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Inside Politics

Mariupol Mayor: Our City Is "The New Auschwitz"; Red Cross Convoy Of 500 Mariupol Refugees Reaches Zaporizhzhia; Mariupol Officials: Russian Army Using Mobile Crematoriums; U.S. Slaps New Sanctions On Russia, Including Putin's Children; Hungarian PM Offers To Host Russia, Ukraine For Ceasefire Talks; U.K. To Ban Russian Coal And Freeze Asset Of Russia's Largest Bank; Major Fighting In East Ukraine Amid Russian Strategy Shift; First U.S. Criminal Charges Against Russian Oligarch Since Invasion. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 06, 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. The United States today unveiling new sanctions targeting the Russian elite, including Vladimir Putin's two adult children. Today, though more proof Putin is undeterred. A flurry of new Russian military assaults in eastern Ukraine and haunting word from inside Ukraine's most besieged city.

Mariupol's mayor says the scale of death there, rivals Nazi concentration camps. He calls Mariupol, "the new Auschwitz." And the Mariupol city council accuses rushes of borrowing tactics from Hitler, to try to hide their war crimes from the world. Officials there say Moscow's military now using mobile crematoriums to dispose of bodies.

Scant humanitarian supplies are getting through Russian lines, and when they have thousands of overwhelmed aid convoys. You see it, they're looking for their first food, their first meal for some in weeks.

In Mykolaiv, more evidence Russia considers everything a target. This the moment of impact, as an artillery shell careens into a hospital. Inside hospitals, stark and graphic reality of what war looks like. What you're about to see, is extremely difficult, extremely difficult to look at, bloody bandages, metal rods, missing limbs, patients, their lives hanging in the balance.

Also new video provides more proof this hour that Russia is simply lying. The Kremlin calls war crime accusations a setup, but this drone video captures a cyclist in Bucha in his final moments, before writing into high velocity rounds fired from Russian tanks.

We began our coverage this hour on the ground in Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia. CNN's Ivan Watson is right there. Ivan, new stories today of horror in Mariupol?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And perhaps a glimmer of hope, there has been a constant effort to try to get some of the trapped civilians out of that city of Mariupol, which has been encircled by the Russian military for a month, under siege for a month shelled day and night, for the better part of a month with estimates of about 100,000 people there trapped without food, electricity, heat, running water, telecommunications, internet.

The International Committee for the Red Cross has had a team here that's been trying to reach that city for five straight days, four nights. They were actually detained about 15 miles outside of Mariupol, overnight from Sunday to Monday night by the Russian security forces. They are supposed to be given access to that area according to international law, but that is not happening right now.

Well, after being turned back, they were able to escort hundreds of Ukrainian civilians out of Russian controlled territory here to the city of Zaporizhzhia in a convoy of some seven buses, accompanied by dozens of privately owned cars. I spoke with a member of the Red Cross team after they got here. Take a listen to what she had to say.


LUCILE MARBEAU, ICRC SPOKESPERSON: At first, you really see the emotion and the relief when the buses arrive. We arrived, yesterday some people were waiting since five o'clock in the morning. And once they were in the buses, many started to cry, but it was cries of relief, really. And some don't really know exactly where they will be going. Some also still are extremely anxious for those that they have left behind, of course. As I was talking about this teenager, her parents are still there. There's almost no connectivity. So, how is she going to know if they're safe and well.


WATSON: Now the Red Cross was able to escort people from a Russian occupied town, that's about 30 miles outside of Mariupol. That is what the Russians aren't allowing, is for convoys of humanitarian buses to get in and out of the city to take people out. So that, that forces the civilian population to drive their own cars, some of which have already been ripped apart by Russian shrapnel or walk on foot.

Now, in the meantime, Ukrainian officials are distributing scary anecdotes of what is happening inside the city that you had. You mentioned that the Mariupol city council says, they're alleging that the Russians are now using mobile crematoria presumably to burn and dispose of bodies.


in Mariupol, I've heard from many evacuees, descriptions of bodies laying in the city of ordinary civilians, burying the dead in the courtyards of their own apartment blocks. And the Mariupol city council is claiming that this is the Russian military covering their own tracks. CNN cannot independently verify this. And as I've established, the Russian military are not allowing outside observers into this besieged city. John?

