same day. Ukrainian officials are reporting that one person was injured. This was the targeting of a oil refinery and a fuel storage facility. We were at the scene shortly after it happened.

The impact and the multiple explosions could be seen thought for miles and miles. So, that has really put this city on edge, especially when you consider what has happened this morning. Earlier today, just about a two-hour drive from here in the city of Mykolaiv, another airstrike there, killing one person and injuring five others.

And even though the strikes here in Odessa seem to be targeted in specific, there are places like in Mykolaiv, where Ukrainian officials are saying that there's no rhyme or reason to the bombing there. So that mixture of different types of attacks is what has so many people nervous. And then couple that with what people here in Odessa, John, are seen in the north, and the revelations in Bucha, and the horrors that we're seeing there. And just a short while ago, the Ukrainian prime minister is saying, that what is being seen and what will be discovered in the town of Mariupol, which is just up the coast from Odessa is going to be worse than what we're seeing in the suburbs around Kyiv. So, you mix all of that together. And that is why there is a sense of dread and concern about what might be coming, now that Russian forces are regrouping and expected to push into Ukraine from the east. John?

KING: Ed Lavandera, on the ground for us in Odessa. It's very important reporting. Ed, you and your crew please stay safe. And as Ed noted, Mariupol, Mykolaiv, Odessa, and the images, the most recent images out of Bucha are having an immediate impact on the global conversation.

Germany's finance minister for example today, says that country needs to sever all economic ties with Russia as soon as possible, but added, it is not possible at the moment to cut gas supply. That's a critical question. Poland's prime minister, says it is Germany that is the "break on tougher European sanctions." So, let's sort this.