KING: Critical reporting from Zaporizhzhia. Ivan Watson, thanks so much. To the White House now, CNN's MJ Lee. MJ, the Biden administration escalating sanctions today on Russia. Who, what do they target?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. A new round of sanctions from the U.S. announced today as we're seeing these horrific images and stories coming out of Ukraine in places like Mariupol and Bucha. So, let me just take through the headlines from this announcement.

Full blocking sanctions are now being imposed on Russia's largest financial institution, as well as its largest private bank. There's also now a ban being announced on all new investments in Russia that would come in the form of an executive order that the president would sign.

Now, additional individuals are now being punished as well. And they include Putin's two adult daughters, as well as the wife and daughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as well as other Russian government officials.

Now, why Putin's daughters? Why are they being targeted? A senior administration official telling reporters that the belief is that it is very possible, Putin is hiding some of his assets through his family. This, of course, is a well-known and widely shared practice among some of the Russian oligarchs, and some of the wealthiest people in Russia.

Now, interestingly, this senior administration official also saying that if Putin were to change course, that some of these sanctions that have been rolled out could be reversed, that not all of them are permanent. Now, when we see from our very own colleagues on the ground, reporting on some of the things that are going on in Ukraine, you have to acknowledge that the idea of Putin drastically changing course, on many days that seems like a very far away possibility still, John?

KING: MJ Lee at the White House. MJ, thank you very much. And today, right now, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Brussels for an important NATO meeting. Just hours ahead of that meeting, NATO secretary general says weeks of battlefield losses have not, have not changed Vladimir Putin's calculus.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We have seen no indication that President Putin has changed his ambition to control the whole of Ukraine. But at the same time, we have to be realistic and realize that this may last for a long time, for many months, for even years. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: To Brussels now and CNN's Nic Robertson. Nic, with that assessment, perhaps months, perhaps even years as the NATO foreign ministers meet. Are they prepared to do new things? Are they prepared to increase military aid, for example?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: They're looking at what it's going to take to sustain the Ukrainian army over the longer term. They are focusing on new things to that extent. They're saying the old things, like the Javelin anti-tank missiles that were so successful in so many places, they'll continue supplying those. They will look at more sophisticated surface to air missile systems to deny Russia, the use of the airspace.

At the moment, Russia is only able to sort of target fixed installations, it's not able to target dynamic moving Ukrainian targets on the ground. That's what they're seeing at the moment. But they need to sort of make that protective umbrella stronger without putting their own planes, their own troops into the country.

What else is NATO doing as well? It is on those supply lines, looking at making sure there's enough fuel for the Ukrainians because we know that the Russians have been targeting fuel depots, making sure there's enough helmets, making sure there's enough body armor for the Ukrainian soldiers. But they're also looking at how you fight the coming war with Russia because Putin lost around Kyiv because he was overextended. His forces were picked off by the Ukrainians using those Javelin missiles.

But NATO's assessment is the next phase of the war, may not be so easy as Putin regroups his forces and perhaps uses them in a more conventional less overextended way. That will be tougher to Ukrainian sort of fight that, they're going to need things like tanks, armored fighting vehicles. The Australians are saying that they're giving the Ukrainians armored vehicles.

We know that tanks are potentially, you know, on the table here to be supplied to Ukraine. So yes, it's getting ready for the longer tougher war and the reality that if Putin wins some on the ground now, he may go back to his original plan and shift focus again to the capital. So, it's still all in play, John?

KING: Nic Robertson, live from Brussels. Nic, appreciate that important reporting. Let's get some important insights. Now with me here in studio, Ambassador Karen Pierce. She's the U.K. Ambassador to the United States. Grateful for your time today.


Nic Robertson is in Brussels. The foreign ministers are meeting now. You've seen the horrors out of Bucha. You hear about the Russian assaults now in the east. The question is, is NATO willing to do more? So far to said, no to a no-fly zone, no to a humanitarian zone, maybe in western Ukraine, consensus is the key to NATO. But as the U.K.'s position at this meeting, we need to do more? KAREN PIERCE, U.K. AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: It's definitely that we need to do more on getting equipment to Ukraine, so that they can sustain the war over time. And as we just heard, it may go through different phases. We want to do more on the humanitarian side, including funding, humanitarian corridors, but also helping to receive refugees and humanitarian aid in countries like Poland.

And we want to do more on the sanctions side, so that we keep squeezing the Russian economy. And we keep denying Putin the ability to resupply. I think that part of it is key. But what is dominating NATO's military thinking, is that we have said we don't want to escalate this war, because a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia would be worse for everybody sadly, including Ukraine.

KING: You say, including Ukraine. One of the proposals today. Number one, the German Chancellor, Mr. Schulz, says that he is in discussions with Kyiv right now about being one of the nations that might provide security guarantees. If Ukraine said, we will not join NATO, but we haven't a deal. Maybe it's Germany, Turkey, a couple other nations for security. Do you have any confidence that there's any type of a diplomatic breakthrough like that?

PIERCE: I would say, it's not imminent, but I think the future probably lies in that direction. And we are going to take our cue from Mr. Zelenskyy from President Zelenskyy. It's not something that can be done over the heads of Ukrainians. We don't want another Yalta. But security guarantees are one of the ideas that has been talked about. But I think the critical thing would be, obviously that couldn't be just a Russian guarantee that would have to be other credible Ukrainian partners in there.

KING: Also, on the diplomatic front today, after just winning reelection, the Hungarian Prime Minister, Mr. Orban, who is a friend of Putin, traditionally, even though he's a NATO member, he is more friendly with Putin. He says that he spoke to Putin, and that he's invited Putin, Zelenskyy, the Chancellor of Germany and the president of France to come to Budapest.

Do you see that as any possibility? And should Putin be invited? I know everybody wants to into this conflict, negotiations is the only way even negotiations with bad actors. But should Vladimir Putin be invited to a NATO country right now?

PIERCE: That's an interesting question about Putin's responsibility for the war crimes that we've seen committed on the ground. And there's an interesting question about what accountability he has for that, and what the ICC's investigation might want to do about that accountability. But I think we would take our cue from President Zelenskyy, if he sees value in talks, then that's one thing, but he is on record as saying, after the atrocities we've seen, it's very difficult for them to sit down with the Russians and that's understandable.

KING: So, after the atrocities, we've seen the question is, will that ratchet up, world outrage and world action, new sanction in the United States, new sanctions from your country, the U.K., as well as including cutting off Russian coal. But the European Union's foreign representative told the E.U. today, essentially, that this is the math. 1 billion in arms, weapons assistance to Ukraine since the war began. $35 billion in payments to Vladimir Putin from the European Union for Russian energy. Is the only way to push Putin back to just cut that off, to stop, to end Europe's addiction on Russian energy? And how long would that take?

PIERCE: It certainly the medium to long term solution. And that is what the E.U. is doing. You know, they joined us today in banning coal imports. That's a very good first step. G7 foreign ministers are going to meet tomorrow, and the British foreign secretary will be calling for us to go even further on sanctions. We definitely need a transition plan to reduce Europe's dependency on Russia hydrocarbons. That's also going to be discussed. As you imply, John, it's not an easy or a quick thing, but it is something that you will now set in train. So, over time that dependency will go.

KING: Ambassador Karen Pierce, grateful. Grateful for your time and your insights. Appreciated it very much.

PIERCE: Thank you.

KING: Up next for us, the shifting battlefield. There is major fighting underway in eastern Ukraine and military analysts caution this new chapter in the war, would last months or more?




KING: New information just into CNN. A senior defense official says, Russian forces have completely withdrawn from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions of Ukraine, "reconsolidate and refit in Belarus and in Russia." Let's get some insights now from retired Major General, CNN military analyst, Dana Pittard. He's also the author of "Hunting The Caliphate: America's War on ISIS and the Dawn of the Strike Cell." General, grateful for your time today.

So, the Pentagon now says the Russian forces are completely gone from here, move back up to Belarus, completely gone from here Chernihiv, most of them gone back into Russia, gone to refit and reconsolidate. But from your assessments, how long and where next?

MAJ. GEN. DANA PITTARD, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, good afternoon, John. In fact, they have moved from the Kyiv region. The dilemma for the Russians though, is they're trying to reposition to the east. And if you look at the outer map of Ukraine, you see they have what's called exterior lines. So, they have longer to go to get to eastern Ukraine. While the Ukrainians have interior lines, which means they have less to go. So, as they reposition and hope to reconstitute, it will take weeks to be able to do that. However, some forces are already there in the east.

[12:20:00] KING: Right? There are forces here in the east and you see more shelling in Kharkiv here, more shelling in Mykolaiv down here. Now they're separate, but if you connect them with a loop right here, this is what the Pentagon believe, and then ultimately on to Odessa, and the Ukrainians believe as well that at least for now, the Russians did not succeed in their effort to take Kyiv, but it looks like they're trying to seize a big slice in the east. What is the strategic significance?

GEN. PITTARD: Yes. In fact, you'll see that the city of Sloviansk is going to be pivotal in the future, as but the Russians are going to try to do is, is link the Donbass region with not just the east, but the south towards Odessa. And what they're going to want to do is, claim that as a victory in time for the 77th anniversary of the end of World War II, which is May 9, 1945. So, what they're strategically going to try to do is link the two and they may claim victory, and even claim a separate republic. And we'll see what happens.

KING: And as we watch this play out on the battlefield, NATO foreign ministers are meeting right now. There are some new sanctions today. But the Ukrainians are saying great, any sanctions on Russia are fabulous, but we need more military hardware. We need more offensive weapons. You have been sending. They're telling the west, weapons that help us defend. But if we're going to kick the Russians out of these red areas, retaking land requires a different set of weapons. What should NATO do now?

GEN. PITTARD: Well, I believe that what NATO is doing is certainly not enough. At this point, the goal should not be just to in the fighting, the goal should be for Ukrainian forces to actually win. In order to do that, they'll need more than just tanks here, drones there, Javelin missiles. They need systems, they need training, they need assistance. So, there are a number of options that NATO can do at this point. One is, the use of special operations forces as advisors, who also bring in intelligence capability, drones and other combat enablers.

KING: Forgive me for interrupting, sir, but that would be special operations forces, you mean within the borders of Ukraine. So, that would be either U.S. or NATO boots on the ground, which the political leadership to this point is said no.

GEN. PITTARD: Yes. The political leadership has been intimidated by President Putin on the threat of nuclear weapons. But we've already heard from Russia. They've said, they're not going to use nuclear weapons unless Russia is threatened, Russia itself. So right now, NATO and the U.S. are intimidated by that. It's time for the U.S. and NATO to step up.

There is other things that the U.S. can do. One is to establish with the Ukrainian government, a coordination for assistance for Ukrainian refugees. That would be a humanitarian assistance zone in western Ukraine. And that would mean NATO troops on the ground, as well as no- fly zone over western Ukraine.

KING: Provocative ideas. General Pittard, always grateful for your insights and expertise. We will continue this conversation. Ahead for us, though a Justice Department crackdown on criminal Russian activity including, new charges against the Russian oligarch. Plus, the live on the ground in Lviv, new Russian attacks there, targeting fuel storage facilities.




KING: The Justice Department today announcing the first criminal charges against the Russian oligarch since Putin's invasion of Ukraine began. Oligarch Konstantin Malofeev charged with evading U.S. sanctions already in place, that in an alleged scheme to promote and support pro Russia separatists in Crimea. The Attorney General, Merrick Garland, had strong words for others who may try to violate those sanctions.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It does not matter how far you sail your yacht. It does not matter how well you conceal your assets. It does not matter how cleverly you write your malware or hide your online activity. The Justice Department will use every available tool to find you, disrupt your plots and hold you accountable.


KING: Our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, has more. Evan, walk us through it.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this announcement today from the Justice Department gives you an idea of how difficult it is for prosecutors to track down these assets and to bring these cases. These are sanctions that go back to the Russian invasion of Crimea, Malofeev, who is the person charged in the - for making transactions related to evading sanctions that he's been under, is now charged in this indictment.

But again, this is going back to the original sanctions that came after the invasion of Crimea. So, the Justice Department has this KleptoCapture taskforce that is working to try to find these assets. Earlier this week, we saw that they seized a yacht belonging to Viktor Vekselberg, the tango in Spain. And so, we can expect according to the Justice Department, that they're going to be doing this for years to come, John?

KING: And Evan, the attorney general also talking about helping to gather evidence of war crimes, to help with a war crimes prosecution. Tell me more?

PEREZ: Right. This is a very timely announcement from the attorney general. He says that Justice Department prosecutors are in Europe right now. They're meeting in Paris with a war crimes prosecutor. They're in France. They're also working with Europol to try to help gather evidence.